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Summary Article: Rank, Otto
From The Edinburgh International Encyclopaedia of Psychoanalysis

Pioneer of client-centred, experiential, ‘here-and-now’ and existential therapies. Next to Freud, Rank was the most prolific author during the first two decades of the movement. Freud invited Rank to be Secretary and, later, Vice-President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society; co-editor of the two leading journals, Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse and Imago; director of Freud’s Verlag; and member of the Secret Committee.

In 1923 Ferenczi and Rank published The Development of Psychoanalysis, which criticised the classical technique of the ‘unnatural elimination of all human factors in the analysis’. In 1924 Rank published The Trauma of Birth, exploring how art, myth, religion, philosophy and therapy were illuminated by separation anxiety in the ‘phase before the development of the Oedipus complex’. After some hesitation, Freud distanced himself from both books, signalling to Abraham and Jones that Ferenczi and Rank were perilously close to anti-Oedipal heresy. In May 1926, with no friends left in the inner circle, Rank resigned from the movement, moving to Paris where he became an analyst for artists such as Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. Travelling frequently to America, Rank lectured at universities such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Pennsylvania on object-relational, experiential and ‘here-and-now’ psychotherapy, art and the creative will, and ‘neurosis as a failure in creativity’. Rollo May credited Rank as the most important precursor of existential therapy. ‘I became infected with Rankian ideas,’ said Carl Rogers. Paul Goodman, co-founder with Fritz Perls of Gestalt therapy, described Rank’s ideas on art and creativity as ‘beyond praise’.

  • Lieberman, E. J. (1985) Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank. New York: The Free Press.
  • Menaker, E. (1981) Otto Rank: A Rediscovered Legacy. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Rank, O. (1996) A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures. Kramer, R. (ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Robert Kramer
    American University, Washington, DCUSA
    © in this edition, Edinburgh University Press, 2006; © in the individual contributions is retained by the authors

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