Theodor Reik

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Thedor Reik.

Theodor Reik (German: [ʀaɪk]; 12 May 1888, Vienna – 31 December 1969, New York) was a prominent psychoanalyst who trained as one of Freud's first students in Vienna, Austria. Reik received a Ph.D. degree in psychology from the University of Vienna in 1912. His dissertation, a study of Flaubert's Temptation of Saint Anthony, was only the second psychoanalytic dissertation ever written, coming one year after Otto Rank's. After receiving his doctorate, Reik devoted several years to studying with Freud.

During the First World War, Reik was mobilized and had to face up to the situation with an unbearable helplessness. Reik contributed to a paper of Freud, published in 1919, The Uncanny. This term refers to a part of which that is horrifying. Some years later, in a text called The Dread written in 1924 and published in 1929, Reik makes a link between the aspects of traumatic neurosis, which was disseminated in the written papers of Freud, and suggests his own analysis. Freud recognized the pertinence of that paper. In 1935, a book is published in which Reik speaks about the dread when confronting thoughts, from the point of view of the psychoanalyst (Tréhel, G. 2012).

The 1914-1918 war was the First World War, which involved all European countries where men had to pay a heavy tribute. In Vienna, as soon as peace was restored, a Committee directed by Julius Tandler was organized in order to investigate committed felonies and where Julius Wagner von Jauregg was to participate as a member. At that time, the practice of medicine in places directed by Wagner von Jauregg and Arnold Durig had been discredited by a former patient,Walter Kauders. Sigmund Freud was appointed as an expert on the medical care to be provided to war neurotics.In February 1920, he gave its opinion and, in October 1920, he presented its conclusions. Another matter shook up the Austrian capital. In November 1924, Durig asked Freud to write an expert evaluation about the question of lay analysis, it is to say, analysis practiced by individuals who were not doctors. In December 1924, during a session of the Vienna Health State Board, Wagner von Jauregg asked for a list of the institutions using psychoanalysis. In February 1925, the psychoanalyst Theodor Reik was, by official decree, forbidden to continue practising medicine. Freud reacted by writing to Tandler. Both affairs were linked. In 1926, Newton Murphy, Reik’s former patient, turned against his psychoanalyst and sued him for harmful treatment. Freud publicly takes Reik’s defence. Both cases present similarities. They take place during same period and in the same city, Vienna. They implicated the same individuals who were in authority and both concerned the practice of caregivers (Tréhel, G., 2013).

Freud financially supported Reik and his family during his psychoanalytic training. During this time, Reik was analyzed by Karl Abraham. Reik, who was Jewish, emigrated from Germany to the Netherlands in 1934 and to the United States in 1938 in flight from Nazism. In 1944, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Rejected from the dominant community of medical psychoanalysts in the United States because he did not possess an M.D. degree, Reik went on to found one of the first psychoanalytic training centers for psychologists, the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, which remains one of the largest and best-known psychoanalytic training institutes in New York City.

As part of Reik's conflict with the medical psychoanalysis community, he participated in the first lawsuit which helped define and legitimize the practice of psychoanalysis by non-physicians.

Reik is best known for psychoanalytic studies of psychotherapeutic listening, masochism, criminology, literature, and religion.

Reik's first major book was The Compulsion to Confess (1925), in which he argued that neurotic symptoms such as blushing and stuttering can be seen as unconscious confessions that express the patient's repressed impulses while also punishing the patient for communicating these impulses.

Reik further explored this theme in The Unknown Murderer (1932), in which he examined the process of psychologically profiling unknown criminals. He argued out that because of unconscious guilt, criminals often leave clues that can lead to their identification and arrest.

In Masochism in Modern Man (1941), Reik argues that patients who engage in self-punishing or provocative behavior do so in order to demonstrate their emotional fortitude, induce guilt in others, and achieve a sense of "victory through defeat."

Reik presented a forceful criticism of traditional Freudian theory in A Psychologist Looks at Love (1944). Freud had believed that love is always based on some form of sexual desire. Reik argued, to the contrary, that love and lust are distinct motivational forces.

In Ritual: Four Psychoanalytic Studies (1946), he uses psychoanalysis to shed light on the meaning of couvade, puberty rites, and the Jewish rituals of Yom Kippur and shofar.

