Visiting the Giants in the Field of Psychotherapy

In late May and early June of this year I made a trip with destinations that seem peculiar at first hearing.I knew that part of my desire to make this trip to Vienna and St Andrews had a lot to do with my life work. My trip was a pilgrimage of sorts. 

Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. He wanted it to begin the new century and held off publishing it until the new century dawned. It sold very few copies in the first year. In a time dominated by reason, dreams were a big stretch and they still seem to be. My most important dream for my life work was set in the ruined cathedral of St Andrews. This is a separate story demanding its own treatment.  I am making a video about this to be released later this summer. You will have to wait for it. :)’s. 

Vienna is where Freud lived and had his clinic from 1886 to 1939 when he escaped the Nazis. He died shortly after his escape in London just as WW II was declared. I went to visit his home in Vienna which has been restored. Freud, when he fled, took nearly everything in his home with him. It has since been donated back. His Viennese home is now a museum in his honour.  The home is dark and Freud liked to escape the darkness of it for summer places about Vienna where he was offered the sanctuary of sunlight. He loved his dog. In the museum there are home movies  such as you might imagine a home movie would be.  Black and white and grainy and jerky. Here you see quite a regular sort of guy playing with his dog a lot, always with his cigar which of course ultimately killed him (throat cancer), greeting his grandchildren and and entertaining a few guests who like himself became famous. I was taken by the ordinariness of it all; his wife and his his daughter Anna serving tea and chatting about ordinary things. 

No matter what we currently think, Freud began what each of us practice in our own ways when we do “talk" therapy. He invented a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Freud believed that this was a cure brought about by “love”; the very special love that developed in the relationship of the therapist with  the client. He called this “ love" transference and counter transference and he understood them as sacrosanct.  To honour and never tamper with these concepts  form the heart of the ethical codes of all current forms of psychotherapy. So much of his work particularly helping us explore the existence of the unconscious accessed by our dreams remains formative to-day. Much has been critiqued and is no longer espoused by most modern therapies but he remains the man who started what has evolved into multiple schools of psychotherapy. 

I am always interested in therapist’s offices and what they put there. I have never been a fan of the totally neutral office that many therapists can share even if it is most cost effective. I have also thought that practising in one’s home made a lot of sense.  Freud’s office was as I imagined it only darker. Here it is.

This is the famous couch and the chair would have been placed at the head of the couch so that the client and Freud did not make eye contact. On the wall are his various certificates demonstrating that he was well qualified for the task. There are also photos of his colleagues again establishing that Freud was a man of stature. This was important because Freud was often seen as a man of soft science (psychiatry) and he wanted the respect of the neurologists.  Also there are 4 black and white photos depicting certain myths that were meaningful for Freud. It makes me think about what are on the walls of my office. The office does have a large window and a waiting room with his walking stick and cap and dog leash and toilet before you enter. Some things don’t change.

So I took this selfie of myself in the office and imagined arriving as a prospective patient.  Here I am

I rather love this picture. I look totally terrified and completely blank. …all the lines erased from my face by the light from the window.  I think I am about to be diagnosed as suffering with hysteria. Don’t you agree?

And here is the man himself…When I see the cigar and realize the size of the room I am pretty sure that anyone he treated was a sure candidate for cancer from second hand smoke even if the hysteria was relieved. 


And so the profession we practice began.  I left his office thinking I had been where it all began and grateful for the work he did. Those old home movies gave him such an approachable feel. 

And then I sought out the home of Viktor Frankl..There is Freud sorting us out by identifying our drive for pleasure and Adler seeing us as having a drive for power and Frankl who desired to create a therapy that helped us see that what we needed most was to make meaning of out lives.   Frankl was my inspiration. In my undergraduate years in the early 60’s I discovered his book The Doctor of the Soul. It changed my life. I bought copies and gave them to my dearest friends. Later I read Man’s Search for Meaning when it came out and then his final book Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning which is an expansion of his PHD thesis called The Unconscious God . This book explored the relationship of psychology and religion. 

It interests me that Frankl’s second marriage, after losing his wife in a concentration camp, was to a devout Roman Catholic. They together observed each other’s faiths in a very respectful manner. 

I have always been seeking the meaning of my life. As I aged and explored retirement and decided to reestablish my practice I was exploring meaning with renewed urgency. The CBC’s Michael Enright drew to my attention back to the work of Viktor Frankl. “Logotherapy” the name given by him to his therapy method is enjoying a resurgence of interest. It provides an alternative to the drive for happiness so prevalent to-day.  I was ready in my journey with suffering to reread his work. I am so glad that I have. 

