Barry O’Donnell – Discovering Transference

THE LETTER 38 (Autumn 2006) pages 91-104

Today we are marking the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Sigmund Freud. Why? Because he founded a new clinical practice, named psychoanalysis. His radical step, which he himself described, retrospectively, as arising from “an insight such as… falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime”, involved taking up a new clinical position in the treatment of his patients.1 So radical was his step that one has to ask how a young medical doctor in the 1880’s and 1890’s found himself able to make it. What distinctions did Freud have to make to realise an innovative clinical position which could respond to his fundamental redefinition of hysteria? Central to his founding of a new clinical practice was his recognition of the phenomena of transference. In my paper I would like to present to you some details and some remarks on what I gather to be a key moment in his taking this step, namely his case history, Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria, otherwise known as the ‘Dora’ case.

Before looking at this case history it is useful to consider a little bit of history. Freud’s birth in 1856, even with the error in the date recorded by the Registrar, is easier to pinpoint than a moment when he recognised the transference and decided to respond to it in a new way. The dominant theories of hysteria…

Comments are closed.