Reik, Theodor (1888-1969)

views updated May 14 2018

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.

Reik, Theodor

views updated May 18 2018


REIK, THEODOR (1888–1970), psychoanalyst. Reik, who was born in Vienna, met *Freud in 1910 and received his training analysis from Karl *Abraham in Berlin. After World War i he worked as an analyst first in Vienna, and then in Berlin until he moved to The Hague in 1934. In 1938 he immigrated to the United States. In 1946 he was elected president of the National Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology.

Reik wrote many psychoanalytic articles on literary and musical figures such as Flaubert and *Mahler, on clinical and anthropological themes, and on psychological theory. Four of his best-known papers of the 1920s were collected in Das Ritual, psychoanalytische Studien (19282; Ritual, Psychoanalytic Studies, 1931). The first paper dealt with "couvade," the primitive custom in which the father of a newborn child lies in bed, the last two papers with *Kol Nidrei and the shofar. A series of papers on problems of crime – including the compulsion to confess, and Freud's view of capital punishment – were developed in Der unbekannte Moerder (1932; The Unknown Murderer, 1936), in which he sets forth as a major concept that unconscious guilt motivates the crime itself and also the criminal's need to be caught and punished. Reik held that an analyst's theoretical assumptions may interfere with treatment and that the therapeutic relationship should be an "unconscious duet" between patient and analyst in which surprises to both parties provide important insights. He wrote about his new technique in Der Ueberraschte Psychologe (1935; Surprise and the Psychoanalyst, 1936), and Listening with the Third Ear (1948). In Aus Leiden Freuden (1940; Masochism in Modern Man, 1941) Reik stated his theory that masochistic suffering is basically a search for pleasure and, as in the case of the Christian martyrs, for final victory. He therefore regarded masochism and the associated death instinct as secondary rather than primary as seen by Freud.

Some of Reik's thought was iconoclastic. In Psychology of Sex Relations (1945) he rejected the classical psychoanalytic theory of the libido and some of the sexual concepts that go with it. Among his more than 50 books are the autobiographical From Thirty Years with Freud (1940), Fragment of a Great Confession (1949), and The Search Within (1956). His biblical tetralogy included The Creation of Woman (1960), and in 1962 he published Jewish Wit. In Pagan Rites in Judaism (1964) he endeavors to show that much of the pagan and prehistoric survives in the rites of Judaism as professed today.


R. Lindner (ed.), Explorations in Psychoanalysis (1953), essays in his honor (incl. bibl.); J.M. Natterson, in: F.G. Alexander, et al. (eds.), Psychoanalytic Pioneers (1966), 249–64, incl. bibl.; D.M. Kaplan, in: American Imago, 25 (Spring 1968) 52–58; A. Grinstein, Index of Psychoanalytic Writings, 3 (1958), 1620–32; 7 (1965), 3940–41 (bibl. of his works).

[Louis Miller]

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