Panel IAAP/IPA: Symbols and Symbolisation in Clinical Practice and in Elisabeth Márton’s Film

Introduction to the Panel

Murray Stein
Goldiwil, Switzerland
Schwizerische Gesellschaft für Analytische Psychologie
(Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts, Honorary Member)

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this panel made up jointly of IAAP members and IPA members. Let me say just a few words about this historic occasion.

I met Alain Gibeault at the JAP conference in Prague several years ago and found him to be an open and friendly person with a genuine interest in what we Jungians are doing and thinking. At the time, he was Secretary General of the IPA, a position he held with great distinction until last year. (He is now on the Executive Committee of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society.) He had been deeply involved already at that time for many years in setting up psychoanalytic training opportunities in Eastern Europe, especially in Russia. When at the end of the conference I asked him if it might be possible to change the strained relations between the IAAP and the IPA, he was open to the question and we agreed to meet again sometime in Paris where he lives and works as a psychoanalyst. This was the beginning.

Several months later, when I was in Paris on IAAP business, I invited him to dinner along with Christian Gaillard and Joe Cambray, and at that point we discussed the possibility of creating some jointly sponsored events such as this one. It was at his initiative that a joint panel was set up for the IPA Congress held last March in New Orleans (originally scheduled for the summer of 2003 in Toronto but changed due to SARS). Christian Gaillard and I participated on that panel with Alain Gibeault and Svi Lothan, chaired by Marcio Giovannetti. This marked the first time IAAP members have participated officially as such at an IPA Congress, and it was probably the first time Jungians have spoken at an IPA Congress since Jung resigned in 1914.

Today we have the opportunity to reciprocate this gesture of cooperation by hosting IPA members Alain Gibeault and his wife Monique, who is also a practicing psychoanalyst in Paris and who will read Marcio Giovannetti’s paper since he cannot attend the Congress due to illness. On the panel, as well, are IAAP members Jean Kirsch from San Francisco and Gert Sauer from Stuttgart. The topic of the panel, symbolization in clinical practice and in the film Ich hiess Sabina Spielrein, continues the theme that was touched upon and begun in New Orleans at the IPA Congress. We hope that this panel will be stimulating and will lead to more of the same type of cooperative exchanges in the future.

Some Analytical Contributions of Sabina Spielrein

Ursula Prameshuber
Rome, Italy
Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica

I’m going to talk about Sabina Spielrein as an analyst. So I will concentrate more on Sabina’s theoretical contributions, especially in regard to empathy and relationship which are very much debated in contemporary psychoanalysis today. As is well known, in Freudian psychoanalysis there has been a paradigmatic shift from drive theory to relation and empathy. A very fruitful and interesting dialogue about these issues is doing on between Relational Psychoanalysis and Analytic Psychology. In order to develop my reflections I will examine the article, “The Mother-in-Law,” in which these two themes are pointed out by Sabina. I am not taking into consideration her two major works, “On the Psychological Contents of Schizophrenia (Dementia Praecox),” written in 1911, and “Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being,” about which many articles have already been written, underlining the influence they had on Freud’s concept of the death instinct. In conclusion I will add some personal reflections to Sabina’s biography, pointing out her relationship with the female world.

The article “The Mother-in-Law” was published for the first time in 1913 in Imago. In this article Sabina develops two very interesting concepts about the female psyche. One is that the female psyche is defined by relationship, and the other concept reflects a typical female way of psychological understanding, which she called empathy.

Talking about the first concept, Sabina affirms that the female psyche is always connected with the personal sphere, the I-You dimension, the capacity to enter into relationship with the other. Therefore it is the aspect of female psyche which is the basis of every relationship. While Sabina connects the aspects of female psyche to women, Jung extends this concept to men as well and their unconscious female part in his concept of Anima. It seems that the relationship with Sabina Spielrein has in some ways influenced Jung’s Anima concept, which he developed after the break up of his relationship with her. In fact he wrote in his penultimate letter to Sabina:

The love of S. for J. made the latter aware of something he had previously only vaguely suspected, namely of the power in the unconscious which shapes our destiny, a power which later led him to things of the greatest importance. (Covington, 2003, p. 188)

According to Sabina, the female psyche is characterized by relationship while the male psyche is characterized by objectivity. Sabina does not deny the capacity to objectify to women; this capacity is part of the female psyche, but she writes, “women’s ability to do this is much less.” (Spielrein, 1913, p. 589) The predominant part of the female psyche is the relationship, and the capacity to enter into contact with the others.

Her ideas about the female psyche show many similarities with what Jung affirmed in his article, “Women in Europe,” written in 1917. In this article Jung develops his ideas about the female psyche, talking about the importance of a psychological relationship between men and women. Jung affirms:

Woman’s psychology is founded on the principle of Eros, the great binder and loosener, whereas from ancient times the ruling principle ascribed to men is Logos. The concept of Eros could be expressed in modern terms as psychic relatedness, and that of Logos as objective interest. (Jung, 1927, §255)

Sabina’s idea of the female psyche, developed in 1913, was completely different from the psychoanalytical concepts of those days, which viewed women not as psycho-social subjects, but as defined by their biological function, destined exclusively for the procreation of the species. According to this concept, female psychology was identified with a fundamentally passive role.

In quite an explicit way, Freud had described women as completely dominated by their biological task, which found its expression in his famous statement that “anatomy is destiny.” He had never explored the universe of the female psyche, it appeared to him as completely different. He defined it as “the black continent” and left it up to his female colleagues to explore it in the future. But his female colleagues, following Freud’s teaching, also ended up by emphasizing passivity as the basic female structure. A well known example is Helene Deutsch, who in her book The Psychology of Women, written as late as the 1940s, defines passivity and masochism as original characteristics of the female psyche.

Sabina, in contrast with the psychoanalytical culture of her period, underlines the potential activity of the female psyche. According to her women do not only live their emotions and feelings, as well as their relations with the other and the world, in a passive way, but on the contrary live a condition of elevated activity through their empathic capacity.

According to Sabina it is through empathy that the female psyche perceives the other’s feelings in an active way, living them inside herself psychologically. In this way women are able to create a psychological and empathic relationship which forms the basis for every psychologi cal relationship. For Sabina, women’s relatedness is a dynamic act of the female psyche and in this sense is no way inferior to men. She writes in her article:

It is in this ability to empathize that a woman’s great original social significance is to be found, and I do not know how far it is either possible or desirable to wish to embody in women the masculine aspects of feeling by considering them of a “higher” quality. In any case I believe that it would scarcely succeed in full; the woman’s biological roles for the human race are those of a mother and an educator; these roles need so much empathic capacity that the woman according to her basic characteristics can free herself of only a comparatively small part of her feelings through objectivization. (Spielrein, 1913, p. 590)

The second concept that characterizes the female psyche, according to Sabina, is empathy. This word was used for the first time by the German poet Novalis in 1798, connecting the German words “ein” (in) and “Fühlung” (feeling), describing in this way “a fusion with the world and nature, a common feeling, a special way of openness in regard to the other. (Corradi, 1999)

Sabina writes in her article:

Women have fewer possibilities to experience their desires in reality. But as a compensation they possess a much larger capacity to empathize with others and in this way to make experience of their lives. (Spielrein, 1913, p. 589)

Thus, according to Sabina it is empathy that distinguishes the female psyche, the capacity to enter into contact with the inner life of another person, living the other’s feelings and emotions inside oneself. Her conception of empathy is in line with what the German philosopher Edith Stein stated in 1917 in her thesis, entitled “About the Problem of Empathy.” In this phenomenological work Stein concentrates on the experience of a subject that lives the experience of another person on an emotional level. According to Stein, empathy is the capacity of consciousness to feel the emotions of another person, but at the same time recognize them as a different phenomenon inside oneself. (Stein, 1917)

But let’s return to Sabina’s ideas about empathy.

… the woman feels the others’ feelings according to their desires and fears and makes them her own, then she frees herself of the emotion, living these experiences herself psychologically and changing them according to her wishes. (Spielrein, 1913, p. 589-590)

Contrary to the ruling ideas of her times, which viewed empathy either as a projection of one’s own inner aspects on an object (as is the case with Lipps in the field of art), or on a person (as is the case with Jung), the remarkable intuition of Sabina lies in the fact that for her empathy is by no means a form of projection, but represents a real understanding of the other’s feelings. She puts the accent of empathy on the connection, the relationship, an empathic relation. For her, empathy does not mean finding one’s own psychological aspects in the other, but recognizing psychic aspects of the other as real. Many years later this idea found its theorization in the Self Psychology of Heinz Kohut, who stated that empathy and not interpretation is the only tool of psychoanalysis. (Kohut, 1984)

Let’s once more examine what Sabina has to say about the female psyche.

in the widespread diffusion of empathy I see the reason why women, who by no means possess less intelligence or power of imagination than men, have not been able to create works of art of equal value. In order to create a work of art, one must objectify one’s own or the others’ experiences to such an extent that it can be assimilated into the world as if it were impersonal. … This objectivation is much less developed in women. (Spielrein, 1913, p. 589)

We can say that with her ideas about the female psyche, relation and empathy, Sabina showed that in her the quality to objectify was quite developed.

