Reviewed Books & Films

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sex, Boundary Violations, and Psychiatry Legends

APA The provocative and entertaining film A Dangerous Method is a piece of historical fiction dipping into the early days of psychoanalysis and some of the interactions between Freud and Jung. The film also features the character Sabina, a patient with psychosis, who prior to becoming a physician and scholar was treated by both Freud and Jung. In the film, Jung has erotic, ecstatic, and sado-masochistic sex with Sabina. But as Eugene Taylor notes in his review of the film, "there is no evidence that any of the sexual scenes in the film actually ever happened."

Films are notorious for depicting psychologists and psychiatrists who cross boundaries, often of a melodramatic and sexual nature. But is there some truth to this boundary-crossing? Do most psychotherapists cross a "boundary" with patients at some point in their career? What percentage do you believe commit serious, substantive boundary violations such as sexual intercourse with a patient?

For those who have closely studied Freud, Jung, and/or psychoanalysis, how accurate is the portrayal of psychoanalysis and the characterization of these legendary psychiatrists in A Dangerous Method?

Read the Review
ReviewDid Jung Really Sleep With Sabina?
By Eugene Taylor
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(16)


Etzel Cardeña

A usually neglected aspect of Jung's development of his theory is his (successful) experience with hypnosis, which was used in the Burghölzli clinic with both patients and staff by Eugen Bleuler, supervisor of Jung. For instance, there is not that much distance between some hypnotic techniques and Jungian active imagination. See Shamdasani, S. (2000). The “magical method that works in the dark“: C. G. Jung, Hypnosis, and suggestion. Psychologie Clinique, 9, 55-70.

Ilene Serlin

I wish to share the following review I wrote, which appeared in the spring 2012 issue of San Francisco Psychologist, the quarterly newsletter of the San Francisco Psychological Association. The review is provided with permission from the newletter editor, Dr. Tim Lewis.

A Dangerous Method
There are many ways to review this film, both professional and personal. Let me start with the personal first, since I have strong feelings about it.
For many years, I have been intrigued by Sabina Spielrein, a woman pioneer of psychoanalysis. My own life, though nothing like hers, has led me into adventures with exotic locations, studies, or high-power, charismatic men. Consequently, I have maintained an informal and formal fascination with women like Sabina Spielrein and questions about their lives; I attended a seminar on her at the Jung Institute, read A Secret Symmetry: Sabina Spielrein Between Freud and Jung, and A Most Dangerous Method, one of her articles, designed and taught a course on Women and Narrative, and published articles: “The Anne Sexton Complex”, “A Tribute to Laura Perls”, “Dancing Women’s Freedom: the Story of Isadora Duncan”, and tributes to other women in psychology and the arts. I am a Fellow of the Society for Women in Psychology (Div. 35) of the American Psychological Association. The women in my reading list included biographies of women who were muses to famous men (Rodin, Picasso), wives of famous men (the Beat poets, Scott Fitzgerald). Most of these women either self-destructed (Marilyn Monroe) or were hospitalized by their husbands (T.S. Eliot). The women who survived were writers who advocated having a “room of one’s own” and an “independent income” (Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West), left a man’s world (Carolyn Heilbrun left Columbia), capitalized on their experiences (Francoise Gilot), or were lesbian or bisexual (Diane diPrima). In other words, sex between men and women can be a powerful drug—profound, uplifting, creative and destructive.
Next, since I did my pre-doctoral internship at the C. G. Jung Institute and taught at the institute in Zurich, I have been also fascinated by the personality and legends around Carl Jung. Being involved and interested in cases of erotic countertransference (as an analysand and a supervisor), I read Jungian analyst Robert Stein’s Incest and Human Love, and consulted with Mario Jacoby; in short, the boundary issues among Jungian psychoanalysts were (in)famous and fairly widespread, often with elaborate rationalizations for why boundary crossing was permissible. I also heard more stories about how both male and female lay analysts were trained by being in analysis with Jung (or Freud) and one of the inner circle; incest was part of the excitement. I found the book, Jung’s Circle of Women: The Valkyries. Finally, I met with Aniela Jaffe, Jung’s personal secretary whom, legend had it, was one of the few heterosexual women who had not slept with Jung.
Aniela Jaffe, blind and almost 90 years old at the time, took my hand, pronounced it strong, and advised me to “have the courage to lead an unconventional life.” She told me that she tried marriage for 6 years, found it not for her, and preferred to live like a graduate student in a simple, book-lined apartment in Zurich. I identified with her—she, a well-educated Jewish upper middle-class woman from Berlin; me, a well-educated Jewish woman from New York (Russian heritage), Sabina Spielrein, a well-educated Jewish Russian woman living in Zurich and Vienna, and Toni Wolff, Jung’s next long-time mistress, a Jewish or half-Jewish former patient and originator of some of his theories of the occult.
An unconventional life or marriage? This is one question that has haunted me for a long time. My role models, including Simone de Beauvoir, said that it made women property and advocated personal and professional liberation. Modern women ask these questions, some of which I reviewed for PsycCritiques covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.
In her real life, Sabina Spielrein, as she got mentally stronger, thought that she should have her own man and family. She married a fellow Russian Jewish medical student, had two children, but was reportedly soon bored. She left Vienna and moved back to Rostov-on-Don with her family. Although she accomplished much--she was responsible for the contact and collaboration between Jung and Freud and did try to keep them together, she originated theories about the death instinct and wrote about 30 articles, she trained the early generation of psychoanalysts in Russia—her life was cut short in 1941 when she was killed by the Nazis.
Would it have been better to remain in Vienna amidst the creative ferment? Would she have kept productive and did she need the madness/edginess/competition to create? Is love hotter when it is forbidden and secret? As Spielrein wrote in her own diary (February 22, 1912):
No ashes, no coal can burn with such glow
as a secretive love
of which no one must know.

