Helene Deutsch, The Feminine In Psychoanalysis

Helene Deutsch was the first woman in the history of psychoanalysis to dedicate herself to the study of female psychology and the first to head the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association. His contributions qualified the excessive masculine focus that psychoanalysis had had until then and served as input for the later work of Simone de Beauvoir.

Helene Deutsch is considered one of the best teachers in the history of psychoanalysis. He trained a significant number of psychoanalysts with remarkable success. As a woman, she rebelled against the mandates of her time and always demonstrated that she possessed the will and character to live by her own criteria and standards.

“The fortified doors to equal rights actually opened for modern women, but sometimes I tell myself, that’s not what I meant by freedom, it’s just social progress.”

-Helene Deutsch-

Her contemporaries defined her as an extremely beautiful and intelligent woman. To these virtues should be added his proverbial discipline and perseverance. Not only was he famous among his European colleagues, but he also wrote several of the most important pages of psychiatry in the United States.

Helene Deutsch, an independent woman

Helene Deutsch was the youngest of four children, born in 1884 in a small town called Przemyƛl, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, today, belongs to Poland.

He came from a fairly open-minded Jewish family; her family  did not hesitate to provide her with access to private education at home, at a time when it was unusual for women to study.

His father was a lawyer and Helene was his favorite. Her mother, on the other hand, was an authoritarian and distant woman, who did not express affection towards her daughter. Although Helene Deutsch was a bright child, her character was depressing. This was due to her mother’s coldness and the fact that her older brother tried to rape her.

At the age of 16, she became the lover of Herman Liebermann, a man much older than her who was also married. This caused a great family and social scandal; however, Helene barely paid attention to her.

Her lover was a prominent leader of the Social Democracy and had a stormy relationship with her. She, however, followed him when he was elected to Parliament in Vienna. In that city, Helene Deutsch met Rosa Luxemburg, a woman who served as a model to advance her thinking and her studies.

Studies and challenge

In 1907, Helene Deutsch began studying Medicine at the University of Vienna. Back then, there were only seven women on the faculty and Helene was one of them.

Soon after, he ended his relationship with Libermann and moved to Munich to specialize in psychiatry under the direction of Emil Kraepelin. In 1912 he obtained his degree and, almost simultaneously, his interest in psychoanalysis began to awaken.

That same year, she married Felix Deutsch, an internist who served as Sigmund Freud’s personal physician. Helene began working as a medical assistant at the psychiatric clinic of the University of Vienna, where  she was assigned the women’s section. This experience in the clinic would trigger all his further study. From this moment on, Helene decided to immerse herself in the study of female psychology.

Helene Deutsch began psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud, but after a year, he pointed out that it should be stopped, as he found no signs of neurosis in her. Later, a new analysis was done, this time with Karl Abraham in Berlin. In 1917, she had her only son, Martin, who later became a prominent physicist.

The contribution of Helene Deutsch

Helene Deutsch was never a dissident from classical psychoanalysis. He assumed the essential concepts of the theory, but bringing a different approach.

She tried to apply all of these concepts to female psychology specifically, becoming the first psychoanalyst to write a book on this topic. Mainly, he emphasized the study of narcissism, trying to see how it was expressed or manifested in men and women.

In addition, Helene dared to address issues related to female eroticism and opened psychoanalysis to a new field that, to date, had not been treated: motherhood.

She urged Freud to further explore female psychology and gave a constructive interpretation to the supposed female passivity, which she defined as an introspection that facilitates intuition.

Together with his family, Deutsch immigrated to the United States in 1935. He settled in Boston, where he began working as an adjunct psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

His work Psychology of women  became one of the indispensable classics of feminist thought. Her husband died in 1964 and she in 1982, at the age of 97. His name and his work were always highly valued in the United States and in Europe.

Helene Deutsch showed the world that women can perform successfully in any field, that they are not so different from men, and she tried to open the way to female psychology. A field of study that, as is normal in a man’s world, had hardly been explored.