Katharina, Case of

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"Katharina," whose real name, AureliaÖhm-Kronich, was uncovered by Peter Swales (1988), was born on January 9, 1875, in Vienna, and died on September 3, 1929, in Reichenau. Her case was the third discussed by Sigmund Freud in the Studies on Hysteria (1895d).

"The etiology of the neurosis pursued me wherever I went, just like the song of Marlborough the Briton while he was traveling. Recently, while on the Rax, the daughter of the innkeeper came to see me; it has been a good case for me." Freud wrote this in a letter to Wilhelm Fliess, on Sunday, August 20, 1893, about the improvised consultation he was asked to provide during his vacation for the young daughter of the inn-keeper, who complained of a suffocating feeling, accompanied by the vision of a terrifying face. "Was I to make an attemptat an analysis? I could not venture to transplant hypnosis to these altitudes, but perhaps I might succeed with a simple talk. I should have to try a lucky guess. I had found often enough that in girls anxiety was a consequence of the horror by which a virginal mind is overcome when it is faced for the first time with the world of sexuality" (1895d, p. 127).

Freud concluded:

At that time she had carried about with her two sets of experiences which she remembered but did not understand, and from which she drew no inferences. When she caught sight of the couple in intercourse, she at once established a connection between the new impression and these two sets of recollections, she began to understand them and at the same time to fend them off. There then followed a short period of working-out, of "incubation", after which the symptoms of conversion set in, the vomiting as a substitute for moral and physical disgust. This solved the riddle. She had not been disgusted by the sight of the two people but by the memory which that sight had stirred up in her (1895d, p. 131).

At this time Freud was greatly excited by his discovery of the sexual etiology of neurosis, but was unable to convince Josef Breuer of its validity. He also introduced the theory of the "hysterical proton pseudo," a primal sexual scene that has been overlooked and whose memory is reawakened by a recent sensation. As Freud noted, this resembled resembled what "Charcot liked to describe . . . as the 'period of psychical working-out"' (p. 134), which separated the trauma from the appearance of symptoms.

Katharina's cure was akin "not so much [to] an analysed case of hysteria as a case solved by guessing" (p. 133) noted Freud, whose work as a hypnotist made him seem more like a magician than a scientist. A note added to the text in 1924 corrects the historical record with the following information: "Katharina was not the niece but the daughter of the landlady. The girl fell ill, therefore, as a result of sexual attempts on the part of her own father" (p. 134)

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Adolescence; Case histories; "Neurasthenia and 'Anxiety Neurosis"'; Primal scene; Seduction scenes; Studies on Hysteria.


Ellenberger, Henri F. (1970). The discovery of the unconscious: The history and evolution of dynamic psychiatry. New York: Basic Books.

(1950a [1887-1902]). Extracts from the Fliess papers. SE, 1: 173-280.

Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria, SE,2.

Swales, Peter J. (1988). Freud, Katharina and the first "wild analysis." In P. E. Stepansky (Ed.), Freud: Appraisals and reappraisals, Hillsdale, NJ-London: The Analytic Press, p. 80-164.

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Katharina, Case of

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