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Kahr, B. (2011). John Carl Flügel: The Forgotten Pioneer of Couple and Family Psychoanalysis. Cpl. Fam. Psychoanal., 1(2):167-173.

(2011). Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 1(2):167-173


John Carl Flügel: The Forgotten Pioneer of Couple and Family Psychoanalysis

Brett Kahr

Since its inception in the 1890s, psychoanalysis has specialised in the treatment of individual patients. Virtually every single cartoon representation of the psychoanalytical process depicts a lone clinician seated in a chair, with a single patient reclining on a couch. Virtually every filmic portrayal of the psychoanalytical process does likewise. In the minds of both the general public and, indeed, in the minds of many mental health professionals, psychoanalysis has flourished, predominantly, as one-to-one work.

Sigmund Freud did, however, undertake a small amount of work with couples and families, albeit rather reluctantly. For instance, when Freud treated couples, he never saw the husband and wife at the same time; instead, he took them on for parallel sessions of individual psychoanalysis. James Strachey, a young Englishman, and Alix Strachey, his American-born wife, underwent analysis with Freud between 1920 and 1922, but they kept separate appointment times. Ruth Mack Brunswick and her husband, Mark Brunswick, also American patients, had a similar arrangement. Freud rarely saw the couple together (e.g., Roazen, 1995). We do know that in 1933, Freud facilitated at least one piece of family psychoanalytical work by providing a consultation to Signorina Concetta Forzano and her father, Signor Giovacchino Forzano, one of Benito Mussolini's cabinet ministers (Roazen, 2005).

Although virtually all of the psychoanalytical concepts deployed by contemporary couple and family mental health specialists can be traced back to the towering contributions of Freud, he himself did not foreground the couple or the family, but, rather, concentrated on understanding human psychology through a predominantly individual lens. Of course, Freud made enormous contributions to group psychology, but he wrote very little about the marital couple per se.

Freud remains the undisputed father of psychoanalysis, but only of individual psychoanalysis. Couple and family psychoanalysis, by contrast, has a father of its own. But we have forgotten virtually all about him.


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