Having talked about Sabina’s theoretical contributions to the female psyche, I would now like to add a few remarks to her biography. In almost all articles and books Sabina’s biography has been examined in regard to her relationships with men: her father, Jung, Freud. I would like to examine her relationship with the female world which is first of all, with her mother. As is well known, the psychiatrists at the Burgholzli, Bleuler and Jung, connected Sabina’s pathology with her difficult and violent relationship with her father. At the first International Congress of Psychiatry in 1907 in Amsterdam, Jung presented the case of Sabina in this way:

Her father had been the object of her infantile libido translation, hence the resistances were directed especially against him, whereas her mother was not affected by them. (Jung, 1908, §56)

Freud, who had been informed about the case by letter, answered that it was an infantile fixation of the libido in regard to the father. (McGuire, 1974) So from the very beginning Sabina’s psychic problems were seen as connected to her relationship with her father, which is quite comprehensible for the early days of psychoanalysis, which were dominated by the drive theory and the theme of the father. Only after his relationship with Freud had broken off, Jung slowly developed his ideas about the libido and the psychological importance of the mother in his work Symbols of transformation, published in 1912. We can presume that Jung’s relationship with Sabina had some influence on the themes treated in this work. Talking about the terrible mother “who devours and destroys and thus symbolizes death itself,”(Jung, 1956, §504) Jung mentions Sabina and her ideas about the death instinct in a footnote.

In order to explore the relationship between Sabina and her mother, I will take into consideration a few biographical elements of her mother’s life.

Eva Lyublinskaya, the daughter of a rabbi, was very interested in music and science, to the point that her father permitted her to study medicine and become a dentist, which was more than unusual in those days in Russia. She seems to have been a quite determined and dominant woman, concentrated on her own realization which she could find neither in her marriage nor in motherhood. What we can deduce from the letters between Sabina and her mother is that their relationship was always one of great rivalry. Sabina’s mother put herself on the same level as her daughter, competing with her also as a rival in love. In a letter to Freud, which was probably never sent, Sabina, talking about Jung writes:

Doesn’t it sound funny, that my mother wants to take my beloved from me for the third time? Before Dr. Jung I was infatuated with two men (I was not yet ripe for love). They both liked me a great deal, but since I was still a child, both the first and the second hero fell in love with my mother head over heels. (Lothane, 2003)

From these short lines we can make some reflections about the kind of relationship which existed between Sabina and her mother. We get the impression of a kind of resignation, a feeling of impotence against an overwhelming mother figure, a strong rivalry and conflict.

Regarding the mother-daughter relationship, the article “The Mother-in-Law” is also of some biographical, and not only scientific, interest. This article was written in 1913, one year after Sabina’s marriage to Dr. Paul Scheftel, which was a surprise to everybody. Contrary to what we might expect from the title, it seems that Sabina does not talk about her mother-in-law, but about her own mother in respect to her son-in-law. Sabina states that mothers-in-law seem more like older sisters than mothers, that they envy the youth of their daughters and live in a constant competition with them. (Spielrein, 1913)

I think that Sabina’s main problem was not her difficult relationship with her father but a negative mother complex. From this vantage point we can explain why it was so difficult for Sabina to belong and identify completely with someone or something. As Jung states in his article “Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype” (Jung, 1959), the negative mother complex is characterized by “an overwhelming resistance to maternal supremacy, often to the exclusion of everything else. This kind of daughter knows what she does not want, but is usually completely at sea as to what she would choose as her own fate.” (Jung, 1959, §170).

In fact, in Sabina’s negative mother complex we can also find the reason why she always stayed away from her mother country and to the surprise of everyone, a few months after her mother’s death in 1922, she returned to Russia. The price for this were years of wandering around in Europe, Vienna, Geneva, Munich, Berlin, Lausanne, without ever really settling down. While Jung was able to elaborate his negative mother complex symbolically through his relation with the unconscious and his scientific work, Sabina on the other hand was forced to live her negative mother complex in real life through self-destruction and the destruction of her daughters.

Sabina’s tragic destiny cannot be changed but we can attribute her the place she earns as a pioneer of psychoanalysis by considering her original theoretical contributions, which for a long time have almost been forgotten. The last question is: a pioneer of Freudian psychoanalysis or of Jungian psychology? Well, although her ideas of destruction and their influence on the death instinct are usually underlined and stressed, I think that with her ideas about relation and empathy Sabina can be called a pioneer of Jungian thought that functions as a bridge to contemporary psychoanalysis.


  • Corradi, M. (1999) ‘Empathy’. Conference given at the CIPA in Rome. Unpublished.
  • Covington, C. (2003) ‘Comments on the Burghölzli hospital records of Sabina Spiel- rein’. In Sabina Spielrein. Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis, eds. C. Covington & B. Wharton. Hove: Brunner-Routledge.
  • Jung, C.G. (1959). ‘Psychological aspects of the mother archetype’ CW 9/i.
  • Jung, C.G. (1908). ‘The Freudian Theory of Hysteria.’ CW 4.
  • Jung, C.G. (1927). ‘Woman in Europe’. CW 10.
  • Jung. C.G. (1956). Symbols of Transformation. CW 5.
  • Kohut, H. (1984) How Does Analysis Cure? Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Lothane, Z. (2003) In: Sabina Spielrein. Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis, eds. C. Covington & B. Wharton. Hove: Brunner-Routledge.
  • McGuire, W. (1974) (ed.) The Freud/Jung Letters. London: Hogarth/Routledge &Kegan Paul.
  • Spielrein, Sabina (1913) ‘Die Schwiegermutter’. In: Imago, II/6. English transl. by the author.
  • Stein, E. (1917) Zum Problem der Einfühlung. Halle: Buchdruckerei des Waisenhauses.

Symbolisation and Creativity: The Analytic Adventures of Mr. A. and of Sabina Spielrein

Alain Gibeault
Paris, France
Société Psychanalytique de Paris / IPA

The Congress of the International Psychoanalytic Association which was held in New Orleans last March gave Freud and Jung’s descendants the opportunity to share “signs” of recognition based on their common experience of the unconscious and thus to rediscover the social and communicative function of the symbol. Thanks to Murray Stein and Christian Gaillard, we have the exceptional occasion to continue, during this Congress of the International Association of Psychoanalytical Psychology, this same work of symbolisation from our clinical practice as well as from a reflection on our common history, such as is shown in Elisabeth Márton’s wonderful film, My Name was Sabina Spielrein.

Symbolisation is a complex concept. To begin with a simple definition: symbolisation can be seen as an operation by which something will represent another thing for someone. Although it appears to be a substitution of one object by another, it is above all a process which presumes both the capacity to represent an absent object as well as a subject who is capable of distinguishing the symbol from the symbolised object.

We might thus consider symbolisation as true imaginative play. It promotes the capacity to fantasize as well as organising psychic space. Most importantly, symbolisation is an anti-depressive mechanism which binds affect. Its principal function is to reconnect separated elements whose significant connection has been lost; that is, its task is to link two representations, the symbol and the symbolised, which then facilitates binding otherwise unbound affect.

Beyond the substitution of two terms, symbolisation designates a reciprocal relation between subject and object, between psychic reality and material reality, between past and present. It thus unites with sublimatory processes in their function of recognition and participation in the values of social reality. This is the result of the process of symbolisation which aims to introduce a system of intra- and inter-subjective exchanges. In clinical practice, the Freudian model of analysis presupposes a two-term (dual) relationship (the analyst and the analysand) where the work becomes possible only by reference to the third entity represented by the setting. Hence the analytic situation takes a form that is both symbolic and symbolising, because it operates on the basis of a three-term structure that, precisely, allows the unfolding of a process of symbolisation with its moments of closure and opening. Freud’s emphasis on an essentially individual symbolism which is opposed to the work of culture on a social dimension in fact bears witness to the adventure of symbolisation within the treatment: a closed and repetitive form of symbolisation is supposed to give way to one which is open and not repetitive and which introduces a new system of exchange.

Mr A.: From Self-begetting to the Primal Scene

These interpretative tactics can be illustrated by the case of Mr A., a psychotic patient in individual psychoanalytic psychodrama. At the first interview, Mr A. told the consultant: “I bought a pistol. I then spent two days going round and round the Seine looking for somewhere to kill myself … Well, in the end, I don’t know why, I chose the bridges … the idea was to shoot myself and then fall into the water … I don’t know what stopped me … maybe … it was because, with a pistol, you have to press the trigger very hard, and, well, a few moments elapse between putting … , aiming at myself and pressing the trigger. I found the delay too long, and when I couldn’t bring myself to do it, I went along to the psychiatric emergency unit at St Anne’s Hospital.”

This suicide attempt resulted in Mr A.’s spending several months in the ASM 13 (Paris 13 Mental Health Association) Policlinic and having a consultation at the E. & J. Kestemberg Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy Centre with Jean Gillibert, its former head. This introduction left no room for any kind of “play” (in the sense either of playing or of leeway), combining as it did the image of immediate action with that of the suspension of time – the “few moments that elapsed” – which halted the fatal action.

