Friday 1 January 2021

Freedom, Love, Psychotherapy. For the 25th anniversary of the first Inner Circle Seminar. Anthony Stadlen conducts Inner Circle Seminar 266 (18 April 2021)


Freedom, Love, Psychotherapy

for the 25th anniversary of the Inner Circle Seminars

and for four other anniversaries:

Luther 500, Freud 125, Binswanger 100, Eichmann 60

Anthony Stadlen

conducts by Zoom

Inner Circle Seminar No. 266

Sunday 18 April 2021

10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sigmund Freud
Dora and her brother

Martin Luther

‘Ellen West
Ludwig Binswanger

Adolf Eichmann

Luther 500th anniversary
‘Here I stand. I can do no other’
18 April 1521

Five hundred years ago today, on 18 April 1521, Martin Luther, an excommunicated Augustinian monk, Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, was asked at the Diet of Worms to recant his published books. At risk of being burned as a heretic, he carefully considered his various books in turn, from the pile before him. He acknowledged that some were perhaps rather vehemently written. But, he said, nobody had shown him that he had misquoted any detail from the Bible. Therefore, he concluded: 

    ‘I can not and will not recant anything. 

He is also said to have added (though this is not proven): 

Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.’


Freud 125th anniversary

 ‘...a source of the Nile...’

21 April 1896

Sigmund Freud, in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), without naming Luther, cited this renowned reported declaration of Luther’s as evidence, not of his free will, his moral self-determination, but, rather, of ‘complete psychic determinism’. After all, argued Freud, was not Luther himself saying he could not act otherwise? Freud appears prima facie to be blankly ignoring the obvious truth that Luther’s declaration derives its moral stature from its implied assumption that, were he to let conscience make a coward of him, he could indeed ‘do other’.

Or is Freud, without quite realising it, confusedly invoking a more profound freedom than that of the conscious ego’? He is apparently affirming mechanistic scientific determinism applied to human events, and thus making nonsense of his own project of helping people discover their freedom through psychoanalysis. But is it possible that he is invoking, even though in an alienated and alienating way, with his concept of ‘psychic’ ‘determinism’, a determinism which is in truth a freedom of the psyche, the soul, beyond mere egoic subjectivity, and closer to, or consonant with, the philosopher Schellings understanding of freedom, in which, as Heidegger put it, freedom is not a property of the human being but the human being is a property of freedom? Is authentic, demystified psychoanalysis or Daseinsanalysis a quest to discover this profound freedom? 

In Of the Freedom of the Christian Human (1520), the book then most recently published in the pile which Luther refused to retract at the Diet of Worms, he argued that true freedom is inextricably linked with faith in God and love of one’s neighbour; thinkers in other religious traditions have said similar things.

Thomas Szasz, in his book The Myth of Psychotherapy: Mental Healing as Religion, Rhetoric and Repression (1978), hails Luther as a fellow thinker who advocated the ‘cure of souls’ as a form of psychotherapy entailing personal repentance; this was Szasz’s model for what psychotherapy could and should be.

Szasz does not mention, however, what he had briefly alluded to in The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement (1970), that Luther, disappointed that the Jews of his time did not find his critique of the Vatican sufficient reason to convert to his version of Christianity, responded by inciting ferocious persecution of the Jews, a precursor to Nazism. Central to his indignation was that the Jews were the supposed killers of God and, as Jesus (himself a Jew) allegedly said (John 8.44), the children of the devil; and that they preferred vengeance to love, or at least and at best wanted love spiced with vengeance. This last remained a Christian view of Judaism, for example in Kierkegaard’s first Upbuilding Discourse of 16 October 1843 which Geoffrey Pattison brilliantly elucidated in Inner Circle Seminar No. 263, even though Kierkegaard is clear in Works of Love that ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ was a Jewish principle before it became a Christian one.

To this day, many Christians, Jews, agnostics and atheists are aware that Jesus asserted that ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ is one of the two greatest principles (Matthew 22.39, Mark 12.31, Luke 10.27). Far fewer realise that he, a Jew, was stating it as one of the two greatest existing Jewish principles. And fewer still realise that the very verse in which this principle is stated in the Torah, long before Jesus lived, states (Leviticus 19.18 [italics added]): ‘Do not take revenge or bear a grudge, but love your neighbour as yourself.’ It is followed, a few verses later (Leviticus 19.34), by the injunction to love the stranger as yourself. 

In The Future of an Illusion (1927), Freud asserted that God is an infantile phantasy-projection, and religion a ‘universal obsessional neurosis of mankind’. In Civilization and its Discontents (1929) Freud ridiculed the idea of loving his neighbour. His love, he insisted, was something precious, not to be wasted on his neighbour unless his neighbour happened to be sufficiently like Freud for Freud to love himself in the neighbour. Love, in other words, was, for the founder of psychoanalysis, also a projection: projected narcissism. Civilization, he said, entailed the emotional crippling of human beings by the injunction (from the ‘collective super-ego’, as he saw it) to love one’s neighbour as oneself.

