Sokolnicka-Kutner, Eugénie (1884-1934)

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Eugénie Sokolnicka-Kutner, the Polish psychoanalyst who introduced psychoanalysis to France, was born in Warsaw on June 14, 1884 and died in Paris on May 19, 1934.

Eugenia Kutner came from a Jewish bourgeois family that had demonstrated its political attachment to the Polish nation. Having been reared by a French governess, she naturally turned to France at the end of her secondary education with a view to enrolling in the Sorbonne to study biology and majoring in science. She also attended Pierre Janet's lectures and established friendships in literary circles that she would rediscover fifteen years later.

She met M. Sokolnicki there and they got married when she returned to Poland. She devoted herself exclusively to family life until 1911 when she went to study at the Burghölzli asylum in Zurich, where she met Carl Gustav Jung. At the time of Jung's break with Freud, she decided to go to Vienna and began her analysis with Freud; this lasted about one year and provoked a rather hostile counter-transference in Freud. She and Sokolnicki divorced at this time.

Also at this time she attended a few sessions of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Nunberg H., Federn E., 1962-75) before settling in Munich on Freud's advice. It may have been during this period that she analyzed Felix Boehm. The First World War forced her to return to Warsaw until the threat from the Germans and the Russians caused her to again flee, this time to Zurich in 1916. She became a member of the Zurich Psychoanalytic Society and was also elected to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society on November 8, 1916.

Toward the end of 1917 she returned to Poland, and Freud wrote, in a letter to Sándor Ferenczi dated January 19, 1918 that "Sokolnick seems to be founding a psychoanalytic society in Warsaw." For six weeks in 1919 she treated a little Jewish boy from Minsk who was suffering from an obsessional neurosis, the cure being classically centered round the transference and the interpretation of dreams, although a pedagogical attitude made its appearance, mainly with regard to sexuality (Ferenczi described it as an example of the "active technique"). It is, however, one of the first examples of a child analysis being conducted under conditions similar to those used for adults. She published the case the following year under the title: "Analysis of a Case of Infantile Obsessional Neurosis."

At the start of 1920 she went to Budapest, and in January she began an analysis lasting about one year with Sándor Ferenczi who, sometimes as if in a kind of supervision, described its progression in his correspondence with Freud. She was not an easy patient, suffering from personality problems, mainly irritability, and describing Ferenczi as incapable compared to Freud, whom she nevertheless accused of putting an end to her analysis because she had no money as a result of her divorce. She also complained that Otto Rank had wounded her. These so-called paranoid characteristics were linked to depressive tendencies and accompanied by disturbing suicide threats. Alongside all of this, Ferenczi stressed her talent as a psychoanalyst and the quality of her interpretations.

In September 1920 she took part in the sixth International Congress at The Hague, presenting a paper on "Diagnosis and symptoms of neuroses in the light of psychoanalytic doctrines" and, in January 1921, expressed her intention of joining her brother in Paris. Ferenczi then asked Freud to recommend her to his Payot editor and his translator Samuel Jankélévitch, a request that Freud deferred granting until later, adding: "Besides, we both don't like her, whereas you obviously have a weakness for this disagreeable person" (letter dated January 16, 1921). She again visited Freud between February and March and, upon finally receiving his approval, left for Paris.

Her relations were then in the literary milieu, particularly around the Nouvelle Revue française. There, as soon as she arrived in the fall of 1921, she found a public that was passionate about the "Freud sessions" she organized and which were attended by Jacques Riviére and André Gide. The latter is thought to have had a few analysis sessions with her and have depicted her in 1925 as "Doctoress Sophroniska" in The Counterfeiters.

During the winter of 1922-1923 she delivered several lectures at theÉcole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales, meeting Georges Heuyer there through Paul Bourget. Heuyer, who ran the mental illness clinic of the Sainte-Anne hospital before the arrival of Henri Claude, invited her to attend the meetings and case presentations in his department. There she met young psychiatrists who, like René Laforgue for a few months or his friendÉdouard Pichon for three years (1923-1926), were to go through the experience of training analysis with her. She soon either fled the hospital before Georges Dumas's sarcasm, or was pushed out by Henri Claude who would have nothing to do with non-physician psychoanalysts. She failed to become the leader of a French psychoanalytic movement, abandoning that position to Laforgue and Marie Bonaparte, in spite of her support from Freud, who took her side rather than trust Laforgue, to whom he wrote on January 15, 1924: "We would have very much appreciated your working in cooperation with Mme Sokolnicka because we have known her for a very long time and we cannot help seeing her as our legitimate representative."

She was appointed vice-president at the founding of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society in November 1926 and her teaching activity continued to increase constantly. In June 1929 she presented a report to the fourth Conference of French-Speaking Psychoanalysts on "Some problems in psychoanalytic technique." She analyzed Paulette Laforgue after her hysterectomy, Blanche Reverchon-Jouve, and Paul Schiff, but her clientele diminished over the years, leading her to practice shortened cures that barely earned her enough to live. Perhaps her turbulent sexual life was to blame, or the manifestations of the quick temper that Ferenczi described to Freud on February 11, 1921: "Actually she has suffered and is suffering not from a typical neurosis but from pathological sensitivity."

It may be that from 1931 onward she progressively came under the influence of a state of depression. Having been announced for the opening of the Paris Psychoanalytic Institute in 1934 as speaking from May 2 to 23 on the "psychoanalysis of the character," she died of what was probably a deliberate case of gas poisoning on May 19, 1934, less than a month from her fiftieth birthday.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Claude, Henri Charles Jules; Heuyer, Georges; Literature and psychoanalysis; Poland; Technique with children, psychoanalytic; Société psychanalytique de Paris et Institut de psychanalyse de Paris.


Duhamel, Pascale. (1988). Eugénie Sokolnicka (1884-1934): entre l'oublie et le tragique. Mémoire pour le Certificat d'études spéciales de psychiatrie. Bordeaux-II.

Pichon,Édouard. (1934). Eugénie Sokolnicka. Revue française c de psychanalyse, 9 (4), 559588.

Sokolnicka, Eugénie. (1920). Analysis of an obsessional neurosis in a child. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 3, 306-319.

. (1929). Quelques problémes de technique psychoanalytique. Revue française de psychanalyse, 3 (1), 1-91.