Frankl was practicing and developing his form of therapy in Vienna in the home shown below, Like Freud, it was his home with an attached office. His parents lived nearby and in 1941 when he was offered safe passage out of Germany he chose to stay to be with his aging parents. This was a very difficult decision for him to make. How he made it is a special story with a Jungian feel. 

In the words of one of his biographer’s Anna Redsand

"he was at a loss for what to do, so he set out for St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna to clear his head. Listening to the organ music, he repeatedly asked himself, "Should I leave my parents behind?... Should I say goodbye and leave them to their fate?" Where did his responsibility lie? He was looking for a "hint from heaven."

When he returned home, he found it. A piece of marble was lying on the table. His father explained that it was from the rubble of one of the nearby synagogues that the Nazis had destroyed. The marble contained the fragment of one of the Ten Commandments -- the one about honoring your father and your mother. With that, Frankl decided to stay in Vienna and forgo whatever opportunities for safety and career advancement awaited him in the United States. He decided to put aside his individual pursuits to serve his family and, later, other inmates in the camps."

He refused to euthanize mentally ill patients for the Nazi regime and as  a result he and his pregnant wife and his parents were sent to Theresienstadt  and from there to Auschwitz. His sister escaped to Australia. Of the family deported only Viktor survived. The Nazis forced an abortion. His wife and mother did not last long although Viktor did not learn this until his release.  He managed to smuggle in some morphine to help his father die. In the end Viktor barely survived typhoid. Most of his time in camp he was allowed to practice as a very controlled physician with the exception of the 5 months he did of hard labour.

This small museum is very hard to find in Vienna. I got lost many times. I walked ten miles that day. You must ring the bell, hope it is answered  and inside wander many corridors to find his apartment.  When found it is small and breath taking. Six people have created it as it now is and it is a participatory museum where you could spend a long time and even longer if you were fluent in German. There are many films of his work with clients that are preserved for the watching. 

I entered one small empty room, painted entirely in lilac with the floor a grey and white collage of sayings of Frankl.

As I stood there alone  in a very lilac light, these words of Frankl appeared up high

I hope I have conveyed the importance of this moment for me and all others who seek to enter this room some driven as I was by my quest for understanding.  Suddenly I realized I was standing and that I had chosen to be in this place at this time. In that there is freedom.. The words on the wall “I am not free regarding my living conditions, but I am free to take a stand on them.”resonated in my soul. I felt the earth beneath my feet and I stood taller.

In Man’s search for meaning  Frankl tells of his life in the concentration camps. Prior to his deportation, he worked with a lot of patients who wanted to kill themselves. Depression and suicidal ideation were his main areas of speciality in his training as a psychiatrist. At one time he was in charge of the Suicidal Pavilion that housed 30,000 women with such tendencies. In fact he was so far ahead of his time in this area that in 1928-31 he arranged for free counselling for Vienna’s young people especially as they received their report cards. In this way brought thesuicide rate among young people to zero in Vienna. This work prepared him for what he would face in a concentration camp where the desire to commit suicide was omnipresent. It was a Nazi rule that anyone trying to kill themselves must not be stopped.  As a inmate of a camp he felt the urge personally and  each time he wanted to give up he found a way to live. In one very dark period, he wrote bits of Man’s Search for Meaning, the manuscript he tried to smuggle into the camp but which had been found and shredded on small pieces of paper so that he would not forget. When he was released he rewrote it in 9 days.  The second part of the book describes logotherapy and how it is to be done.

Here is his photo, the one The Atlantic chose to share in a major article about him in a 2013 edition.

If you would like to hear him, here is a rare clip of him speaking in English. He is clearly a dynamic person

Logotherapy holds that what we most desire is to make meaning in and with our lives. When we are not making meaning we are being less than is possible. The therapy relationship exists to help the client find meaning. Concentration Camp experience taught Frankl that in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, meaning is possible.   

These words enclosed in cupboards that one most open in the museum speak to me personally.  I am convinced that my task is in my latter years to keep doing the task of being a therapist. 

I end with this often quoted bit of Frankl.

"Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

Making meaning is an inspiring and a never-ending process. It offers one freedom and responsibility. 

I am profoundly grateful to these two giants in my field.