Psychoanalysis is a Human Tradition Passed On from One Generation to the Next


Psychoanalysis is a Human Tradition Passed On from One Generation to the Next

(Acceptance speech by Daniel Benveniste upon receiving an Honorary Membership in the American Psychoanalytic Association presented by Dr. Mark Smaller)

I am delighted this evening to accept this Honorary Membership in the American Psychoanalytic Association. It is, indeed, an honor and a great pleasure, as well.

When it comes to developing a professional identity, training is essential. But two other ways of further developing that professional identity are through professional affiliation, with institutes and associations, and/or through lineage. Being an outsider all my life has naturally made me incline less toward belonging and more toward lineage. As I like to put it, psychoanalysis is a human tradition passed on from one generation to the next and tonight I find
myself thinking of my mentor, Dr. Nathan Adler, a psychoanalyst in San Francisco who studied outside the formal institute under Siegfried Bernfeld. And Bernfeld, of course, was an analyst in Vienna who also studied outside the formal institute, under Sigmund Freud.

It was during my five years of clinical supervision with Dr. Adler that I became interested in the early history of psychoanalysis in San Francisco. Hearing his stories of Siegfried and Suzanne Bernfeld and the other emigre analysts arriving in San Francisco in the 1930s piqued my curiosity and the next thing I knew I was under the spell of a powerful fascination for the topic. I conducted 80 plus interviews, wrote a number of articles on the topic and analyzed my fascination for the early history of psychoanalysis in San Francisco. What I discovered is that when my mother was pregnant with me, my father’s father, Nissim Benveniste, died. He was 61 years old – my age today – and he had been sick for ten years. He was a good, kind and generous man, beloved by all and his early death left everyone in the family grieving in silence. So I came into the world surrounded not only by the warmth of my family but also in the shadow of this rather significant absent other about whom no one could utter a word. I consequently became fascinated with everything that happened long ago. Imagine my surprise then, when I later discovered that my grandfather was born in 1891 and Bernfeld in 1892 and that they both died in 1953.

This interest in hearing about what happened long ago was further stoked when W. Ernest Freud, the fort-da baby and the only Freud grandson to become a psychoanalyst asked me to write his biography. There I was in Heidelberg emotionally motivated by a curiosity about my Granpa Nissim, while listening to W. Ernest Freud telling me about his Grandpa Sigmund – his Grosspapa.

As Ernest spoke of his grandfather teaching his Aunt Anna about psychoanalysis and his Aunt Anna teaching him about psychoanalysis, I thought of my own lineage from Freud to Bernfeld to Nathan Adler to me. And so it is, that in these ways and many others psychoanalysis is passed on from one generation to the next.

I think it is probably very possible to become an outstanding dentist without knowing the history of dentistry but when it comes to psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy, one’s theory and technique will always broaden and deepen with a greater understanding of the history of psychoanalysis.

The history of psychoanalysis is full of useful lessons for contemporary challenges. I have, for example, a list of thirteen major contributors to psychoanalysis who all met Freud, began their training or even finished their training before the age of 29 – that’s not 49 or 59 – that’s 29! Many people read Freud when they are teenagers or in their early 20s but when no one is there to discuss their concerns, their passions may naturally cool and they may move on to other fields. I think it will serve psychoanalysis if institutes and associations can find ways to invite young people, teenagers and those in their early 20s, to join in the psychoanalytic dialogue and let these young spirits infuse psychoanalysis with their natural curiosity and vibrant creativity.

Another useful lesson from the history of psychoanalysis is the fact that many early psychoanalysts such as Freud, Adler, Deutsch, Fromm, Menninger, Erikson, and others all wrote for the public. These days most analysts only write for other analysts, while the public has no other source of information other than the Freud bashers who introduce their misconceptions and denigrations of Freud and psychoanalysis to one generation after another.

If we can write for the public and draw younger people into the field, we will strengthen our discipline and be in a better position to pass the torch of psychoanalysis on to the next generation.

In conclusion, I thank the American Psychoanalytic Association for this Honorary Membership. It means a great deal to me and just goes to show that even outsiders like me can find pleasure in belonging. Thank you.

Daniel Benveniste, Ph.D

January 13, 2016

2016 National Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association

New York City, New York

Alfred Adler  met and began work with Freud at 37

Melanie Klein became a member of the Budapest Society 37

Szandor Ferenczi  met and began work with Freud at 35

Oskar Pfister  met and began work with Freud at 35

Edward Hitchmann  met and began work with Freud at 34

Helene Deutsch  met and began work with Freud at 34

Paul Federn  met and began work with Freud at 33

Carl Jung  met and began work with Freud at 32

Edward Glover  met and began training at 32

Karl Abraham met and began work with Freud at 30

Franz Alexander was already an assistant at the Berlin Institute by the age of 30

Ernest Jones  met and began work with Freud at 29

Hanns Sachs  met and began work with Freud at 28

Max Eitingon  met and began work with Freud at 26

Erik Erikson  met Sigmund Freud and began working with Anna Freud at 26

Karen Horney began her psychoanalytic training at 24

Ernst Kris  met Freud and began his training at 24

Sandor Rado was secretary of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society when he was 23

Anna Freud  began her training when she was 23 and became a training analyst at 29

Siegfried Bernfeld began attending meetings at the Vienna Society when he was 23

Wilhelm Reich became a full member of the Vienna society when he was 23

Theodore Reik  met and began work with Freud at 22

Otto Rank  met and began work with Freud at 22

Otto Fenichel attended Freud’s lectures at 18 and became a member of the Vienna society at 23


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