How did Freud reach this position? In the first Inner Circle Seminar, twenty-five years ago on 21 April 1996, we focussed on the occasion exactly one hundred years earlier, on 21 April 1896, when Freud first presented his avant-garde method of therapy and research, and its name, ‘psychoanalysis’, to his colleagues at the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna.

The title of his presentation was ‘The Aetiology of Hysteria’. He claimed to have made a ‘momentous discovery’, ‘a caput Nili [source of the Nile] in neuropathology’, namely, the ‘specific aetiology’ of the supposed ‘mental illness’ ‘hysteria’, analogous, he claimed, to Robert Koch’s discovery of the Koch bacillus as the specific aetiology of the disease tuberculosis the previous decade.

What was, according to Freud, the ‘specific aetiology’ of ‘hysteria’? It was sexual abuse in childhood, ‘before the age of second dentition’. This he claimed to have discovered in all eighteen cases he had investigated. It was an all-or-nothing theory, as specific aetiology is a factor in whose absence the illness cannot occur. One counter-example would, not partially but wholly, refute the theory.

Less than eighteen months later, Freud began to admit to his friend Wilhelm Fliess that he did not have the evidence of childhood sexual abuse required by his theory in every case. He did not publicly acknowledge this for nearly a decade, and even then confused the matter by purporting to explain his error, but in fact ‘confessing’ an ‘error’ which was not the one he had actually made.

In the original theory he stated that only under the ‘strongest compulsion’ of his new method, psychoanalysis, could his patients be induced to ‘reproduce’ the ‘scenes’ of sexual abuse that he admitted he was suggesting to them. And he reported that the patients insisted that these scenes, even if ‘reproduced’ with emotion, did not have the feeling of being memories. This, Freud pronounced, was the most decisive proof that they were in fact memories!

However, when he began to doubt the universality of his supposed specific aetiology, he had the problem of explaining to his colleagues how he had made such an error. His solution was to blame the patient. He now claimed that his original theory had been that the patients had come to him volunteering stories of sexual abuse, which he, by implication the enlightened and compassionate therapist, had at first believed, but had now discovered in some cases to be fantasies.

What the seduction theory and his retraction had in common was that he was right and the patient was wrong.

His method he explicitly compared to that of the inquisitors in the early-modern ‘witch’ trials.

Freud loved to give detailed evidence, in the manner of a German Novelle, when he had it. But for neither the seduction theory nor its retraction did he give evidence. The closest he came was the lengthy ‘Dora’ case study of 1905. But this further obfuscated matters because he introduced it as intended to ‘substantiate’ his assertions of 1895 and 1896, which included the seduction theory, when in fact it embodied a shift towards the hypothesis of infantile sexuality and a new conception of ‘love’.

Dora was sexually molested at thirteen by her father’s friend Herr K. with her father’s implicit collusion in return for sexual favours from Herr K.’s wife. Freud diagnosed Dora as an ‘hysteric’ because she objected both to this perverted notion of ‘love’ and to the insistence of her father and the K.s that she was fantasising Herr K.s molesting of her and her fathers affair with Frau K. Freud accepts that Doras allegations are accurate, but he sees her as sick for making them. A healthy girl, he insists, should take this in her stride.

Freud attributes to Doraremorseless craving for revenge’. This Jewish man applies to this Jewish girl the traditional ‘Christian’ idea of the Jew, who has a perverted notion of love but prefers revenge.

Freud adduces, among other evidence’ of Dora’s remorseless craving for revenge’, that she: (1) pulled herself free from Herr K.’s sexual molesting when she was thirteen; (2) slapped his face when he propositioned her again when she was fifteen; and (3) elicited, when she was eighteen, admissions from Herr K. that he had sexually molested her and from Frau K. that she had an affair with Doras father.

At the same time he attributes to Dora sexual desire for her father, for both Herr and Frau K., and for Freud himself.

The Dora case, a mere paper, albeit a lengthy one, in a journal, contains twenty-four references to Rache (revenge) and its cognates: more than any other work of Freud’s. Even The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), by far Freud’s longest book, contains only twenty-three. 

The psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, in his authorised biography of Freud, praised the ‘Dora’ case study as ‘a model for students of psychoanalysis’. He called Dora ‘a disagreeable creature who preferred revenge to love’ (italics added).

Binswanger 100th anniversary

‘Allowing Annihilation of Life Unworthy of Life’

5 April 1921

In general, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, from the late nineteenth century to the twenty-first century, developed strange, natural-scientifically reduced notions of both freedom and love.

