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Ferenczi, Sándor

(1873–1933), neurologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst. Sándor Ferenczi was born and raised in Miskolc, though his family had roots in Galicia. His father, Bernát (Baruch) Fraenkel, who changed the family name to Ferenczi in 1879, ran a well-known bookshop and publishing house. Ferenczi graduated from the medical faculty of the University of Vienna and settled in Budapest in 1895. There he worked as a physician at several hospitals, opening a private surgery practice in 1900. As a physician, Ferenczi developed ideas that went beyond the dominant, purely positivistic, and reductionist biological and medical thinking of his age, and sought philosophical and psychological explanations for the “secrets” of life and matter, as well as for unconscious phenomena. In 1903, he opened a neurological practice at the outpatients’ clinic of the Workers Health Insurance Association.

In 1907, Ferenczi became acquainted with psychoanalysis through personal and scientific contacts. He first visited Sigmund Freud in 1908 and subsequently became a devoted follower of his methods. He established a lifelong friendship with Freud, with whom he corresponded for 25 years. Their correspondence is a particularly rich source for studying the history of psychoanalysis. Ferenczi accompanied Freud—as did Carl Gustav Jung—on his American lecture tour in 1909. He played a key role in the psychoanalytic movement through his role on Freud’s informal “secret committee,” founded in 1912.

Ferenczi was Budapest’s first psychoanalyst, and he established the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society in 1913. Highly respected in the progressive circles of the city’s intellectuals, he published essays about the field in the reviews Nyugat and Huszadik Század. During World War I, Ferenczi was a military surgeon in the Hungarian Army, and he also directed the psychiatric and neurological wards in various military hospitals. In 1918, at the Fifth Congress of the International Psychoanalytic Association (held in Budapest), Ferenczi was elected president of the association. In 1919, during the administration of Béla Kun, Ferenczi was appointed professor at a new psychoanalytic clinic (the first institution of its type in the world) at the medical faculty of Budapest University. However, his appointment was withdrawn and the clinic was closed after the government fell, and Ferenczi was even excluded from the Budapest Royal Medical Association. In 1926, he went on a lecture tour in the United States, and in 1933 he died in Budapest of pernicious anemia.

Ferenczi made many important and original contributions to the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. He dealt, in particular, with the infant–mother relationship and the psychological development of the infant; childhood trauma; and the nature and phylogenetic origins of human sexuality. He pioneered the study and healing of traumatic aftereffects of shell-shocked soldiers. As a therapist, he stressed the importance of the relationship between the doctor and the patient, and called for the sympathy of the analyst. He introduced many concepts into techniques of psychoanalysis, including the idea of “mutual analysis” between the therapist and the patient.

Ferenczi’s innovative views and suggestions challenged the orthodox rigidity of most psychoanalysts of the age, including Freud. In Ferenczi’s later years he clashed with the mainstream members of his profession. Though his ideas and methods contributed to the development of modern psychoanalysis through his disciples and followers in Great Britain, France, and the United States, the full significance of his work was not recognized until the last decade of the twentieth century.

Suggested Reading

Eva Brabant, Ernst Falzeder, and Patrizia Giampieri-Deutsch, eds., The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, 3 vols., trans. Peter Hoffer (Cambridge, Mass., 1993–2002); Sándor Ferenczi, Selected Writings, ed. Julia Borossa (London, 1999); André Haynal, Disappearing and Reviving: Sándor Ferenczi in the History of Psychoanalysis (London, 2002).