Rank, Otto

views updated May 11 2018

Rank, Otto

Early studies of myth and literature

Basic theory and technique

Art and the artist

General psychology of culture




Otto Rank (1884–1939), psychoanalyst and social philosopher, was born of middle-class Jewish parentage in Vienna, lived for many years in Paris, and died in New York a U.S. citizen. At 21 Rank became Freud’s brilliant protégé and soon one of the leading psychoanalytic figures. Eventually, he set forth his heretical “birth-trauma” theory; and in 1926, after much soul searching, he finally broke with Freud and left Vienna. Unfortunately, today it is commonly believed, even within the profession, that this theory is Rank’s main or sole important contribution. Actually, it plays no role in his far more significant works on art and genetic psychology, which, however, were never to emerge from relative obscurity. A precociously intellectual child in an unhappy family, Rank discovered in adolescence the solace of the theater and later of the other arts. He was then greatly stimulated by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Although financial need propelled him toward an engineering career, Rank diverted enough time from his technical studies to begin a book on the psychology of the artist—for long his master theme. He soon came under the influence of Freud’s writings and attended lectures by Alfred Adler, through whom, in 1906, Rank was given entree into the little psychoanalytic circle of Vienna. He was at once made its secretary and Freud’s personal aide and, efficiently fulfilling both duties, remained at Freud’s side for nearly twenty years.

A filial-paternal relationship evolved between “little Rank” and the chief, who gave Rank some financial aid and encouraged him to enter the University of Vienna, from which he received a doctorate in 1912. Benefiting from Freud’s criticisms, in 1907 Rank published Der Kunstler (“The Artist”). There followed a series of psychoanalytic interpretations of myth and literature. Rank made his reputation with The Myth of the Birth of the Hero in 1909 and Das lnzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (“The Incest-motif in Poetry and Myth”) in 1912. His increasingly encyclopedic command of what are now called the “humanities” influenced and supplemented the primarily medical outlook of early psychoanalysis. In 1912 he became coeditor of the new psychoanalytic journals Imago and Internationale Zeitschrift fiir Psychoanalyse; and he was naturally included in the secret “praetorian guard” (Rank, Ferenczi, Jones, Sachs, Abraham; later Eitingon) that Freud, worried by the defections of Adler and Jung, had mustered to watch over “the cause.”

During World War i Rank edited the Krakauer Zeitung, which served as the official journal of the Austrian Army. In Cracow, he met his first wife, Beata Tola Mincer (later a prominent child therapist); they were married in Vienna in 1918.

After the war Rank renewed with even greater vigor his labors for Freud and “the cause.” He helped to organize its new publishing house, the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, and as its director kept it going under the extremely adverse postwar conditions. He also began for the first time himself to practice psychotherapy, and his interest turned to basic theoretical problems. Between 1920 and 1923, he and Ferenczi had a close intellectual alliance, and together they wrote in 1922 The Development of Psychoanalysis (seen by Freud in manuscript, but not published until 1924). It departed somewhat, although not yet fatally, from the Freudian canon.

Within the psychoanalytic movement there was now a certain anomie. The glow of its heroic age was fading; Freud had cancer and was nearing 70. Rivalries for the succession inevitably emerged, and the leading contender may have been Rank. A tense situation already existed in the leadership when Rank published his notorious Trauma of Birth (1924a), which was written a little later than the book with Ferenczi, independently and a bit secretively.

It provoked a theoretical scandal which eventually led to a new schism. Rank’s essential thesis was that all anxiety—and, as a consequence, all neurosis or disposition to neurosis—is a derivation from the original infantile fright upon emerging from the mother. This universal experience does not necessarily result in neurosis but is always more or less traumatic—and is “the ultimate biological basis of the psychical” (Rank [1924a] 1952, p. xiii). All cultural phenomena may be interpreted as either direct expressions of, or strivings to overcome, this primal birth anxiety.

Initially greatly impressed, and describing Rank’s idea as “the most important progress since the discovery of psychoanalysis” (Jones 1953–1957, vol. 3, p. 59), Freud gradually cooled when the implications in Rank’s theory that were inimical to the hitherto assumed primacy of sexuality and the Oedipus or castration complexes began to be recognized. With Abraham in the lead, the orthodox party moved to restore theoretical order, Ferenczi before long breaking with Rank. For many months Freud himself tried to patch up the quarrel. But Rank, only half-consciously it seems, had taken a long step toward independence, also evident in his abrupt and successful exploratory sortie to New York that year. Yet the mutual affection and respect between Freud and Rank were still very strong, and it was only after much inner conflict and suffering, and one dramatic but abortive reconciliation, that Rank abandoned his long and distinguished career in Vienna.

In 1926 he established a new therapeutic practice in Paris, where most of his subsequent works were written and where he made the acquaintance of a number of artists and writers, including the novelists Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller.

Rank made many lecturing and teaching journeys to America, settling there permanently late in 1934. For many years, through the support of friends in the social work profession, Rank’s psy-chotherapeutic concepts and methods had been quite influential in America, particularly at the School for Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania. But this was largely fortuitous—Rank’s ideas, especially in the nonpsychotherapeutic works after 1929, relate to social work only tangentially

In 1939 Rank and his wife arranged an amicable divorce, and shortly thereafter he married his secretary, Estelle Buel. A month later Freud died in London, and the following month Rank himself died suddenly of some obscure infection.

Early studies of myth and literature

Besides his work on the birth of the hero and on the theme of incest, Rank wrote important treatises on the reappearance in modern literature of the primitive belief in the “twin” or “Double” (1925) and on the “Don Juan” character, as portrayed in Mozart’s work and elsewhere (1924b). Although Rank’s distinctive later theoretical tendencies can be recognized here and there in what might be called repressed form, his contributions of this period are dominated by the Freudian theory. Its value for the interpretation of all aspects of culture was argued by Rank (with H. Sachs) in The Significance of Psychoanalysis for the Mental Sciences (1913).