The Swiss psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger as a young man accompanied Carl Gustav Jung on a first visit to Freud in Vienna in 1907. Freud and Binswanger remained lifelong friends, although Binswanger severely criticised Freud’s theoretical position, with love, as he put it in a letter to Freud. In a speech in Vienna for Freud’s eightieth birthday in 1936 Binswanger argued: 

... the natural-scientific idea of ‘homo natura’ must destroy the human being as a being living in manifold directions of meaning and only to be understood from them … until … precisely everything which makes a human being into a human being and not a brutish creature is annihilated …

Thus Freud stands before us as the paradigmatic man of the twentieth century.

Binswanger saw ‘homo natura’, the natural-scientism of Freud’s concept of the human being, as destroying the understanding of human freedom and love. Binswanger wrote a large book (1942) about the phenomenology of love. In it he attempted to develop Martin Heidegger’s and Martin Buber’s thinking, but Heidegger said that Binswanger had misunderstood him.

In 1944-5, Binswanger published ‘The Case of Ellen West’, a very long and complex case study, as a ‘paradigm’ of ‘schizophrenia’. He later republished it, with four other long case studies, in his book Schizophrenie (1957). It is translated in Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology edited by Rollo May, Ernest Angel, and Henri F. Ellenberger (1958: 237-364).

He makes plain that he also intends ‘The Case of Ellen West’ as a paradigm of ‘love’: her alleged inability to love, and his ‘love’ which he claims is what makes possible his ‘scientific’ method of understanding her.

He writes that ‘love alone, and the imagination originating from it’ can rise above a ‘single point of view’ in order, by means of ‘historical science’, ‘to test and compare “personal” judgements […] and to place them in a scientific perspective’.

This he sets out to do, twenty-three years after Ellen West’s death

At thirty-three, on 5 April 1921, a hundred years ago, she had poisoned herself with the help of her husband. This event was facilitated by Binswanger himself. The full nature of the participation of her husband and Binswanger has only become clear from recent research. It is not acknowledged in the case study itself.

She was a ‘patient’ in Binswanger’s ‘sanatorium’, Bellevue, at Kreuzlingen in Switzerland. He convened a case conference there with two other eminent psychiatrists: his colleague Eugen Bleuler and an unnamed ‘foreign’ psychiatrist.

Binswanger and Bleuler agreed she was a case of ‘schizophrenia’, the new ‘illness’ that Bleuler had proposed in 1908. The third psychiatrist disagreed with this diagnosis; he ‘would label it a psychopathic constitution progressively unfolding’. But, wrote Binswanger, ‘…all three of us agree that ... no definitely reliable therapy is possible.’ And: ‘Both gentlemen agree completely with my prognosis.’ 

All three agreed that Binswanger should put it to her husband that he and his wife must decide whether Binswanger should lock her up with no hope of a ‘cure’ or discharge her as a hopeless case. All three agreed that her suicide was inevitable. It would be caused by, and be a ‘symptom’ of, the ‘illness’ she was supposedly suffering from.

Whatever this ‘illness’ was, Binswanger explained, in his case study, that it made Ellen West incapable of ‘love’.

But he also wrote, without indicating any sense of contradiction, that her suicide was ‘authentic’. This implies it was a freely chosen act. Moreover, in her suicide, he claimed, she glimpsed for the first time the ‘dual mode’ of ‘being-in-the-world-beyond-the-world’ in ‘love’:

Only in the face of nonbeing does Ellen West actually stand in being, does she triumph over the finiteness of being, including her own. But this is possible only where the existence knows or senses itself as Gestalt of this being, as a passing expression of the eternal Gestalt-metamorphosis. This knowing or sensing is the knowing or sensing of love. [My emphasis]

The third psychiatrist at the case conference was in fact Alfred Hoche, coauthor with the lawyer Karl Binding of the book Allowing the Annihilation of Life Unworthy of Life (1920). (See Inner Circle Seminar No. 176.)

Binswanger and Bleuler had shared a copy of this book, published the previous year, and corresponded about it. Ellen West and her husband had also read it, knew who Hoche was, and welcomed his visit. This book was later used by the National Socialists as a textbook justifying the extermination of the ‘ballast existences’ of the ‘mentally handicapped’ and ‘mentally ill’.

Hoche mentions in his autobiography, published in 1935, this very case conference. It was, he says, ‘the strangest consultation in which I have ever taken part’. He does not name Binswanger, Bleuler, or the ‘young woman, highly gifted, sensitive, full of intellectual interests of every kind’. Hoche writes that the task of the triumvirate was to decide whether this was ‘still a life worthy of life’. And: ‘To this question we had to answer: No.’

In 1944-5, when Binswanger wrote and published ‘The Case of Ellen West’, the extermination of ‘ballast existences’ had been for some years a reality. He does not mention this. He remained friendly with Hoche and mentions in his obituary of Hoche that he has read Hoche’s book on so-called ‘euthanasia’ but will not discuss it. Nor does he allude in ‘The Case of Ellen West’ to Hoche’s account of what even for him was ‘the strangest consultation’.

