Ferenczi, Sándor (1873-1933)

views updated Jun 11 2018

FERENCZI, SÁNDOR (1873-1933)

A Hungarian neurologist and psychoanalyst, Sándor Ferenczi was born in Miskolc on July 7, 1873, and died in Budapest on May 22, 1933. He was the eighth of eleven children of Baruch Fraenkel (who changed his name to Bernát Ferenczi), a bookseller, printer, and ticket agent, and Róza Eibenschütz, both of whom were Jews from Galicia, Poland. His father died when he was fifteen. After studying at the Protestant school in his home town, Ferenczi went to Vienna to study medicine, obtaining his diploma in 1894. He became interested in psychology while still a student.

Ferenczi first practiced medicine at the Rókus Hospital in Budapest and then specialized in neurology at the Szent Erzsébet (Saint Elizabeth) Hospital. After 1899 he contributed to the medical journal Gyógyászat (Therapeutics). These early articles demonstrate Ferenczi's interest in clinical medicine and psychology.

Ferenczi read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams shortly after its appearance but was not impressed by the work. A few years later, after he adopted Carl Gustav Jung's association test, he became more receptive to Freud's ideas, and on February 2, 1908, together with another Hungarian doctor, he made his first visit to Freud. This was the beginning of a close friendship between the two men that lasted until Ferenczi's death. In 1908 they began their correspondence (comprising approximately one thousand four hundred letters), an exchange that had a profound effect on the history of psychoanalysis. At the first psychoanalytic meeting, which took place in Salzburg on April 27, 1908, Ferenczi presented the paper "Psychoanalysis and Pedagogy," the first psychoanalytic work devoted to the subject.

Because many of his friends were writers and artists, Ferenczi played an active role in the cultural life of Budapest, which was being swept at this time by currents of modernism. The Freudian ideas for which he became the spokesman were well received by his writer friends but rejected by most medical doctors.

To help introduce psychoanalysis to Hungary, Ferenczi gave a number of talks. He gradually became Freud's closest disciple and spent a number of summer vacations with the Freud family, often traveling with Freud. In 1909, when Freud visited Clark University in the United States, Ferenczi accompanied him (along with Jung) and helped prepare his presentations. In 1909 Ferenczi published "Introjection et transfert" (Introjection and transference; 1990a), his first theoretical work.

In 1910, following a suggestion by Freud, he proposed the creation of the International Psychoanalytical Association with Jung as president, and in 1913 founded the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Association with István Hollós (a psychiatrist), Lajos Lévy (a doctor), Sándor Radó (a medical student), and Hugo Ignotus (whose real name was Hugo Veigelsberg and who was the editor-in-chief of the avant-garde literary review Nyugat [The Occident]). That same year Ernest Jones began analysis with Ferenczi.

After experiencing a series of personal problems in 1911 (his interminable hesitation between Gizella Pálos, a married woman and his mistress since 1905, and Elma, her eldest daughter), Ferenczi asked Freud to analyze him. The analysis took place in three parts, one in 1914 and the other two in 1916. The analysis was cut short by the First World War, but also by Freud's reluctance to get involved in matters he feared, not without reason, would have negative repercussions on their relationship. In the end Ferenczi married Gizella in 1919 without ever completely forgiving Freud for having influenced his decision. In 1916 Ferenczi undertook the analysis of Géza Roheim and Melanie Klein and played a key role in discovering their talent.

September 1918 marked the highpoint of psychoanalysis in Hungary. The Fifth International Congress took place at the Academy of Sciences in Budapest, with participation of representatives from the government, who were interested in psychoanalytic work on war neuroses. During the congress, Ferenczi was elected president of the International Psychoanalytical Association. A few months later, because of political and social events in Hungary, which was then independent of Austria, Ernest Jones succeeded him as president. The following year, during the short-lived Hungarian Commune, Ferenczi obtained a chair in psychoanalysis at the university. This was taken from him when the right-wing government under Miklós Horthy came to power. In 1920 he was also expelled from the Hungarian medical association.

