Martin Stanton – Psychic Contusion – Remarks on Ferenczi and Trauma

THE LETTER 04 (Summer 1995) pages 115-125

Few would now question that Sandor Ferenczi was an important pioneer in formulating psychoanalytic approaches to trauma. Unfortunately, however, this critical celebration is accompanied by a set of grossly distorted readings of Ferenczi’s texts, as well as by serious misrepresentations of his radical transformations of psychoanalytic technique to work with trauma victims. The main distortions are that Ferenczi re-discovered the ‘truth’ of the seduction theory at the end of his life, so advocated that many mental disorders in adult life related to the traumatic experience of sexual abuse in childhood. Of course, it is neither hard to see why this argument has become so current, given the discovery of the importance and extent of child sexual abuse during the last decade; nor, in this context, is it hard to see why Ferenczi has become characterized as the one analyst who was prepared to say that abuse was real, as opposed to constructed through fantasy, though in fact he said nothing of the sort. Moreover, this view of Ferenczi as the discoverer of the reality of trauma – has led to equally distorting conceptions of his so-called ‘radical’ revision of psychoanalytic technique to adapt to this increased awareness of real sexual abuse: particularly prevalent here is the notion that championed empathy, and advocated that analysts should go out of their way to be warm and understanding with their patients in order to facilitate the trust needed for disclosure of the trauma. According to some variants of this view, it is quite acceptable to hug or hold patients when they are distressed, or to loosen the boundaries between the…

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