Basic theory and technique

For several years Rank tried to reform the Freudian theoretical and therapeutic apparatus, toward which his attitude grew increasingly critical, in the light of the birth-trauma hypothesis. His major works of this time, written simultaneously, were Technik der Psychoanalyse (“The Technique of Psychoanalysis”; 1926–1931) and Grundzuge einer genetischen Psychologic … (“Outlines of a Genetic Psychology”; 1927–1929). Midway through these, Rank radically changed his viewpoint.

In the parts written while Rank was still under the influence of the Freudian biocentricism, he insisted on the primacy of the birth trauma, orality, and the relationship (of both boy and girl) to the mother, over Oedipus, or castration, complexes, genitality, and the relationship to the father. Rank declared that neuroses cannot be healed by merely theoretical or historical reconstruction of the past or of the cause of the neurosis; the original (birth) trauma has to be brought into the present and actively lived out emotionally. The patient projects upon the analyst the role of the mother and when leaving the analyst is able ideally to experience a second, less traumatic “birth” or psychological separation. Rank also favored short-term analyses and the employment of time limits, stipulated at some point in the process of therapy, for he had begun to believe that too much analytic interpretation might even have a contratherapeutic effect.

It was not until 1928–1929 that Rank drastically changed his conception of the ego, essentially a passive factor in Freud’s system. Rank redubbed the ego as the “will”—in actual life experience, he declared, the primary psychological reality, a “positive guiding organization and integration of self which utilizes creatively, as well as inhibits and controls the instinctual drives” (Rank [1929–1931] 1945, p. 112). Neither the external (natural or cultural) environment nor the inner biological drives but the active human will is the ultimate causal agency within the individual personality, as well as within all sociocultural phenomena. Moreover, although Rank did acknowledge the existence of strife between culture or repression and the instincts, which Freud had revealed and emphasized, he did not consider it to be of major, continuing, or permanent consequence. Further developing an earlier concept, Rank suggested that by a self-generated (not culturally imposed) “denial” the ego or will can effectively nullify or “annihilate” (that is, not just repress) the instinctual drives, which then cease to play any important role. The true conflict, and ultimate cause of neurosis, lies in a failure of the will, through an excessive sense of guilt.

The normal personality expresses his will in conformance with that of the group; the creative type (often cited by Rank as “the artist”), independently or in opposition; the neurotic, whom Rank regarded as essentially a “failed artist,” not at all or at least insufficiently.

In health, art, or neurosis the subjective salvation of the individual’s will, in whatever terms it finds expression, is psychologically crucial. Even if the personality is neurotic, its individuality or autonomy should be respected at all costs. The therapist has to assist the patient in strengthening his will or creative powers. This should culminate in that successful psychological “separation” of patient from therapist, which, as Rank then realized, he had formerly incorrectly interpreted as neo-natalist.

In the later volumes of the Technik and the Grundzüge, Rank abandoned all modes of biological determinism and with his new conception of the will explored a number of conflictful psychological dualities in man, among them “life-fear and death-fear,” “total ego and partial ego,” “masculine and feminine,” “individual and collective.” His treatment of this material is at times determinedly “will-ful” in the constructive or optimistic sense; but at others, where the theme of guilt or mortality predominates, dark and subtle, quite in the vein of his old philosophical mentors.

These works have been appropriately compared to Kierkegaard’s. For, although the “will” can be, and was by some, interpreted entirely rationalistically, almost from the beginning Rank perceived in the depths of the will a fountain of grace or faith —that mysterious (or “irrational,” as we now say) psychological entity, the “soul.” Eventually, Rank was able to conceptualize or define the soul as the belief in, or “will to,” immortality. Although objectively illusory, this belief was subjectively or psychologically the primary human truth. In his later “psychology of the soul” Rank’s notions of “will” and “soul” often overlap and in some contexts are employed interchangeably.

Art and the artist

Rank concluded his long investigation of art with Art and Artist (1932a)— perhaps his magnum opus. His central theme was that although art, like religion, is to be understood as an expression of man’s will to immortality, in art this will is retained in its original individualistic, presocial, prereligious “narcissistic” form. Religion, on the other hand, which has made society possible, is founded on the surrender of the narcissistic mode of consciouness. In spite of this surrender, individuals still long for their original total spiritual freedom, which—by social convention— is periodically revived and celebrated in art. The heroes of art, and indeed often the artists themselves, through trying to retain or regain the primal spiritual omnipotence, may live splendidly but in the end perish tragically.

In form and content, art also reflects the contemporary mode of social faith in immortality (see below), but within this historically varying context the artist always strives to actualize his personal (and the archaic) narcissistic immortality. As this is in principle antisocial, even though allowed or rewarded by convention, psychological and ideological discords arise between the community and the artist. He inevitably suffers guilt and must overcome severe inner conflicts if he is to create. These conflicts are explored by Rank with great sensitivity and brilliance.

The artist’s plight is, however, only an acute or specialized form of a general human conflict, reflected in the existence of art itself and apparently worsening under the pressure of the increasingly antinarcissistic rational ideologies. The convention which had so long protected art seemed to be breaking down for both artist and society. Perhaps, suggested Rank, art itself would have to be sacrificed for some new mode of creativity.

Until this point, Rank had in practice hardly acknowledged the existence of any other mode of creativity but the artistic. He then shifted toward a more general psychology of creativity, which, however, never became entirely “separated” from its former “identification” with art.

General psychology of culture

Although devised concurrently with portions of Rank’s final work on art, Psychology and the Soul was published earlier, in 1930. From the evidence of an originally widespread belief in the “Double” or twin, and from related phenomena, Rank inferred that the original concept of immortality must have been the belief of each individual primitive in his physical and spiritual survival in the form of his own externalized “Double.” After this “narcissistic” or “emanis-tic” era, individual men gradually learned to acknowledge immortalities other than their own. This was the psychological foundation of the next or “animistic era,” when immortality was no longer primarily conferred or guaranteed by the personal Double, but rather by the collective spirits of the dead, who animated each embryo spiritually.

