Rezension zu Edith Jacobson

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association

Rezension von Rachel M. Baker

This interesting volume about Edith Jacobson is available to the Germanspeaking public. Its subtitle translates thus: »She herself and the world of her objects, life, work, and reminiscences.« A collection of essays about Jacobson and her thinking by several contributors, it also includes autobiographical and theoretical writings by Jacobson herself. The book is divided into three parts: Edith Jacobssohn in Germany; Between the Continents; and Edith Jacobson in America (note the changed spelling of her name). One needs to read the whole book to obtain a coherent image of Jacobsons persona and the importance of her work.

Known to us in North America primarily for such works as The Self and the Object World (1964), integrating object relations and structural theory, and Depression: Comparative Studies of Normal, Neurotic, and Psychotic Conditions (1971), Edith Jacobson is presented in these pages multidimensionally. She emerges as a courageous, creative, independent thinker, in many ways far ahead of her time. She was a declared feminist who felt strongly that women should have careers. Early in her work she was looking for the common ground of the various psychoanalytic and psychological groups and appreciated the focus of ego psychology. She led the way not only in integrating biology and psychoanalytic thinking, thereby demonstrating the relevance of psychoanalytic thinking to severe pathology, but also in quietly integrating Kleinian thinking with ego psychology.

The clinically based child psychoanalytic writings of her Berlin years (considered in Part I) established her as one of the first great child analysts, positioned in her thinking between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein. She put

Editors note: Dr. Ruth Baker died suddenly while engaged in the final revisions of this review. We appreciated her enthusiasm, openness, efficiency, and intelligence and deeply regret her loss. great emphasis on the impact of external circumstances and the behavior of key persons in the individuals life, as well as these persons unconscious wishes and fears, on the individuals development. She also held fast to the concept of a »good« and a »bad« ideal, modeled on the concepts of »good« and »bad« mother and with it »good« and »bad« self, concepts introduced by Rado and Klein.

Despite her admiration for Klein, she was critical of her ignoring the actual reality and environment of the child. This led to Jacobsons focus on ego and superego development. But she did not lose sight of the interplay of these structures and processes (including imitation, identification, and ego ideal) with libidinal and aggressive instinctual components in a persons development. She admitted later that she didnt realize at the time that direct idinterpretations early on have little emotional impact without defense analysis, and that more time is needed before affectladen id material can surface.

In her clinical work, considered in Parts II and III, it is clear she felt that analyst and patient have a »real« relationship, which does not disturb the transference. Jacobson felt that the personality of the psychoanalyst is more important than any theory he or she might have, but that both needed to be in play. She also felt it important for the analyst to like and be interested in the patient and differentiated this from the unconscious contertransference. Jacobson wasnt interested in reconstruction, but focused on the here-and-now transference. She wasnt as interested in interpretation as in confrontation and clarification; at times her sessions extended beyond fifty minutes, when she felt the extra time was indicated.

Three of her German-language papers, which are described in detail in Part I, were eventually translated into English: »On the Development of the Girls Wish for a Child,« written in 1936, appeared in the Psychoanalytic Quarterly in 1968. »Ways of Female Superego Formation and the Female Castration Conflict,« also written in 1936, appeared in the Quarterly in 1976. This article was written during the time Jacobson was imprisoned by the Nazis. Fenichel, who was her analyst and became a lifelong friend, was able to obtain it and to edit and present it at the 1937 IPA Congress in Marienbad. While in prison, or shortly afterward, Jacobson was also able to write the paper, published in English in 1949, »Observations of the Psychological Effect of Imprisonment on Female Prisoners.«

An important aspect of her Berlin years was her political activism as part of a small group surrounding Fenichel that tried to integrate Marxist theory with psychoanalysis. Focusing on external conditions as important elements in human development, they rejected the death instinct and primary masochism as »regressive« in that these concepts ignored external influences on the creation of symptoms. The group included, among others, Georg Gero, Erich Fromm, and Wilhelm and Annie Reich. When these analysts fled Germany, Fenichel started the Rundbriefe, or Circular Letters, to maintain contact. (For more information on this important group of socialist analysts, see Bergmann 2005.)

Among Jacobsons German writings are articles in applied psychoanalysis, written for socialist and communist journals, addressing the »bourgeois« sexual inhibition that also afflicts working-class mothers, who were taught that sex is only for procreation and otherwise is dirty, but who needed to courageously refute this in order to be able to enlighten their children. Jacobson also used her psychoanalytic knowledge to educate kindergarten teachers and social workers, joining Aichhorn and Bernfeld in an attempt to reform pedagogical practices.

