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Phyllis Greenacre

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Phyllis Greenacre (3 May 1894 Chicago, Illinois – 24 October 1989 Ossining, New York) was an American psychoanalyst and physician who was a supervising and training analyst at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.[1]

Education and life[edit]

After taking a BS from Chicago in 1913 and an MD in 1916, Greenacre worked for some years under Adolf Meyer on experimental psychology. During this period, she married and divorced her one husband, after having two children with him in 1921-2.[2] Meyer commissioned her in 1924 to investigate the work of psychiatrist Henry Cotton, who used experimental surgery on his patients to find new ways to cure mental illnesses. Her unflattering and critical report on Cotton's dangerous and pseudoscientific practices was eventually silenced by Meyer.[3]

She began psychoanalytic training in 1937, and thereafter rose to high prominence within the ranks of the American psychoanalytic establishment, before finally retiring at the age of ninety.[4]


In an early publication from 1939, Greenacre explored the role of a severe sense of (unconscious) guilt in fueling surgical addiction.[5] Two years later she published her once controversial but now classic study of childhood anxiety as manifested preverbally.[6]

In the fifties, a study of fetishism in relation to body image launched her at fifty-nine into a two-decade long exploration of aggression, creativity and early childhood development.[7] She also wrote on the family background of the imposter.[8]

Her continuing interest in psychoanalytic training led her to a powerful warning against the dangers of boundary transgressions in relation to the transference: “The carrying through into a relationship in life of the incestuous fantasy of the patient may be more grave in its subsequent distortion of the patient's life than any actual incestuous seduction in childhood”.[9]

Cultural explorations[edit]

Greenacre highlighted the voyeuristic elements in the writing of Lewis Carroll,[10] as well as distortions of body image with respect to Lemuel Gulliver.[11] She viewed Swift as essentially a neurotic inhibited by coprophilia who came close to achieving adult, genital satisfaction. Carroll, on the other hand, she argues, is closer to psychotic and psychically more deeply blocked.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thompson 2005
  2. ^ Susan Ware, Notable American Women (2004) p. 255
  3. ^ https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)67009-2/fulltext
  4. ^ Susan Ware, Notable American Women (2004) p. 255-6
  5. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 501 and p. 621
  6. ^ Susan Ware, Notable American Women (2004) p. 255-6
  7. ^ Susan Ware, Notable American Women (2004) p. 255-6
  8. ^ Maynard Solomon, Beethoven Studies (1988) p. 88 and 320
  9. ^ Quoted in Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1988) p. 105
  10. ^ Richard Kelly ed., Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (2011) p. 44
  11. ^ E. Berman ed., Essential Papers on Literature and Psychoanalysis (1993) p. 167

Further reading[edit]

  • Greenacre, Phyllis (1953), "Certain Relationships Between Fetishism and Faulty Development of the Body Image", Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 8: 79–98
  • Greenacre, Phyllis (1955), Swift and Carroll: A Psychoanalytic Study of Two Lives, International Universities Press. Pp. 306
  • Greenacre, Phyllis (1957), "The Childhood of the Artist—Libidinal Phase Development and Giftedness", Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 12: 47–72
  • Greenacre, Phyllis (1966), "Problems of Overidealization of the Analyst and of Analysis—Their Manifestations in the Transference and Countertransference Relationship", Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 21: 193–212, PMID 5965395
  • Harley, Marjorie; Weil, Annemarie (1990), "Phyllis Greenacre, M.D. (1894-1989)", International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 71: 523–525
  • Thompson, Nellie L. (2005), "Greenacre, Phyllis (1894-1989)", in de Mijolla, Alain (ed.), International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, vol. 1, Thompson-Gale, ISBN 0-02-865927-9