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Sabina Spielrein

Sabina Spielrein

“One can only hope that more of her story will be discovered and that more research will focus on the work that Spielrein did personally. She faced many obstacles, both because she was a woman working in a predominantly male profession and because she was Jewish during a period of violent antisemitism. Her tragic death cut short a life of promise.”- Suggestion of  Karen Hall of Jewish women archive, about Sabina Speilrein.

Sabina Naftulovna Spielrein was a renowned Russian physician. She has the honor of being the first Russian psychoanalyst. Born on 7th November 1885 in a Jewish family of doctors in Russian empire, she was associated with Carl Jung as the patient, student and colleague. She also served as a teacher in Russia and Switzerland and is known for her published work “Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being”, in the field of psychoanalysis. Besides Carl Jung, she was also associated professionally with Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud.

Her father was an entomologist, whereas, her mother was a dentist. Later, her father became a prosperous merchant after moving to Rostov. She married a Jewish physician, Pavel Scheftel in 1912. Speilrein studied medicine in Zurich after spending her time at a mental hospital under the supervision of Carl Jung. She developed a deep emotional relationship with him. He was also her medical dissertation advisor. Spielrein graduated in the field of medicine from University of Zurich in the year 1911. She started her psychoanalytic practices with Jung. She worked with him until Jung realized that his relationship with her would destroy his career. So, he ended his relationship with him. Later that year, she got elected as a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Her dissertation, “Concerning the Psychological Content of a Case of Schizophrenia”, was the first dissertation written by a woman that was psychoanalytically oriented. She first wrote to Sigmund Freud in 1909. Speilrein met him in 1911 in Vienna, and continued meeting and corresponding with him at least until 1923. Sabina also worked in Germany and Switzerland. After working for so many years in Germany and Switzerland, she moved to Russia and introduced there the field of psychoanalysis. As her life span was tragically short, she could not work long enough, but she left a legacy behind her that will serve the field of psychoanalysis in future.

Sabina Speilrein made tremenduous contributions in the field of psychoanalysis. She had wrote around 30 papers on psychoanalysis in German as well as French. Recently she has become the subject of books, films and plays. One of the famous books is  a Secret Symmetry: Sabina Spielrein between Freud and Jung, written by Aldo Carotenutou in 1982. The other book written on Sabina Speilrein is titled A Most Dangerous Method written by John Kerr in 1993. Sabina Speilrein died on 12th August 1942.


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