The database of PADD contains letters, manuscripts and documents about the history of psychoanalysis and currently holds more than 8,000 entries. Certain documents are also available as digital scans.
Paul Federn was born in 1871 in Vienna as the son of the Jewish physician Salomon \r\nFedern and his wife Ernestine (née Spitzer). As a successful doctor, his \r\nbourgeois-liberal father was a well respected man in Viennese society. His mother \r\ndevoted herself to social welfare efforts and was an activist in the women’s \r\nemancipation movement. Federn attended the Academic Gymnasium in Vienna, from \r\nwhich he graduated in 1889. Although he was primarily interested in biology, Federn \r\nyielded to the wishes of his domineering father and began his medical studies \r\nat the University of Vienna. After obtaining his degree he began specialist training \r\nin internal medicine at Vienna’s General Hospital in 1895. Federn went into \r\nprivate practice in 1902, and it was at this time that he became interested in \r\npsychoanalysis. Through his teacher and mentor Hermann Nothnagel he came into \r\ncontact with Freud. Admitted to the Psychologische Mittwoch-Gesellschaft (Wednesday \r\nPsychological Society) in 1903, Federn became one of Freud’s most faithful \r\nfollowers and developed a strong positive father transference to him (Weiss 1966, \r\n146). Upon the founding of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1908, he took \r\nover the duties of the organization’s auditor. During the First World War \r\nFedern served as a physician in the Austro-Hungarian army. After the war’s \r\nend he joined the Social Democratic Party and was elected district councilor in \r\nVienna. He also became involved in Settlement, a charity organization modeled \r\non British groups that his sister Else had founded in Vienna in 1901. Federn began \r\nto take a greater interest in social issues such as family welfare, pedagogy, \r\nsexual education and women’s emancipation (Weiss 1966, 148) and became involved \r\nin numerous movements working toward the introduction of universal healthcare \r\nand public welfare.
\r\n1919 marked the publication of Federn’s study Psychology of Revolution: \r\nThe Fatherless Society (Zur Psychologie der Revolution: Die vaterlose Gesellschaft), \r\nwherein he used the psychoanalytic perspective in investigating historical events \r\nand the collective behavior of the Austrian population following the end of the \r\nwar. He warned against putting utopian hopes in the overthrow of the prevailing \r\nsocial order, which could well bring about the downfall of the aristocracy and \r\nthe monarchy, but in which the fatherless bureaucracy would run in danger of falling \r\nvictim to totalitarianism, conformism and mass alienation. He also warned of the \r\npsychodynamic rebound effect of radical movements, since an uprising against fatherly \r\nauthorities could awaken unconscious guilt feelings, a need for expiation and \r\na yearning for an authoritarian father.
\r\nBeginning in 1914, Federn’s influence within the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society \r\nbegan to grow. As one of its leading training analysts he took over the chairmanship \r\nof the training committee, and he served as the Society’s vice-president \r\nbeginning in 1924. From the mid-1920s onward he devoted his efforts to “popularizing \r\nand spreading psychoanalytic knowledge” (E. Federn 1971, 721). Together \r\nwith Heinrich Meng he published Das Ärztliche Volksbuch (The People’s \r\nMedical Book) (1924) and Das Psychoanalytische Volksbuch (The People’s \r\nBook of Psychoanalysis) (1926), whereby the first book provided general medical \r\nknowledge and the second was intended to make psychoanalytic theories accessible \r\nto a wider segment of society. Federn was also co-publisher of the journals Internationalen \r\nZeitschrift für Psychoanalyse and Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische \r\nPädagogik. Following the National Socialist takeover in 1938, Federn \r\nfled via Sweden to the United States, where he settled in New York and joined \r\nthe Psychoanalytic Society. In the mid-1940s he was diagnosed with cancer of the \r\nbladder. Shortly before he was scheduled to undergo renewed surgery, Paul Federn \r\ncommitted suicide on 4 May 1950.