The objective facts of procreation were still unknown, or else were resisted. Both narcissism and animism accepted sexuality itself but not the conception of personal or biological procreation, which was then felt to be psychologically destructive. Only later, during the “sexual era,” was the psychologically anterior and more natural belief in the immortality of the individual body-soul “Double” abandoned and replaced by a belief in immortality through physical procreation. This was, however, no more than an attempt to conceptualize in biological terms what had always been and remained essentially spiritual.

While hitherto the woman had been only the passive host of the souls of the dead who animated the child, she gradually became identified with the soul force and thereby took her place as its first biological and first human avatar. This was the psychological basis of the “matriarchal” period of the sexual era, which was followed by a “patriarchal” one (Rank’s analysis is here in general accordance with the Bachofenist reconstruction [seeBachofen]). Thenceforth, in social ideology the individual father assumed the spiritually and biologically procreative role, and social institutions were remodeled conformably. This meant, however, that each father had to accept what was psychologically unnatural and difficult, namely, that he survived spiritually only vicariously in his child, particularly his son, and thus no longer as his own narcissistic Double entity. After many complex ideological conflicts with the father, according to Rank, the son in turn acquired more and more spiritual importance. The transition from Judaism to Christianity ushered in the spiritual “rule of the child” (Rank [1930] 1950, p. 29), at first in religious and later in modern rationalistic form. The child thus became the final biological symbol of human immortality.

Rank also believed that the modern rational or “psychological era” was analyzing out of existence all forms of spiritual illusion, and that this tendency was epitomized by Freudian thought.

Throughout all historical eras, individuals of both sexes experience profound conflicts both over their changing social ideological roles and over their natural desire to retain that original narcissistic immortality belief that has had to be sacrificed to all forms of social ideology, religious or rational.

Rank then rather complicated this psychohistorical scheme by introducing, in a later chapter, a parallel to the immortality-soul—the will-soul, or “will-god.” By this he seems to have meant the soul in the aspect of the belief in temporal omnipotence. The cultural material is now partially retraced in terms of a duality or even conflict between “will” and “soul,” or the “two souls.” It appears that the survival of the immortality principle required that the temporal will eventually had to be broken and adjudged evil, particularly in its sexual expressions.

The contemporary will-struggle or soul-struggle of the individual, as child or adult, with the community was further explored by Rank in a series of essays, published as Modern Education (1932b).

Rank’s last work, Beyond Psychology (1941), the first to be written in English, was almost complete when he died. His earlier outline of psycho-history, slightly modified here and there, was now reiterated more fully and concretely. The contemporary social malady was examined. Rank believed totalitarianism to be essentially a desperate reaction against the prolonged frustration of man’s “irrational” will to immortality. Social catastrophe could be avoided only by allowing this psychological need some better communal means of expression. This seems to be Rank’s final counsel.


In the past decade references to and republications of Rank’s works have markedly increased. In 1965 the Otto Rank Association— made up primarily of the social workers he influenced but also including professional people interested in Rank from other points of view—was formed.

It is clear that Rank has enriched the fund of psychotherapeutic theories and techniques. Some of his ideas have been partially absorbed into other repertoires—notably within the field of social-work counseling and by the Rogerian “client-centered,” the Perlsian neo-gestalt, and one or two “existentialist” psychotherapies. At present, however, there exists no specifically Rankian school, possibly because of the difficulty of fully orienting either therapist or patient toward Rank’s demanding and problematic criterion of achieving artistic (or other) creativity. And in his last works, Rank himself shifted the ultimate arena of decision from the individual—whether normal, artistic, or neurotic—“beyond psychology” to the irrational depths of the collective ideology.

As a psychologist of art and the artist, Rank has few if any peers. On this count, he has drawn tributes even from some of those otherwise indifferent or inimical to his work. Its lasting value in this aspect (although also little appreciated today) seems least disputable.

Perhaps Rank’s philosophy or psychology of history is most fruitfully compared with Hegel’s. In both, a Geist presides over human nature and, therefore, over the changing forms of culture. But Hegel thought that the progressive advance of rationality improved the quality (or “freedom”) of the human soul, whereas Rank questioned this.

The error of dismissing the soul or Geist as only a “mystification” (fatefully committed by the Young Hegelians, including Marx) has perhaps by now become sufficiently obvious. The necessity of delving beneath the formal socioeconomic phenomena into the irrational psychological realm has meanwhile been stressed by many great sociologists, including Max Weber, Pareto, and Mannheim. Many aspects of their work conceivably may be supplemented with Rank’s depth psychology.

Like all systems, Rank’s presents a number of unresolved theoretical difficulties, and the following are among those that will have to be coped with. First, supposing that we grant the therapeutic and the experiential value of Rank’s more positive estimate of the role of the human ego or will, yet must or should we abandon the Freudian concept of functional repression and much persuasive evidence that culture is generated and maintained only at the price of continuing (and even increasing) functional losses in man? Perhaps, however, the object of repression is not solely or primarily biological—psychological qualities may also be inconsistent with culture. Second, Rank often equated artistic and nonartistic modes of creativity and left unclear how we are to differentiate between them. The nature of nonartistic creativity is important, since the greater and more basic part of culture is not a product of art. Third, is the human soul definable solely as the belief in immortality? May not the belief in temporal omnipotence, and the problems thereof, play an equal or even greater role? Rank’s secondary “will-soul” concept may be a partial rendition of this factor. Fourth, Rank’s laissez-faire or relativistic philosophy generally cannot tell us why any social system or individual way of life should be preferred over another, since in terms of attained soul-belief, if that is present, all are equally true and valuable subjectively and equally illusory objectively. What, if there can or should be any, is the criterion by which we may surmount this relativism? If any Rankian criterion can be inferred, this might plausibly be the degree of the preservation, in some form, of man’s earlier and more natural narcissistic soul-beliefs. Then a fifth problem is whether this objective is consistent with an increasingly rationalized civilization—if so, how; and if not, what then?

