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Sándor Ferenczi

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Sándor Ferenczi

Sándor Ferenczi
Born (1873-07-07)7 July 1873
Miskolc, Austria-Hungary
Died 22 May 1933(1933-05-22) (aged 59)
Budapest, Hungary
Fields Psychoanalysis
Institutions International Psychoanalytical Association (president)
Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society (founder)
Known for Budapest School of Psychoanalysis
Influences Sigmund Freud
Influenced Mihály Bálint, Alice Bálint, Imre Hermann, Sigmund Freud, Mária Török, Nicolas Abraham
Part of a series of articles on
Unoffical psychoanalysis symbol

Sándor Ferenczi (Hungarian: ; 7 July 1873 – 22 May 1933) was a Hungarian psychoanalyst, a key theorist of the psychoanalytic school and a close associate of Sigmund Freud.


Born Sándor Fränkel to Baruch Fränkel and Rosa Eibenschütz, both Polish Jews, he later magyarized his surname to Ferenczi.

As a result of his psychiatric work, he came to believe that his patients' accounts of sexual abuse as children were truthful, having verified those accounts through other patients in the same family. This was a major reason for his eventual disputes with Sigmund Freud.

Prior to this conclusion he was notable as a psychoanalyst for working with the most difficult of patients and for developing a theory of more active intervention than is usual for psychoanalytic practice. During the early 1920s, criticizing Freud's "classical" method of neutral interpretation, Ferenczi collaborated with Otto Rank to create a "here-and-now" psychotherapy that, through Rank's personal influence, led the American Carl Rogers to conceptualize person-centered therapy (Kramer 1995).

Ferenczi has found some favour in modern times among the followers of Jacques Lacan as well as among relational psychoanalysts in the United States. Relational analysts read Ferenczi as anticipating their own clinical emphasis on mutuality (intimacy), intersubjectivity, and the importance of the analyst's countertransference. Ferenczi's work has strongly influenced theory and praxis of the interpersonal-relational theory of American psychoanalysis, as typified by psychoanalysts at the William Alanson White Institute.

Ferenczi was president of the International Psychoanalytical Association from 1918 to 1919.

Group photo 1909 in front of Clark University. Front row: Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi.

Ernest Jones, a biographer of Freud, termed Ferenczi as "mentally ill" at the end of his life, famously ignoring Ferenczi's struggle with pernicious anemia, which killed him in 1933. Though desperately ill with the then-untreatable disease, Ferenczi managed to deliver his most famous paper, "Confusion of Tongues"[1] to the 12th International Psycho-Analytic Congress in Wiesbaden, Germany, on 4 September 1932.[2]

Ferenczi's reputation was revived in 2002 by publication of Disappearing and Reviving: Sandor Ferenczi in the History of Psychoanalysis[3] One of the book's chapters dealt with the nature of the relationship between Freud and Ferenczi.

Ferenczi’s main ideas

Activity in psychoanalytic therapy

Contrary to Freud’s opinion of therapeutic abstinence, Ferenczi advocated a more active role for the analyst. For example, instead of the relative “passivity” of a listening analyst encouraging the patient to free associate, Ferenczi used to curtail certain responses, verbal and non-verbal alike, on the part of the analysand so as to allow suppressed thoughts and feelings to emerge. Ferenczi (1980) described in a case study how he used a kind of behavioral activation (uncommon in the psychoanalytic therapy at that time) when he asked an opera singer with performance anxiety to “perform” during a therapy session and in this way to struggle with her fears (Rachman, 2007).

Clinical empathy in psychoanalysis

Ferenczi believed the empathic response during therapy was the basis of clinical interaction. He based his intervention on responding to the subjective experience of the analysand. If the more traditional opinion was that the analyst had the role of a physician, administering a treatment to the patient based upon diagnostic judgment of psychopathology, Ferenczi wanted the analysand to become a co-participant in an encounter created by the therapeutic dyad. This emphasis on empathic reciprocity during the therapeutic encounter was an important contribution to the evolution of psychoanalysis. Ferenczi also believed that self-disclosure of the analyst is an important therapeutic reparative force. The practice of including the therapist’s personality in therapy resulted in the development of the idea of mutual encounter: the therapist is allowed to discuss some content from his/her own life and thoughts, as long as it is relevant to the therapy. This is in contrast to the Freudian therapeutic abstinence according to which the therapist should not involve his/her personal life with the therapy, and should remain neutral (ibid.). The mutual encounter is a precedent for the psychoanalytic theory of two-person psychology.

The "confusion of tongues" theory of trauma

Ferenczi believed that the persistent traumatic effect of chronic overstimulation, deprivation, or empathic failure (a term further elaborated by Heinz Kohut) during childhood is what causes neurotic, character, borderline and psychotic disorders (ibid.). According to this concept, trauma develops as a result of the sexual seduction of a child by a parent or authority figure. The confusion of tongues occurs when the child pretends to be the spouse of the parent. The pathological adult interprets this infantile and innocent game according to his adult "passion tongue" and then forces the child to conform to his passion tongue. The adult uses a tongue the child does not know, and interprets the child’s innocent game (his infantile tongue) according to his disturbed perspective. For example, a father is playing with his little girl. During their common game, she offers him the role of her husband and wants him to sleep with her just as he sleeps with her mother. The pathological father misinterprets this childish offer, and touches his daughter in an inappropriate manner while they are in bed together. Here, the child spoke her innocent childish tongue, and the father interpreted her offer with his passionate adult sexual tongue. The adult also attempts to convince the child that the lust on his part is really the love for which the child yearns. Ferenczi generalized the idea of trauma to emotional neglect, physical maltreatment, and empathic failure. The prominent manifestation of these disturbances would be the sexual abuse.[4]

