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The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement

The history of the Psychoanalytic movement in the United States began in 1909 when Freud gave a series of lectures at Clark’s University in Worchester. The movement grew rapidly. Already in 1911 psychoanalytic associations were founded in New York and nationally. These were the first ones to be established after the one in Vienna.

The movement flourished and was successful in disseminating psychoanalytic views, especially in medical schools. The movement in the United States differed from that in Europe in that it valued what Szasz calls the “deterministic-mechanic superstructure” of the theory. This implied that psychoanalysis, although psychological in nature and practice, was to be considered belonging in medicine. A decision in the twenties of the twentieth century determined that psychoanalytic training was open only to physicians. After World War II this exclusive medical nature became increasingly difficult to sustain. Yet it was not until 1964 that the American Psychoanalytic Association decided to open its membership to certain, carefully selected non-physicians. The insistence of the psychoanalytic movement in the United States on a medical identity contributed to its great influence on psychiatry. Gross calls the movement’s dominion in psychiatry “its greatest triumph in the world.” He estimates that in 1978 there were 4,500 psychoanalysts in the United States. Considering how few patients a psychoanalyst can treat at a given time, Gross’s comment cannot refer to psychoanalysis as a therapy. The influence of psychoanalytic theory, the instruction of trainee psychiatrists in it, and the large numbers of them who submitted to training-analysis, explain the influence of psychoanalysis.

The formation of psychoanalytic associations and institutions gave the movement its organizational shape. These not only expanded psychoanalytic insights but also designed training programs, and thus engendered a certain amount of uniformity and continuity in psychoanalysis. The year 1933 saw the establishment of the psychoanalysis section inside the American Psychiatric Association, whereby the close association of psychoanalysis and psychiatry became an organizational fact as well. In addition, the arrival of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts from Western Europe in the pre-World War II years fortified the psychoanalytic movement. They were fleeing from national-socialism which had outlawed psychoanalysis. Mora adds that Freud felt rather ambivalent about the explosive growth of the movement in the United States, fearing it would jeopardize the movement’s identity. As in Europe, there were stormy conflicts that led to the secession of, for instance, Karen Horney in 1941, and Clara Thomson, Eric Fromm, and Harry Stack Sullivan in 1943, and to the formation of new groups and organizations.

Szasz approves of the influence of psychoanalysis in the United States, stressing that it is by nature individualistic and “libertarian.” The psychiatric patient is viewed as a fellow human being, someone to whom it is worth listening. Furthermore, the relationship with the analyst is voluntary, shaped in part by the wishes of the analysand, who participates actively in his treatment. The goal of the treatment is freeing the individual of past experiences that impede his freedom. Szasz thus values psychoanalysis, regretting, however, the exclusively medical identity of the movement, which he ascribes to psychoanalysts’ ambition to share in physicians’ prestige.
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