After 1919 Ferenczi devoted himself exclusively to the care of his patients and the development of the psychoanalytic movement. In 1925, with Vilma Kovács, one of his analysands and students, he worked out the methods of a system of training, and in 1931 he founded a psychoanalytic clinic, with himself as director. At the same time he continued his research and theoretical work, which focused primarily on technique.

In 1924 Ferenczi and Otto Rank published Entwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse (The development of psychoanalysis [1925]). The book was criticized, principally by Karl Abraham and Ernest Jones, and then by Freud. When Rank broke with Freud, Ferenczi reaffirmed his commitment to Freud and published an article criticizing Rank's work. In 1924 he published Thalassa (1963), a work highly regarded by Freud for its use of Lamarckian ideas.

In 1926 and 1927 Ferenczi spent six months in the United States giving lectures and training candidates, not all of whom were doctors. His position in favor of lay analysis alienated a large part of the American psychoanalytic community, which was committed to limiting psychoanalytic practice to medical doctors.

Ferenczi's technical experiments between 1918 and 1932, which were conducted to make psychoanalysis accessible to patients who showed signs of pregenital disturbances, created dissension between him and Freud. The conflict embittered his final years and affected the entire psychoanalytic community. He gave his last lecture, "Confusion of Tongues between Adults and the Child" (1949), in 1932 at the Wiesbaden Congress. Already suffering from pernicious anemia, he died on May 22, 1933, in Budapest.

Ferenczi made an important contribution to psychoanalytic theory and technique. On the theoretical level, he introduced the concept of introjection, was the first to focus on object relations, and developed theories of trauma and regression. In Thalassa he presented a number of fertile hypotheses on the ontogenesis and phylogenesis of genitality, or a sex life.

Above all, Ferenczi thought of himself as a doctor and held that it was not up to the patient to present himself as analyzable but up to the analyst to find suitable techniques for healing his patients. He successively developed several therapeutic techniques:

  1. He developed the so-called active technique, whereby the analysand is asked to do whatever will promote free associations or to refrain from doing whatever might impede them.
  2. To help mediate the authoritarian nature of the active method, he developed the technique of elasticity and permissiveness. Here, pushing tolerance of regression to its extremes, he allowed the traumatized patient to experience his symptoms anew.
  3. He developed what is known as mutual analysisan attempt doomed to failure and quickly abandonedwhich was intended to spare traumatized patients the consequences of misunderstanding and blind spots on the part of the analyst.

Ferenczi occupies an important place in the development of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory and played an important role in propagating psychoanalytic ideas and contributing to the understanding and global awareness of psychoanalysis. His disagreement with Freud during the last years of his life, as well as the uneasiness caused by the almost superhuman demands he made on the analyst, have relegated his work to obscurity for nearly fifty years. However, on closer examination of the history of the twentieth century, the relevance of his ideas becomes obvious. Owing to the efforts of Michael Balint, who edited Ferenczi's collected works, and the appearance in 1988 of his Clinical Diary, a unique document in the field of psychoanalysis, the value of his ideas has been recognized wherever psychoanalysis is practiced.

Eva Brabant-GerÖ

Works discussed: "Confusion of Tongues between Adults and the Child"; "Development of Psycho-Analysis"; "Dream of the Wise Baby, The"; "Introjection and transference"; Thalassa. A Theory of Genitality.

Notions developed: Active technique; Amphimixia/amphimixis; Elasticity; Introjection; Mutual analysis; Relaxation principle and neo-catharsis; Tact.

See also: Abstinence/rule of abstinence; "Analysis Terminable and Interminable"; Anticipatory ideas; Autoplastic; Benign/malignant regression; Boredom; Boundary violations; Character neurosis; Clark University; Criminology and psychoanalysis; Erotogenic zone; Homosexuality; Hungarian School; Hungary; Identification; International Psychoanalytic Association; Knowledge, instinct for; Lie; Negative hallucination; Neutrality/benevolent neutrality; Nudity, dream of; Choice of neurosis; Occultism; Omnipotence of thought; Orgasm; Passion; Pleasure in thinking; Primary love; Psychic causality; Psychoanalytic filiations; Real trauma; Secret Committee; Seduction scenes; Splitting of the ego; Technique with adults, psychoanalytic; Telepathy; Tenderness; Termination of treatment; Tics; Training analysis; Transference; Transference depression; Wish, satisfactory hallucination of a.


