Otto Rank

Otto Rank

Otto Rank (April 22, 1884 - October 31, 1939) was an Austrian psychoanalyst, writer, teacher and therapist. Born in Vienna as Otto Rosenfeld, he was one of Sigmund Freud's closest colleagues for 20 years, a prolific writer on psychoanalytic themes, an editor of the two most important analytic journals, managing director of Freud's publishing house and a creative theorist and therapist. In 1926, Otto Rank left Vienna for Paris. For the remaining 14 years of his life, Rank had an exceptionally successful career as a lecturer, writer and therapist in France and the U.S. Rank was one of first lay analysts. Famous for early concept of "Birth Trauma" (first separation).

In the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society

In 1905, at the age of 21, Otto Rank presented Freud with a short manuscript on the artist, a study that so impressed Freud he invited Rank to become Secretary of the emerging Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Rank thus became the first paid member of the psychoanalytic movement, and Freud's "right-hand man" for almost 20 years. Freud considered Rank, with whom he was more intimate intellectually than his own sons, to be the most brilliant of his Viennese disciples.

Rank was one of Freud's six collaborators brought together in a secret "committee" or "ring" to defend the psychoanalytic mainstream as disputes with Adler and then Jung developed. Rank was the most prolific author in the "ring" besides Freud himself, extending psychoanalytic theory to the study of legend, myth, art, and other works of creativity. He worked closely with Freud, contributing two chapters on myth and legend to later editions of The Interpretation of Dreams.

Rank's name appeared underneath Freud's on the title page of Freud's greatest work for many years. Between 1915 and 1918, Rank served as Secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association which Freud had founded in 1910. Everyone in the small psychoanalytic world understood how much Freud respected Rank and his prolific creativity in expanding psychoanalytic theory.

In 1924, Rank published Das Trauma der Geburt (translated into English as The Trauma of Birth in 1929), exploring how art, myth, religion, philosophy and therapy were illuminated by separation anxiety in the “phase before the development of the Oedipus complex” (p. 216). But there was no such phase in Freud’s theories.

The Oedipus Complex, Freud explained tirelessly, was the nucleus of the neurosis and the foundational source of all art, myth, religion, philosophy, therapy - indeed of all human culture and civilization. It was the first time that anyone in the inner circle had dared to suggest that the Oedipus complex might not be the supreme causal factor in psychoanalysis. Rank was the first to use the term 'pre-Oedipal' in a public psychoanalytic forum in 1925 (Rank, 1996, p. 43).

In a 1930 self-analysis of his own writings, Rank observes that the pre-Oedipal super-ego has since been overemphasized by Melanie Klein, without any reference to me. In the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Rank will be credited with coining the term "pre-Oedipal", which was previously mistakenly thought to have been introduced by Freud or Klein.

After some hesitation, Freud distanced himself from The Trauma of Birth, signaling to other members of his inner circle that Rank was perilously close to anti-Oedipal heresy. Confronted with Freud’s decisive opposition, Rank resigned in protest from his positions as Vice-President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, director of Freud’s publishing house, and co-editor of Imago and Zeitschrift.

His closest friend, Sandor Ferenczi, with whom Rank collaborated in the early Twenties on new experiential, object-relational and "here-and-now" approaches to therapy, vacillated on the significance of Rank's pre-Oedipal theory but not on Rank's objections to classical analytic technique.

The recommendation in Freud’s technical papers for analysts to be emotionless, according to Ferenczi and Rank (1924), had led to "an unnatural elimination of all human factors in the analysis" (pp. 40–41), and to "a theorizing of experience [Erlebnis]" (p. 41): the feeling experience of the intersubjective relationship, two first-person experiences, within the analytic situation. "The characteristic of that time," remembers Sandor Rado, who was in analysis with Karl Abraham from 1922 to 1925, "was a neglect of a human being's emotional life." Adds Rado: "Everybody was looking for oral, pregenital, and genital components in motivation. But that some people are happy, others unhappy, some afraid, or full of anger, and some loving and affectionate - read the case histories to find how such differences between people were then absent from the literature." (Roazen & Swerdloff, 1995, pp. 82–83)

All emotional experience by human beings was being reduced by analysis to a derivative, no matter how disguised, of libido. For Freud, emotion was always sexual, derived from a dangerous Id that must be surgically uprooted: "Where Id was [Wo es war]," Freud said famously, "there ego shall be [soll ich werden]" (S.E., 22:80).

“Libido,” according to Freud’s 1921 work on Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (S.E., 18: 90), “is an expression taken from the theory of the emotions.” Emotion is the cause of neurotic disorder. Increases in emotion, according to Freud, are unpleasurable. Cure, for Freud, means analyzing, "working through" and eventually uprooting the emotions of the patient, “like the draining of the Zuyder Zee” (Freud, S.E., 22:80). The analyst makes the unconscious conscious by providing cognitive insight to the patient, thereby subduing the pressing drive for the irrational, for emotions - for the Id - to emerge from the patient’s unconscious.

In a 1927 lecture, Rank (1996) observes that “surgical therapy is uprooting and isolates the individual emotionally, as it tries to deny the emotional life” (p. 169), the same attack he and Ferenczi had leveled against psychoanalytic practice in their joint work. Reducing all emotional experience - all feeling, loving, thinking, and willing - to sex was one of Freud's biggest mistakes, according to Rank, who first pointed out this confusion in the mid-twenties. Emotions, said Rank, are relationships. Denial of the emotional life leads to denial of the will, the creative life, as well as denial of the interpersonal relationship in the analytic situation (Rank, 1929–31).

