History of Psychoanalysis Timeline


A folding ten-panel timeline depicting the major thinkers, theories, publications, and events in the history of psychoanalytic theory.





The timeline opens out into ten panels. Each panel depicts one decade, and each entry is categorized under one of seven major schools of thought: Freud and Freudians; Jung and Jungians; the British School, including Kleinians and Independents; the French, including Lacan and Lacanians; Adler, Rank, Social and Cultural Theorists; the Budapest School; and the International Psychoanalytic Association Congresses and Presidents.

The reverse contains an introduction by the authors— Elisabeth Young-Breuhl and Christine Dunbar— an explanation of how the timeline works, and a series of short essays on major psychoanalytic works and historic events throughout each of the ten decades. This product is for those interested in learning more about psychoanalytic theory, it's ideas, and development. The timeline is sold through this website and Caversham Booksellers.


Origin of the Timeline 


Christine Dunbar and I went to the Anna Freud Centre and the Freud Museum in September of 2008, just as the world's stock markets were crashing, its banks flailing, and everyone was getting a frightening lesson on the interconnectedness of the global economy. But our purpose was not to test the solvency of the pound sterling. We were celebrating the English publication by Yale University Press of a second edition of my 1988 Anna Freud biography, and I was also to give a lecture at the British Psychoanalytical Society called "Why Psychoanalysis Has No History." For me, this was also something of a sentimental journey, as I had not returned to the Centre or the Museum since my research for the biography in the mid-1980's. I had spent many hours there reading documents and interviewing the old Anna Freudians —now almost all gone.

We also took time to go to the new British Museum, and to the Tate Modern. At the Tate Modern, we were fascinated by a timeline of the history of 20th century art, installed as a fifty foot long mural in the entrance hallway. We bought a copy of the timeline, created by Sarah Fanelli, available in the Tate's bookstore. It measured in at about seven feet long and folded up into a reddish colored sleeve. A beautiful design project, beautifully produced. Later that day, when Christine was examining our purchase, admiring it, a look of inspiration went across her face: "We [our profession] need a history of timeline," she said, very emphatically.

Seeds like this must, of course, fall on fertile ground or they will not germinate. We had often found ourselves talking about the psychoanalysis history over recent years, as Christine was teaching a course on Object Relations theory at the Toronto Psychoanalytic Society and I was heading up a study group in New York oriented towards a history of psychoanalysis. That group, which included child analysts Samuel Abrams and Peter Neubauer (d.2008), adult analysts Harold Blum and Tony Kris of Boston, and four academics, Marcia Cavell, Murray Schwartz, Madelon Sprengnether, and Eli Zaretsky (a historian and author of Secrets of the Soul), had been talking about historiography and why psychoanalysis had not developed a historiographical consciousness. We were considering that both analysts and non-analysts had written their own versions of a psychoanalytic history (although that usually meant, up until the 1950's, biographies of Freud), and a lively critical or polemical tradition had arisen to struggle over and revise those histories; but there is, in all this writing, very little concern for how the history of psychoanalysis has been written and how it ought to be written. What kinds of stories have been told? According to what kind of organizing principles, conceptually and rhetorically? For what purposes? History writing as a discipline has such a consciousness — elegantly described in Hayden White's classic Metahistory —but nothing of this has percolated into historic writing. Which seems very strange given the self-reflective nature of the practice and the concern of practitioners for counter-transference, or what preconceptions are brought to interpreting a patient's stories. (If you are interested in pursuing this question further, please find the text of my 2008 British Psychoanalytical Society lecture, "Why Psychoanalysis has no history," co-authored with Murray Schwartz, elsewhere on this site: click here.)

Christine and I started a conversation about how, if we were to make a timeline, we would proceed: what would we want to accomplish by rendering an exceedingly complex and embattled history in the form of a timeline? How would we do it without being simplistic, and without being simply chronological (a task that would itself be very complex, for even to get a "one damn thing after another" selection made would, of course require principles of selection). Sarah Fanelli had presented the history of 20th century art without any context —art for art's sake, as it were— and we knew that would be completely impossible for psychoanalytic theory, which is so history-embedded and has had such an “interactive with world history” existence.

Psychoanalytic history is much more institutionalized in France than anywhere else in the world, thanks to the pioneering work The Language of Psychoanalysis, which Laplanche and Pontalis published in 1967 (in French) and to the existence of the International Association for the History of Psychoanalysis founded by Alain de Mojlla. The Association has produced a three-volume "International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis" and a corresponding website where you can find a helpful and thorough chronology of works and hundreds of articles about particular analysts, theories, topics and events (arranged alphabetically, the dictionary method). The IDP timeline has, as far as we can tell, no goal except the laudable one of being thorough (particularly about the growth of the International Psychoanalytical Association); the bias that it shows toward French contributions and events is curiously unself-conscious. The articles as well, although generally of high quality, are mostly authored by French analysts and historians, and they are also Franco centric. The ghost of Jacques Lacan hovers over the dictionary like the Law of the Father.

