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Sabina Spielrein (1884 - 1942) was one of the first female psychoanalysts. She studied under Carl Gustav Jung, with whom she also had a sexual relationship.

Born 1885 into a family of a Jewish doctors in Rostov, Russia, her mother was a dentist, her father a physician. One of her brothers, Isaac Spielrein (also spelt Shpilrein or Shpilreyn), was a Soviet psychologist, a pioneer of labor psychology. Sabina was married to Pavel Scheftel, a physician of Russian Jewish descent. They had two daughters: Renate, born 1912, and Eva, born 1924.

Before enrolling as a student of medicine in Zürich, Spielrein was admitted in August 1904 to the Burghölzli mental hospital near Zürich, where Carl Gustav Jung worked at that time, and remained there until June 1905. While there, she established a deep emotional relationship with Jung who later was her medical dissertation advisor. The historian and psychoanalyst Peter Loewenberg discovered that this was a sexual relationship, in breach of professional ethics, and that Jung was dismissed by Bleuler from the Burghölzli for this offense.[1] Spielrein graduated in 1911, defending a dissertation about a case of schizophrenia, and was later elected a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. She continued with Jung until 1912 and later saw Sigmund Freud in Vienna.

In 1923, Spielrein returned to Soviet Russia and with Vera Schmidt established a kindergarten in Moscow, nicknamed "The "White Nursery" by the children (all furniture and walls having been white). The institution was committed to bringing up children as free persons as early as possible. "The White Nursery" was closed down three years later by the authorities under false accusation and it was accused of practising sexual perversions on the children (in fact, Stalin actually enrolled his own son, Vasily, into the "White Nursery" under a false name[citation needed]).

Sabina's husband Pavel perished during Stalin's Great Terror, as did her brother Isaac. Sabina and her two children were probably killed by an SS Death Squad, Einsatzgruppe D in 1942 in Zmievskaya Balka.

While Spielrein is not often given more than a footnote in the history of the development of psychoanalysis, her conception of the sexual drive as containing both an instinct of destruction and an instinct of transformation, presented to the Society in 1912, in fact anticipates both Freud's "death wish" and Jung's views on "transformation" (Bettelheim 1983). She may thus have inspired both men's most creative ideas.

Spielrein's letters, journals and copies of hospital records have been published, as has her correspondence with Jung and Freud.

A documentary, Ich heiß Sabina Spielrein (My Name was Sabina Spielrein), was made in 2002 by the Hungarian-born Swedish director Elisabeth Marton and was released in the United States in late 2005 (see The documentary was released in the U.S. by Facets Video, a subsidiary of Facets Multi-Media. There is a biopic Prendimi l’anima (The Soul Keeper), directed by Roberto Faenza, with Emilia Fox as Spielrein and Iain Glen as Carl Gustav Jung. Spielrein figures prominently in two contemporary British plays: Sabina (1998) by Snoo Wilson and The Talking Cure (2003) by Christopher Hampton, in which Ralph Fiennes played Jung on the London stage. Both plays were preceded by the Off Broadway production of Sabina (1996) by Willy Holtzman. Hampton has adapted his own play for an upcoming feature, which is being produced by Jeremy Thomas.



  • Sabina Spielrein: Sämtliche Schriften, utgiven av Erika Kittler 1987, ISBN 3-926023-03-1
  • Bruno Bettelheim (1983) "A Secret Asymmetry" in Freud's Vienna and Other Essays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Aldo Carotenuto: Tagebuch einer heimlichen Symmetrie : Sabina Spielrein zwischen Jung und Freud; preface by Johannes Cremerius ; translated to German 1986, Italian original Diario di una segreta simmetria, Sabina Spielrein tra Jung e Freud
  • Covington, C. (2001) Comments on the Burghölzli hospital records of Sabina Spielrein J. Analytical Psychology, 46, 105-116
  • Goldberg, A. (1984) A Secret Symmetry. Sabina Spielrein Between Jung and Freud. Psychoanal Q., 53:135-137
  • Hoffner, A. (2001) Jung's Analysis of Sabina Spielrein and his use of Freud's free association method J. Analytical Psychology, 46, 117-128
  • Kerr, J. (1993) A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud and Sabina Spielrein.. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Loewenberg, Peter (1995) The Creation of a Scientific Community: The Burghölzli, 1902-1914.Fantasy and Reality in History, pp. 46-89. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Raphael-Leff, J. (1983) A Secret Symmetry. Sabina Spielrein Between Jung and Freud. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 10:241-242
  • Richebächer, Sabine (2003) "In league with the devil, and yet you fear fire?" Sabina Spielrein and C. G. Jung: A suppressed scandal from the early days of psychoanalysis. Covington, C. and Wharton, B. Sabina Spielrein. Forgotten pioneer of psychoanalysis. Brunner-Routledge, Hove and New York, 227-249
  • Richebächer, Sabine (2005) Sabina Spielrein. "Eine fast grausame Liebe zur Wissenschaft". Biographie 400 p. Dörlemann Zürich
  • Silverman, M. (1985) A Secret Symmetry. Sabina Spielrein Between Jung And Freud. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 33(S):205-209
  • Thompson, N. (1996) Freud, Jung And Sabina Spielrein: A Most Dangerous Method.. Psychoanal Q., 65:644-649
  • Van Waning, A. (1992) The Works of Pioneering Psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein—'Destruction as a Cause of Coming Into Being'. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 19:399-414

See also

External links


  1. ^ Loewenberg, Peter. 1995. The Creation of a Scientific Community: The Burghölzli, 1902-1914

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