Ferenczi, Sándor. (1949). Confusion of tongues between adults and the child. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 30, 225-230.

. (1963). Thalassa: A theory of genitality (Henry Alden Bunker, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1924)

. (1974). Les fantasmes provoqués. In his Oeuvres complètes. Psychanalyse (Vol. 3). Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1924)

. (1988). The clinical diary of Sándor Ferenczi Michael Balint and Nicola Zarday Jackson, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

. (1990a). Introjection et transfert. In his Oeuvres complètes. Psychanalyse (Vol. 1). Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1909)

. (1990b). Le développement du sens de la réalité et ses stades. In his Oeuvres complètes. Psychanalyse (Vol. 2, pp. 51-64). Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1913)

. (1996). Le traumatisme psychique. In his Oeuvres complètes. Psychanalyse (Vol. 4, pp. 82-97). Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1932)

Ferenczi, Sándor, and Rank, Otto. (1925). The development of psychoanalysis (Caroline Newton, Trans.). New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Co. (Original work published 1924)

Ferenczi, Sãndor

views updated May 29 2018

Ferenczi, Sãndor



Sándor Ferenczi, one of the earliest psychoanalysts, was born in Miskolc, Hungary, in 1873 and died in Budapest, in his house in the Buda hills, in 1933. He was for a time Sigmund Freud’s closest friend and collaborator.

Early life . Ferenczi was one of 11 children. His parents, whose surname had originally been Fraenkel, were well-to-do, owning the largest bookstore in Miskolc. A biographer, Izette De Forest (1954), tells us that Ferenczi’s parents were unusually enlightened in the freedom and companionship they gave to their children and that the life of the family was gay and spontaneous, devoted to the enjoyment of scholarship, music, drama, poetry, and languages. The famous psychoanalyst Ernest Jones (1953-1957)—who knew Ferenczi well—tells us, however, that Ferenczi was haunted throughout life by a quite inordinate and insatiable longing for his father’s love. Ferenczi himself said in a letter to Freud that his feelings about Freud and other colleagues were bound up with his childhood difficulties with his father and brothers.

After graduating from the local Gymnasium, Ferenczi studied medicine in Vienna, receiving his degree in 1894. He had a year of compulsory service as a physician in the Austro-Hungarian army and then interned in various hospitals in Budapest, notably St. Rókus Korház. There he specialized in neurology and neuropathology, also developing his skill in hypnotism. In 1900 he opened an office in Budapest for the practice of neurology.

Development of interest in psychoanalysis . When Ferenczi first read Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams he was not able to assimilate its teachings. It was his rereading of Breuer and Freud’s Studies on Hysteria that impressed him with the claims of psychoanalysis. He wrote to Freud in 1907 and, accompanied by Dr. F. Stein of Budapest, who introduced him, called on Freud in February 1908. The impression that he made brought an invitation to spend a fortnight in August with the Freud family at their summer place. He became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, the small group that met on Wednesday evenings with Freud.

Later career . Ferenczi and Freud traveled together extensively, and between 1908 and 1933 they exchanged more than a thousand letters. In 1909 Ferenczi accompanied Freud on a trip to the United States, where Freud lectured at Clark University. In 1910, at Freud’s suggestion, Ferenczi proposed the founding of the International Psychoanalytic Association; and in 1913 he founded the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society. In 1916 he underwent a brief personal analysis with Freud; it lasted only three weeks, for two hours a day, since Ferenczi had to return to his military duties as a medical officer in Hungary. According to Freud, the analysis was continued later. In 1918 Ferenczi was elected president of the International Psychoanalytic Society; he relinquished the presidency in 1919. His failure to be invited again to be president of the society was a keen disappointment to him and may have been a consequence of his advocacy of lay analysis.