The analyst’s approach to this lethal problem situation was to suggest play in the form of psychodrama, to encourage the creation of a psychic space and of temporality with a view to overcoming the patient’s recourse to omnipotent disavowal and splitting of the ego. After all, Mr A.’s psychotic functioning had already been responsible for the failure of a two-year couch-based psychoanalysis and of a further two years of face-to-face psychotherapy, the latter having been suddenly interrupted by the suicide attempt. The analytic work had not enabled the patient to bind his violence and destructiveness, which had been his only possible means of escape from the annihilating threat of non-differentiation from the object – a process described by A. Green (1980) as a casting out of the object. The only remaining option for emerging from this confusion was then to destroy the object or the subject himself. The suicidal attempt represented also a failure of the delusional solution: Mr A. had been previously subject to visual hallucinations of the Virgin Mary and to a mystical delusion.

Mr A.’s psychodrama treatment, under the direction of Jean Gillibert for the first two years and then of myself for the last eight years, was intended to allow him to contemplate solutions other than self-destruction and/or delusion. At the time of his consultation, he was in a state of great distress. Having been made redundant two years earlier, he said that he was no longer able to work or even to seek a job; he had “stayed in bed, playing dead”, until he finally resolved upon suicide as the way out.

He was tormented by a humiliating and shameful family history, his paternal grandfather and father having collaborated with the Germans during the Second World War; tormented also by the tales of war and destruction that had been his staple reading matter since childhood, he felt assailed by images of mutilated bodies, associated both with his fragmentation anxieties and with their mastery as, in his imagination, he constantly rehearsed the themes that obsessed him. In accordance with his father’s wishes, he had spent five years in the army at the end of his adolescence. During this period he had felt “confined to barracks” – his way of describing the anxiety-inducing experience of being unable to get out once he had gone inside. This corresponded to the terrifying experience of incorporation by the object, a psychotic parallel to the vision portrayed in Buñuel’s famous film The Exterminating Angel, in which guests at a dinner party are suddenly locked inside a house and lack the strength to leave.

The only way to avoid being thus locked in by the object was to take flight from it into decathexis – “letting myself fall”, as Mr A. was to say in recalling an event that had taken place when he was two years old: “My father was walking along the left bank of the River Marne, far away. My mother was with me on the right bank. I moved forward into the water. As I was very small, I must have lost my footing very quickly, or perhaps I stepped into a hole, but I have a precise memory of actually feeling myself … falling. It lasted a long time. I didn’t feel any anxiety; in fact, it was almost pleasurable.”

He had stepped out of time, enjoying the fascination of an endless fall in which the primal scene was disavowed in favour of an experience of eternity and immortality, perhaps corresponding to a fantasy of death and rebirth, of which the subject was the sole master. The fantasy was therefore one of self-begetting, involving a recourse to omnipotence as the only way of avoiding incestuous confusion with the mother in the absence of a father who was, as he said, “far away”. As it happens, Mr A.’s parents had divorced when he was thirteen and the mother had then invited her son to share her bed. Later on, he will tell us that he had wanted to see her breasts and had become blind of one eye.

I should now like to present a sequence that occurred after about eight years of psychodrama, which enabled Mr A. and myself to glimpse the possibility of emerging from the psychotic solution in which he had no doubt felt locked up for so long. Mr A. was now fifty-four years old, but looked fifteen years younger, having retained a juvenile, almost adolescent, appearance. He was dressed relatively smartly as befitted an adult, in contrast to the state in which he had presented himself at the beginning of the psychodrama treatment, when he had worn a shapeless tracksuit and his dishevelled, “pudding-basin” haircut, as he called it, had made him look lost. In line with his formless outward appearance, he had been so passive in the scenes that one was put in mind of a being with no outline and nothing inside. However, this masochistic submission to the object was merely the other side of the coin of a terrifying fantasy life that was seemingly expressed without affect: for instance, he had jokingly suggested acting a scene in which his two younger sisters (one of them a year and the other two years his junior) were cut into pieces and buried in the family garden.

This patient’s passive bodily presence with its lack of outline bore witness to his surrender to the object, to his abandonment of his body to his mother and her pleasure. Considered in these terms, the psychodrama scene perhaps offered him an opportunity to free himself from this enslavement and threat of non-differentiation by an alternative path to that of destructive violence. Passivity being intolerable owing to this incorporation anxiety, the technique of psychodrama held out the possibility of activity through play, the themes and roles being prepared by the patient. In this way, he was able to regain possession of a bodily image that had until then been characterized by lacunae, fault lines and fragmentation owing to the deficiencies of primary maternal cathexis.

Mr A. was a patient who had found it impossible to work or even to seek a job, and this had led to his suicide attempt. Psychodrama had enabled him to resume his work as a computer engineer, as well as to take up painting again; indeed, one day he even brought us some of his pictures, which were in the abstract style of Poliakoff. Yet he always wondered why he needed to work and earn money. Furthermore, he would spend all the money he earned for a girlfriend whom he felt to be a vampire. He also had great difficulty in getting paid. For him, working and being paid meant earning his living “like everybody else”. Previously we had worked this conflict with him in term of opposition between his grandiose ideal ego wishes to be a Great man without working and the Super Ego requirements to face his limits, in order to give himself the possibility to find real satisfactions in his life. It was an example of interpretative work at the level of modalities of mental functioning instead of working at the level of unconscious fantasies.

It was only at the later stage that it was possible to interpret his unconscious fantasies.

In a scene staging his curiosity about his parents’ sexual intercourse, he had expressed a disavowal of the primal scene. He had of course found it intolerable for his parents to be together, and his exclusion from the primal scene was suggested by the two psychodramatists through the wish not to be disturbed by their children while alone together. Mr A. then felt called upon to express a desire to see, and said: “I’m looking right through them; it’s like a white hole.” This white hole could be seen as the representation of a negative hallucination that disavowed the primal scene at the very moment when Mr A. was directly confronted with it.

In his associations after the playing of this scene, he had remembered that, as an adolescent, he had thought that his parents had never had a sex life and that children were born by spontaneous generation. The work on this scene afforded an opportunity to interpret the unconscious fantasy underlying his lack of pragmatism and his difficulty in earning money: “Earning a living like everybody else was tantamount to accepting the idea of having been born of a mother and father like everybody else, which had for a long time been intolerable and unacceptable to him.” This psychodrama representation of the disavowal of the primal scene had enabled the patient to surpass the psychotic mechanisms of disavowal and splitting of the ego, as a result of which he was able to introject the relevant interpretation without experiencing it as a violent intrusion into his psychic world.

It is interesting to note too, that for Mr A. the primal scene had come to be represented by way of the theme of concentration camps. He had one day mentioned that his parents often quarrelled violently about the extermination of the Jews in the camps: his father had refused to accept the reality of the Nazi extermination of the Jews in Europe, whereas his mother had taken the opposite view. Confronted with such a violent and destructive primal scene, Mr. A. had had no option other than to transform the black hole into a white one and to banish all traces of terror and violence; however, this had been at the cost of the “rift in the ego” that was Freud’s image for describing the splitting of the ego in psychosis.

In this transition from the fantasy of self-begetting to the working through of the primal scene, Mr A. discovered himself to be the subject of his drives rather than the object of persecution by others. In the ensuing sessions, he came to wonder whether his hatred had not ultimately distorted his view of his parents; conscious now of the importance of temporality, he realized that whatever he experienced in the present, in particular in his relationships with women, stemmed “from everything he had created in his head when he was small”. He also became aware of the difference between thinking and doing and, having had so many violent fantasies, he was surprised to hear himself say: “I haven’t bumped off anyone so far.” It was also noteworthy that in the sessions with the most violent subject matter, he preferred to take the part of an observer and leave it to a psychodramatist to express the most primitive fantasies – such as cutting his sisters into little pieces and leaving them at the left-luggage office of the “Gare de Lyon” railway station in Paris, which, under the pressure of the primary process, then became the “gare des lions” [Lion Station].

Just when Mr A. was emerging from psychotic confusion and becoming human again, he fell physically ill. We shall never know whether what he called a severe cold for which he spent some time in hospital was or was not meningitis; the same situation is sometimes observed in invulnerable autistic children who contract one physical illness after another when they emerge from psychotic encapsulation. Now physically for the first time, Mr A. was reluctant to contemplate the idea of a terminal illness; although he thought of death: “I would rather,” he said, “not think I might be afraid of it.” Becoming human and entering the realm of time did indeed involve the capacity to accept birth and death.

As Mr A. was one day to say: “Time has to be remade a little bit every day.” While this admittedly suggested the risk of being locked into the juxtaposition of instants, it was also indicative of a desire to give himself a place in duration and permanence. This presupposed a capacity for temporary suspension of the vicissitudes of life and death, albeit without disavowing them, in a pleasure in play, which was equally a pleasure in thinking and fantasying.

How did the transference manifest itself? Remarkably, just as Mr A. was beginning to exhibit the capacity to overcome his conflict of ambivalence with regard to the parental imagos, he had his first transference dream after eight years of psychodrama; in it, he brought me a huge bunch of fragrant, coloured flowers, behind which I disappeared.

This highly condensed dream revealed a capacity to stage a reversed Oedipus complex, in which the patient projected the female position on to his analyst, while at the same time portraying his own anxiety at the devouring “vagina-woman-flower”. The subject of flowers representing the female sex had come up in earlier scenes, in which it had been possible to think about his fear of touching the flower-woman and being sucked in by her, as well as the need to keep these flowers at a distance and just to smell their perfume. In the transference dream, the fragrant flowers were at the same time flowers that could be touched, albeit not without danger.