Early in her theorizing, Jacobson split the superego concept, identifying a forbidding part of the superego and assigning the affirming part to the ego ideal. In her elaboration of the ego ideal she described children who made instinctual drive satisfaction their ego ideal, blaming their environment for it (e.g., parental mixed messages or the analysts comments). Elucidating the mechanism involved in manic-depressive illness, she described the instinctualized ego ideal as influencing the ego functions in mania, while in depression the punitive, inhibiting superego takes over. Fenichel used her concept of the instinct-affirming ego ideal to explain perversions, juvenile delinquency, sadistic criminality, and paranoid psychosis; all manifest an excessive freeing from a repressive superego, leading to the glorification of impulses.

Jacobson used the superego and ego ideal concepts to bring the environment as an added element in the development of severe pathology, alongside extreme castration anxiety and instinctual conflict; to an already too severe superego are added the contradictory or unreasonable expectations of parents who thus leave their imprint on the superego – ego ideal.

Upholding her psychoanalytic and socialist convictions, Jacobson continued to treat socialist and communist patients, even after it was forbidden. The Nazis refused to recognize doctor-patient confidentiality. Doctors were supposed to denounce their socialist and communist patients. When one of Jacobsons communist patients was caught at the border carrying her name and address, Jacobson was arrested and accused of high treason. Jacobson had stayed on in Germany because her mother and brother (her father had died by then) couldnt believe the Nazis would last; like so many other assimilated Jews, they refused to leave when they could. She also was in an identity crisis. Even while protesting her exclusion from the Berlin Institute when it was taken over by the »Aryans« led by Felix Boehm, she held on to the feeling that she was German. Slowly she owned her being a Jew and in one of her poems arrived at just being a human being. (For more information on the collapse of the Berlin Institute, see Lax 2002.)

During Jacobsons imprisonment, it was Fenichel who was instrumental in bringing her plight to public awareness and helped in the plans for her escape. Jacobson became deathly ill in prison, suffering from undiagnosed thyrotoxicosis and diabetes. Her jailers, fearing her dying would not reflect well on them, set her free. She managed to get to a clinic where her brother was active, and once treated she escaped in 1938 with the help of a false passport and a courageous friend who created a diversion at the border crossing. She managed to get to Prague and from there to New York. Her mother and brother also managed to get out, her brother settling in Connecticut and her mother moving in with her in New York City. As described in Part III of the book, in New York Jacobson quickly became the analysts analyst, available for second analyses and involved in teaching, supervising, and clinical theory building. Her American writings may not be familiar to a German audience but are certainly familiar to us. Of interest is that her observations, research, and writings during her prison time laid the groundwork for the i uportant work she accomplished in the United States.

During her imprisonment, her self-observations and observation of Illow prisoners resulted in her description of trauma-induced ego regression leading to psychotic-like defenses (see the 1949 paper cited above). Jacobson worked out her own traumas in her writings and research (a coping mechanism she recommended to her patients too), as well as in »whodune-it« fiction, though she dismissed the poetry she wrote in prison as a regression to adolescence, with its emotional turmoil, search for spiritua ity, and admiration of nature. Her theories of psychosis are clearly rooted in her prison experiences. Anton Kris has reported a prison story that Jacobson told to his father, Ernst Kris: she »tamed« a fly with sugar drops on her finger, creating contact with a living being as a defense against disintegration in her isolation cell. She used her observations of fellow female prisoners in the hope of helping in the treatment of criminals, as well as to effect prison reform. Later, her interest in psychotic depression led to her helping in the training of residents at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, where she focused on mitigating their anxiety in the face of severe pathology and helped them recognize and deal with their reactions.

Always enjoying nature, music, and friends, Edith Jacobson passed on peacefully at the age of eightyone on December 8, 1978, leaving behind an impressive and still influential body of publications.

This book is important for giving us an in-depth portrayal of an important person in the development and enrichment of psychoanalysis; it shows how her life experiences shaped her professional choices and thinking, and especially how she managed traumas (including the trauma of emigration) creatively. Above all, besides further detailing the contribution of European immigrant analysts to American psychoanalysis, it continues the crossfertilization of ideas between the two continents.


Quelle: Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Volume 56, No 1, März 2008.

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