Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Nazi's Daughter: The Therapist as Jewish Mother

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Nazi's Daughter: The Therapist as Jewish Mother

Article excerpt

The article gives an inside look at a case where posttraumatic stress is intertwined with disturbances in object relations and ego-identity. The patient was a victim of a brutal authoritarian father who had abused her sexually. The trauma left her powerless and isolated. The treatment was aimed at enabling the patient to achieve connection and empowerment. Hypnotherapy, psychoanalytic psychotherapy and hypnosis allowed the patient to understand and overcome symptoms and underlying conflicts in the context of the therapeutic relationship.

In spite of regressions and resistances during the course of treatment, therapy yielded the following results: 1. Symptoms were in remission at the end of treatment, and at one- and two-year follow-ups. 2. During the course of psychotherapy the patient was able to process traumatic events cognitively and affectively. 3. There were corrective changes in relatedness modes. 4. Modifications in object internalization and representation were made.

When I was in graduate school I took a seminar on "Theories and Schools of Psychotherapy." Each student was required to represent a specific theory and demonstrate its techniques in front of the class. I was assigned Logotherapy; therefore I played out Victor Frankl (who lost his family, practice and freedom to Nazi Germany during World War II), and his approach to "the meaning of life." One of my peers asked me later: "What would you have done if Hitler had come to you for psychotherapy?" I answered: "If Hitler would have come to me for psychotherapy I would have shot him on the spot."

Years later I had the opportunity to meet Victor Frankl. I asked him the same question. He said that if Hitler had come to him for psychotherapy he would have treated him and then "Hitler would not be Hitler anymore."

Perhaps my confidence in what psychotherapy can change is not as strong as Victor Frankl's, to the point of risking a chance on Hitler. But I have seen people change in psychotherapy in significant, dramatic and existential ways. One of them was the case of a women whom I will call the Nazi's daughter. I felt a sense of accomplishment about her treatment and about what happened in the psychotherapeutic dyad to her and me.


Mary, a 30-year-old white woman, was referred to me by her female internist who had discovered multiple and superimposed self-inflicted bum marks between the patients legs and on her chest during a physical exam. The internist gave Mary two names when she recommended "psychiatric treatment," one, that of a doctor, known for her work with the Catholic community, and mine. Mary choose me, knowing before she made the appointment that I was Jewish, and had come to the United States from Israel. The choice was interesting because Mary came from a virulently anti-Semitic family.

Mary was single, living by herself and working as a music teacher. She was mildly overweight, spoke in a soft voice and had a blank facial expression; occasionally when she started to make eye contact with me, I could see a touch of sadness. At first, she appeared shy, withdrawn, and introverted. She wore blue jeans and sweat shirts. She had a short almost "butchered" haircut, and no makeup. High intelligence, education, motivation and insight were her strengths. Also, she had a dry sense of humor when not overwhelmed by moods, anxiety or depression.

She presented with chronic symptoms of anxiety and depression. She appeared to be in distress, her breathing was shallow, her hands trembled, and occasionally she had a startle response. She reported sleep disturbances, nightmares, and described her constant struggle to quiet her symptoms enough to function at work.

It was some time into the therapy when she disclosed having experienced suicidal ideation and death wishes for most of her life, connected to a sense of hopelessness and a need for self-annihilation. She did not mention her practice of self-mutilation until later when a therapeutic relationship of trust had been established. …

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