In this process of working through, it might be wondered why Mr A. had never been able to express directly the helplessness of the child he had been. Having regained his capacity for formal and topographical regression, Mr A. continued until recently with the work of remembering and reconstruction entailed by temporal regression. In the penultimate session before the summer holiday break, he suggested to the psychodrama team the idea of tackling, and thereby retrieving, the memory of a child abandoned to incomprehensible affects and sensations in the presence of his parents; this afforded a glimpse of the possibility of his acquiring the capacity to be alone in the presence of others (Winnicott, 1958).

Mr. A. wondered why he associated separation with the void and whether he had not been abandoned in the past. When I asked him about these abandonments, he said: “They were when I was four.” To my enquiry about what had occurred at that age, he replied: “I don’t remember what happened when I was four, but before that, when I was in my pushchair, I remember the silence – my parents were there but not saying anything; they were quarrelling and I could not understand anything – it was just soundless words.” He explained to us that the quarrel was about the rent being demanded by the landlord, which his father had not paid, and commented: “It’s a bit like me today.”

It was the impossibility of integrating all these sensations that had caused Mr A. to construct links with other people solely in the form of excessive absence or excessive presence. This had been demonstrated by the child in his pushchair who was unable to understand “soundless words”. This was Mr A.’s odd term for “wordless sounds” – an incomprehensible noise equivalent to “soundless words”, to a destructive silence by the parental couple, resulting, by virtue of their quarrels, in a decathexis of and a disregard for their child’s emotional life.

As a manifestation of this transference, Mr A., without giving any notice, failed to turn up for the first session after the summer holidays. Although he said he had got his dates mixed up, it emerged clearly that his absence was due to the wish to be the master of the separation himself rather than letting it be determined by the leader and the psychodrama group, by reversing the roles and being the abandoner rather than the abandoned one. I interpreted this to him, and the continuation of our work revealed the importance of working through the father transference on to the leader. Mr A. then for the first time expressed admiration for his father: he had been not only a bastard who had collaborated with the Nazis and aroused his hatred, but also the respectable, well-liked mayor of a municipality in France whom he loved. This father transference later helped him to cope better with his genital and pregenital anxieties about the mother imago and to allow himself a stable, long-term love relationship with a woman.

Thinking recently about the benefit he had derived from our analytic work, he commented: “Ten years ago I was unemployed and wanted to commit suicide; today I am temporarily out of work, but have no desire to kill myself!” Mr A. had actually lost his job because his firm had gone bankrupt, but, in contrast to his despair of ten years earlier, the transference on to the psychodrama leader and group now enabled him to find within himself the wish and resources to seek another job and to find satisfaction in it. This suggests that the psychodrama had enabled Mr A. to accept the vicissitudes of birth and death, of the primal scene and of human sexuality. Emergence from psychosis was in fact tantamount to the possibility of accepting the limits of being human, and, subject to this condition, of living his life instead of dreaming it.

The aim of the therapeutic strategy and interpretative tactics with psychotic patients is to encourage the functions of symbolization in subjects who have often lost the capacity to distinguish between a symbol and the symbolized object, between present and past, and between father and mother imagos. Because psychotic anxiety is bound up with the non-representable conflict of being at once and the same time the devouring subject and the devoured object, the patient needs to be offered an external and internal setting that allows interpretations to be introjected. The role of the leader in his mediation function as a third is to permit the patient to get out the indifferentiation anxieties and to acquire his capacity to play with images, representations and words, as suggested by Winnicott.

Freud, A Third Party Between Sabina Spielrein and Jung

Elisabeth Márton’s film clearly shows the important function of the third party in the story of the destructive passion which Jung and Sabina Spielrein carried away. The therapeutic setting was challenged by the rupture of the asymmetry necessary for the analytical world: as soon as Jung tells his patient that he is in love with her, the symbolising conditions of the treatment are invalidated. In the correspondence between Jung and Sabina Spielrein as well as in the film, references are made to Wagner and to Siegfried and Brünehilde’s love, and the great romantic passions, in which love only finds a solution in undifferentiation and death are evoked. We might also think of Tristan and Isolde whose destructive fusion with the lovers’s unconsciousness and the death by love is very well evoked by Wagner.

Jung and Sabina Spielrein were able to avoid this danger by asking Freud to be a third party who could help them to overcome the fascination of indifferentiation. Freud, in the film, reassures Jung about the transferential meaning of Sabina Spielrein’s love and of her insistent request to have a child as Jung’s wife had. Later on, Freud recommends Sabina Spielrein to learn to hate Jung, thus helping her to work through the erotisation of the transference which is both a defence against movements of hate and a refusal to recognize the destructivity towards the maternal imago. At this time, Freud is naturally partial as he writes this to Sabina Spielrein after his own separation with Jung and thus had challenged his role as a third party. However, the necessity to face the same object is thus underlined by Freud, a principle that Elisabeth Márton shows beyond the passionate relationship between Freud and Jung.

The common story between Jung, Sabina Spielrein and Freud bears witness to the conditions necessary for narcissistic passion and underlines the destructivity transformed into the process of symbolisation as a source of creativity. The fate of these exceptional people was their capacity to use this intense energy to create a scientific, literary and artistic work. From this point of view, Sabina Spielrein’s major work, “Destruction as a cause of coming into being” published in 1911, evokes vicissitudes of drives which find in sublimation and creation a solution to transform the destructive tendencies involved in each human being. Her thoughts on the fusion of sexual drive and death drive announce on a remarkable way Freud’s later works on the relationships between drives and destructivity. Her remarks on this topic refer certainly to a personal history and, at the same time, show an extraordinary capacity for elaboration. Sabina concludes her work with a hypothesis whose original and heuristic value has been confirmed by the history of psychoanalysis: “A more extensive and thorough research will show how the destructive component of sexuality is involved in mythological and individual psychological productions. However, I think that, with my examples, I have proved enough that the procreation instinct involves, from a psychological point of view, in accordance with biological datas, two antagonistic components: a life instinct as well as a destruction instinct.” (personal and provisional translation)


The transferential story between Jung and Sabina Spielrein is a very good example, beyond their individual experience, of what is involved in the process of symbolisation in analysis. This is an asymptotic movement which can be endlessly worked through. It shows what is at stake in the work with our patients, to the extent that it is possible to move from fixed univocal and repetitive symbols to a circulation between psychic systems, thus bearing witness on an articulation and not on an opposition between what is visible and what is invisible between presence and absence, and thus permitting the development of a plurivocal activity of thought.

We are speaking not only about the formation of polysemic symbols, capable of tolerating and reuniting opposites, but also of a creation of symbols which participate in the development of culture, language being one of its forms. From this point of view the semantic function of symbol as an inseparable content must be linked to the intra and inter-subjective function of mediation; it must be less considered as a universal and univocal function than as a personal and polysemic one giving access to the processes of sublimation and creation. Instead of being enclosed in a private dimension, true symbolisation shows on the contrary, according to Bion’s suggestion (1970) its essential social dimension; it shows that the subject is able to learn from the body and the world in order to create new representations whilst leaving place for what is undetermined, uncertain and surprising. This problem is at the heart of the analytic encounter, where one must mourn the loss of the grandiose fantasy of possessing the only truth which one would like to impose. One must go beyond the narcissistic struggle for the truth in order to find a truth which then allows an authentic meeting with one’s own as well as another psychic reality.


  • Bion, W.R. (1970) Attention and interpretation, London, Tavistock.
  • Donnet, J.L.(1995) L’enjeu de l’interprétation in Le divan bien tempéré, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, pp. 175-188.
  • Freud, S. (1924) “The Economic Problem of Masochism” in SE 19, pp 159-170.
  • Freud, S. (1925) “Negation” in SE 19, pp 235-239.
  • Freud, S. (1938) “Findings, Ideas, Problems,” SE 23, pp. 299-300.
  • Green, A. (1986) On Private Madness, London, Hogarth Press and Madison, Conn. International Universities Press, and London, Karnac Books, 1997.
  • Spielrein, S. (1911) “Destruction as a cause of coming into being”. Winnicott, D.W.(1951) Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena, in Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis, Collected Papers, London, Karnac Books, pp. 229-242.
  • Winnicott, D.W. (1958) “The Capacity to Be Alone,” in The Maturational Processes and the Facilating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development, London, Hogarth Press, 1965, and London, Karnac Books, 1990.

Response to Alain Gibeault

Jean Kirsch
Palo Alto, California, USA
Society of Jungian Analysts, Northern California / IAAP

Let us consider the words ‘symbol’ and ‘symbolization’. Among contemporary Jungians there is a diversity of ways the terms are used, but as a rule, I don’t think we mean quite the same thing as the psychoanalyst.

The different meanings of the word ‘symbol’ in our respective schools probably stems from Jung’s objection to Freud’s basic belief that the unconscious is sexual, and its corollary, his hypotheses about latent versus manifest content of dreams. If a dream’s manifest content is interpreted as an indicator of a latent content that is presumed to be sexual, the analyst is not symbolizing, but making use of signs.

