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Rachman, A.W. (2014). Sándor Ferenczi’s Analysis With Elizabeth Severn: “Wild Analysis” or Pioneering Treatment of the Incest Trauma. Psychoanal. Inq., 34(2):145-168.

(2014). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 34(2):145-168

Sándor Ferenczi’s Analysis With Elizabeth Severn: “Wild Analysis” or Pioneering Treatment of the Incest Trauma

Arnold Wm. Rachman, Ph.D., F.A.G.P.A.


In his paper, “Observations on Wild Psychoanalysis,” Freud (1910) succinctly outlined the issue of technical errors that can cause harm to a patient. He described a young physician eager to apply the insights of the new science of psychoanalysis to the treatment of a middle-age woman suffering from intense anxiety. This physician gave the woman a premature interpretation. He interpreted her anxiety as due to her frustrated sexual desires because she was divorced from her husband and lacked sexual contact and satisfaction. Her anxiety mounted, rather than diminished, as the result of this premature interpretation.The physician sent the patient to Freud to verify what he considered a correct interpretation. Freud used this consultation to develop the concept of wild analysis, the inappropriate use of psychoanalytic theory that did not take into account the clinical concepts of resistance, repression, and relationship, which are necessary in the psychoanalysis of a neurosis.

The concern for technical errors in psychoanalytic treatment, which Freud voiced in this early publication, came to a crescendo from 1925 to 1933, when his favorite and influential pupil, Sándor Ferenczi, attempted to introduce a new methodology to treat difficult cases caused by trauma (Rachman 2012a, 2012c). Freud, Jones, and other traditional analysts considered that Ferenczi was practicing wild analysis (Jones 1953, 1955, 1957) with Ferenczi’s development of Relaxation Therapy and his Confusion of Tongues paradigm (Ferenczi 1919a, 1919b, 1919c, 1920, 1921, 1924, 1925a, 1925b, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1933). These developments were considered regressive deviations and were labeled not psychoanalysis by the traditionalists (Rachman 1997a, 1997b, 2003b).

There were a series of accusations that continued to circulate in the analytic community that led to the notion that Ferenczi was a wild analyst. Jones, in his authorized and influential biography of Freud, attempted to politically assassinate Ferenczi with his accusations that Ferenczi’s deviations were a function of psychological madness.

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