Helene Deutsch

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Helene Deutsch
Biography of Helene Deutsch
Born 9 October 1884
Przemyśl, Austrian Galicia[1]
Died 29 March 1982 (age 97)
Cambridge, Massachusetts[2]
Residence Cambridge, Massachusetts
Citizenship USA
Nationality Poland
Fields Psychoanalysis
Institutions University of Vienna,
Vienna Psychoanalytic Society,
Massachusetts General Hospital,
Boston Psychoanalytic Society
Alma mater University of Vienna
Known for Psychology of women,
Adolescent psychology
Influences Sigmund Freud
Influenced Stanley Cobb

Helene Deutsch (née Rosenbach; October 9, 1884 – March 29, 1982) was an Austrian-American psychoanalyst and colleague of Sigmund Freud. She was the first psychoanalyst to specialize in women.


She was born in Przemyśl, then Austrian Galicia. Her father had been educated in German, but Helene (Rosenbach) was sent to private Polish-language schools. Her love of Polish literature continued throughout her life, and she identified intensely with Poland and insisted on her Polish national identity.

Deutsch studied medicine and psychiatry in Vienna and Munich, before she became a pupil of Freud. As his assistant she was the first woman to concern herself with the psychology of women. Following a youthful affair with the socialist leader Herman Lieberman, she married Dr Felix Deutsch in 1912, and after a number of miscarriages they eventually conceived a son, Martin. In 1935 she fled Germany, immigrating to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States. Her husband and son joined her a year later, and she worked there as a well-regarded psychoanalyst up until her death in Cambridge in 1982. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1975.[3]

The "as-if" personality[edit]

'Her best known clinical concept was that of the "as if" personality, a notion that allowed her to spotlight the origin of women's particular ability to identify with others'.[4] Deutsch singled out schizoid personalities who 'seem normal enough because they have succeeded in substituting "pseudo contacts" of manifold kinds for a real feeling contact with other people; they behave "as if" they had feeling relations with other people...their ungenuine pseudo emotions'.[5] More broadly, she considered that 'the "generally frigid" person who more or less avoids emotions altogether...may learn to hide their insufficiencies and to behave "as if" they had real feelings and contact with people'.[6]

It has been suggested that it was 'Helene's tendency to love by identifying herself with the object, then experiencing that love as betrayed and running to the next object...[that] she herself explored in her various studies on the "as if" personality'.[7] Indeed, Lisa Appignanesi has written that 'her memoir sometimes fills one with the sense that she experienced her own existence to be an "as if" - living her life first "as if" a socialist in her identification with Lieberman; "as if" a conventional wife with Felix; "as if" a mother...then "as if" a psychoanalyst in the identification with Freud'.[8]

On women[edit]

'Helene Deutsche, who was to make her name with her writings on female sexuality'[9] became paradoxically something of an Aunt Sally 'in feminist circles...her name tarnished with the brush of a "misogynist" Freud whose servile disciple she is purported to be'.[10] In 1925 she 'became the first psychoanalysts to publish a book on the psychology of women'; and according to Paul Roazen, the 'interest she and Karen Horney showed in this subject prompted Freud, who did not like to be left behind, to write a number of articles on women himself'.[11] In his 1931 article on "Female Sexuality", Freud wrote approvingly of 'Helene Deutsch's latest paper, on feminine masochism and its relation to frigidity (1930), in which she also recognises the girl's phallic activity and the intensity of her attachment to her mother'.[12]

In 1944-5, Deutsche published her two-volume work, The Psychology of Women, on the 'psychological development of the female...Volume 1 deals with girlhood, puberty, and adolescence. Volume 2 deals with motherhood in a variety of aspects, including adoptive mothers, unmarried mothers, and stepmothers'.[13] Mainstream opinion saw the first volume as 'a very sensitive book by an experienced psychoanalyst....Volume II, Motherhood, is equally valuable'.[14] It was, however, arguably 'Deutsch's eulogy of motherhood which made her so popular...in the "back-to-the-home" 1950s and unleashed the feminist backlash against her in the next decades' - though she was also seen by the feminists as 'the reactionary apologist of female masochism, echoing a catechism which would make of woman a failed man, a devalued and penis-envying servant of the species'.[15]