For Jung, the true symbol is pregnant with meanings that cannot be fully expressed, and always points to something unknown. The symbol is infinitely capacious, weighted with multiple meanings that may blossom into ever new meaning. This is the simple way he expressed it in Man and His Symbols:

Symbols … are natural and spontaneous products. No genius has ever sat down with a pen or a brush in his hand and said, “Now I am going to invent a symbol.” No one can take a more or less rational thought, reached as a logical conclusion or by deliberate intent, and then give it “symbolic” form. No matter what fantastic trappings one may put upon an idea of this kind, it will still remain a sign, linked to the conscious thought behind it, and not a symbol that hints at the unknown.1

This perspective led to Jung’s deep and life-long interest in comparative symbol systems, such as mythology, alchemy, and Gnosticism.

1 Jung, C.G., (1964) ‘Approaching the unconscious’. In Man and His Symbols. Garden City, New York. Doubleday & Company, Inc.

As for myself, the distinction is not so simple. If I understand correctly, ‘symbolization’ in contemporary psychoanalytic usage refers to a psychological process whereby the subject, I, stand between what is to be represented – i.e., the apperception of an inner or outer experience or thing – and communicate it to the Other, you, in a form that is comprehensible, usually verbally, but the form may be an artistic or mathematical representation. Sometimes this representation might be what Jung has called a symbol, pointing to something that is not known, and sometimes not. Elizabeth Márton’s film is one example of such a symbol, conveying as it does so much more than she ever meant to say.

Perhaps Jungians might capitalize the word Symbol when it is used in this special sense, similar to the conventional capitalization of the word Self when it is used to refer specifically to Jung’s concept. This would clarify our language, especially when we attempt to communicate with other depth psychologists.

I would like to thank Dr. Gibeault for presenting in such careful detail an example of his own creative analytic work. There are three points I would like to highlight.

First, in his discussion of the psychoses, I appreciate his acknowledgement that psychotic processes can be found in the treatment of any patient, and that their occurrence does not necessarily warrant the diagnosis, psychosis. I prefer Bion’s designation of “the psychotic part of the personality”. The clinical diagnosis of a psychosis is then incumbent on whether hate and destruction or love and creativity dominate the personality. Generally, Jungians think in terms of unconscious complexes, which may become fixed, taking possession of the personality, as it were, and usurping the reality-oriented ego functions, sensation, thinking, intuition, and feeling. The economics and dynamics of such possession of the ego by a complex are thought of in terms of the flow of libido, defined by Jung as neutral and not exclusively sexual.

The second is his use of the term “lateralization of the transference.” I understand this term to mean the displacement of projections of the analysand’s internal world onto figures of importance in the analysand’s life outside of the analytic relationship. Analytic psychodrama makes use of this very common occurrence, with the analyst’s assistants, under his direction, acting out a drama of the patient’s choosing. I think it is an important point of comparison. Jungians vary widely in the emphasis placed upon transference interpretation, but generally something similar to what he describes as lateralization is common to a Jungian analysis. Active imagination, amplification of dream imagery through mythological and other cultural sources, sandplay, dance and the plastic arts are often included to promote the patient’s engagment in a creative dialogue with the unconscious. For more disturbed analysands, including the treatment of the psychoses, I would like to mention the important work of my Italian colleagues, under the leadership of Dr. Paolo Aite in Rome, who are carefully exploring the transference as affects and images erupt into the analytic field and are expressed in sandplay. Sandplay provides the anlaysand with sand and an assortment of miniature figures with which he/she may dramatize the internal world. In my experience, even that “third element” – the sandbox and its miniature figures – may be insufficient to contain psychotic anxiety about dissolution into the personality of the analyst and the counter-transference fantasies they stimulate. In “Transformations”, Bion notes that, “One problem in analyzing the psychotic patient seems to be his difficulty in working without the actual presence of the objects for and about which work must be done. Hence the tendency to produce problem situations instead of solving problems.”1 Problem situations for the psychotic part of the personality are expressed and experienced interpersonally, and require interpersonal solutions, hence the effectiveness of the method of individual psychodrama that Dr. Gibeault reports.

1 Bion, W.R. (1965) Transformations. London. Maresfield Library.

In the course of treating one of my own patients whose symptoms were more characteristic of borderline or narcissistic pathology, the psychotic part of her personality erupted with a force that threatened the analysis. The patient herself requested consultation with an analytic colleague, which I arranged. Her meeting with my colleague opened up the analytic space, which had collapsed in the direction of concrete reality, and although she never again requested it, the possibility of such consultation seemed to offer her enough security for analysis to proceed. Such lateralization of the transference can occur in less directed ways – for example, when dramatic problem situations in outer life are brought up in analysis for examination of transference-by-proxy, so to speak, with gradual working through and resolution of anxieties that are too powerful to be confronted in the context of the individual analytic relationship. When this kind of occurrence might be considered an acting-out of the transference, rather than a lateralization would seem to depend on the particular analytic situation.

Third, is the phenomenon of regression. What Dr. Gibeault designates, after Freud, topographical and formal regression – i.e., the to and fro movement between consciousness and unconsciousness, and the shift from secondary to primary process thinking – describes the mental state necessary for the synthetic and transcendent function of symbolization to begin. After Pierre Janet, Jung used the term abaissement du niveau mental to describe the lowering of the level of consciousness that not only occurs in psychopathological states, but is deliberately fostered for active imagination.1 Jung objected to Freud’s method of free association on the grounds that it inevitably led the patient back to an earlier state of being, rendering her vulnerable to the dominance of unconscious complexes. Basically, one might say that Jung did not encourage temporal regression, or a return to the past, for its own sake, although he recognized it as an inevitable occurrence. Rather, he developed a method that valued the analysand’s independent internal dialogue with his or her own unconscious images and affects, one with the goal of eventually freeing the analysand of a relationship to the analyst. This is the primary method of what is designated “the classical school” of Analytical Psychology. Since temporal regression, with its consequent emergence of complexes and their projection upon the analyst, is such an ubiquitous and central phenomenon, it soon became a subject of interest for Analytical Psychologists. This led to “the developmental school” and close affinities in many Jungian centers with psychoanalysis.

1 For definition of Jungian terms, see A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. (1986) Samuels, A., Shorter, B., Plaut, F. London and New York., Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Still, how to join the analysand in an analytic relationship that will support creative regression is a challenge for each and every one of us, regardless of our theoretical persuasion. The achievement of topographic and formal regression may induce a state of reverie for the analyst and the analysand. I am in agreement with the philosopher Gaston Bachelard who states, “Reverie … [f]or any human being, man or woman, is one of the feminine states of the soul.”1 Reverie leads us back in imagination to the dyadic relationship of mother and child, with constellation of the archetypes of the Great Mother and her Divine Child. As its benevolent aspects embrace the transference there is the opportunity for return to the creative imagination of childhood, for the natural synthetic function of the psyche to be activated, for new images, ideas, and feelings to emerge, for new solutions to be found. It is this fruitful relationship to the Self, to the totality of the psyche, that is ultimately healing.

Within this framework, I would like to offer an alternative interpretation of the dream Dr. Gibeault’s patient had of him in his eighth year of treatment. In the dream, Dr. Gibeault says, “… he brought me a huge bunch of fragrant, coloured flowers, behind which I disappeared.” While not discounting his interpretation, in Jungian terms that his person had been subsumed in the patient’s mind by the Great Mother in her terrifying, devouring aspect, might we just as easily read the dream as evidence that through his careful, patient, and loving work with this highly disturbed man, he had represented for him an image of the benevolent, life-giving feminine? Might Alain Gibeault have built a bridge to his patient through his anima?

1 Bachelard, G. (1960) The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos. Translated by Daniel Russel. Boston, Beacon Press.

Sabina Spielrein and the Use of Symbols: Reflections of a Jungian Psychoanalyst

Gert Sauer
Freiburg, Germany
Association of Graduate Analytical Psychologists / IAAP

Sabina Spielrein has become herself a symbol. At the end of the last century some people explained that she was a victim of Jung and Freud, depending on whether these people were in Jung‘s party or Freud‘s. After hearing the discussions, it is easy to see that the inner necessity of the writers needed a female victim as symbol for patriarchal abuse, or a victim to bring psychoanalysis into total disrepute. Or a victim to show how famous and esteemed research scientists used her ideas. Inner processes were projected into researching the truth of outer history, but also expressed inner truths and processes. Jung demonstrated by his own experiences that objectivity is not possible in psychological research, and he and Sabina Spielrein and Sigmund Freud were suffering that. But he demonstrated also that symbolically expressed truth is understandable as symbolic of inner processes. So it is possible to ask what kind of symbolisation was worked out by using Sabina as symbol. I am happy that the documents found in Geneva are giving us more personal approaches to Sabina than we had before. But the history of science shows in the example of Sabina that every real symbol has multiple ways of understanding it.

Let us speak of languages. I like languages. Especially languages using symbols and pictures. It’s one of the reasons I am a Jungian analyst. I am thinking in pictures. Rational formulas are coming only as a second step. Therefore people who use rational formulas first are often disturbed by my writing and speaking. But I can give them some consolation: I am also disturbed by them. Rational thinking aloneis boring for me. It is very interesting to me that C.G. Jung, in March, 1913, was writing to R. Loy that he understands libido in the same way as the ancient Greeks understood it, as the cosmogonic principle of Eros. (Collected Works [German], Vol. 4, §661) And it’s also interesting for me that on the 10th of November, 1929, he points out in a letter to Richard Wilhelm that the “anima” in a woman would suitably be called Eros. (Letters, Vol. 1, p. 96) – interesting for the reason that Elisabeth Márton shows that the experiences of C.G. Jung and Sabine Spielrein with transference, countertransference, and Eros were the fundaments for describing phenomena by the name of “Anima.” I was saying that I like languages. Symbols are the language of the Eros, because they unify separated contents of the unconscious and consciousness. (Not necessarily better to express, but challenge to investigate.) In the same letter to Wilhelm, Jung mentions that he understood the Chinese Tao as a method or conscious way to unify separated structures. To unify is the nature of Eros.

