Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis

By Coline Covington; Barbara Wharton | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Introduction

Coline Covington

No ashes, no coal can burn with such glow
as a secretive love
of which no one must know.

From the diary of Sabina Spielrein, 22 February 1912
(Carotenuto 1982:43)

Sabina Spielrein is perhaps best known for her love affair with Carl Jung. While it is debatable whether their relationship was actually consummated, it bore fruit for them both in giving rise to psychological insights and discoveries that were to become the basis for fundamental theoretical concepts in psychoanalysis and analytical psychology—concepts such as the anima, countertransference, and the death instinct. We can see the seeds of Spielrein's erotic transference to Jung in his account of her treatment at the Burghölzli Clinic in Zürich where she was admitted to his care in 1904. At the time Spielrein was 19 years old; she had been sent for treatment by her parents from her home in Rostov-on-Don near the Black Sea in Russia. She was highly intelligent and lively and also diagnosed as suffering from hysteria on her admission to hospital. Jung was ten years older, he had recently taken up an appointment to work under Prof. Bleuler, head of the Burghölzli Clinic, and he had also recently married. He was laying the foundations for both his professional and his domestic life. Jung had read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1900, and was impressed with Freud's new technique of psychoanalysis—so much so that he adopted it in his treatment of Spielrein, along with developing his word association test as a means of exploring and explaining the links between memory, image, and repression in what was to become his theory of the complexes. Two years later, Jung began his correspondence with Freud and in a letter dated 23 October 1906 he first referred to his 'difficult case', a 'Russian girl student', asking Freud for his opinion.

By June 1905 Spielrein had been discharged from the Burghölzli and had enrolled as a medical student at the University of Zürich. She was still under Jung's care and from this point on it becomes evident from her diaries and correspondence with Jung that Jung's own erotic transference towards

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