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Lothane, H.Z. (2015). Sex Versus Survival: The Life and Ideas of Sabina Spielrein. By John Launer. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2015, xii + 307 pp., $35.00 hardcover. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 63(5):1058-1068.

(2015). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 63(5):1058-1068

Sex Versus Survival: The Life and Ideas of Sabina Spielrein. By John Launer. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2015, xii + 307 pp., $35.00 hardcover

Review by:
Henry Zvi Lothane

This book by John Launer, a psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic, associate dean of postgraduate medical education at the University of London, and a longtime columnist in professional journals, is the first full-length scholarly biography of Sabina Spielrein in English. It is an excellent book and a labor of love, a gripping account of Spielrein's life and work, illuminated by a narrative of contemporaneous historical events, as conveyed by the book's subtitle. The main title is a different story. I have collaborated with the author since he first contacted me by e-mail on January 8, 2012, acknowledging my “original articles challenging received myths.” Since then we have exchanged many e-mails, the last on September 4. In his acknowledgments in the book, Launer thanks me for introducing him to Professor Vladimir Shpilrain, Sabina Spielrein's great-nephew, now living and teaching in New York City, a source of data and photographs of Spielrein's family; he also thanks me for permission to “use original translations of Russian letters of Sabina Spielrein” (p. x), contained in my 1999 paper, an archival source documenting Spielrein's early years in Zurich as a medical student. Further, in his introduction Launer endorses “the conclusions of psychoanalyst Henry Lothane that Jung never provided therapy for Spielrein after she was discharged from the hospital, nor did she or her family ever pay for sessions. When Jung's transgressions took place he was her former psychiatrist and current university teacher and friend …” (p. 5; emphasis added). It cannot be emphasized enough that Launer's endorsement of my finding calls for a fundamental revision of how the relationship between Spielrein and Jung has been handled in the secondary literature until now: however one chooses to evaluate their relationship at its passionate peak in the years 1908-1909, and even if one interprets it as a sexual affair, it cannot be treated as having happened between a patient and her psychiatrist but between a student and her medical school professor. Thus, any construction that a boundary violation during therapy had ever occurred is not a fact but a fiction, merely an opinion. The two situations are dissimilar and subject to different ethical rules and standards.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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