Left to right, seated: Sigmund Freud, Sándor Ferenczi, and Hanns Sachs. Standing; Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, and Ernest Jones. Photo 1922

Regressus ad uterum

In Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality (1924), Ferenczi suggested that the wish to return to the womb (Latin: regressus ad uterum)[5] and the comfort of its amniotic fluids symbolizes a wish to return to the origin of life, the sea.[6] This idea of an "uterine and thalassal regression"[7] became a feature of the so-called Budapest School, up to the disciple Michael Balint and his 1937 paper on "Primary [Object-]Love".[8]

See also


  1. ^ Ferenczi, S. (1933). The Confusion of Tongues Between Adults and Children: The Language of Tenderness and of Passion. Sándor Ferenczi Number. M. Balint (Ed.) International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 30: Whole No. 4, 1949 (the first English translation of the paper).
  2. ^ Section V - Continuing Education - Ferenczi
  3. ^ Andre E. Haynal (ed.),Disappearing and Reviving: Sandor Ferenczi in the History of Psychoanalysis. London: Karnac Books
  4. ^ Trauma-related lectures and notes (in German): Sándor Ferenczi: Infantil-Angriffe! - Über sexuelle Gewalt, Trauma und Dissoziation. Berlin 2014 pdf ISBN 978-3-923211-36-4
  5. ^ Hoeller, K., ed. (1973). Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry, Volumes 12-14. p. 86. Thalassa: A Theory of GenitalityA psychoanalytical classic that focuses on the return to the womb is Sandor Ferenczi, . 
  6. ^ Sandor Ferenczi on Encyclopædia Britannica.
  7. ^ Ferenczi, Sándor (2011). Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality. London: Karnac Books. ISBN 1-780-49880-2; ISBN 978-17-8049-880-5. Quote. 
  8. ^ Akhtar, Salman; O'Neil, Mary Kay, eds. (2011). On Freud's "Beyond the Pleasure Principle". London: Karnac Books. p. 261. ISBN 1-855-75785-0; ISBN 978-18-5575-785-1. 

Further reading

  • Ferenczi's Turn in Psychoanalysis, Peter L. Rudnytsky, New York University Press, 2000, Paperback, 450 pages, ISBN 0-8147-7545-4
  • Final Contributions to the Problems & Methods of Psycho-Analysis, Sandor Ferenczi, H. Karnac Books, Limited, Hardback, 1994, ISBN 1-85575-087-2.
  • Development of Psychoanalysis (Classics in Psychoanalysis, Monograph 4), Otto Rank and Sandor Ferenczi, International Universities Press, Inc, 1986, Hardback, ISBN 0-8236-1197-3.
  • First Contributions to Psycho-Analysis, Sandor Ferenczi, translated by Ernest Jones, H. Karnac Books, Limited, 1994, Hardback, ISBN 1-85575-085-6.
  • Sandor Ferenczi: Reconsidering Active Intervention, Martin Stanton, Jason Aronson Publishers, 1991, Hardcover, 1991, ISBN 0-87668-569-6.
  • Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality, Sandor Ferenczi, H. Karnac Books, Limited, 1989, Paperback, ISBN 0-946439-61-3.
  • Legacy of Sandor Ferenczi, Edited by Adrienne Harris and Lewis Aron, Analytic Press, 1996, Hardback, ISBN 0-88163-149-3.
  • Antonelli, Giorgio, Il Mare di Ferenczi, Di Renzo Editore, Roma, 1996 ISBN 88-86044-44-5
  • Triad: the physicists, the analysts, the kabbalists, Tom Keve, Rosenberger & Krausz, London, 2000, ISBN 0-9536219-0-1. (
  • Elma Laurvik, Ferenczi's Step-DaughterPaul Roazen: from the pages of PSYCHOMEDIA
  • The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, Volume 1, 1908-1914, Harvard University Press
  • The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, Volume 2, 1914-1919, Harvard University Press
  • The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, Volume 3, 1920-1933, Harvard University Press
  • The Clinical Diary of Sándor Ferenczi, by Sándor Ferenczi. Edited by Judith Dupont, translated by Michael Balint and Nicola Zarday Jackson, Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-13527-X
  • Kramer, Robert (1995). The Birth of Client-Centered Therapy: Carl Rogers, Otto Rank, and 'The Beyond,' an article in Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Volume 35, Number 4, pp. 54–110.
  • Ferenczi, S. (1980). Technical difficulties in the analysis of a case of hysteria: Including observations of larval forms of onanism and onanistic equivalents (J. I. Suttie, Trans.) In J. Rickman (Ed.), further contributions to the theory and technique of psychoanalysis (pp. 291–294). New York: Bruner/Mazal. (Original work published 1919).
  • Rachman, A. W. (2007). “Sandor Ferenczi’s contributions to the evolution of psychoanalysis”, Psychoanalytic Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 74–96.
  • Wolman, B. B. (1977). International encyclopedia of psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis, & neurology, (vol. 5). Aesculapius Publishers, New York.

External links

  • Ferenczi Institute
  • Biography at the Sándor Ferenczi Society, Budapest
  • At the Frontier of Psychoanalytic Understanding, Academy for the Study of the Psychoanalytic Arts, article written by Judith E. Vida
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