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Sabina Spielrein from Rostov to Zürich: The Making of an Analyst


In 1904, a 19-year-old Sabina Spielrein journeyed from her home in Rostov, Russia, to Zürich, Switzerland, in hopes of becoming a doctor, but was first hospitalized at the famous Burghölzli hospital with a diagnosis of “hysteria.” There she was treated by Eugene Bleuler and Carl Jung and was able, within less than a year, to begin her medical studies. Her diary entries from 1909 to 1912, as published in Carotenuto’s 1982 A Secret Symmetry: Sabina Spielrein between Jung and Freud, reveal a young woman caught up in an intense transference towards her former analyst, Jung, who nevertheless maintained her own sense of purpose and ambition, enabling her to become an analyst in her own right. This essay attempts to give Spielrein back her own voice, portraying her not as the pawn of two great rivals, Jung and Freud, but emphasizing rather her development as the creative pioneering analyst she was to become.

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  1. Film based on the book by John Kerr (1994): Cronenberg, D., (dir). (2011). A Dangerous Method. Film. Berlin: Lago Film.

  2. See articles by Cooper-White and Noth in this issue of Pastoral Psychology, as well as works by Kelcourse et al. (2012), Launer (2014), and Lothane (2003).

  3. For an introductory review of the “good-enough” conditions for “normal” development, see Kelcourse, editor Human development and faith, 2nd edition, Chalice Press, forthcoming 2015.

  4. Genograms for both Jung and Freud can be found in McGoldrick et al. (2008).

  5. Portions of Spielrein’s history appearing in this article recently appeared as an encyclopedia article (Kelcourse 2014a).

  6. Friedrich Fröbel (1782–1852) was a German educator specializing in early childhood development. He coined the term “Kindergarten” and also created educational toys. In sending Sabina away her parents may simply have wanted the best for their gifted daughter, and it is interesting to speculate that Spielrein may have developed her own professional interest in early childhood development as the beneficiary of progressive early education.

  7. The case of 4-year-old Peter reported in “The Theory of Infantile Sexuality” (Erikson 1963, pp. 53–58).

  8. Portions of Jung’s history are taken from Kelcourse (forthcoming 2015).

  9. For example, Heller and Zeanah (1999) looked at mothers who had delivered a child within 19 months after a perinatal loss. When the child was a year old, the researchers assessed the mother-child attachment relationships and found that 45 % of the infants had disorganized attachments to their mothers. A study conducted by Hughes et al. (2001) also found evidence of disorganized attachment behavior in infants born subsequent to stillbirth.

  10. In Jung’s theory, the anima is the inner feminine component of a man’s psyche. In Psychological types (Vol. 6, Collected works) Jung writes “The inborn mode of acting has long been know as instinct, and for the inborn mode of psychic apprehension I have proposed the term archetype” (Original emphasis, p. 376, para.624, 1921/1971). When the anima archetype or “soul-image” for a man becomes associated with an actual person, “(T)his person is the object of intense love or equally intense hate (or fear). The influence of such a person is immediate and absolutely compelling, because it always provokes an affective response (pp.470-471, para.808, 1921/1971). For Jung this archetype, or “pattern of psychic perception and understanding common to all human beings” (Hopcke 1989, p. 13), has the role of guide to the unconscious, “a mediatrix between one’s ego and one’s inner life” (p. 91).

  11. While the timeframes are adopted from Lothane, the designations are mine.

  12. Details about Spielrein’s clearly disturbed and disruptive behavior can be found in Covington and Wharton (2003), “Burghölzli Hospital Records of Sabina Spielrein,” pp. 81–109.

  13. For examples of how countertransference can cause caregivers to become overly emotionally involved with those in their care, see Pamela Cooper-White’s Shared Wisdom: Use of Self in Pastoral Care and Counseling (2004).

  14. Lothane is drawing his citations from two previously unpublished sources that cause him to view the Carotenuto and Kerr readings of Spielrein’s relationship with Jung as incorrect.

  15. Kohut’s (1971, 1984) term selfobject refers to the way another person, and/or the functions provided by another person, can be experienced as part of the self. In a selfobject transference or, by extension, a counter-transference, the patient experiences the analyst as part of him or herself and vice versa.

  16. Her dissertation was published in 1912 in the Jahrbuch für Psychoanalytische und Psychopathologische Forschungen.

  17. Undated journal entry quoted in Moll (2003, p.22).

  18. Freud to Jung, quoted in McGuire (1975, pp. 12–13).

  19. Jung to Spielrein, quoted in Covington and Wharton (2003, p. 57).


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Correspondence to Felicity Kelcourse.

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Kelcourse, F. Sabina Spielrein from Rostov to Zürich: The Making of an Analyst. Pastoral Psychol 64, 241–258 (2015).

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  • Sabina Spielrein
  • Carl Jung
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Eugen Bleuler
  • Schizophrenia
  • Hysteria
  • A Secret Symmetry
  • Transference
  • Countertransference
  • History of psychoanalysis
  • Analyst
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Transitional phenomena