In 1919, after 18 years of indecision, Ferenczi married. The marriage was a very happy one, and although there were no children, Ferenczi delighted in his relationship with his wife’s daughters by a former marriage.

Ferenczi came to New York City for eight months in 1926-1927 to give a course of lectures at the New School for Social Research. During his visit he gave analytic training to eight or nine people, mostly laymen.

As Ferenczi’s views on psychoanalytic technique diverged more and more from Freud’s in later years, he gradually withdrew from Freud. Although there was never a sharp break, a sense of estrangement developed between them.

Personality . Ernest Jones described Ferenczi as follows:

He [Ferenczi] had an altogether delightful personality which retained a good deal of the simplicity and a still greater amount of the imagination of the child; I have never known anyone better able to conjure up, in speech and gesture, the point of view of a young child. ... He had a very keen and direct intuitive perception, one that went well with the highest possible measure of native honesty. … He had an exceptionally original and creative mind. ... As is often the way, however, with people who throw out masses of ideas like sparks, their quality was very uneven, since judgment—objective and critical judgment—was the one gift denied to Ferenczi. … (1959, pp. 199-200)

At times, Jones says, Ferenczi could be somewhat masterful, and even dictatorial; and toward the end of his life, especially during his final illness, he “lost most of his old cheerfulness and vitality, became heavy, depressed, and ungracious, withdrew from his friends, and—most serious of all—allowed his scientific judgment to be gravely deflected” (Jones 1959, p. 200).

Early contributions to psychoanalysis . Freud always gave Ferenczi generous credit for ideas the two had worked out in common, and at times it is not possible to distinguish their respective shares. Among Ferenczi’s important early papers are “Stages in the Development of the Sense of Reality” (1913); a paper on the relationship of homosexuality and paranoia (1912a); and a paper describing transitory symptom formation during psychoanalytic treatment (1912b). He worked out in detail the implications of Freud’s explanation of hypnosis as depending on the masochistic attitude of the person hypnotized; and he discriminated between the different forms of homosexuality.

In the paper on the development of the sense of reality—praised by Jones as “the best he [Ferenczi] ever wrote” (Jones 1933)—Ferenczi listed four stages through which the child passes in moving from domination by the pleasure principle to acceptance of the reality principle. These four periods are the period of unconditional omnipotence (intrauterine), the period of magical-hallucinatory omnipotence (earliest infancy), the period of omnipotence by the help of magic gestures, and the period of magic thoughts and magic words. He showed that the child at first has all his wishes gratified and believes himself omnipotent. Later, when the child finds that wishes are no longer immediately gratified and has to accept some limitations upon his power, he attempts to circumvent these frustrations by imagining the gratification of his wishes, or by making magical gestures, or by using magical thoughts and words. When at last the individual realizes that the environment does not conform to his wishes, that gratification is entirely conditional upon work, and that even work does not always lead to success, then the sense of reality may be said to be fully developed.

Theory of genital sexuality . Influenced by Darwin and Lamarck as well as by psychoanalytic thought, Ferenczi sought in Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality(1924) to explicate the relationship of sexuality to the evolution of the race. Ferenczi pointed out that pregenital sexual impulses can be expressed and gratified by genital activity. For instance, a man can express urethral or anal tendencies in the way he performs and experiences sexual intercourse. Such a mixture of partial sexual drives, and indirect expression of them, Ferenczi chose to call “amphimixis.” Sexual intercourse can also express various fantasies, including the fantasy of reunion with the mother through return to the womb, a fantasy revealed in the course of psychoanalysis of patients. Since the penis goes into the birth canal during intercourse and the seminal fluid does go into the uterus, sexual intercourse is well suited to the acting out of this fantasy.

Assuming a phylogenetic origin for this fantasy, Ferenczi speculated that it derives from the marine background of the race; mankind’s ancestors were fishes. Thus, in wishing to return to the womb, man is also expressing the wish to return to the sea, the origin of all life.

