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Sterba, R. (1951). A Case of Brief Psychotherapy by Sigmund Freud. Psychoanal. Rev., 38(1):75-80.

(1951). Psychoanalytic Review, 38(1):75-80

A Case of Brief Psychotherapy by Sigmund Freud

Richard Sterba

Brief psychotherapy has recently been promulgated by many analysts as if it were a new therapeutic invention of their own which reaches far beyond the scope of the classical, or, as they prefer to call him, “standard” analyst. (See particularly French and Alexander, Psychoanalytic Therapy: Principles and Application.) Freud, they claim, was solely concerned with scientific investigation, his attitude was therefore not therapeutic, and his followers in classical analysis are supposed to adhere rigidly to his “standard” technique.

Therefore, when I found a case of brief psychotherapy conducted by Sigmund Freud in 1906, and described by the patient himself in his autobiography, it provoked my interest, and I considered it important to present the autobiographical description of the case to psychoanalytic readers. The patient is one of the greatest conductors of our time, Bruno Walter, and his neurosis occurred when he was a young but very successful conductor at the Imperial Court Opera in Vienna. His neurotic affliction struck him at a time of particular happiness and security. He describes this experience with Freud in his autobiography, Theme and Variations (Bruno Walter, Theme and Variations, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1946, 164ff.) as follows:

“To prevent my being too thoroughly coddled by a friendly fate, the guardian angel to whom my education and chastisement were entrusted had felt it proper to insert into that period of peaceful contemplation an illness that caused me a great deal of anxiety during the year after the birth of our first child. I was attacked by an arm ailment. Medical science called it a professional cramp, but it looked deucedly like incipient paralysis. The rheumatic-neuralgic pain became so violent that I could no longer use my right arm for conducting or piano playing. I went from one prominent doctor to another. Each one confirmed the presence of psychogenic elements in my malady. I submitted to any number of treatments, from mud-baths to magnetism, and finally decided to call upon Professor Sigmund Freud, resigned to submit to months of soul searching. The consultation took a course I had not foreseen. Instead of questioning me about sexual aberrations in infancy, as my layman's ignorance had led me to expect, Freud examined my arm briefly.

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