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Friday, April 10, 2015

Some Analytic History: AA Brill

Last night I was in the library of the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (NYPSI), and I couldn't stop myself from taking this photo:

It's Freud v. Abraham Brill, an early influential figure in American psychoanalysis, and the founder of NYPSI in 1911 (technically, the Institute part, which is the training program, was established in 1932, but Brill founded the Society). The bust of Freud actually sits on a file cabinet perpendicular to the one Brill is on, but I moved him (Freud) over to take the picture.

This is what Brill looked like from the front:

Here's a description of Brill, from a paper entitled,  Dreams and Responsibilities: Notes on the Making of an Institute, (Jacobs, TJ. (1983) Ann. of Psychoanal., 11:29-49.):

A short, rather stocky figure, with a Van Dyke beard, a thick accent, and enormous vitality, Brill was a truly remarkable individual. Born in Galicia, he had come penniless to the United States as a young adolescent. Through hard physical work, which included the scrubbing of saloon floors, he put himself through college and, ultimately, medical school. After four years of experience on the wards of Central Islip State Hospital, he approached his old professor, Dr. Frederick Peterson of Columbia, for advice as to where in Europe he might continue his education in psychiatry. 
Fortunately for the development of psychoanalysis, Peterson recommended not Kraepelin's clinic, to which Americans often went, but the clinic at Burghölzli in Switzerland where Bleuler and his colleagues were beginning to apply some of Freud's thinking to the seriously disturbed patients under their care. There Brill met Jung, Jones, Rorschach, and Abraham, among others, and through them he was introduced to Freud. Quite rapidly he became the designated spokesman for psychoanalysis in America. Within a few years of his return to this country in 1908, he had become a familiar figure on the New York scene, lecturing to medical and lay groups, translating Freud, publishing articles on clinical and theoretical topics, and discussing with anyone who would listen the enormous potential of the revolutionary new science of psychoanalysis.

On February 12th, 1911, Brill got together with a group of like-minded individuals, and the first Psychoanalytic Society in the United States was born.

NY Psychoanalytic Society 1st meeting. Note Brill's original pen, at the top.

At this meeting, Brill read, A Paper on the Analysis of a Compulsion Neurosis. The text is not available in its original form, but another paper, entitled, Freud’s Theory of Compulsion Neurosis, and published in American Medicine in December of 1911, is probably a modified version, and the one I've read.

The paper presents the case of a young Jewish man obsessed by the idea that Christians are going to kill all the Jews. The published version, which places less emphasis on the case and its process than it does on a didactic explication of Freud’s theories, is clearly intended to introduce its non-analytic, or in Brill’s conception, not-yet-analytic audience, to psychoanalysis.

Revision: Thank you to Dr. George Dawson for suggesting a simple way to set up a link to the paper.

One quote caught my attention:

...what becomes conscious as an obsession and obsessive affect and substitutes the pathogenic memory in the conscious life are compromise formations between the repressed and repressing ideas. 

Those familiar with the work of Charles Brenner will note the early use of the phrase, “compromise formations”, two years before Brenner was born.

I'm often struck by the contrast between Freud and Brill. Freud with his Gymnasium education; Brill cleaning floors to pay for school. Freud with his Viennese gentleman's bearing, Brill the poor Galician. But their lives converged, and they were both passionate about furthering the cause of psychoanalysis. Freud is obviously better known, but he visited this country only once. It was Brill who established psychoanalysis in the United States.

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