Should the view gain ground in social thought that, first, the ultimate basis of cultural phenomena is psychological; and, second, that human psychology is not wholly or even primarily explicable in terms of biologically or rationally hedonistic motives, among other consequences a reexamination of Otto Rank’s later work should follow. Most current estimates of his place in intellectual history may then have to be revised.

Jack Jones

[For the historical context of Rank’s work, seePsychoanalysis, article onclassical theory; and the biographies ofAdler; Ferenczi; Freud. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeAnxiety; Psychoanalysis, article onego psychology.]


1907 Der Künstler: Ansätze zu einer Sexualpsychologie. Vienna and Leipzig: Heller.

(1909) 1952 The Myth of the Birth of the Hero: The Psychological Interpretation of Mythology. New York:Brunner. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1959 by Vintage Books.

1912 Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage: Grund-züge einer Psychologie des dichterischen Schaffens. 2d ed. Leipzig and Vienna: Deuticke.

(1913) 1916 Rank, Otto; and Sachs, HannsThe Significance of Psychoanalysis for the Mental Sciences. New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Pub. → First published in German. Reprinted in 1964 in the Spring-Summer issue of Imago as the “credo” of the new editorial staff.

(1924a) 1952 The Trauma of Birth. New York: Brunner. → First published in German.

1924b Die Don Juan-Gestalt. Leipzig, Vienna, Zurich: In-ternationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag.

(1924) 1925 Rank, Otto; and Ferenczi, SandorThe Development of Psychoanalysis. New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Pub. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1956 by Dover.

1925 Der Doppelgänger: Eine psychoanalytische Studie. Leipzig, Vienna, and Zurich: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag.

1926–1931 Technik der Psychoanalyse. 3 vols. Leipzig and Vienna: Deuticke. → Volume 1: Die analytische Situation illustriert an der Traumdeutungstechnik, 1926. Volume 2: Die analytische Reaktion in ihren konstruktiven Elementen, 1929. Volume 3: Die Analyse des Analytikers und seiner Rolle in der Gesamt-situation, 1931.

1927–1929 Grundzüge einer genetischen Psychologie auf Grund der Psychoanalyse der Ich-Struktur. 3 vols. Leipzig and Vienna: Deuticke. → Volume 1 has no separate title, 1927. Volume 2: Gestaltung und Ausdruck der Per-sönlichkeit, 1928. Volume 3: Wahrheit und Wirklich-keit: Entwurf einer Philosophie des Seelischen, 1929.

(1929–1931) 1945 Will Therapy and Truth and Reality. New York: Knopf. → Two books, first published as Volumes 2 and 3 of Otto Rank’s Technik der Psychoanalyse and Volume 3 of his Grundzüge einer genetischen Psychologie. This edition also contains a summary of Volume 1 of Technik der Psychoanalyse.

(1930) 1950 Psychology and the Soul. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1961 by Per-petua Books.

1932a Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development. New York: Knopf.

1932b Modern Education: A Critique of Its Fundamental Ideas. New York: Knopf.

(1941) 1958 Beyond Psychology. New York: Dover. → The 1941 edition was privately printed in England.


Grinstein, Alexander 1958 The Index of Psychoanalytic Writings. Volume 3. New York: International Universities Press. → See pages 1587–1595 for a comprehensive bibliography of Otto Rank’s writings.

Jones, Ernest 1953–1957 The Life and Work of Sig-mund 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. Hostile interpretation of Rank’s defection, but indispensable for the earlier period. To be compared with Taft 1958.

Karpf, Fay B. 1953 The Psychology and Psychotherapy of Otto Rank. New York: Philosophical Library.

Nin, AnaÏs 1966 The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931–1934. New York: Harcourt; Swallow Press. → Primarily of biographical and literary interest.

Progoff, Ira 1956 The Death and Rebirth of Psychology: An Interpretative Evaluation of Freud, Adler, Jung, and Rank and the Impact of Their Culminating Insights on Modern Man. New York: Julian Press. → See especially Chapter 7.

Taft, Julia Jessie 1958 Otto Rank: A Biographical Study. New York: Julian Press.

Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (1906–1908) 1962 Minutes of the Society. Volume 1: 1906–1908. Edited by Herman Nunberg and Ernst Federn. New York: International Universities Press. → Meetings recorded by Rank himself. Note that the editors are now distinctly more respectful toward Rank than has been the Freudian wont.

Rank (Rosenfeld), Otto (1884-1939)

views updated May 29 2018

RANK (ROSENFELD), OTTO (1884-1939)

Otto Rosenfield Rank, an Austrian psychologist and psychoanalyst, was born on April, 22, 1884, in Vienna and died on October 31, 1939, in New York.

He was the son of Simon Rosenfeld, an artisan jeweler, and Karoline Fleischner. His older brother studied law while Otto became a locksmith: the family could not afford higher education for both. Close to his mother but alienated from his alcoholic father, Otto adopted the name "Rank" in adolescence and formalized it a few years later, symbolizing self-creation, a central theme of his life and work.

Of Jewish background, growing up in Catholic Vienna, Rank was a religious skeptic who wrote his own Ten Commandments, among them "Thou shalt not give birth reluctantly." He read deeply in philosophy and literature, loved music, and considered himself an artist, writing poetry and a literary diary. Before he was 21, he read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams (1900). He applied psychoanalytic ideas in an essay on the artist; the manuscript came to Freud (probably through Alfred Adler, Rank's physician) which led to Rank's appointment as secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1906. With Freud's financial and moral support, Rank obtained his PhD from the University of Vienna in 1912, the first candidate to do so with a psychoanalytic thesis subject.

