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Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis, The


Otto Fenichel's The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis is widely considered the standard reference work on this subject. It also offers a systematic summary of the literature of psychoanalysis up to the Second World War. With its seven hundred pages and its 1,600-entry bibliography, the work has contributed significantly to its author's reputation as a first-rank theorist and "encyclopedist" of psychoanalysis.

In a brief Preface, Fenichel describes how the book was conceived. After many years of activity in a training capacity and as a lecturer in various psychoanalytical institutes in Europe and America, and of vigorous participation in internal debates on theoretical deviations and on the internal practices of psychoanalysis, he had decided not to work on a second edition of his earlier Outline of Clinical Psychoanalysis, first published in two volumes by the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag in Vienna in 1931, and in English translation in 1934, but rather to produce a completely new work.

Fenichel began writing The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis in Prague, and Freud proposed the work to the Verlag. In May 1943, the author made a formal statement about his project at the Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in Detroit. In view of all the misunderstandings, obscurities, and deviations then besetting psychoanalysis, and in view of the continual temptation to revive resistances within the movement, it was much to be desired, he felt, that the essential part of Freud's dynamic psychology be set forth in the clearest way. He hoped to contribute to this task by writing a "Psychoanalytic Theory of the Neuroses."

In his introductory chapters, Fenichel sets forth his scientific position, stresses his views on changes noted in psychoanalytical theory, and defines his goal, namely to understand and institute Freudian psychoanalysis as a psychology, as a natural science. In this way he hoped to keep at arm's length psychoanalysts who confined themselves to a partial view of psychoanalytic theory, reducing it in a psychologizing or biologizing way, and hence overvaluing or neglecting one or another of its aspects. Part One of Fenichel's book is devoted to an account of general mental development from the psychoanalytical point of view; Part Two describes the various defining characteristics and forms of the neuroses.

Fenichel was very conscious of the cultural import of psychoanalysis, and conceived it as his "vital duty" to work for "the conservation, extension, and correct application" of Freud's discoveries. Against this background, Fenichel's book was designed to preserve the clinical basis of psychoanalysis, its libido theory, the foundations of its theory of the instincts, and its account of the perpetual conflict and interaction between the frustrations of the outside world and the demands of the instincts.

Elke MÜhlleitner

See also: Addiction; Bulimia; Dependence; Dipsomania; Fenichel, Otto; Indications and contraindications for psychoanalysis for an adult.

Source Citation

Fenichel, Otto. (1945). The psychoanalytic theory of neurosis. New York: Norton.


Fenichel, Otto. (1934 [1931]). Outline of clinical psychoanalysis. New York: Norton.

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