Talking cure

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The Talking Cure and chimney sweeping were terms used by Josef Breuer for verbal therapy given to his patient Bertha Pappenheim under the alias of Anna O. They were first published in Studies on Hysteria (1895).

As Ernest Jones put it, "On one occasion she related the details of the first appearance of a particular symptom and, to Breuer's great astonishment, this resulted in its complete disappearance";[1] or in Lacan's words, "the more Anna provided signifiers, the more she chattered on, the better it went".[2]


Bertha's symptoms - 'headaches, intervals of excitement, curious disturbances of vision, partial paralyses and loss of sensation'[3] - which had no organic origin and are currently referred to as somatoform disorders, were found to improve once repressed trauma and their related emotions were expressed, a process later called catharsis. Peter Gay considered that "Breuer rightly claimed a quarter of a century later that his treatment of Bertha Pappenheim contained 'the germ cell of the whole of psychoanalysis'".[4]

The term talking cure was later adopted by Sigmund Freud to describe the fundamental work of psychoanalysis. He himself referenced Breuer and Anna O. in his Lectures on Psychoanalysis at Clark University, Worcester, MA, in September 1909: "The patient herself, who, strange to say, could at this time only speak and understand English, christened this novel kind of treatment the 'talking cure' or used to refer to it jokingly as 'chimney-sweeping'".[5]

Current status[edit]

The talking cure is a phrase that is now used more widely by a variety of talking therapies. Some would consider that after a century of employment the talking cure has finally led to the writing cure.[6]

Celebrity endorsement[edit]

Diane Keaton attributes her recovery from bulimia to the talking cure: "All those disjointed words and half-sentences, all those complaining, awkward phrases...made the difference. It was the talking cure; the talking cure that gave me a way out of addiction; the damn talking cure".[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (Penguin 1964)p. 202
  2. ^ Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (London 1994) p. 157
  3. ^ Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for our Time (London 1988) p. 65
  4. ^ Gay, p. 64
  5. ^ Sigmund Freud, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Penguin 1995) p. 8-9
  6. ^ P. L. Rudnytsky/R. Charm, Psychoanalysis and Narrative Medecine (2008) p. 229
  7. ^ Diane Keaton, Then Again (2011) p. 91

Further reading[edit]

Terence W. Campbell, Beware the Talking Cure (1994)

Irene Gammell, Confessional Politics (1999)

External links[edit]