Freud’s phoney findings

It has always been a puzzlement that Sigmund Freud as the world leader in a new doctrine should self-destruct and destroy by fire his life’s work. Had these crucial papers been available to researchers his reputation would by now have been in tatters, as this 1990 report outlines. The revelation that Freud “used” his patients and induced them into making ‘donations’ only sullies his reputation still further. I am endebted to a colleague for unearthing this otherwise lost article.

“As a Therapist, Freud Fell Short, Scholars Find”

By Daniel Goleman, The New York Times, March 06, 1990

A new round of historical research on Sigmund Freud is challenging the legend thathas long surrounded the founder of psychoanalysis.

New revelations depict a Freud who seems at times mercenary and manipulative, who sometimes claimed cures where there were none, and who on occasion distorted the facts of his cases to prove his theoretical points. And, judged by current knowledge and standards, it is a Freud who,at least once, stepped over the line into malpractice.

In one little-known case that barely missed becoming a major scandal, researchers say, Freud induced two patients to divorce their spouses and marry each other. In addition, he hinted that the man should make a generous donation to his psychoanalytic fund.

The most startling discoveries, many not yet published, concern some of Freud’s most important cases, including patients he referred to as “Little Hans”’ and “Dora.”’

”Each of Freud’s published cases plays a role in the psychoanalytic legend,” said Frank Sulloway, a historian of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is the author of “Freud, Biologist of the Mind,” on the origins of Freud’s theories.

  • “’But the more detail you learn about each case, the stronger the image becomes of Freud twisting the facts to fit his theory.”

The new historical work is just the kind of inquiry that Freud dreaded. He burned many of his papers at different points in his life and destroyed most of his case notes. Although the Freud Archives at the Library of Congress recently opened most papers to scholars, some, like his letters to his future wife, Martha, remain under lock and key until at least the year 2000 at the request of the donor, Freud’s daughter Anna.

But at a quickening pace over the last few years, that veil of secrecy has been pierced by a determined band of scholars. Some have tracked down people who knew Freud’s most famous patients, and in one case, a reporter interviewed the patient himself. In the process, the scholars have discovered much that might well have made Freud uncomfortable.

Some historians of psychoanalysis see the new work as little more than “Freud-bashing, an attempt to discredit psychoanalysis,” as Elizabeth Young-Bruehl a professor of letters at Wesleyan Universitywho is the author of “Anna Freud: A Biography,” put it.

But the revisionist historians disagree. “Some of Freud’s cases just don’t stand up in light of historical fact,” said Anthony Stadlen, an existentialist-oriented psychoanalyst and research fellowat the Freud Museum in London who has been among the most active in tracking down people who knew many of Freud’s key patients.

The new revelations do not demean Freud’s brilliance, nor do they necessarily mean that, by the standards of his day, he lacked integrity. But they portray a Freud far more prone to human failing than the legend of the man has allowed.

Even so, the findings have little to do with today’s practice of psychoanalysis, a branch of psychotherapy that still applies Freud’s ideas in seeking insights into the sources of emotional conflicts. Psychoanalysis itself has gone through more than 80 years of refinement and evolution, its basic premises accepted even among many or most of those therapists who are not themselves psychoanalysts.

“I don’t think this will change our view of Freud much,” said Peter Neubauer, a psychoanalyst inNew York Citywho is a member of the board of directors of the Freud Archives.

  • “You have to judge him on the entire body of his work and his method. Whatever you find out about how he handled a given case does not change his contribution.”

John Kerr, a doctoral candidate in psychologyatNew York Universitywho is organizing a conference on new findings on Freud, said,

  • ”We’ve found out a great deal about Freud’s patients in the last 10 to 15 years, but I’m amazed how little of it is referred to by psychoanalysts in writing about these cases.”

The conference on Freud will be held next Oct. 12 to 14 (1990) at the University of Toronto.

For their part, some psychoanalysts said in interviews that the historian’s discussions with people who knew patients do not establish what actually happened between Freud and his patients. Others say that Freud’s cases should be seen as works of art, not scientific studies. And still others observe that many indiscretions that raise eyebrows today did not violate the ethics of Freud’s time.

Perhaps the most startling new disclosures concern the case of Horace Frink, an American psychiatrist who was analyzed by Freud and then chosen by Freud to head the New York Psychoanalytic Society.

In 1922, at Freud’s urging, Dr. Frink divorced his wife and married one of Dr. Frink’s former patients, Angelika Bijur. She was the wife of Abraham Bijur, a New York millionaire, and an heiress herself.

