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Reik, Theodor (1888-1969)

REIK, THEODOR (1888-1969)

Lay analyst Theodor Reik was born on May 12, 1888, in Vienna, and died on December 31, 1969, in New York.

He was the third child of four born to the cultured, lower-middle-class Jewish family of Max and Caroline Reik. Reik's father was a low-salaried government clerk who died when Theodor was aged 18. Freud became a father figure for the rest of Reik's life. He attended public schools in Vienna and entered the University of Vienna at the age of 18, where he studied psychology and French and German literature. He received his PhD in 1912, writing the first psychoanalytic dissertation, on Flaubert's The Temptation of St. Anthony. He met Freud in 1910, and two years later became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. From 1914 to 1915 he was in analysis with Karl Abraham in Berlin and, with the outbreak of World War I, served as an officer in the Austrian cavalry from 1915 to 1918, seeing combat in Montenegro and Italy and being decorated for bravery.

Following the resignation of Otto Rank, Reik became the Secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. For ten years he practiced in Vienna and began to write so extensively that Freud asked him: "Why do you piss around so much? Just piss in one spot" (Natterson, 1966). Freud wrote "The Question of Lay Analysis" in defense of Reik, who had been prosecuted under the quackery laws of Austria for practicing medicine.

Reik moved to Berlin, where he lived and practiced from 1928 until 1934 and again was a celebrated teacher at the psychoanalytic institute. Fearing the rise of the Nazis, he left for The Hague, where he continued practicing and teaching. During this time his first wife Ella, mother of his son Arthur, died, and he married Marija. Two children were born of this marriage, Theodora and Miriam.

Still fearful of the Nazis, he moved to New York where, as a non-medical analyst, he was denied full membership in the New York Psychoanalytic Society. Reik would not accept the position of research analyst, although he could have made a "charade" of agreement and practiced, as many did. Reik experienced financial difficulties for many periods in his life. He was treated gratis by both Karl Abraham and Freud and for a time he received financial support of 200 marks a month from Freud. After he wrote for help in 1938, Freud wrote back: "What ill wind has blown you, just you, to America? You must have known how amiably lay analysts would be received there by our colleagues for whom psychoanalysis is nothing more that one of the hand-maidens of psychiatry" (Hale, 1995). Reik persevered, however, building a practice, and soon a group of colleagues centered around him and, in 1948, the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis was founded.

Reik's influence on the development of nonmedical analysis in the United States was great. Not only did his many books have a profound effect on the general reading public but his influence through the NPAP (National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis) and the institutes that split from it suggest that Reik was the major promulgator of non-medical analysis in the United States.

Reik's psychoanalytic studies include discussions of such writers as Beer-Hofmann, Flaubert, and Schnitzler as well as Shakespeare, Goethe, and Gustav Mahler, to name but a few. He had a unique way of communicating and his writing and conversational style was free associational. His autobiography is to be found in his many works. Among his better known are: Listening with the Third Ear (1948); the monumental Masochism in Modern Man (1949); Surprise and the Psychoanalyst (1935); his recollection of Freud, From Thirty Years with Freud (1940); an autobiographical study, Fragment of a Great Confession (1949); applied psychoanalysis of the Bible in Mystery on the Mountain (1958); anthropology in Ritual (1958); and sexuality in Of Love and Lust (1959), Creation of Woman (1960), and The Psychology of Sex Relations (1961); and music in The Haunting Melody (1960).

Toward the end of his life Reik, who grew a beard, resembled the older Freud and lived modestly, surrounded by photographs of Freud from childhood to old age. He died on December 31, 1969, after a long illness.

Natterson says, of Reik: "In many ways, Reik is the epitome of the sensitive aesthete, the pleasure-loving, erotic, highly intellectual, secular Jewish scholar. These characteristics are to be treasured" (Natterson, 1966).

Theodor Reik, disciple of Freud, Secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, author of over 20 books and hundreds of papers on literature, music, religion, analytic technique, and masochism, founder of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) in New York, an analyst in four major cities who wrote in a confessional way about his life, loves, failures, and triumphs, occupies a unique place in the history of psychoanalysis.

Joseph Reppen

See also: Anthropology and psychoanalysis; Applied psychoanalysis and the interactions of psychoanalysis; "Dreams and Myths"; Evenly-suspended attention; Identification; Judaism and psychoanalysis; Lay analysis; Lehrinstitut der Wiener psychoanalytischen Vereinigung; Music and psychoanalysis; National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis; Netherlands; New York Freudian Society; Parenthood; Psychoanalytic Review, The ; Question of Lay Analysis, The ; United States.


Hale, Nathan G., Jr. (1995). The rise and crisis of psychoanalysis in the United States: Freud and the Americans 1917-1985. New York: Oxford University Press.

Natterson, Joseph M. (1966). Theodor Reik: Masochism in modern man. In Franz Alexander, S. Eisensten, and Martin Grotjahn (Eds.), Psychoanalytic pioneers (pp. 249-264). New York and London: Basic.

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"Reik, Theodor (1888-1969)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . 18 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Reik, Theodor (1888-1969)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . (December 18, 2017).

"Reik, Theodor (1888-1969)." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved December 18, 2017 from

Reik, Theodor

Theodor Reik (tā´ōdōr rīk), 1888–1969, American psychologist and author, b. Vienna, Ph.D. Univ. of Vienna, 1912. He was one of Sigmund Freud's earliest and most brilliant students; their association lasted from 1910 to 1938. In Europe, Reik conducted research and lectured at several psychoanalytic institutes before coming (1938) to the United States. He was naturalized in 1944. He founded (1948) the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. Among his many writings are From Thirty Years with Freud (tr. 1940), Listening with the Third Ear (1948, repr. 1972), The Secret Self (1952), The Search Within (1956, repr. 1968), Of Love and Lust (1957, repr. 1970), Myth and Guilt (1957, repr. 1970), The Compulsion to Confess (1959, repr. 1972), Creation of Woman (1960), The Temptation (1961), Voices from the Inaudible (1964), Curiosities of the Self (1965), and The Many Faces of Sex (1966).

See the autobiographical Fragments of a Great Confession (1949, repr. 1965).

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"Reik, Theodor." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 18 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Reik, Theodor." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 18, 2017).

"Reik, Theodor." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 18, 2017 from