Reflecting on the symbolic language of the unconscious, which expresses itself in symbolic sequences in dreams, active imaginations, creative works, or in projections that cause conflicts and love, in which the protagonists are the symbolic expression of the symbolised, I am thinking of my experience that the unconscious chooses every time such symbols which are to be understood by the dreamer as well as psychoanalysts. Evidently in such symbols something unknown wants to be understood. And mostly it is speaking in a pre-rational way with pictures and acts which are symbols. Seldom is it speaking in direct sentences. Pictures and acts mean, here, all kinds of sensuous and sensual experience like art or music. For me it’s the healing function, or transcendent function, which constructs a bridge for consciousness to amplify it’s own view and give impulses for the possible change of attitude and life.

For me it was remarkable when a dreamer dreamed that he is moving forward in a queue laying on the ground naked. And then a snake is biting him in his right foot. On the morning that he comes to work at school, a pupil gives him a gift: a self-fabricated snake. In his social life, on the same day, he decided he had to begin in a new way, and to present himself with his own decisions as a new man. He did not know that I once was writing a little book on the symbolism of snakes. In his psychological structure he is a conservative man. Changes endure a long time. His association was: Snakes are healing snakes; its poison in small quantities bring healing, in big quantities, death. It was not necessary to say anything concerning the different meanings of this synchronicity. He knew what he had to do.

Elements of the Film

With this point of view, let us look at the film of Elisabeth Márton, My name was Sabina Spielrein.

Reflecting on the film, I remarked how unsatisfied I have always been by the commentaries concerning the meeting of Sabina Spielrein, Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud. Now the film is telling the story by reflecting the unconscious as the consciousness of the three protagonists. This gave me the idea of considering the story from the point of view of individuation. And I remembered that Alexander Etkind chose as title of his work concerning the history of psychoanalysis in Russia, the words: The Eros of The Impossible. (Etkind, Eros njevosmojnjevo, Gnosis, Moskwa, 1994)

Each person ion the Spielrein story has a personal work to do with his own psyche encountering and dealing with the other. My hypothesis is that Sabina Spielrein had to discover her therapeutic spirit and her medical and psychiatric vocation. Carl Gustav Jung had to differentiate his capacity for relationship from his scientific convictions and purposes, as well as from his collectively male convictions. Sigmund Freud had to work with his protectiveness concerning his friend and hoped-for successor, and after that with his rage, his deception and hate concerning Jung, and even with his rivalry concerning Sabina Spielrein.

Elisabeth Márton describes all this in a very delicate and careful way. She describes the three as being on the road, grounded in the Geneva documents.

Music is at the beginning, accompanys the development of the story, and returns at the end. We can find elements of Richard Wagner as well as of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but over all, and surely at the beginning, are elements of Russian folk music. Intuitively, the sound of the Troika came to me. The Troika. The famous Troika gives Sabina the impulse to think of her Russian-Jewish culture. She was a woman with a double culture, Russian and Jewish. Her language is Russian and she thinks and reacts first as a young woman, and later as a somewhat older woman thinks and reacts in the cultural frame of Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. What a possibility there is for mistakes through unconsciousness about the reactions of a suffering person coming from Rostow on the Don, if the psychiatrist isn’t aware that he is a bourgeois of central Europe and Switzerland. The idea that people everywhere do not think and react in the same way was not yet formulated. And Jung had not yet learned that the method must be adapted to the cultural frame and the possibilities of the patient. But in Sabina Spielrein he found the way.

The other elements are visible symbols, some from the diary of Sabina Spielrein, some from the fantasy of Elisabeth Márton. Let us speak about the oak. Sabina wants to plant an oak on her tomb. Her picture shows her leaning against the oak, like a child against the mother. Is it the biographical grandmother or is it the great mother archetype? I think both, and so it becomes a living expression of that power in her psyche. But its also a symbol of loneliness. The lonely oak on the field where the ashes of Sabina Spielrein should be scattered. Perhaps Heinrich Heine gave the idea: he wrote a famous poem about a lonely oak which is longing for a palm of the south. It was translated by Affanassi A. Fet and was well known in Russia. (Afanassi A. Fet, 1820-1892)

The game of pieces of glass was added, which give me the idea of discussing thisfrom the point of view of individuation. Individuation means the whole – the game of pieces which is the splitting which happens in crisis. We may look on the two trees as symbol of a fantasy of a pair, on the windows as possibility to look outward; the water, the rain – and loneliness is growing.

In the story, the troika, the triangle, appears often. Sabina Spielrein, Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud. Sure. But there is also the triangle of Sabina Spielrein, her mother and Carl Gustav Jung. In this case, he is fully in a crisis and falls into his medical thinking and speaking about Sabina with her mother, as before with Freud. It was an attempt to save himself through the parental position. But Sabina Spielrein, Marie Curie as the symbol of scientific importance, and her grandfather are a triangle. These are related to the idea of giving birth to the hero Siegfried, who liberates Brünhild. She is imagined to give birth to a important man, not to give birth to her own scientific importance.


Let us speak about individuation, which is symbolised by the game of glass pieces. I think it is the attempt to unite the different parts of the psyche. How I can see the story of the three in this way?

Sabina Spielrein: Passionate Russian-Jewish woman. She does not know the battle in herself between the traditional role of woman which is creative by giving birth to children, and her scientific spirit, which wanted to be remarked, recognised, accepted and combined with the other parts of her psyche. This spirit was projected onto C.G. Jung. This battle created the symptoms and led her from Rostow to Zürich, like the Russian fairy tale of the clear falcon in which the girl has to go outside her country to wonder about her beloved sweetheart. Jung is the symbol – and it is an Eros of the impossible, because he is only the symbol and not this spirit. The suffering forces Sabina to step forward. She is working out her theory of destruction which is fertilising Freud and Jung. She becomes a mother, founding with the others psychoanalysis in Soviet Russia. She is working with children, withstanding the Stalinist situation and dying under the boots of the Germans, who she had never thought of as a cultivated people …

Carl Gustav Jung: Passionate medical doctor. Passionate in encountering the unconscious, passionate in his ideas, and not aware of the power with which he was dealing. Full of conviction that his ideas and the ideas of Sigmund Freud were compatible. In the beginning it is not clear if he is passionate in his method of healing or about his patients, especially Sabina Spielrein. He has to learn to not be fascinated by the phenomena of disorders, but to be in relationship with his patients to help them to find their own way. And the process of his individuation is involving him in fascination with a young woman until he is able to differentiate between his love for science, his love for this woman, and his love for himself. Imagine that the treatment asks him to engage himself personally, but at the same time to hold the boundaries and understand – that’s a long and painful way, in which today also many people have to work hard. He told later of his understanding of power: how Anima was worked out by careless errors in which the Ego of Carl Gustav Jung tried to save his own image until the moment of humble sincerity: I failed. In that defeat his human quality was becoming victorious.

Sigmund Freud: He also wanted to be loved. By Jung, for example. But the Eros for his science, which is most understandable, was also great. And the complication of love was the loyalty to his thinking and to his work. The arena in which the two friends encountered each other was the scientific discussion. In his Olympian view, Freud was irritated when “the gods” discussed the bad behaviour of a passionate woman. It was irritating when the behaviour would not fit into the concept. But he is honest: he knew the same difficulties as Jung. But he is further fom the passion, not so much in it. But Sabina, totally on the relational level, sees to it that “the gods” may no longer discuss without her. With her intervention she becomes a member of a real triangle and so the process of individuation of Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein is connected by her own psychic structures and necessities.

I do not think that the individuation of the three failed. All the processes, with added transference and countertransference, was what everybody needed. Sabina Spielrein discovered her value and Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung learned to be vulnerable, and also smaller, which is always also a part of the Self.

S. like Sabina, S. like Sergei: Brief Comments Regarding E. Márton’s Film and G. Sauer’s Paper

Marcio de Freitas Giovanetti
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Brazilian Psychoanalytic Society of Sao Paulo / IPA

My comments are based on the beautiful movie of Elisabeth Márton, and the (very interesting) text of Gert Sauer, and aim at conveying my associations, which are rooted in the history and culture, on the basis of psychoanalysis.

In a sequence of the Elisabeth Márton movie, the beautiful pictures of the trees mirrored in the water lake, represent in a perceptible and precise manner the field of subjectivity and individuation: the Lacanian conceptualization of the symbolic, the imaginary and the real, is shown therein in a masterly way.

In Márton’s movie, the archetypical image of the tree initially coming out of the water is interpreted by Sauer as the Great Mother. It is only afterwards that Márton’s camera moves in such a way as to reveal the trees and their mirrored image. It is only then that Sabina’s first picture appears, walking along the borders, like a woman and not like a patient. It is also only then that she expresses the desire – or the need – of the other, of an interlocutor in order to proceed on her way. It is a poetic image of the “cure of words,” a way which can only be followed with a partner, on the frontiers of the symbolic and the imaginary.