Rank became the acknowledged expert on philosophy, literature, and myth in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and kept the minutes (1906-1918; later published in four volumes). He became the most prolific psychoanalytic writer after Freud, with Der Künstler (1907; expanded editions 1918 and 1925), Der Mythus der Geburt des Heldens (1909), Die Lohengrin Sage [his doctoral thesis] (1911), and Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (1912, 2nd edition 1926), a 700-page survey of world literature. Except for the posthumous Beyond Psychology (1941), Rank's books were written in his native German. Translations, mostly of his early psychoanalytic works, exist in English, French, Italian, and Spanish.

Other works important in Rank's Freudian period include "Ein Beitrag zum Narcissismus" (Jarbuch, 1911), Die Bedeutung der Psychoanalyse für die Geisteswissenschaften (1912, with H. Sachs), Psychoanalytische Beitrage zur Mythenforschung (1919), Die Don Juan Gestalt (1922), Der Doppelgänger (1925), Eine Neurosenanalyse in Traumen (1924), SexualitätundSchuldgefühl(1926), Technik der Psychoanalyse (I. Die Analytische Situation, 1926; II. Die Analytische Reaktion, 1929; III. Die Analyse Des Analytikers, 1931; II and III translated as Will Therapy, 1936), Grundzüge einer genetischen Psychologie (I. Genetische Psychologie, 1927, II. Gestaltung und Ausdruck der Personlichkeit, 1928; III. Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit, 1929, translated as Truth and Reality, 1936).

Rank was a member of Freud's Committee, or "Ring" of Seven and his closest associates (1906-1925). Of the founders of the International Psychoanalytical Association, Rank was closest to Freud geographically, professionally, and personally. He helped edit and contributed two chapters to Freud's Die Traumdeutung (editions 4-7, 1914-1922; "Traum und Dichtung" and "Traum und Mythus"). He and Hanns Sachs edited the journal Imago, beginning in 1912, with Freud and Sándor Ferenczi he edited Die Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse beginning in 1913. Rank witnessed the vicissitudes and bitter endings of Freud's relationships with Wilhelm Stekel, Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung; Rank's tenure with Freud lasted much longertwo decades, exceeded only by that of his friend Sándor Ferenczi and his foe Ernest Jones.

Freud, who had discouraged young Rank from pursuing a medical career, after 1912 always addressed him as "Dr. Rank" and referred patients to him. This was consistent with his support of non-medical or "lay" analysis. Freud and Rank agreed on another controversial issue: the eligibility of homosexual candidates for analytic training.

Rank served in the Austrian army in Poland during World War I, where he met and married Beata "Tola" Mincer in 1918; she became a noted lay analyst and practiced in Boston after their separation in 1934. The birth of their only child, Helene (1919), enhanced Rank's interest in the pre-oedipal phase of development (birth to age 3) and the mother-child relationship.

He was co-founder of the International Psychoanalytical Association in 1910, honorary member of the American Psychoanalitic Association (1924-1930). Freud and Rank established the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag in 1919, which became Rank's major responsibility along with training psychoanalytic candidates from around the world. In 1924 Rank published Das Trauma der Geburt, emphasizing the importance of separation and individuation, with their attendant and inevitable anxiety in the pre-oedipal period. Until then psychoanalysis had been father-centered, with oedipal conflict at the center. Rank meant only to balance and extend Freud's work but this book, and his work with Ferenczi on active therapyEntzwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse (1924)led to a final break with his mentor and virtual foster father. That same year Rank turned 40 and visited the United States for the first time. He was honored as Freud's emissary, although his ideas were beginning to challenge established Freudian doctrine.

Over the next decade Rank lectured, taught, wrote, and practiced a briefer form of psychoanalytic therapy with a more egalitarian relationship between therapist and patient. Rank modified the open-ended analytic process by using termination as the focus for separation and independent development. In this respect his work anticipated the innovations of Franz Alexander (brief analytic therapy, and the corrective emotional experience).

Orthodox Freudians condemned Rank as a deviant. The American Psychoanalytic Association expelled him and required his former analysands to undergo re-analysis. Although Rank suffered from poor physical health and occasional depression, assertions that his departure from the psychoanalytic fold were a result of mental instability (by Ernest Jones and A. A. Brill) are not supportable. The work of Rank and his colleague, Ferenczi, is being studied and discussed more objectively by psychoanalytic scholars in the twenty-first century.

Rank's creativity continued to flourish in his post-Freudian period. Between 1926 and 1931 he wrote major works on developmental psychology and therapeutic technique which are considered forerunners of object relations theory and ego psychology (Rudnytsky, 1991). He emphasized conscious experience, the present, choice, responsibility, and action, in contrast with the (classical Freudian) unconscious, past history, drives, determinism, and intellectual insight. Seelenglaube und Psychologie (1930) and Art and Artist (1932) are psychoanalytically informed major works of social psychology and cultural history addressing religion and creativity, respectively.

Rank's emphasis on will, relationship, and creativity appealed to psychologists Rollo May, Carl Rogers, Esther Menaker, Paul Goodman, and Henry Murray. Noted psychiatrists influenced by Rank include Frederick Allen, Marion Kenworthy, Robert Jay Lifton, Carl Whitaker, and Irvin Yalom; writers and critics include Ernest Becker, Maxwell Geismar, Max Lerner, Ludwig Lewisohn, Anaïs Nin, Carl Rakosi, and Miriam Waddington.

