The Failure of Clara Thompson’s Ferenczian (Proxy) Analysis of Harry Stack Sullivan*

Sullivan had persuaded Thompson to go to Budapest and study under Ferenczi so that she could come back and teach him what she had learned. (Perry, 1982, p. 228)

H. S. S. has left me. … I wish I knew what has really happened, whether anyone else could have done better with him.

—Clara Thompson letter to her friend, Izette de Forest, February 1936 (Brennan, 2010, p. 449)

Abstract

After hearing Ferenczi’s talks on theory and practice in New York in 1926, psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan urged his friend and colleague Clara Thompson to get analyzed by Ferenczi so they could learn his technique. After saving for 2 years Thompson was a patient of Ferenczi for three summers and then moved to Budapest full-time for analysis until Ferenczi’s death. Two years after she returned to New York she attempted to analyze Sullivan. Analysis was broken off in anger by Sullivan after 14 months. Before the promised Ferenczian analysis began Thompson discovered Wilhelm Reich’s Character Analysis (1933) and she tried an aggressive attack on character with Sullivan rather than Ferenczian trauma-oriented “relaxation” and “neocathartic” therapy. Sullivan could not tolerate this. Because of their own unhealed trauma both individually and in relation to each other, neither Thompson nor Sullivan was able to advance Ferenczi’s views on trauma or its healing in America.

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Correspondence to Kathleen Meigs.

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Address correspondence to Kathleen Meigs, 1629 NW 19th Circle, Gainesville, FL 32065, USA; e-mail: katymeigs@sbcglobal.net

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Meigs, K. The Failure of Clara Thompson’s Ferenczian (Proxy) Analysis of Harry Stack Sullivan*. Am J Psychoanal 77, 313–331 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s11231-017-9103-8

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Keywords

  • Ferenczian analysis
  • Harry Stack Sullivan
  • Clara Thompson
  • sexual trauma
  • interpersonal relations