Sixty years of silence were needed before the correspondence of Sabina with Freud and Jung came out into the open. Like the roots of an old tree, which come up after a long period below ground, thus giving witness that all life has non-visible roots, Sabina’s hidden letters, just like the well known works of Freud and Jung, show the complexity of the passions that structure the human psyche. Beyond health and madness, beyond normality and sickness, this trio shows us the dimension of the human soul. Aren’t dreams the royal way, not only of the unconscious but of life itself?

Each dream, writes Freud, has its umbilicus, that point which resists at all interpretation, and which is rooted in the unknown. It is an idea very near the Jungian concept of the symbol. In her movie, Márton shows many figures of glass – bottles, fragments, windows. However, the waters that originate any kind of life always overflow their container. No theorization, whether Freudian or Jungian may transmit the psyche’s richness. “Life’s raw material is so fragile,” sings Caetano Veloso, Brazilian poet and musician, in a song (Cajuína) that begins with these verses, “We exist, and what shall be the destiny of this existence?” It is another manner of speaking of the issues which Freud and Jung questioned in their work: this interrogation is also that of Sabina Spielrein in her first psychological work, “Destruction as cause of the future”, as well as that of Elisabeth Márton in the choice of her movie’s title: “My name was … ,” extracted from Sabina Spielrein’s writing. When the latter expresses the desire that her ashes be disseminated in a field where an oak would grow says: “I myself was also a human being, and my name was Sabina Spielrein”, she evokes, in a condensed manner, the passage of time, the temporality of all life, and also the caesura, the shocks and transformations inherent to each individual life.

Márton’s movie often shows windows closed, or open, in the background or in the foreground, with or under thin veils. Sometimes, when the camera travels over the trees, the planes decrease. The figure of a tree glimpsed through a window that suddenly opens may suggest the central figure of the dream of another Russian, immortalized by Freud in his text, “An Infantile Neurosis”, where he develops the concept of the primal scene. This reference to Freud’s text allows seeing in Sabina’s epitaphic tree a picture of the primal scene. Aren’t the ideas of conception and death the nucleus in all genealogical trees? On the one hand, Sergei, Freud’s analysand, and on the other Sabina, Jung’s analysand, are designated by the “S” letter, whether in Freud’s text “S like Sergei”, or in Freud-Jung’s correspondence, “S like Sabina”. Would these abbreviations indicate a similarity, even an identification of one and the other by Freud? The one and the other have made their analysis in exile and not in Russia, both desired an analysis which would remain forever. Sabina’s analysis was supervised by Freud when Jung was feeling that this analysis was escaping him. Freud put an end to the analysis of the Wolf Man so that it would not escape him, but we know that it would be taken up by one of his students some years later.

Do not all analyses contain something, its umbilicus, that escapes the analyst? Might they not embody an excess that goes beyond the problematic issue of the transference and counter-transference? Would this excess not be in the core itself of the primitive or original segment, which is at the origin of every human being’s life and of all analysis? Gert Sauer gives a beautiful picture of this wager: the “Troika”, the wagon that originated psychoanalysis, drawn by three “thoroughbreds”, Freud, Jung and Sabina. Hasn’t the text on the “love transfer” been written in the aftermath of the rupture of Freud with the one he called his heir? An heir who had introduced to him a woman who dared have ideas regarding the destructivity inherent to sexuality; a woman who had introduced herself as another Dora, a Dora who did not run away from her passions, and who had the courage to confess her desire to have a son from this vigorous and curious man, Freud’s young alter-ego. One should not say that women are always guilty. …

In 1977, year of discovery of Sabina’s correspondence, Wilfred Bion, in a text entitled Caesure, notes that in the problematic issue of the transference and counter-transference, the most important is the root “ference”, which comes from the latin verb “fero”: bring, take away. Since then, when one thinks about psyche, what must really be highlighted are the movements and exchanges and not the melancholic paralysis. It is exactly what Elisabeth Márton shows in her movie: the human being in movement, the exchange of correspondence, the migrations, and Sabina’s singular route, the first analyst who thought of children’s analysis: all this is presented as a model of the libidinous exchange necessary to the preservation of life and of the species.

Likewise, a Congress like that of the International Association for Analytical Psychology here in Barcelona, very similar to the International Psychoanalytic Association in New Orleans, is fundamental to surpass the great Caesura that occurred between Jungians and Freudians.

We may here recall what Freud wrote in 1926 in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anguish: “There is much more continuity between pre-birth and post-birth life than what may be envisioned through the impressive Caesura of birth”.


  • Freud, S. (1918). “An infantile neurosis and other works.” SE 17.
  • Giovannetti, M. de F. (1997). “The scene and its reverse.” In: Person, E. S., ed., On Freud’s “A child is being beaten”. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Kerr, J. (1993). Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein: a most dangerous method., New York: Alfred Knopf.

About a Dream: Comments on Gert Sauer’s Contribution

Monique Gibeault
Paris, France
Société Psychanalytique de Paris / IPA

I was very interested in the dream you presented. I am speaking here as a Freudian. Like you, I love different kinds of language, especially ones replete with images, such as poetry, tales, fables and myths, and I use them a lot in the course of my clinical work – even music, which is closer at hand than images and not far from sensation.

Although your interpretation of the snake dream is very pertinent, it raises a few questions in my mind:

You begin your account of the dream as follows: “… if one dreamer is moving forward in a queue lying naked on the ground. And then a snake bites him in his right foot.” Now I wonder: Who is this dreamer? Is it a man or a woman? What is the dreamer’s personal history? What is the context in which the dreamer has this dream? At what point in the dreamer’s analysis does it come and, in particular, who is the dreamer addressing and for whom does the dreamer have this dream?

We know, and you have said, that you have written a book about snakes and the myths associated with them. But your patient does not know this; you tell us only two things about the patient: that the patient is facing a life change and that the patient is a conservative who dislikes change. You receive your patient’s dream in silence and choose to say nothing about it. How could it be elaborated? What is the aim of the dream? It is apparently enough for the patient to remember it and to tell it; that is supposed to give rise to change.

Using my Freudian vocabulary, I would think of a wish, and of change too – but I would also wonder, considering the obstacles to this change and the anxieties it arouses, what part is played by the infantile conflict and by repetition, and this raises the issue of repression. You chose not to interpret, and that may be justified in a context in which interpretation might strengthen the patient’s resistance to allowing the wished-for change to take place. In other contexts, what technique would you apply to enable a patient to arrive at the ethical decision to make use of the promptings of the unconscious and to integrate new attitudes into his daily life?

I personally would be concerned not to fall into the trap of facile interpretations of content (for instance, snake = penis), which was the main bone of contention between Freud and Jung on dream symbol ism. My own interpretative approach inclines more towards allusion and seeks to develop polysemic meanings rather than to lock the patient into closed, univocal ones. If I imagine myself in my armchair listening to the snake dream, it seems to me quite likely that, at a time when a major change lies ahead, this patient is experiencing castration anxieties, which are expressed in the symbol of the snake bite. Another possibility that occurs to me is that these are anxieties about devouring and that castration anxieties are being represented in oral terms (infantile sexuality). I would also wonder whether the patient was attempting to take refuge in passive homosexuality (a queue has a front and a back) so as to defend against death wishes directed towards the father imago – an essential condition for growth.

In conclusion, the place of symbols in the treatment is inseparable from the analytic process itself, so that any attempt to compare the Freudian and Jungian approaches to therapeutic strategy and interpretative technique in the short time available is bound to incline towards abstraction.

Freudian Analysis, Jungian Analysis: Points of Convergence and Differences

Christian Gaillard
Paris, France
Société Française de Psychologie Analytique / IAAP


Let us mention at the outset that, when comparing Freudian and Jungian approaches in matters of clinical practice, thinking and theorizing, the choice to focus the discussion on symbols and the work of symbolization is an excellent one.

Why? Because the very mention of symbols or symbolization means that the unconscious is involved; an unconscious that is obviously at work, in labor, seeking and finding its own means of expression. We must then deal with it in a very concrete way, as it presents itself, and as it questions us. This leads us directly to the very heart of our work, which is not practically or strictly speaking the unconscious per se, but rather our connection to the unconscious.

The unconscious, in fact, requires that we take a stand. It puts each and every one of us to the question, such that if our respective training requirements, clinical practices and theories can quite clearly be distinguished, it is equally clear that the unconscious is neither Jungian nor Freudian, nor Lacanian, nor Kleinian, nor is it of any other allegiance.

The unconscious has its own reality, one we all need to adjust to, whether we are a Freudian, a Jungian or an analyst from another school – its reality is active and living, and we face it as best we can, each and every one of us, with the meager means at our disposal, some that were transmitted to us and others that we forged for ourselves during our years as clinicians.

Actually, when we question ourselves as to shared characteristics in the presentations of this panel, as well as during the subsequent discussions, four characteristics come to mind:

First of all, there is a surprise effect, one that never fails to capture our attention, inciting us to listen to and observe the symbols and the work of symbolization. A surprise that strips us of our preconceived notions and ordinary certainties, forcing us to grapple with something essentially unknown, yet something we have all trained in and practiced, through personal analysis, through a similar process of supervision, and through our daily clinical practices.