We felt that a psychoanalytic timeline should be Darwinian in the sense that it should show a descent from an original ancestor, Freud. It should show graphically the evolution of Freud's works, Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, different groups (stemming from Carl Jung, Jacques Lacan, Melanie Klein, Adler, Rank) and concerns out of an original powerful impulse and vision. But it should not accept the assumption common among analysts that the early, pre-WWI, schismatic history of psychoanalysis produced groups —Adlerians, Rankians, Jungians, Lacanians— that simply had no place in the later history or stopped evolving or became extinct after they split from Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. However, we did not want to imply that the sub-speciation of psychoanalysis was a "survival of the fittest" phenomenon; so we did not use the Darwinian metaphor of a descent (or ascent) from roots into a branching tree, with some branches flourishing and others stopping. Further, we did not want to fall into any metaphor of Progress beyond Freud (or Devolution from Freud) or fall into accepting any kind of appointment of a successor to Freud or a true inheritor of Freudian ideas. (That is, we wanted to be non-partisan insofar as that is possible given our own trainings and experience.) So we organized our story on what might be called Plutarchian principles, showing "parallel lives" or life forms of psychoanalysis works.

The chronological frame of the timeline contains parallel stories and shows them in relationship. The basic relationship shown is between groups that focused theoretically most on intrapsychic life; groups that focused most on intrapsychic life and social/environmental influences upon people; and groups that tried to discover the interactions of interpsychic and intrapsychic life. In a sense, the nature/nurture controversy (and our own sense for the falseness of that dichotomy) subtends our theoretical organizational determinations.

But these reflections represent the principles we ended up with, not our starting point. What we did to get started was draw up a number of lists of people, institutions and events that we thought would have to be on this timeline. These were our "cannot imagine the timeline without X" lists, which we assembled by consulting our own histories of reading and study and practice (and our private libraries, both of which are very extensive) and by such simple devices as looking in the indexes of the existing histories of psychoanalysis in the three languages we can work with (English, French and German). I brought my experience as Anna Freud's biographer and as a working historian of psychoanalysis theories to bear on the list making. (I have also actually prepared a narrative history of psychoanalysis in four lectures, delivered initially at the Yale University Center for the Humanities, and you can listen to and view these elsewhere on this site: click here) Christine brought to our list-making twenty years of experience doing the ordering for her mental health bookshop, Caversham Booksellers. Hers was experience not just with what exists in print but with what people who are interested in works of psychoanalysis buy; what has lasted from the past, stayed in print. Since the Vienna beginnings, certain publishers have been the gatekeepers of psychoanalysis' textual life, and we looked into their selections —literally into their catalogues (and backlists). We read biographies and mini-biographies and obituaries of psychoanalysts. We read book reviews from old issues of psychoanalytic journals.

Our first effort to sketch a timeline, which we made by Scotch-taping together ten heavy watercolor pages or what we call "decade panels" and making entries by hand, in pencil, along bands of color, like a banner, was not a success. But we learned a great deal from the failure, particularly about how important it was to show clearly the two periods in which psychoanalysis development went into semi-moratorium in continental Europe, during WWI and during WWII (when the psychoanalytic diaspora was part of a much larger diaspora phenomenon that fundamentally reconfigured the world's intellectual life). These traumas had defining impact upon how different analysts and schools of analysis related to the importance of environmental influences on human development, and to the importance of trauma. And that is what we wanted our graphic to show.

We started again, with a new graphic —a new set of relations among color bands. And this time we were satisfied to work by accretion and adjustment, adding more and more from our "cannot imagine the timeline without X" files. Other decisions came: we added a line of world-historical events to the bottom of the timeline, to keep the historical context visually present. We added a line showing the development of the International Psychoanalytic Association, and its growing reach. Then, in a crucial meeting with our graphic designer, Isabelle Rousset, we were prompted by her remark that we could — you know, use the verso of this thing — we did not have to follow the Sarah Fanelli precedent of making a timeline on one side of a fold-up scroll, perfect to be mounted on a wall. "You are thinking too much like book people — this is not a book, it is an object in space, you can walk around it, like in a museum." This opened up two possibilities: first was to offer a narrative introduction to our readers on the verso which would explain our organizational principles and account, frankly, for our bias (which is, fundamentally, toward psychoanalytic development in the Anglophone world after WWII); and the second was that we could create some brief narrative histories on particular topics that we think are key to understanding how psychoanalysis has evolved. We could mix information-presentation and narration in the more traditional sense. This, we thought, would be particularly helpful for students coming at this history without much preparation and thus unable to interpret the timeline itself at much depth. And it would much improve our ability to argue for historiographical consciousness — for prompting readers to reflect on how this story was being told, as we ourselves had tried to do.


Please take the time to view our other major production, Presenting Problems: The Films of Garrick Duckler


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