Some of Rank's ideas which seemed radical in his time have become the mainstream of psychoanalytic thought: the importance of the early mother-child relationship; the ego, consciousness, the here-and-now, and the actual relationshipas opposed to transferencein therapy. He anticipated and influenced interpersonal, existential, client-centered, Gestalt, and relationship therapies. As a social psychologist he contributed to our understanding of myth, religion, art, education, ethics, and organizational behavior.

Rank's companion in the last four years of his life was Estelle Buel, an American of Swiss descent whom he married just three months before his death. He had applied for United States citizenship when a kidney infection led to fatal septicemia; he died in New York City at 55.

The Butler Library at Columbia University in New York holds the Otto Rank papers in its rare book and manuscript collections. The Journal of the Otto Rank Association appeared twice annually from 1966 to 1983, publishing works by Rank and many others who knew him or his writings. A collection of his American lectures (1924-1938) has been published as A Psychology of Difference (Robert Kramer, Ed., 1996).

E. James Lieberman

Works discussed: Development of Psycho-Analysis ; Don Juan and The Double ; Myth of the Birth of the Hero, The ; Trauma of Birth, The.

See also: Applied psychoanalysis and interactions of psychoanalysis; Birth; Castration complex; Double, the; First World War: The effect on the development of psychoanalysis; Gesammelte Schriften ; Imago. Zeitschrift für die Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf die Geisteswissenschaften ; Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety ; Internationale Zeitschrift für (ärztliche) Psychoanalyse ; Internationaler Psychoanalitscher Verlag; "Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy"; Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society ; Myth of the hero; Narcissism; Narcissism, primary; Neutrality/benevolent neutrality; New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis ; Nin, Anaïs; Secret Committee, the; Signal anxiety; Splits in psychoanalysis; Termination of treatment; Technique with adults, psychoanalytic; Training analysis; Visual arts and psychoanalysis; Wiener psychoanalytische Vereinigung.


Menaker, Esther. (1982). Otto Rank: A rediscovered legacy. New York: Columbia University Press.

Rudnytsky, Peter. (1991). The psychoanalytic vocation: The legacy of Otto Rank and Donald Winnicott. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Taft, Jessie. (1958). Otto Rank. New York: Julian.

Zottl, Anton. (1982). Otto Rank: Das Lebenswerk eines Dissidenten der Psychoanalyse. München, Germany: Kindler.

Rank, Otto

views updated May 08 2018

Otto Rank

Austrian psychoanalyst and collaborator of Sigmund Freud, who developed theories of will and birth trauma.

Otto Rank was Sigmund Freud's closest collaborator for 20 years. Later, he strongly influenced the development of psychotherapy in the United States. He was the first psychoanalyst to examine mother-child relationships, including separation anxiety . He also was one of the first to practice a briefer form of psychotherapy, called "active therapy." His work, in contrast to orthodox Freudian psychology, emphasized free will, relationships, and creativity . Many of Rank's ideas, including the importance of the ego , consciousness , and the present, have become mainstays of psychoanalytic theory.

Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1884, Otto Rosenfeld changed his name to Otto Rank as an adolescent. It was one of his first acts of "self-creation." The second son of Simon Rosenfeld, a jeweler, and Karoline Fleischner, the family could only afford a higher education for one son. Rank attended trade school, despite recurring bouts of rheumatic fever, and became a locksmith, while his brother studied law. In 1904, Rank suffered a suicidal depression , after which he experienced a spiritual rebirth.

Hired by Freud

Rank was extremely well-read in literature and philosophy. After discovering the works of Freud, he wrote an essay that applied Freud's theory of dreams to the creativity of artists. On reading the essay, Freud was so impressed that in 1906 he hired Rank as the secretary of the newly founded Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Soon, Rank was a member of the "Committee of Seven," Freud's inner circle. Although only 22, Rank was considered to be the resident expert on mythology, literature, and philosophy. With financial support from Freud, Rank earned his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna in 1912, with the first ever dissertation on psychoanalysis . Entitled The Lohengrin Legend, it was published in 1911. Rank was the first psychoanalyst without a medical degree.

Rank lived with Freud and together they trained psychoanalysts from all over the world. However as Freud's favorite, he engendered the anger and jealousy of other Freud disciples. Rank edited Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, co-edited their psychoanalytic journals, and became director of their publishing house. In 1918 in Poland, while serving in the Austrian army, Rank married Beata "Tola" Mincer, who also joined Freud's circle and became a psychoanalyst. Their only child, a daughter, was born in 1919.

Breaks with Freud

In The Trauma of Birth, published in German in 1924 and in English in 1929, Rank extended Freud's ideas to mother-child relationships. He viewed the child's separation from the mother at birth and weaning as the basis of neurosis and argued that the male sex drive was a desire to return to the womb. Rank's therapy involved re-experiencing the trauma of birth. On a trip to the United States in 1924, Rank lectured on his own ideas as well as Freud's. Although Freud originally praised Rank's new work, soon he was attacking him, and they broke off their relationship in 1926. Rank moved his family to Paris and began spending a great deal of time in the United States, lecturing and treating patients. His new "active therapy" stressed a more equal relationship between the patient and therapist, with a focus on terminating the analysis, as opposed to the open-ended and intensive psychoanalysis of Freud. The Freudians labeled Rank as mentally ill, and he was expelled from the American Psychoanalytic Association. To remain in the Association, those who had undergone analysis with Rank were forced to undergo analysis again with a Freudian practitioner.

Rank was a prolific writer. His works included a 700-page survey, The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend, first published in 1912. Between 1926 and 1931, he wrote important works on developmental psychology , education, and therapeutic methods. The English translation of an expanded version of his early essay on art, Art and Artist, appeared in 1932. In sharp contrast to Freudian principles, Will Therapy (1936) stressed consciousness, choice, responsibility, and action. Rank argued that neurotics were failed artists who could regain their will through analysis, in a process of self-creation or rebirth.