Telling new details of the case have come from investigations by Helen Frink Kraft, the daughter of Dr. Frink and his first wife. “Freud used my father, used my mother and used my stepmother,” said Mrs. Kraft, whose new findings about Freud’s involvement in the episode are particularly damaging details.

“My father came home from his analysis with Freud in Vienna in 1921 with the news he was a latent homosexual and his emotional problems would be cured if he divorced my mother and married Mrs. Bijur,” Mrs. Kraft said.

Judging from a letter Freud wrote him in 1922, Dr. Frink found it hard to accept Freud’s diagnosis of latent homosexuality. But the letter also included whatseems an outrageous suggestion. “Your complaint that you cannot grasp your homosexuality implies that you are not yet aware of your phantasy of making me a rich man,” wrote Freud, who was in the process of engineering the marriage. “If matters turn out all right, let us change this imaginary gift into a real contribution to the Psychoanalytic Funds.”

This request for donations from his patient, some psychoanalysts say, would be grounds for a malpractice suit, were they to occur today; but others say the request would be acceptable if the funds were not for the analyst himself.

Freud also seems to have used Dr. Frink’s ”homosexuality” as justification for the marriage he was engineering. Dr. Frink, in analysis with Freud, wrote pleading with Angelika Bijur to join him inVienna, “to complete” his analysis. Once there she saw Freud, who advised her to divorce Abraham Bijur, explaining, as Angelika was to recount later, that “if I threw Dr. F. over now, he would never again try to come back to normality and probably develop into a homosexual, though in a highly disguised way.

In a later letter to Dr. Frink, Freud tried to cover his tracks, writing that he had asked Mrs. Bijur not to repeat to anyone that “I had advised her to marry you on the threat of a nervous breakdown.

It gives them a false idea of the kind of advice that is compatible with analysis and is very likely to be used against analysis,” Freud added.

For her part, Mrs. Bijur was in love with Dr Frink, and apparently wanted Freud’s assurance that she was justified in divorcing. Yet after telling their spouses they wanted a divorce, both Dr. Frink and Mrs. Bijur had strong doubts. Dr. Frink, feeling guilty over leaving his wife, became depressed and then psychotic. But in December the episode passed. Freud told him the analysis was complete, and that he should marry Mrs. Bijur. The two were married weeks later inParis.

Freud wanted so much for my father to marry Angie Bijur that he didn’t tell her about my father’s three-week psychosis,” Mrs. Kraft said. “She thought Freud tried to engineer the marriage for her money.”

Mrs. Kraft found many of the documents about her father in archives at Johns Hopkins Universityin 1985. Among them was an open letter to Freud that Angelika Bijur’s husband had planned to run as a newspaper advertisement in New York City.

In the letter, the outraged husband demanded to know how Freud could presume to break up his marriage. He concluded, “Great Doctor, are you a savant or a charlatan ?”

The ad and letters were found among the papers of the psychiatrist Adolf Meyer. In 1924, when Dr. Frink again plunged into depression, he committed himself to Dr. Meyer’s care at the Phipps Psychiatric Clinic in Baltimore. The couple were divorced later that year.

In his official biography of Freud, which Mrs. Kraft called a whitewash, Ernest Jones acknowledged that Dr. Frink’s second marriage caused a scandal, but he did not hint at Freud’s role in the matter.

The idea of Freud as the pure hero Jones portrayed doesn’t work,” said Peter Gay, a historian at Yale University whose ‘Freud: A Life for Our Time’ was published last year. “He’s a very complicated person; I find lots of things about Freud that can be criticized.”

Anna O. According to Dr. Sulloway, the science historian at M.I.T., Freud began bending the facts in the first published description of a psychoanalytic patient, “Anna O.,” who was treated by Freud’s early mentor, Josef Breuer, for neck paralysis, inability to speak her native German and other problems.

In his essay on hysteria, Freud presented the case as a brilliant cure. Carl Jung, however, said in 1925 that Freud had privately confessed that Anna had not actually been cured.

Anna O. was Bertha Pappenheim, a pioneer in social work in Germany in the 1930’s. In the 1970’s Henri Ellenberger, a historian of psychiatry at the University of Montreal, discovered the Pappenheim records in a Swiss sanitarium. The records showed she was first referred to the sanitarium soon after ending her treatment with Dr. Breuer, and that over the years she had several relapses of the same symptoms that supposedly had been cured.

Little Hans

Another of Freud’s key cases was that of ”Little Hans,” a 5-year-old boy who feared horses. According to Freud, the phobia originated in a fear of castration.