In general, psychoanalysts have ignored these speculations. They believe that Ferenczi did not have a satisfactory way of testing his speculations by an appeal to evidence.

Contributions to technique . Ferenczi is acknowledged to have been a gifted therapist. He proposed a number of innovations in technique: at first these centered on the so-called “active” technique; later they had to do with a greater participation by the therapist in the psychoanalytic interaction, a participation that included the granting of more— and more direct—gratifications to patients than most analysts believed advisable. These later experiments led Freud to write, “He was persuaded that we could accomplish far more with our patients if we gave them enough of the love they had longed for in childhood” (1933, pp. 297-299). Most analysts reject Ferenczi’s belief that granting more gratification to patients is therapeutic. Ferenczi’s strong interest in the reactions of disappointment and mistrust that the child suffers in his relationship with his parents has led a few of his pupils, notably Alice Balint (1949), to investigate early parent-child relationships.

Ferenczi’s early contributions to psychoanalysis have been so fully assimilated that their origin is often forgotten, although his later writings, which were more speculative and deviated from Freudian orthodoxy, have been less widely accepted.

Frank Auld, Jr.

[For the historical context of Ferenczi’s work, seePSYCHOANALYSISand the biography ofFREUD. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeSEXUAL BEHAVIOR, articles on SEXUAL DEVIATION: PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS and SEXUAL DEVIATION: SOCIAL ASPECTS.]


(1908-1914) 1952 First Contributions to Psycho-analysis, London: Hogarth. → Contains a selection of Ferenczi’s essays that were originally published in German. First published in English as Contributions to Psychoanalysis. Later editions have the title Sex in Psychoanalysis.

(1908-1925) 1927 Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psycho-analysis. New York: Liveright. → Contains a collection of some of Ferenczi’s most important contributions to psychoanalysis. Translated from the German.

(1908-1933) 1955 Final Contributions to the Problems and Methods of Psychoanalysis. London: Hogarth. → A collection of papers written in or first published in German.

(1912a) 1950 On the Part Played by Homosexuality in the Pathogenesis of Paranoia. Pages 154-184 in Sándor Ferenczi, Selected Papers. Volume 1: Sex in Psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books. → First published in German.

(1912b) 1950 Transitory Symptom Constructions During the Analysis. Pages 193-212 in Sándor Ferenczi, Selected Papers. Volume 1: Sex in Psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books. → First published in German.

(1913) 1950 Stages in the Development of the Sense of Reality. Pages 213-239 in Sándor Ferenczi, Selected Papers. Volume 1: Sex in Psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books. → First published in German.

(1924) 1949 Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality. New York: Psychoanalytic Quarterly. → First published as Versuch einer Genital-theorie.

(1924) 1925 FERENCZI, SÁNDOR; and RANK, OTTO The Development of Psychoanalysis. New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Pub. → First published as Entwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse.

Selected Papers.3 vols. New York: Basic Books, 1950–1955. → Volume 1: Sex in Psychoanalysis,1950. Volume 2: Theory and Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1952. Volume 3: Problems and Methods of Psychoanalysis,1955.


Balint, Alice 1949 Love for the Mother and Mother-love. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis30: 251–259.

Balint, Michael 1949 Sándor Ferenczi: Obiit 1933. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 30: 215–219.

DE FOREST, IZETTE 1954 The Leaven of Love. New York: Harper.

Freud, Sigmund 1933 Obituary: Sándor Ferenczi. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis14 : 297–299.

Jones, Ernest 1933 Obituary: Sándor Ferenczi, 1873–1933. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis14: 463–466.

Jones, Ernest 1953-1957 The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. 3 vols. New York: Basic Books. → Volume 1: Formative Years and the Great Discoveries, 1953. Volume 2: Years of Maturity,1955. Volume 3: Last Phase,1957. See especially Volumes 2–3.

Jones, Ernest 1959 Free Associations: Memoirs of a Psycho-analyst. New York: Basic Books.