Reik's most famous book, Listening with the Third Ear (1948), describes how psychoanalysts intuitively use their own unconscious minds to detect and decipher the unconscious wishes and fantasies of their patients. According to Reik, analysts come to understand patients most deeply by examining their own unconscious intuitions about their patients.

In his psychoanalytic autobiography Fragments of a Great Confession (1949), Reik turned a psychoanalytic ear toward his own life, interpreting his inner conflicts and their influence on his writing and relationships.

The Secret Self (1952) comprises a number of essays of psychoanalytic literary criticism, in which Reik tried to decipher the unconscious fantasies and impulses lying beneath literary works. In this book, Reik continued to develop his interest in the relationship between his own personality and his work, exploring how his internal conflicts shaped his interpretations of literary works.

In Myth and Guilt (1957), Reik investigated the role of guilt and masochism in religion.

In "The Creation of Woman" Reik investigated and analyzed the second story of the creation of Eve in Genesis from Adam's rib. He supported his conclusion that the genders were reversed. It's not Eve that's born from his rib, it's the second birth of Adam into the world of men, leaving the world of the mother. His book "Ritual" contains evidence to support how secret keeping and 'initiation rites' in native societies in modern times are about leaving the world of the feminine, entering the masculine world.

Reik's theories were a strong influence on the French psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan, and anticipated recent developments in US psychoanalysis, such as its current emphasis on intersubjectivity and countertransference. Reik's legacy for nonmedical psychoanalysis in the US is equally important. The training of nonmedical analysts, such as psychologists and social workers, is now largely accepted, partly because of Reik's efforts. It is also worth mentioning that the philosopher Frank P. Ramsey was his patient, during a prolonged stay in Vienna with that purpose.


  • Tréhel, G. (2012). Theodor Reik (1888-1968) : sur l'effroi, L'Information Psychiatrique, Vol 88, n°6, p. 455-468.
  • Tréhel, G. (2013). Sigmund Freud, Julius Wagner von Jauregg, Arnold Durig, Julius Tandler, L'Information Psychiatrique, Vol 89, p. 587-598.


Memorial plaque, Berlin.
  • 1912 – Flaubert und seine "Versuchung des heiligen Antonius". Doctoral thesis, University of Vienna.
  • 1923 – Der eigene und der fremde Gott. Neuausgabe: Der eigene und der fremde Gott: zur Psychoanalyse d. religiösen Entwicklung, Mit e. Vorw. z. Neuausg. von Alexander Mitscherlich, Frankfurt (am Main): Suhrkamp, 1975.
  • 1925/1959 – The Compulsion to Confess. In J. Farrar (Ed) The compulsion to confess and the need for punishment. (pp. 176–356). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy.
  • 1932/1959 – The Unknown Murderer. In J. Farrar (Ed) The compulsion to confess and the need for punishment. (pp. 3–173). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy.
  • 1937 – Surprise and the Psycho-Analyst: On the Conjecture and Comprehension of Unconscious Process. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company.
  • 1941 – Masochism In Modern Man. New York: Toronto, Farrar & Rinehart.
  • 1944/1974 – A Psychologist Looks at Love. In M. Sherman (Ed.) Of Love and Lust. (pp. 1–194). New York: Jason Aronson.
  • 1946 – Ritual: Four Psychoanalytic Studies". 1962 Grove Press edition.
  • 1948 – Listening with the Third Ear: The inner experience of a psychoanalyst. New York: Grove Press.
  • 1952 – The Secret Self. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young.
  • 1953 – The Haunting Melody: Psychoanalytic Experiences in Life and Music. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young.
  • 1957 – Myth and Guilt. New York: George Braziller.
  • 1959 – Mystery on the Mountain: The Drama of the Sinai Revelation. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers.
  • 1960 – The Creation of Woman: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry into the Myth of Eve. New York: George Braziller.
  • 1961 – The Temptation. New York: George Braziller.
  • 1962 – Jewish Wit. New York: Gamut Press.
  • 1963 - The Need To Be Loved. New York: H Wolff.
  • 1964 – Voices From the Inaudible: The Patients Speak. New York: Farrar, Straus and Company.

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