That deduction fit well with Freud’s emerging theory of the role of sexuality in emotional problems, especially the Oedipal complex, in which boys at around the age of 5 are said to feel intense rivalry with their father for their mother, and to fear a retaliatory castration.

“Little Hans” was Herbert Graf, the son of Max Graf, a Viennese musicologist who treated the boy under Freud’s guidance.

“Little Hans’s statements were repeatedly twisted by the father and by Freud to suit psychoanalytic theory,” Dr. Sulloway said.

According to still unpublished finding by Mr. Stadlen, who has interviewed people who knew Herbert Graf, “the most straightforward explanation of his horse phobia” comes from Little Hans himself. “He said it started when he was frightened by horses at Gmunden, where he used to spend his summers,” Mr. Stadlen said. He continued: “Freud discounts that as a cause of his phobia. But according to the members of the family with whom he stayed, it’s very likely he, a visitor from the city, was warned that the horses could bite; bite they could.”


Freud’s classic example of hysteria, in which emotional conflicts manifest themselves as physical symptoms, was the case of “Dora,” a 16-year-old girl. It is one of the most frequently cited cases in the psychoanalytic literature. But some historians now doubt its validity entirely.

Dora’s father was having an affair with a neighbor, Frau K. The neighbor’s husband, Herr K., apparently encouraged by Dora’s father, in turn made a sexual advance to Dora, who repelled him.

After he found a suicide note she had written, Dora’s father brought her to Freud for treatment. Dora’s symptoms included a cough and disgust at sex. Freud viewed all Dora’s symptoms as signs of hysteria.

Freud came to believe that Dora actually loved Herr K., and pressed his insights on his patient. But Dora would accept none of Freud’s interpretations and quit analysis.

“Dora,” historians have determined, was actually Ida Bauer, the sister of Otto Bauer, who rose to prominence as a leader of the Austrian Socialist Party. In the mid-1950’s, Felix Deutsch, a psychoanalyst, tracked down a couple who knew Ida Bauer. Dr. Deutsch wrote an article about Dora, saying the couple described her as a “repulsive hysteric” after fleeing analysis.

But in other new findings, Mr. Stadlen was able to interview several people who knew Ida Bauer, including a cousin who was a confidante of Ida and was mentioned prominently in the case.

The cousin had known about the affair between Dora’s father and Frau K., and remembered Ida telling her that she quit analysis because she hadn’t liked all the questions Freud asked her.” Mr. Stadlen said.

Mr. Stadlen was also able to find the woman in the couple Dr. Deutsch interviewed. “I found that they were not really very familiar with Dora,” he said. “They were just indulging in gossip. When the woman had actually met Ida, she saw nothing that supported the idea she was a ‘repulsive hysteric.’ But she had a bad reputation, apparently based on the stigma of her having gone to see Freud.

As for Dora’s cousin, Mr. Stadlin said: “While she confirmed the details of the father’s affair, she said the only symptoms Ida had were a cough and what seem to have been migraine headaches. I question the whole idea that there was anything really much wrong with Dora at all. She seemed distressed, as any young girl might have been in her situation, but not disordered.” Frau Cacilie M. The practice of having patients lie on a couch and ‘free associate,’ or say aloud whatever comes to mind, took shape largely in the three years Freud treated a patient called ‘Frau Cacilie M.’ But some historians now say the treatment evolved not because of any theoretical breakthrough but rather because of particular problems of the woman. Her name was Anna von Lieben, according to Peter Swales, writing in ‘Freud: Appraisals and Reappraisals,’ published in 1986 by the Analytic Press.

She had suffered for 30 years from a variety of problems, including facial pain, pains in her feet so severe she could hardly walk and memory lapses.

Mr. Swales said she was treated lying on a couch because ‘Anna spent much of her life’ lying on a chaise lounge. And because she could not be hypnotized, Freud wrote that he simply pressed her to tell him whatever came to mind as she concentrated on her symptoms. In this way, free association was born.

In his report on the new technique he used with Anna von Lieben, Freud wrote that whenever she would free associate about a symptom, the problem would clear up. “But Anna, who seems to have been addicted to morphine, never recovered, and remained an invalid much of her life,” Mr. Swales said.

The Rat Man

The only known case in which Freud’s notes survive is that of Ernst Lanzer, the ‘Rat Man.’ Freud treated him for obsessions, particularly the dread that something terrible would happen to his father and his girlfriend. His fear of rats, Freud showed through elaborate interpretations, was based on disguised homosexual fantasies. Mr. Stadlen tracked down relatives of Mr. Lanzer who said the account handed down by the family was that Freud had helped him overcome shyness so that he could marry.