Emigrates to the United States

With the rise of Nazi Germany, Rank, a Jew, emigrated to the United States in 1935. Teaching at the Pennsylvania School of Social Work, he adopted the nickname "Huck," after his favorite American book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Rank and his wife separated in 1934. Three months before his death in New York City in 1939, from side effects of the sulfa drug he was taking for a kidney infection, Rank married Estelle Buel.

Rank has never received full credit for his contributions to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, primarily because of the attacks by Freudians. Although Rank abhorred the Nazis, in 1939 the psychologist Erich Fromm labeled Rank's "will therapy" a Nazi-style philosophy. Rank's work was ignored for years, until the 1970s when it was resurrected by the psychologists Rollo May and Carl Rogers , among others, and by writers such as Anaïs Nin. The Journal of the Otto Rank Association, with writings by Rank and his followers, was published biannually from 1966 until 1983. Rank's 1930 work, Psychology and the Soul, was finally published in English in 1998.

Margaret Alic

Further Reading

Lieberman, E. James. Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank: With a New Preface. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.

Menaker, Esther. Otto Rank: A Rediscovered Legacy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Rudnytsky, Peter L. The Psychoanalytic Vocation: Rank, Winnicott, and the Legacy of Freud. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

Taft, Jessie. Otto Rank: A Biographical Study Based on Notebooks, Letters, Collected Writings, Therapeutic Achievements and Personal Associations. New York: Julian Press, 1958.

Rank, Otto

views updated Jun 08 2018


RANK, OTTO (1884–1939), Austrian psychologist and philosopher.

Otto Rank was born Otto Rosenfeld to a poor family in Vienna. A self-educated polymath, he was schooled to become a locksmith but meanwhile read extensively in art, literature, music, philosophy, anthropology, history, and science. Rank's diary, begun at age eighteen, reveals a number of intellectual forebears, notably Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Arthur Schopenhauer, Henrik Ibsen, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

In 1905, at age twenty-one, Rank made contact with Sigmund Freud, twenty-eight years his senior, who became his employer, sponsor, and virtual foster father. Freud encouraged him to continue his education at the University of Vienna. By the time he earned his Ph.D. in 1912 with a psychoanalytic thesis on Lohengrin, he had already published three books: The Artist (Der Künstler, 1907), The Myth of the Birth of the Hero (Der Mythus von der Gerburt des Helden, 1909), and The Incest Motif in Literature and Legend (Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage, 1912). As secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society from 1906 and a member of the Committee or Ring of Seven in Freud's inner circle, Rank remained Freud's closest associate for the next twenty years, the foundational period of the psychoanalytic movement. His name appeared on editions four through seven (1911–1922) of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams as contributor of two chapters. The most prolific psychoanalytic writer next to Freud himself, Rank became a central figure in the psychological revolution of these years. Rank wrote poetry and philosophical aphorisms, loved the art and music of Vienna, and admired Freud greatly. He hoped his independent contributions would enrich Freud's discoveries but encountered resistance from his mentor even after initial encouragement of some innovations after 1918. Rank viewed Oedipus as a social construct—a tragic hero and poetic symbol as much or more than a template of family dynamics. His differences with Freudian psychoanalysis came to include an egalitarian focus in therapy, interest in pre-Oedipal development and the nurturing role of the mother, and the importance of conscious will (not just wish and drive) in therapy, creativity, ethics, and psychology generally. The year 1924 marked Rank's break with psychoanalysis. Returning to Vienna after a visit to the United States, where he had been made an honorary member of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Rank encountered hostility from Freudians for the ideas he had developed on the mother-child relationship, separation, and the actual engagement in therapy, expressed in two books he published that year. The Development of Psychoanalysis (Entzwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse),written with Sándor Ferenczi, proposed a form of psychotherapy that was more active and less authoritarian than that practiced by the Freudians, while The Trauma of Birth (Das Trauma der Geburt) presented a theory of anxiety that diverged from the father-centered focus of psychoanalytic thought by emphasizing separation from the mother. Though Freud's response to The Trauma of Birth was initially very positive, he later rejected Rank's new work, leading to a final break between the two men.

In 1926 Rank moved to Paris with his psychoanalyst wife, Beata, and their daughter, Helene. One of his patients there was Anaïs Nin, who wrote about her therapy with Rank, their love affair, and his rivalry with Henry Miller. Rank immigrated to the United States in 1935. Though his work continued to be spurned in orthodox Freudian circles, he lectured, taught at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, and practiced psychotherapy in New York. His ideas also became better known in the United States through English translations of works published by Knopf as Art and Artist (1932), Modern Education (1932), Truth and Reality (1936), and Will Therapy (1936). In 1939, having by then been divorced and remarried, Rank died of an adverse reaction to a sulfanomide treatment of a systemic infection at age fifty-five. Rank's work has attracted a new audience not only in the field of psychotherapy, where some of his once radical ideas have become mainstream, but also among students of philosophy, humanistic psychology, feminism, and the arts. His insights on the soul, will, fear of life, fear of death, myth, and religion, to name but a few, make him one of the major twentieth-century innovators of interpersonal and existential psychotherapy.

See alsoAdler, Alfred; Freud, Sigmund; Jung, Carl Gustav; Psychoanalysis; Psychology.


Primary Sources

Rank, Otto. A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures. Edited by Robert Kramer. Princeton, N.J., 1996. Annotated collection of lectures given between 1924 and 1935, some of which are the only English versions of articles and book chapters.

——. Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development. Translated by Charles Francis Atkinson. Giessen, Germany, 1997. The introduction from the original 1932 English edition is by Ludwig Lewisohn and is important. The book addresses all the arts, and creativity, in light of history, culture, philosophy, and psychology.

——. Psychology and the Soul. Translated by Gregory C. Richter and E. James Lieberman; introduction by E. James Lieberman. Baltimore, Md., 1998. A combined history of soul and will, psychology and religion, from animism to psychoanalysis, incorporating anthropology, philosophy, Shakespeare, myth, and physics.

