Deutsch-Rosenbach, Helene (1884-1982)

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Helene Deutsch, psychoanalyst and physician, was born October 9, 1884 in Przemysl, Poland, and died March 29, 1982 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Helene was the daughter of Jewish parents, but she grew up a Polish nationalist. Although formal schooling was impossible in Poland for a woman, private tutoring enabled her to enroll at the University of Vienna in 1907. From the outset she was interested in a psychiatric career. She received her medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1913.

As early as 1898 she was involved with a much older man who was a Social Democratic leader, Herman Lieberman. He was married, however, and a divorce in those days was politically out of the question.

While spending a year in Munich in 1910-11, studying with Emil Kraepelin, Helene finally broke off with Lieberman, who since 1907 had been a deputy from Poland in the Parliament at Vienna. In Munich she had met her future husband Felix Deutsch, and they were married in 1912. Women could not then hold clinical psychiatric appointments at the University of Vienna, but Professor Julius Wagner Ritter von Jauregg had made a great impression on her. Once World War One broke out physicians were needed by the Austrian military, and Helene found new and welcome responsibilities thrust upon her. She functioned as one of Wagner-Jauregg's assistants, a post to which as a woman she could not formally be appointed. In the fall of 1918 Deutsch left Wagner-Jauregg's clinic in order to undertake a personal analysis with Freud, which lasted about a year. While for some, particularly Freud's exceptionally talented male pupils, he could be a burden to their independent development, Deutsch found that Freud released her most creative talents. She could write as Freud's adherent and at the same time fulfill her own needs for self-expression. She was not a mere imitator of Freud's, but within his system of thought she was able to express her own individual outlook.

The 1920s proved to be Deutsch's most creative period; she emerged as one of the most successful teachers in the history of psychoanalysis. In 1924 she became the first to head the new Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute, which meant that between 1924 and 1935 (when she left for Boston, MA) she had to assess all who came to Vienna for instruction in analysis. She was much sought after both as a training analyst and a supervisor; her seminars were remarkable experiences for students, and her classes were remembered as spectacles.

In Vienna Deutsch's case load became two-thirds American, and in 1930 she visited the United States to attend the First International Congress of Mental Hygiene. She was already looking around for a new position. One problem was the future possibilities of her husband Felix, an internist who had also been Freud's personal physician when he first contracted cancer in 1923. It turned out that Boston was the best place for the family, because a new psychoanalytic training institute was being founded there, and at the same time Dr. Stanley Cobb was creating a psychiatric department at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Cobb was interested in psychosomatic medicine, Felix's special field, so Cobb was eager to attract them both. Helene came over in the fall of 1935 with their son, and Felix arrived in Boston in early 1936.

Helene's stylishness, combined with the force of her personality, allowed her to attain a unique status in Boston. Many of the analysts involved in setting up the Boston institute had been her students abroad at a time when she was already one of Freud's favorites.

In 1925 Helene Deutsch became the first analyst to publish a book on the psychology of women. The interest that she and Karen Horney showed in this subject prompted Freud, who did not like being left behind, to write a number of articles on women himself. Deutsch's insistence on the importance of maternity made her a pioneer.

At the end of World War II, she published her two-volume Psychology of Women (1944-45). She was especially interested in the conflict between maternal and erotic feelings in women, and she was acutely aware of how much she herself had missed in both realms. She felt that, in human terms, she had paid dearly for her professional commitment. Deutsch placed much emphasis, meanwhile, on the real conflicts of young women. Her works are heavy with the kind of cases one might expect never to see dealt with by a psychoanalyst. It was her view that in order to understand pathological behavior one must first have a clear idea of what normal behavior was like. For Deutsch, the fact that women had a more intense inner life meant that they were a unique source of human potential. Her best-known clinical concept was that of the "asif" personality, a notion that allowed her to spotlight the origin of women's particular ability to identify with others. Her theories also helped her better understand her own ties to Freud and Lieberman.

In Deutsch's view, the crucial danger created by female masochism was that of victimhood, though the threat was potentially offset by the countervailing force of a healthy self-esteem. Horney criticized Deutsch's view of women, charging that she had fallen prey to biological reductionism through her neglect of social factors. Deutsch felt secure enough, however, to reply only in the most elliptical way. After all, she had held the fort in Vienna in the wartime, and her students had included the most notable among those of Freud's students who had remained loyal.

In 1973 Helene Deutsch published a set of memoirs, Confrontations with Myself, which constitutes an important testimonial to the history of Vienna and of the beginnings of psychoanalysis.

Paul Roazen

See also: Maternal care.


Deutsch, Helene. (1944-45). The psychology of women, Vols. 1 and 2. New York: Grune and Stratton.

. (1967). Neuroses and character types. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1973). Confrontations with myself. New York: W.W. Norton.

. (1992). The therapeutic process, the self, and female psychology. (Paul Roazen Ed.) New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

. (1994). Psychanalyse des fonctions sexuelles de la femme. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

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Deutsch-Rosenbach, Helene (1884-1982)

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