As time permits a more nuanced, post-feminist view of Freud, feminism and Deutsch, so too one can appreciate that her central book 'is replete with sensitive insight into the problems women confront at all stages of their lives'.[16] Indeed it has been claimed of Deutsch that 'the ruling concerns of her life bear a striking resemblance to those of women who participated in the second great wave of feminism in the 1970s: early rebellion...struggle for independence and education...conflict between the demands of career and family, ambivalence over motherhood, split between sexual and maternal feminine identities'.[17] In the same way, one may see that 'to cap the parallel, Deutsch's psychoanalytic preoccupations were with the key moments of female sexuality: menstruation, defloration, intercourse, pregnancy, infertility, childbirth, lactation, the mother-child relation, menopause...the underlying agenda of any contemporary women's magazine - an agenda which her writings helped in some measure to create'.[17]

On technique[edit]

'In a 1926 paper...- a paper which Freud later cited - she emphasizes that intuition, the analyst's ability to identify with the patient's transference fantasies, is a potent therapeutic tool',[8] proving herself thereby a forerunner to much later work on the analyst's ' free-floating responsiveness...as a crucial element in his "useful" countertransference'.[18]

Deutsch was wary accordingly of any 'rigid adherence to the phantom of "Freudian Method", which, as I now realize, I must regard as an area of research ' and not as 'a complete, learnable entity which can be taught by thorough and regular drilling'.[19] She herself however was 'one of the most successful teachers in the history of psychoanalysis...her seminars were remarkable experiences for students, and her classes were remembered as spectacles'.[11]


Part of a series of articles on
Unoffical psychoanalysis symbol
  • Psychoanalysis of the Sexual Functions of Women, Internationaler Psychoanalytischer

Verlag, Leipzig/Wien/Zürich, 1925 (Neue Arbeiten zur ärztlichen Psychoanalyse No. 5). Translated to English in 1991, ISBN 978-0-946439-95-9.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Marie H. Briehl, "Helene Deutsch: The Maturation of Woman", in Franz Alexander et al. eds., Psychoanalytic Pioneers (1995)


  1. ^ Driscoll, Jr., Edgar (31 Mar 1982), "Dr. Helene Deutsch, 97, a leader in psychoanalysis, pupil of Freud", The Boston Globe: 63 
  2. ^ Altman, Lawrence (1 Apr 1982), "Dr. Helene Deutsch is Dead at 97; Psychoanalyst Analyzed by Freud", The New York Times: D22 
  3. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter D". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 29, 2014. 
  4. ^ Paul Roazen "Deutsch-Rosenbach, Helene
  5. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 445 and p. 532
  6. ^ Fenichel, p. 477
  7. ^ Lisa Appignanesi/John Forrester, Freud's Women (London 2005) p. 322
  8. ^ a b Appignanesi/Forrester, p. 322
  9. ^ Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time 9London 19880 p. 463
  10. ^ Appignanesi/Forrester, p. 307-8
  11. ^ a b Roazen
  12. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 390
  13. ^ Eric Berne, A Layman's Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis (Penguin 1976) p. 134
  14. ^ Eric Berne, Sex in Human Loving (Penguin 1970) p. 230
  15. ^ Appignanesi/Forrester, p. 327 and p. 308
  16. ^ Appignanesi/Forrester, p. 328
  17. ^ a b Appignanesi/Forrester, p. 307
  18. ^ Joseph Sandler, in Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (London 1990) p. 165
  19. ^ Deutsch, in Appignanesi/Forrester, p. 324


  • Helene Deutsch: Selbstkonfrontation. Eine Autobiographie. Fischer-TB, Frankfurt am Main 1994, ISBN 3-596-11813-1
  • Jutta Dick & Marina Sassenberg: Jüdische Frauen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Rowohlt, Reinbek 1993, ISBN 3-499-16344-6
  • Paul Roazen: Helene Deutsch: A Psychoanalyst’s Life, N.Y., Doubleday, 1985, ISBN 978-0-385-19746-5.
  • Paul Roazen: Freuds Liebling Helene Deutsch. Das Leben einer Psychoanalytikerin. Verlag Internat. Psychoanalyse, München, Wien 1989, ISBN 3-621-26513-9

External links[edit]