Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler, two Jewish geniuses, both living and working in Vienna. Freud, born as the first child in his father’s third marriage, and the apple of his very young mother’s eye. Within a year after he was born, a second son was born, Julius, who died after 8 months. Early in his life, there was the shadow of death and loss, just like in Mahler’s life. And there were more likenesses between the two men. Vienna, in those days, was a centre of great cultural and intellectual activity. It was the Vienna of great minds, such as Wittgenstein, Klimt, Schnitzler and Mahler, who all left their mark in the area they were active in. Both men were born in what is now called Czechia: Freud in Moravia and Mahler in Bohemia.
Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis, a form of psychotherapy which was the first to emphasize the importance of the interpersonal relationship in the occurrence and the working through of psychopathological symptoms.
Usually, psychoanalytical treatments are considered to be long-term. However, from the beginning, within psychoanalysis two tendencies were visible. One, towards longer and longer treatment, and another, towards more short-term forms of treatment. All this within the maxim: “Short when possible, long when necessary”. Focus point in this was gaining insight in the cause of the complaints. In the beginning of psychoanalysis, the treatment took place by forcing, through one central theme, the entrance into the place in the unconscious where crucial meanings are hidden. The structure of the character or, in Mahler’s case, the structure of the obsessive neurosis itself, remained undiscussed and therefore not understood. It was the time in which Freud wrote his well known case histories about the rat man and little Hans, and in which also his work about a childhood memory of Leonardo da Vinci was published. Psychoanalysis was still in the beginning of an unknown development and concerned only the analysis of the Id and would only later develop into the analysis of the Ego. Freud’s interventions were not yet aimed at the direct emotional working through within the therapeutic relationship, but were much more cognitive-clarifying aimed at what was going on in the dynamic unconscious.
Freud’s treatment of Mahler is known as one of Freud’s short-treatments. A relative of Mahler’s wife Alma, the Viennese psychoanalyst Dr. Nepallek, referred him to Freud. But also Mahler’s friend, the conductor Bruno Walter, had been treated by Freud, and so possibly contributed to the meeting between the two. Walter had been treated by Freud because of a paralysis of his arm, which nobody could find the cause of. This treatment, however, was more or less supportive, and more aimed at ‘forgetting’ than at ‘remembering’. In the case of Mahler, Freud was impressed by Mahler’s psychological insight, and he probably, in a limited number of interventions, presented him the core of his neuroses, which was, as we will later see, his mother-fixation. It is not unthinkable that this led to implicit insight in his problems, probably the effect of the treatment can be explained on the grounds of a combination of supportive and insight-giving interventions. Be that as it may, on his return to Vienna, Mahler is remarkably positive about his conversation with Freud, as if it had finally given him a solution.
I will begin by indicating what the basic principles of the psychoanalytic frame of reference are. Consequently, I will discuss the historic meeting between Freud and Mahler in Leiden. The two men met in the restaurant ‘In the gilded Turk’ at the Leidse Breestraat. From there, they walked for four hours through Leiden.
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