\r\nPaul Federn’s key areas of interests as a scientist were the theory of psychoses, \r\nnarcissism and the development of an “ego psychology founded in the theory \r\nof drives” (Elrod 1990, 150). He was one of the first psychoanalysts to \r\ntreat psychotic patients, and he did pioneering work in the field of psychoanalytic \r\npsychosis research. Federn remained true to Freudian principles while nonetheless \r\ncontinuing to develop the ego theory and taking the first step toward the establishment \r\nof self-psychology. His investigations were in particular devoted to research \r\ninto transitional states. Didier Anzieu has characterized him as a “thinker \r\nof boundaries, but one who does not think of them as hindrances or barriers, rather \r\nas a precondition for the psychical apparatus’s ability to make differentiations \r\nboth within itself and between that which is psychical and that which is not psychical, \r\nbetween that which is dependent on the self and that which is dependent on the \r\nother“ (Anzieu 1998, 199). In contrast to Freud, Federn did not consider \r\nthe ego feeling to be a product of psychical development, but inborn. Although \r\ninitially diffuse and having little content, the primal ego exists from the beginning \r\nof life, and thus it represents a primary and lasting feeling. According to Federn, \r\nthe feeling of an independent identity, of a mental ego feeling, expresses itself \r\nin the idea that “I am” or “I exist”, through which a \r\nfeeling of the “inner ego” is manifested, which nonetheless can fluctuate. \r\nHe saw the bodily ego feelings as an “compound feeling”, as “a \r\nunified feeling of libido cathexes of the motor and sensory apparatus” (Federn \r\n1952, 27, cit. in Anzieu 1988, 123).
\r\nFedern differentiated between the ego and the self, whereby the ego can be simultaneously \r\nsubject (ego) and object (self): “Accordingly, the ego is both the vehicle \r\nand the object of consciousness. We speak of the ego, in its capacity as the vehicle \r\nof consciousness, as ‘I myself’.” (Federn 1952, 94f., cit. in \r\nAnzieu 1998, 121). In his conception, the ego comprises the feeling of temporal \r\ncontinuity, of spatial unity at a specific point in time, and of causality. While \r\nthe ego feeling forming the ego core of a healthy person remains constant, the \r\nfeeling of the ego’s boundaries is in constant transformation. The system \r\nof the unconscious lacks any notion of time, while in the system of consciousness \r\nthe feeling of a temporal unity of the ego allows the individual to develop a \r\nchronological conception of his/her life. The loss of this feeling of the ego’s \r\ntemporal unity leads to psychotic decompensation. In using the term “ego \r\nboundary”, Federn meant “that we feel how far the ego reaches, or, \r\nmore correctly, where it is that the ego no longer reaches” (Federn 1936, \r\n309f., cit. in Elrod 1990, 146). If the ego loses its exterior boundaries, then \r\nexternal objects, although they remain clearly in consciousness, can also be perceived \r\nas being alien or even unreal. According to Federn, the ego feeling is primarily \r\nnarcissistically cathected and “does not arise from the interactions and \r\ninterreactions with the caregiver and further social agencies, but rather ‘it \r\nis our libido that’ (...) ‘creates our ego’” (Elrod 1990, \r\n141). Although the infant seeks the mother’s breast, the object is at this \r\ntime not yet perceived as something external. Secondary narcissism does not develop \r\nuntil the child is able to direct its libido toward an object, and in the libidinous \r\ncathexis of this object to reach the boundaries between the ego and the outer \r\nworld and then to withdraw again.
\r\nFedern recognized psychosis as an illness of the ego. He believed that the psychotic \r\nperson is in a position “to deal with his unusable material in a rational \r\nmanner” (Federn 1943, 147, cit. in Elrod 1990, 143), but that the psychoanalytic \r\ntechnique must be modified in the treatment of psychotic cases. It is imperative \r\nthat positive transference be strengthened and negative transference be avoided. \r\nBecause Federn accorded the correcting mother figure central importance in the \r\ntherapeutic treatment of psychosis, he began to train female assistants and to \r\nintegrate them into therapy (Weiss 1966, 154). He advised against interpreting \r\nunconscious material or conducting a detailed anamnesis. The aim of treatment \r\nshould not be to dissolve mechanisms of repression, but to create them. The weakened \r\nego boundary should be strengthened, and the patient’s unreal notions should \r\nbe demonstrated and corrected. The patient should learn to use reality-testing \r\nproperly and to perceive his/her body as both a part of the ego, as a part of \r\nthe outer world, and as a boundary between the ego and the world. Federn developed \r\nhis ego psychology independently from the work of Hartmann, Kris, Jacobson et \r\nal., who for the most part also ignored his investigations.
\r\nText: Christiane Rothländer
\r\nTranslation: Christopher Barber
Sigmund Freud Privatstiftung
T: +43-1- 319 15 96-19
F: +43-1- 317 02 79