TitleFreud's Free Clinics. Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918-1938
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsDanto, Elizabeth Ann
CityNew York
AbstractElizabeth Ann Danto, Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice,1918–1938, New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Pp. 352. $29.50. ISBN 0–231–13180–1. In 1918, two months before the Armistice, Freud brought together a group of leading psychoanalysts in an effort to establish free out-patient clinics. The aim was to make the ideas and techniques accessible to a broad cross-section of working people. The extraordinary political and social climate of the interwar years provided the context for such a broadminded, inclusive and radical endeavour. Between 1920 and 1938, free treatment centres were successfully operating in seven countries and ten cities, which included Moscow, Frankfurt, New York and Paris. The list of those involved reads like a who’s who of the psychoanalytic community during the interwar years as Erik Erikson, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Bruno Bettelheim, Alfred Adler, Melanie Klein, Anna Freud, Wilhelm Reich and Helene Deutsch were among those to participate. They imagined themselves at the forefront of social change and positioned their work not only within a medical paradigm but also within a progressive one. As Danto notes, they ‘based their practice on a symbiotic relationship with the political values of the Weimar era’ (p. 4). Governments in both Berlin and Vienna promoted and expanded mental health and social services on a broader scale than had been the case prior to the war and the free clinics signified a link between these developments and psychoanalysis. Danto provides a meticulous analysis of the innovative and path-breaking institutions which were established, including the Vienna Ambulatorium, the Berlin Poliklinik, Alfred Adler’s child guidance clinics and Wilhelm Reich’s Sex-Pol. The depth of research and the astute analysis offered in this book make this an exceptional history and much of its strength lies in the lively details included in the narrative. For instance, Reich’s efforts to disseminate his views were at times unconventional and, to quote Danto, ‘in 1922, in Vienna, Reich ran Sex-Hygiene Clinics for Workers and Employees. . . . Several days a week Reich and his team of psychoanalysts and physicians would drive in a van out into Vienna’s suburbs and rural areas, announcing their visits in advance. They would speak about sexual concerns to interested persons gathered at a local park . . .. Upon request, the gynecologist would fit women with contraceptive devices’ (p. 115). Although chased or arrested by police, Reich would give political talks in the evening about repression, sexuality and psychoanalysis. Focus on Psychiatry, Psychology and History 157 The destruction of this culture came swiftly and with horrific consequences as the Nazi campaign successfully eliminated psychoanalysis; Freud and Adler’s books were publicly burnt and Jewish doctors were rounded up. Matthias Goring, a specialist in nervous and affective diseases since 1922 and a member of the Nationalist Socialist Party, the SS and several other Nazi organisations, proceeded to abolish all Freudian terms like ‘Oedipus’ and ‘childhood sexuality’ from the teaching and practice of psychoanalysis. Meanwhile, the exodus of analysts began in earnest and by the late 1930s many of them had sought exile in Paris, Prague, Oslo and Los Angeles. In 1938 Freud himself sought refuge in London, the year that Goring announced triumphantly that the former’s publications were locked up in a ‘poison cupboard’ (p. 301). By then, psychoanalytic terminology was replaced by desexualised pre-Freudian terms so that Oedipus became ‘family’ and psychoanalysis became ‘developmental psychology’. Where the book might have done more is in providing details about those who sought treatment at the clinics. It would have been interesting to know how they viewed psychoanalysis and what benefits they were seeking from such treatment. Nevertheless, this is a dramatic story eloquently told by Danto who has written a compelling, engaging and fascinating account of a largely under-researched aspect of the history of psychoanalysis. With great flair she captures the spirit and ethos of a time when psychoanalysts were committed to a sense of civic responsibility. The world evoked here is one that reminds us of the progressive, creative and innovative possibilities within psychoanalysis. It also provides a timely opportunity to reflect on where the cultural, humanist and political dimensions of Freudian thought are now located, after the medicalisation of psychoanalysis in the name of conformity. Joy Damousi University of Melbourne doi: 10.1093/shm/hkj014