Kay Jamison, herself a sufferer of bipolar disorder, tackled this question in Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. In her earlier writings, she came down on the side of sobriety; creativity is not helped by manic-depressive disorders and medication is in order. In her later writings, she did acknowledge the contribution of manic-depressive illness to creativity. Anne Sexton also tried to have a normal 1950s suburban married life to keep herself grounded, became bored and left--but committed suicide anyway. So did Sylvia Plath.
What is a talented woman to do?
One could say that in Victorian times, women suffered from repression, and showed classical symptoms of hysteria. However, the treatment of choice for them might have been an independent income and a job; Freud’s Anna O., who walked out of his office, went on to become a well-known social worker. Ellen West, who was expertly diagnosed and phenomenologically described by Binswanger, died anyway; but Kim Chernin, a feminist psychologist, re-analyzed the case by prescribing a job and independence for Ellen West.
These are some of the questions raised for me once again by seeing the film. I don’t think there are easy answers, and certainly we are no longer in Victorian times; the issues were particular to those times, but also universal and applicable to women today.
Some quick comments about the film itself: I thought it was just OK. First, Jung was a big, hearty charismatic man; in the film, he was rather sensitive and effete. Second, Freud was powerful and deep; in the film, I thought he was just dark and somewhat creepy. Third, Sabina Spielrein was a strong woman; in the film, Kira Knightley over-acted her symptoms and desperation. Emma Jung was large and strong, not the delicate beauty in the film. None of the characters in the film, although they made appropriate gestures and conversation, touched me. Finally, the explicit sexual scenes left me puzzled. I thought that it was never confirmed whether their relationship was “consummated” and wondered how such liberties could be taken.
In short, this film is psychologically rich, intriguing, and leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.

Dr. Stephen Diamond

Thank you, Dr. Taylor, for this review of A Dangerous Method. And thanks to Irene Serlin for posting her interesting take. Here is my review of the film for Psychology Today:

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