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Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalysis of Albert Hirst
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Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis of Albert Hirst

Introduction

Despite the profound and enduring influence of Freud’s theoretical ideas and technical recommendations, published data on his actual experiences in the conduct of psychoanalysis are quite sparse. 1 For the psychoanalyses he actually conducted after 1900, Freud provided information from only three cases: the “Rat Man,” 2 the “Wolf Man,” 3 and the female homosexual. 4 Helene Deutsch, Joseph Wortis, Abram Kardiner, Smiley Blanton, Roy Grinker, and John Dorsey each provided some information on their psychoanalyses by Freud. 5 These people were [End Page 69] psychiatrists who underwent training analyses; they were “analysands” but not “patients.” Likewise Hilda Doolittle, who left a very poetic memoir of her analysis, had been analyzed as Freud’s student. 6 What follows is an account, from the patient’s point of view, of a young man’s strictly clinical psychoanalysis by Freud. This patient came from a background similar to Freud’s own. It is the only published account based on material from such a patient, and it includes his descriptions of his symptoms, the analytic process, and his clinical course.

Albert Hirst (1887–1974) has been mentioned as an analytic patient of Sigmund Freud by the historian and political scientist Paul Roazen 7 and by the prominent classical psychoanalyst Kurt Eissler. 8 Both men interviewed Hirst, but neither has provided any information about how Freud actually conducted Hirst’s analysis. Jeffrey M. Masson cites Hirst’s unpublished autobiography as a crucial source of information on Freud’s analysis of Hirst’s aunt, Emma Eckstein, but similarly omits any information about Hirst’s own treatment. 9

I reviewed a typescript of Kurt Eissler’s interviews, dated 16 March and 30 March 1952, in the Siegfried Bernfeld collection at the Library of Congress. 10 A second important source is Hirst’s unpublished autobiography, which he began writing in 1972, motivated by a “sense of duty.” 11 Hirst definitely intended it for publication: the address of a literary agent appeared on the title page. It is centered on his psychoanalysis by Freud, and it is even more forthcoming than the Eissler interviews.

Other sources of information about this case are limited. Albert Hirst’s son, Dr. Eric Hirst, contributed some historical information, as did Dr. [End Page 70] Hanna E. Kapit, the stepdaughter of Albert Hirst’s sister Ada. 12 Four familiar contemporary sources—Freud’s correspondence with Jung, Jones, and Ferenczi, and the Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society—are all silent on this subject, 13 as are the Freud biographies by Ernest Jones, Peter Gay, Ronald Clark, and Max Schur. 14 Freud wrote only postcards to Albert Hirst, not full letters. 15 Thus, the interview and the autobiography are the principal available sources. Fortunately, they are copious and internally consistent. None of the specific factual information that I encountered in these two sources is contradicted by any other primary source, and what is known of Hirst’s life gives no reason to doubt his capacities or reliability. 16

In this paper I will describe Albert Hirst’s early history, his brief analysis in 1903, developments in the interim, his ten-month analysis in 1909–10, and his subsequent life. This narrative is meant to contribute to the historical record—to add to what is known about the methods Freud actually used in his clinical psychoanalytic work. I will not attempt my own psychoanalytic interpretation of the materials in this case.

I will then discuss the impact of Freud’s psychoanalytic treatment on Hirst’s life, and the technical and theoretical issues raised by this story. The technical issues involve Freud’s conduct of his relationship with this patient; the theoretical issue is Freud’s reliance on Lamarckian assumptions about heredity.

Albert Hirst’s Early History

Albert Joseph Hirsch was born on 16 January 1887 to a well-to-do Jewish family. (He changed his name to Hirst much later, long after his experiences with Freud.) He was the third and last child. The eldest, a sister named Hansi, three or four years older than Albert, died when he was [End Page 71] one or two years old; she was always described...