Secondary Sources

Halliwell, Martin. Romantic Science and the Experience of Self: Transatlantic Crosscurrents from William James to Oliver Sacks. Aldershot, U.K., 1999. Includes Otto Rank, Ludwig Binswanger, and Erik Erikson.

Lieberman, E. James. Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank. Rev. ed. Amherst, Mass., 1993.

Roland, Alan, Barry Ulanov, and Claude Barbre. Creative Dissent: Psychoanalysis in Evolution. Westport, Conn., 2003. A collection of twenty-two essays in honor of the Rankian psychologist Esther Menaker with her afterword.

E. James Lieberman

Otto Rank

views updated May 18 2018

Otto Rank

The Austrian psychotherapist Otto Rank (1884-1939) taught and practiced a form of psychotherapy based upon his own trauma-of-birth theory and will therapy.

Otto Rank was born in Vienna on April 22, 1884, into a disintegrating lower-middle-class Jewish family. His father is said to have been indifferent to the family and to have drunk. As a child, Otto found solace in the music of Richard Wagner. For intellectual nourishment he read Henrik Ibsen, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Then he discovered the early works of Sigmund Freud. They were a revelation.

When Rank was 21 he met Freud, who persuaded him to attend the gymnasium and the University of Vienna and to study psychoanalysis. Freud read a manuscript which Rank had written; with the help of Freud's criticism, Rank rewrote it. The book, Der Künstler (1907; The Artist), was well received. He followed it with Der Mythus der Geburt des Heldens (1909; The Myth of the Birth of the Hero), a work strongly influenced by Freud. In Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (1912; The Incest Motive in Poetry and Legend) Rank identified many motifs from myth and poetry with the Oedipus complex.

Rank saw service during World War I. The war transformed him from a shy over deferential person to "a wiry tough man with a masterful air." He became friends with Sándor Ferenczi, and together they published Entwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse (1924; The Development of Psychoanalysis). In Das Trauma der Geburt (1924; The Trauma of Birth) Rank maintained that all anxiety, hence neurosis, came as a result of the infant's first shock at being separated from the mother. Freud was at first impressed by this new idea of his favorite disciple, but he later cooled considerably. One report states that Freud himself had planted this new idea in the head of Rank in the first place.

In 1924 Rank tore himself away from Freud and went to America. Because Freud represented a father image, Rank suffered fear, conflict, and illness at being separated from him. By 1926 he was recognized by some Americans as a psychoanalytic leader. His therapy (which he called psychotherapy rather than psychoanalysis) consisted mainly in having the patient reexperience the birth trauma, the psychological consequences of the separation of the child from the mother's womb. This trauma had in turn caused "separation anxiety," hence neurosis. Many if not all human activities, from thumb-sucking to lovemaking, were, as interpreted by Rank, substitutions for the original pleasures of existence in the mother's womb.

Between 1924 and 1936 Rank traveled extensively between New York and Paris for teaching and practicing psychotherapy. In 1936 he settled in New York City, where he had some influence among social workers. His influence was especially strong in Philadelphia, where at the Pennsylvania School of Social Work his methods were adopted to a large extent. Rank favored a short analysis which could take weeks or months instead of years.

Later in life Rank came to a realization that knowledge is not fundamentally curative. "It is illusions that cure," he contended, "but first of all the patient must learn to get along at all—to live; and to do this he must have illusions." Psychotherapy, far from removing illusions, should help the patient to sustain them.

Rank died in New York City on Oct. 31, 1939, five weeks after Freud had passed away in London.

Further Reading

A study of Rank's life is Jessie Taft, Otto Rank: A Biographical Study Based on Notebooks, Letters, Collected Writings, Therapeutic Achievements and Personal Associations (1958). Fay Berger Karpf, The Psychology and Psychotherapy of Otto Rank (1953), presents a three-part view of Rank: one section is devoted to his life and role in the psychoanalytic movement, one to the influences on his thought and work, and another to the essentials of his psychotherapy. An exposition of Rank's will therapy is the chapter "Rank's Will Psychology" in Lovell Langstroth, Structure of the Ego (1955).

Additional Sources

Lieberman, E. James, Acts of will: the life and work of Otto Rank: with a new preface, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.

Menaker, Esther, Otto Rank, a rediscovered legacy, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. □

Rank, Otto

views updated May 21 2018


RANK, OTTO (original surname – Rosenfeld ; 1884–1939), psychoanalyst. Born in Vienna, Rank met *Freud in 1906 and became a member of his inner circle. Rank edited with H. *Sachs the psychoanalytic journal Imago and with S. Ferenczi and E. Jones International Zeitschrift fuer Psychoanalyse (1912–24). He founded and directed the Internationale Psychoanalytische Verlag (1919–24). He had a special flair for interpreting myths, legends, and dreams. His vast erudition was evident in his great work on incest myths, Das Inzest Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (1912). He spent the war years in Cracow. E. Jones notes the change that had occurred in him as a reaction to the melancholia he suffered there. He eventually broke with Freud after his book Das Trauma der Geburt (1923; The Trauma of Birth, 1929) appeared. Freud opposed what he finally considered to be Rank's error in attributing to birth trauma the determination of anxiety and his underemphasis of the role of incest drives and the Oedipus complex. After the split with Freud he left Vienna, finally settling in the U.S. in 1935. Rank applied psychoanalytic theory to the arts and to mythology in his works Der Kuenstler (1907; Art and Artist, 1932) and Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden (1909; The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, 1914).


E. Jones, Sigmund Freud, 3 (1957), 45ff. add. bibliography: J. Taft, Otto Rank (1958); A. Zottl, Otto Rank (1982); E. Menaker, Otto Rank (1982); E.J. Lieberman, Acts of Will (1985); E. Menaker, Separation, Will, and Creativity (1996).

[Louis Miller]