Sunday, 1 January 2012

Dr. Freud’s Process. Memory Extirpation. Inner Circle Seminar 181 (23 September 2012)

Edward Bellamy, ca. 1889
Dr. Freud’s Process 

Memory Extirpation:
A Stage on Freud’s Way to ‘Psychoanalysis’

Anna Lieben
(Freud’s ‘Frau Cäcilie M.’)
Anthony Stadlen
Inner Circle Seminar No. 181
Sunday 23 September 2012
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Fanny Moser
(Freud’s ‘Frau Emmy von N.’)
This seminar will explore an extraordinary and little-known stage in Freud’s search for a method during the last decade of the nineteenth century. We are so used to thinking of his work as bringing ‘repressed’ memories into consciousness, that it is at first difficult to realise that for a while he took quite seriously the idea that ‘extirpating’ memories was a desirable ‘therapeutic’ goal. This has unexpected contemporary relevance, as there are neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists with the same aspiration today.

120 years ago, in December 1892, Breuer and Freud wrote: ‘The hysteric suffers mainly from reminiscences.’ Their ‘method of psychotherapy’, they claimed, ‘allows the strangulated affect’ of an ‘originally not abreacted idea’ an ‘outlet through speech’ and ‘brings it [the idea] to associative correction, in that it draws it into normal consciousness… or abolishes [aufhebt] it through medical suggestion…’ [emphasis added]. Thus they claimed that, while one of their methods of dealing with ‘reminiscences’ was to ‘draw [them] into normal consciousness’ (facilitating possible ‘catharsis’), another of their methods was simply to ‘abolish’ them (by ‘medical suggestion’).

On 20 July 1891, Freud wrote to his wife’s sister that Edward Bellamy’s novel Dr. Heidenhoff’s Process (1880) described ‘in phantastic form’ what Freud himself was doing with his patient Anna Lieben (‘Frau Cäcilie M.’ in the 1895 Studies on Hysteria). Dr. Heidenhoff extirpated his patient’s troubling memories with electroshock to the head, claiming that such extirpation was superior to catharsis or repentance as a ‘cure’ for the distress caused by these memories.

In this seminar we shall examine the evidence that Freud attempted memory extirpation with both Anna Lieben and Fanny Moser (‘Frau Emmy von N.’ in the Studies). But it was not a simple ‘abolishing’ of troubling memories as in Bellamy’s novel. Freud first used Breuer’s method (as with 'Anna O.' in the Studies) to recover ‘unconscious’ reminiscences’ and then used Bernheim’s method to try to ‘abolish’ them, thus ‘suggesting the symptom away in statu nascendi’.

We shall explore the idea found in 19th-century psychiatry (Bernheim, Janet, Delboeuf,...) and literature (Dickens, Bellamy,…) that one is, or might be, able, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth put it, to ‘pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written trouble of the brain’. And we shall investigate the current practice, and ethics, of 21st-century ‘memory extirpation’ by Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, drugs, and other methods.

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £116, others £145, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits and mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857 E-mail: 
For further information on seminars, visit:  
The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and colleges.

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