For Freud, said Rank in Will Therapy (1929–31), "the emotional life develops from the sexual sphere, therefore his sexualization in reality means emotionalization" (p. 165), two experiences that psychoanalysts continued to conflate for half a century after Freud’s death. Until the end of the 20th century, psychoanalysis had no theory of emotional experience and, by extension, no theory of emotional intelligence. Weinstein (2001) identified over two dozen articles in the major psychoanalytic journals lamenting the absence of a theory of emotions. "Such comments persisted through to the 1990s".

"The emotional impoverishment of psychoanalysis," wrote Ernest Becker (1973) in The Denial of Death, which was strongly influenced by Rank's ideas, "must extend also to many analysts themselves and to psychiatrists who come under its ideology. This fact helps explain the terrible deadness of emotion that one experiences in psychiatric settings, the heavy weight of the character armor erected against the world" (p. 195n).

Written privately in 1932, Ferenczi’s Clinical Diary identified the “personal causes for the erroneous development of psychoanalysis” (Ferenczi, 1995, p. 184). According to Ferenczi, "… One learned from Freud and from his kind of technique various things that made one’s life and work more comfortable: the calm, unemotional reserve; the unruffled assurance that one knows better; and the theories, the seeking and finding of the causes of failure in the patient instead of partly in ourselves … and finally the pessimistic view, shared only with a few, that neurotics are a rabble [Gesindel], good only to support us financially and to allow us to learn from their cases: psychoanalysis as a therapy may be worthless" (Ferenczi, 1995, pp. 185–186).

But terrified at the prospect of losing Freud's approval, Ferenczi aborted his enthusiasm for The Trauma of Birth and began to distance himself personally from Rank - whom he shunned during a chance meeting in 1926 at Penn Station in New York. "He was my best friend and he refused to speak to me," Rank said (Taft, 1958, p. xvi).

Ferenczi's rupture with Rank cut short radical innovations in practice, and left no one in the inner circle who would champion relational, pre-Oedipal or "here-and-now" psychotherapy. Classical psychoanalysis, along the lines of Freud's 1911-15 technical writings, would now be entrenched in training institutes around the world. The attack leveled in 1924 by Ferenczi and Rank on the increasing "fanaticism for interpretation" and the "unnatural elimination of all human factors" from the practice of analysis would be forgotten.

Relational, expressive and "here-and-now" therapy would not be acceptable to most members of the American Psychoanalytic Association or the International Psychoanalytic Association for half a century. "Those who had the misfortune to be analyzed by Rank were required to undergo a second analysis in order to qualify" for membership in the American Psychoanalytic Association (Lieberman, 1985, p. 293). As far as classical analysis was concerned, Rank was dead.

Post-Vienna life and work

In May 1926, having made emotional relationship in the "here-and-now" central to his practice of psychotherapy, Rank moved to Paris where he became a psychotherapist for artists such as Henry Miller and Anais Nin and lectured at the Sorbonne (Lieberman, 1985).

According to Rank, all emotional life is grounded in the present. In Will Therapy, published in German in 1929-31, Rank uses the term “here and now” for the first time in the psychotherapeutic literature: “Freud made the repression historical, that is, misplaced it into the childhood of the individual and then wanted to release it from there, while as a matter of fact the same tendency is working here and now” (Rank, 1929–31, p. 39).

Instead of the word Verdrangung (repression), which laid stress on unconscious repression of the past, Rank preferred to use the word Verleugnung (denial), which focused instead on the emotional will to remain ill in the present: “The neurotic lives too much in the past [and] to that extent he actually does not live. He suffers … because he clings to the past, wants to cling to it, in order to protect himself from experience Erlebnis, the emotional surrender to the present” (Rank, 1929–31, p. 27).

In France and later in America, Rank enjoyed great success as a therapist and writer from 1926 to 1939. Traveling frequently between France and America, Rank lectured at universities such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and University of Pennsylvania on relational, experiential and “here-and-now” psychotherapy, art, the creative will, and “neurosis as a failure in creativity” (Rank, 1996).

Just as Erik Erikson was the first analyst to focus on identity and adulthood, Rank was the first to propose that separation from outworn thoughts, emotions and behaviors is the quintessence of psychological growth and development. In the late 1920s, after he left Freud’s inner circle, Rank explored how human beings can learn to assert their will within relationships, and advocated a maximum degree of individuation within a maximum degree of connectedness.[clarification needed]

Foreshadowing the central themes of Piaget, Kohlberg, McClelland, Erikson and Robert Kegan, Rank was the first to propose that human development is a lifelong construction, which requires continual negotiation and renegotiation of the dual yearnings for individuation and connection, the will to separate and the will to unite. Decades before Ronald Fairbairn, now credited by many as the inventor in the 1940s of modern object-relations theory, Rank's 1926 lecture on "The Genesis of the Object Relation" marks the first complete statement of this theory (Rank, 1996, pp. 140–149).

By 1926 Rank was persona non grata in the official psychoanalytic world. There is little reason to believe, therefore, that any of the other writers credited with helping to invent object relations theory (Melanie Klein or Donald Winnicott, for example) ever read the German text of this lecture, published as Zur Genese der Object-beziehung in Vol. 1 of Rank's Genetische Psychologie (1927, pp. 110–22).

Rank died in New York City in 1939 from a kidney infection, one month after Freud's physician-assisted suicide on the Jewish Day of Atonement. "Komisch" (strange, odd, comical), Rank said on his deathbed (Lieberman, 1985, p. 389). Read more