Binswanger explicitly attributes to Ellen West an inability to love. She is condemned by her ‘world project’ to a loveless life. This is not a ‘fundamental project’ such as Jean-Paul Sartre supposes the child freely chooses as a way of making sense of how he or she has been treated by others; it appears to be predetermined. Binswanger disparages Ellen’s devoted social work and provision of children’s libraries as a search for fame, although the testimony after her death of people she had helped is unequivocally appreciative of her kindness.

Binswanger’s family was originally Jewish but converted to Christianity. Ellen West’s family was Jewish but atheist. Binswanger laments that Ellen did not choose Christianity, ‘the religion of love’. as he calls it. Only in her suicide, assisted by her husband and effectively authorised by Binswanger and his psychiatric colleagues as the annihilation of a life unworthy of life, does he concede that she glimpses the possibility of love.

Eichmann 60th anniversary

‘I lived by Kant’s categorical imperative’

11 April 1961

Sixty years ago, on 11 April 1961, the trial of Adolf Eichmann opened in Jerusalem. During the trial he claimed to have always tried to live his life according to Immanuel Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ from which Kant held that ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ could be deduced.


Inner Circle Seminars

 25th Anniversary

21 April 1996

What has the above to do with the practice of psychotherapy today? This is a special case of the question: what do the Inner Circle Seminars have to do with the practice of psychotherapy today?

The answer is that, as Santayana wrote, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This is a fundamental principle of authentic psychotherapy, as well as of the history of psychotherapy. There is thus a reciprocal relationship between study of the history of psychotherapy and the practice of psychotherapy.

In the twenty-five years of the Inner Circle Seminars we have explored the history of Freud’s seduction theory and its retraction, in effect the birth and then the second birth of psychoanalysis; we have followed Freud at a century’s distance almost to the day for five years, through his letters to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, and tried to rethink in existential and phenomenological terms the questions with which he wrestled; we have examined many paradigmatic case studies, including, for example, Freud’s ‘Dora’ and Binswanger’s ‘Ellen West’; we have investigated the underlying philosophies of various psychotherapeutic practices; we have studied the histories of remarkable men and women who have been locked up by psychiatrists who regarded them as crazy; we have studied many of Thomas Szasz’s books including all ten of his twenty-first century books, and he himself conducted three of our seminars, including one for his ninetieth birthday attended by ninety people; we had a cycle of eleven seminars following up historically the eleven families in Laing and Esterson’s Sanity, Madness and the Family after forty years, and another cycle after fifty years; we have followed Heidegger’s Zollikon seminars on the foundations of psychotherapy at fifty years’ distance, and are now doing it at sixty years’ distance; we have studied the work of many existential pioneers; we have had seminars on the medicalising of death and of birth, the latter attended and enjoyed by, among others, seventeen breastfeeding mothers and their babies; we have hired Dr Samuel Johnson’s wonderful house for a day and pondered his musings on madness; we are now in the flow of a subseries of seminars on, and relating to, the three extraordinary works published on 16 October 1843 by Kierkegaardwe have tried to relate psychotherapy to religion, philosophy, mythology, anthropology, historiography, biography, literature; and much more besides. To this end we have invited as speakers world authorities in their fields of study. 

Has this search, in seminars, for truth in psychotherapy and its foundations, helped us become better psychotherapists? That was our intention and hope. 

But we have discussed in the seminars how the conceptualising of theory in psychotherapy training institutions and universities is alienated: so-called ‘theory’ is taught in the mornings and then ‘applied’ in ‘practical’ classes in the afternoons. This a corrupt vision of theory. Authentic theory in the ancient Greek sense elucidated by Heidegger is contemplation of practice as we are practising, while aware in some way of the divine and that the divine is contemplating us. Then, according to Aristotle, the practitioner is truly a theoretikos. Practice comes first. Hence the Biblical phrase: ‘We shall do and we shall hear.’ In that order.

What does this say about the relation between our seminars and our practice of psychotherapy? 

Perhaps only through losing ourselves in the seminars, letting ourselves learn and letting ourselves let go of what we have learnt, shall we hear what is said, and what is not said, in them, and somehow allow it to move us in the practice of psychotherapy, without letting it congeal into a body of knowledge’ to be applied 

Perhaps all true psychotherapy is conducted in the middle voice. But that is a future seminar.

Today, you are welcome to raise any question in relation to the practice of psychotherapy, whether or not it refers to the above anniversary notes. As always your contribution to the dialogue, even if it is silence, will be deeply welcomed.

This will be an online seminar, using Zoom.

Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £132, others £165, some bursaries; payable in advance by bank transfer or PayPal; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra AvenueLondon N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 7809 433250
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 universities.

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