Secondly, as this surprise effect is in constant renewal, and therefore stimulates and sustains our attention as clinicians in an always unpredictable way, it leads us to accompany our analysands in that psychic space, quite at the heart of the transfer relationship between the analyst and the analysand, that sometimes makes possible a real encounter between the two, through the shared experience of the same psychic reality.

In addition, I find in each of these presentations and in the discussions that followed, another common viewpoint based on experience: for all of us, the symbol is characterized as a representation, associated with an emotional charge connected to that representation in a single event, a single occurrence, and expressed in a unique manner. It is obvious, indeed, that for all of us, one of the essential functions of the symbol and the work of symbolization is precisely in that connection between representation and emotion. As a result, the work of symbolization presents a continual challenge and requires a deeply personal commitment, and at the same time, it offers a chance, a privilege and a source of happiness if we can take advantage of the opportunity.

Finally, I notice that for each of us, the work of symbolization is a “work in progress,” in development, in transformation. Let us insist on this last term: transformation. It means that with the emergence of a symbol and its associated emotional charge, we assist and participate in a change in the economy of the relationship to the unconscious, and by the same token, to a change in the economy of the relationship to ourselves and to others.

Our discussion about symbols and the work of symbolization places each and every one of us, Freudian or Jungian, at the very heart of our clinical work. No doubt, this is the main reason why we can listen to each other, hear each other, and at least in part, but in a basic way, understand each other.

To me, these are the main points, the basis really, of a coming together, and of a possible understanding between us: the basic understanding that comes from having undergone different, but fundamentally similar training in analysis and in the clinical practice of analysis, and of being involved in a common experience of the unconscious and its expressions, confronted with the same challenges to give accounts of these experiences in our respective theoretical frameworks, and to get the most out of the situation for the development of our patients.

Here, notwithstanding, is where our differences begin. Differences that need to be considered and discussed, in order to distinguish whether they are differences only in accent when it comes to a clinical practice that we largely share, but that we inflect and modulate according to our allegiance to a particular school, a particular theoretical perspective, and/or a personal inclination; or whether these differences are so important as to lead to definitely distinctive practices and conceptions of analysis.

In effect, if any analyst, from any school, can be open to surprise and pay attention to the expressions of the work of the unconscious, the Jungian analyst, specifically, as we will have often noticed during this panel, becomes a willing witness to a sense of processes coming into play, sometimes in the long term, even in the very long term. The Jungian analyst allows them free rein, believing that another dynamic will be created, changing the outcome for the analysand and opening new perspectives.

Like Jung, today’s Jungian analyst conceives and practices the somewhat difficult economy of the relationship between conscious and unconscious as a system where opposing parts not only contradict and thwart each other, but may just as well counterbalance each other and attempt to find a new equilibrium, sometimes in the most unexpected way. Throughout his works, Jung speaks expressly, on this subject, of contradiction, complementarity and compensation (in his own language, Jung takes pleasure in using such meaningful terms as Gegenwirkung and Mitwirkung). For Jung, and for later Jungians, opening a way for a new equilibrium and a new coming into being is indeed considered an essential function of the work of symbolization.

Such an attitude towards the unconscious indicates the kind of gamble a Jungian analyst might make not only about the capacity for the development of psychic functioning but also, more radically, on the skill of the unconscious to express itself, a skill largely autonomous and autochthonous as evidenced in the creativity characteristic of the work of symbolization and in the accompaniment of the analysand: an attitude that is open, confident, vigorous and energetic. We witnessed such confidence in Gert Sauer when he spoke of a snake that appeared in the dreams of one of his patients, and in the way Jean Kirsch welcomed the dream with the bouquet of flowers, told by Alain Gibeault, although some might think such a reaction was decidedly too optimistic.

Reserve and criticism regarding Jungian practice, its conception of symbolic life, and more generally speaking, of analysis, may certainly come from our Freudian colleagues and cousins.

As for the Freudian analyst, the emphasis is immediately and classically placed, as Monique Gibeault did during this panel, on an immediate and inalienable necessity, to know who had such and such a dream, at what moment, and under what conditions. Gert Sauer may condone such requirements, yet he doesn’t hesitate to let the serpent in question exist exactly as it manifested itself, practically without interpreting it, letting it deliberately exist within himself, and possibly in the more or less conscious echoes of the dreamer, even letting it evolve and develop into one of the varied meanings held by the serpent symbol in the scenes of diverse cultures.

Clearly, both the Freudian analyst and the Jungian analyst refuse, or at least distance themselves from, an overly literal or too-unilateral interpretation that would fix the meaning of an event and take away all of its impact, or risk producing useless resistance. Both will make room for the symbol in all of its polysemy. They will then wait, without impatience or worry over mastery, until the analysand lets new material emerge that expresses and explores a particular dynamic or until the analysand gains enough self-awareness to resolve present conflicts in a direction that is simultaneously desired and resisted.

However, a Freudian analyst will emphasize more clearly and with more insistence than would a Jungian colleague, the present impact of the symbol, in the hic and nunc of its appearance in the particular dream of a particular patient, at a particular moment in the analytic work, with a particular analyst, and will also be attentive to the archaic modalities of psychic functioning that present themselves – in this case in the dream of the serpent, Monique Gibeault speaks of castration anxiety and the fear of being devoured – as well as the moments in childhood that are also activated and require precise circumstantial recognition.

Therefore, while the Jungian analyst willingly accepts being uplifted and nourished by symbolic life as it expresses itself on the diverse scenes of our collective unconscious in a manifestly transgenerational and even transcultural way, the work on the singular and very circumstantial history of each person rigorously remains at the core of the everyday fare of clinical work for the Freudian analyst. On this subject, Alain Gibeault speaks not only of formal and topical regression, but also of the temporal regression necessary to the forming of symbols; this leads him, or rather leads the analysand working with him, to rediscover the more or less repressed memories of abandonment haunting the analysand. This again leads the analyst to point out the barriers and limits everyone faces in the enigmatic but undeniably obvious fact of sexuality, as it imposes itself in the “primal scene” that Marcio Giovanetti insistently evokes, as well as in the successive stages of everyone’s life, from the first experiences in infancy till inevitable death.

Does that mean we should go so far as to say, as we have often done in the past, that Freudian analysis is reductive and causal whereas Jungian analysis is teleological? I believe not. This is a perfect example of a debate that is largely outmoded, much too caught up in a representation of the other to really make possible a meeting and a confrontation.

A meeting and a confrontation witnessed in our discussions, and where it appears that one and another, the Freudian analyst and the Jungian analyst, share the same involvement in a work that, both of them know, let us say it again, will only truly be fulfilled in the present of a history that is constantly evolving and in a continual process of transformation.

If the Freudian analyst is attentive to the past, it is less to explain the present in a causal way than to sustain the emergence and re-experience of a potential for life too long thwarted. If the Jungian analyst willingly focuses on what is emerging, it is less to anticipate, predict or prescribe it according to a teleological view, as it is to try and set it into motion. This is why we Jungians should qualify this process, strictly speaking, as prospective, rather than as teleological.

Three or four, perhaps five generations after Freud and Jung, a coming together has occurred; it silences none of the differences between our traditions, our training and respective biases. On the contrary, it commits each of us to listen to what the other hears – and sometimes thinks – better than the other, about a rather complex reality: the various modalities of our relationship to the unconscious.

Moreover, if a rapprochement has progressively developed between our different traditions and schools, it is also patently obvious that each of our traditions is presently constituted of clinicians with varying profiles, to the extent where the abstractions I just spoke of, “the Jungian analyst” or “the Freudian analyst” are presently, in fact, out of place. Sometimes one even sees more closeness and understanding today between a Freudian analyst and a Jungian analyst than between two Freudians or two Jungians.

I think, nevertheless, that it would be a mistake to conceive or dream of a blend of the two, or some kind of synthesis of our respective approaches. It is preferable, I believe, in the interest and the fruitfulness of our debates and definitely, for the welfare of our future analysts, and for that of our analysands, that our differences, on the contrary, assert themselves, develop and argue among themselves, on as clinical a basis as possible, as was the case during this panel.

It would be good for every one of us, and for all our analysts in training, to enroll their clinical practice and reflection in the tradition and school that enables them to best develop their own personal qualities and skills – and also helps them to best compensate for their specific shortcomings.

Maybe then will our differences find meaning in the tension of a complementarity and compensation allowing each to measure up to the other and to readjust – which is, of course, a very Jungian perspective. A perspective can never become a reality unless a third party intervenes. This third party will have been for us, and among us, Elisabeth Márton’s film dedicated to Sabina Spielrein between Freud and Jung.

This film has succeeded in connecting truly documentary data of this story and its fictional dramatization around a series of symbolic themes as alive as they are insistent – windows opening and closing, trees, hands, waters one emerges from, or that, too calm, close in on themselves, or overflow – such that the right relationship, in this work, between the representation and the emotional charge secretly connected to it, has led each of us, Freudian analysts and Jungian analysts, to finally reconsider the history we share and that divided us, that of the beginning times, too often partially reconstructed, the history of Freudian analysis and of Jungian analysis.

Hence, our sincere gratitude to the film’s director.