Stekel, Wilhelm

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STEKEL, WILHELM (1868–1940), Austrian psychoanalyst. Born in Vienna, Stekel was one of the small group of physicians who gathered around Freud from 1902 onward to learn the practice of analysis. In 1895, before having heard of Freud, Stekel had already written a paper on sexual activity in childhood. In about 1901 he was treated successfully by Freud for a neurotic complaint. He wrote a defense of Freud's theory of dreams and in 1903 began the practice of psychoanalysis. It was on Stekel's suggestion that the first psychoanalytic group met at Freud's home. In 1909 Stekel published Dichtung und Neurose and in 1911 his extensive Sprache des Traumes. E. Jones says it contained many "bright ideas but also many confused ones." Freud found it "mortifying." Stekel wrote prolifically in many fields, publishing papers on a wide range of subjects extending from the psychology of everyday errors to the psychological treatment of epilepsy. His books include Der Wille zum Schlaf (1915), Der Wille zum Leben (1920), and Stoerungen des Trieb-und Affektlebens (9 vols., 1924–27).

E. Jones wrote that Stekel had very little interest in theory, was very practical, and had a ready access to the unconscious. He was a naturally gifted psychologist, contributing greatly to our knowledge of symbolism, a field in which he had greater intuitive genius than Freud. Unfortunately, according to Jones, these talents went with an unusual incapacity for judgment, and his intuition and speculations were not to be depended on. When Freud founded the monthly Zentralblatt fuer Psychoanalyse und Psychotherapie, Stekel became its joint editor, but he resigned his membership from the Vienna society in 1912, and, Freud's group having withdrawn their subscriptions from the periodical, it ceased publication a year later. In 1933 Stekel wrote Der Seelenarzt and in 1938 moved to London where he wrote his last book, Technik der analytischen Psychotherapie (1938). In his preface to the latter book Stekel criticized the cult of orthodoxy in psychoanalysis, and the length and expense of its treatment, and foresaw the collapse of orthodox analysis if its practitioners could not adapt themselves. He considered medical training indispensable to the psychoanalyst, "since the boundaries between psychic and somatic determination can never be easy to establish."


E. Jones, Life and Work of Sigmund Freud…, 2 (1955), index. add. bibliography: W. Stekel, Autobiography (1950); M. Stanton, in: E. Timms and N. Segal (eds.), Freud in Exile (1988), 163–74; E. Timms, in: C. Brinson et al. (eds.), "England? Aber wo liegt es?"… (1996), 47–58.

[Louis Miller]