But Patrick Mahony, a psychoanalyst and professor of English at the University of Montreal, has discovered several discrepancies between Freud’s own case notes and his published narrative of the treatment. His findings are in ‘Freud and the Rat Man,‘ published in 1986 by the Yale University Press.

Dr. Mahony said Freud seems to have twisted the actual course of the case a bit to better support his theoretical points. He also said Freud misrepresented some of the facts to make his deductive powers seem all the more impressive. For example, Freud said he had guessed the name of the Rat Man’s girlfriend, Gisela, from an anagram, ‘Glejisamen,’ that the patient had invented. Actually, the notes show Freud had learned her name first, and then used it to deduce the meaning of the anagram.

The Wolf Man

While the Rat Man seems a success for Freud, the case of the Wolf Man appears a failure. The Wolf Man was a Russian aristocrat who suffered from numerous fears. Even though Freud pronounced the Wolf Man cured, he was treated by other psychoanalysts on and off over a period of 60 years.

Freud’s key intervention with the Wolf Man rested on a nightmare in which he was lying in bed and saw some white wolves sitting on a tree in front of the open window. Freud deduced that the dream symbolized a trauma: that the Wolf Man, as a toddler, had witnessed his parents having intercourse. Freud’s version of the supposed trauma, however, was contradicted by the Wolf Man himself, Sergej Pankejeff, in an interview with Karin Obholzer, a journalist who tracked him down in Vienna in the 1970’s.

Mr. Pankejeff saw Freud’s interpretation of his dream as ‘terribly far-fetched.’ Mr. Pankejeff said, ‘The whole thing is improbable,’ since in families of his milieu young children slept in their nanny’s bedroom, not with their parents.

Mr. Pankejeff also disputed Freud’s claim thathe had been cured, and said he resented being ‘propaganda’ and ‘a showpiece for psychoanalysis.’ Mr. Pankejeff said, “That was the theory, that Freud had cured me 100 percent.” But, he said, “It’s all false.”

Anna Freud

For decades it was a closely held secret that one of Freud’s most illustrious patients was Anna, his daughter, who went on to develop psychoanalysis for children. Despite Anna’s analysis with her father, it was never acceptable for a parent to analyze his own child. This conflict has become the source of a controversy involving Anna and Dorothy Burlingham, daughter of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who was famed for his stained glass. In the 1920’s Mrs. Burlingham separated from her husband, Robert, and brought their four young children with her to Vienna, where she developed a close relationship with Anna.

They became lifelong companions, lived together and, after Dorothy herself became a psychoanalyst, wrote together.

One of Mrs. Burlingham’s grandsons, Michael John Burlingham, disclosed last year in his book ”The Last Tiffany” that two of the cases Anna wrote about in her own seminal work, ”The Technique of Child Analysis,” were Mrs. Burlingham’s children.

“All four children were in analysis with Anna, who was also in the position of being their father-surrogate in the household,” said Mr. Burlingham. “Two of the children, Mabbie and my father Bob, were in analysis with Anna for much of their lives, starting with an ongoing analysis for Bob from age 10 to 23, and for Mabbie from 8 to 20.”

Mr. Burlingham said he felt that the relationship with Anna was ultimately damaging. Mabbie committed suicide when her marriage broke up. His own father, Bob, was plagued by depression much of his life.


Postscritpt. The grisely fate that awaited these children (in 1970 and 1974) is outlined in the “Anna Freud: Part 1 – Her secret failure” on this site.

One response to “Freud’s phoney findings

  1. I have *long* held the impression that the entire Freud clan were nothing more than experimenters and dabblers of the most amateur and non scientific method possible, in much the same way the Mengele was a dabbler in surgery and genetics, to be specific, with no regard whatsoever to the patients well being, and never questioning “should I actually be doing this to another human being?”

    That they as a family got “good press” is hardly surprising considering the role Bernays (Edward Louis) plays in history… he would hardly have allowed anything from his own past to be tainted… Bernays was very much a Goebbels, but unlike Mengele he found himself on the losing side so all his actions are viewed through the bad PR lens and not the good PR lens.

    In my own unfortunate experiences with the trick cyclists in the UK secret family courts they are in short far worse than the disease they are allegedly there to help detect and prevent / cure.

    As I stated to all those concerned in my own case, at least practising paedophiles have the excuse that they cannot help themselves and they are driven to do these things, while court appointed “experts” in secret family courts are in it for the money, £180 per hour out of the State purse, and the diagnosis ALWAYS matches the maximum possible ongoing intercession and billable hours, just like their antecedents the Freuds.

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