Otto Rank

Otto Rank

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Otto Rank was an Austrian psychoanalyst, writer, teacher and therapist. Born in Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 as Otto Rosenfeld, he was one of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

's closest colleagues for 20 years, a prolific writer on psychoanalytic themes, an editor of the two most important analytic journals, managing director of Freud's publishing house and a creative theorist and therapist. In 1926, Otto Rank left Vienna for Paris. For the remaining 14 years of his life, Rank had an exceptionally successful career as a lecturer, writer and therapist in France and the U.S. (Lieberman & Kramer, 2012).

In the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society

In 1905, at the age of 21, Otto Rank presented Freud with a short manuscript on the artist
An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts and/or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only...

, a study that so impressed Freud he invited Rank to become Secretary of the emerging Vienna Psychoanalytic Society
Vienna Psychoanalytic Society
The Vienna Psychoanalytic Society was formerly known as the Wednesday Psychological Society. They commenced their meetings in Freud’s apartment in 1902...

. Rank thus became the first paid member of the psychoanalytic movement, and Freud's "right-hand man" for almost 20 years. Freud considered Rank, with whom he was more intimate intellectually than his own sons, to be the most brilliant of his Viennese disciples.

Rank was one of Freud's six collaborators brought together in a secret "committee" or "ring" to defend the psychoanalytic mainstream as disputes with Adler
Alfred Adler
Alfred Adler was an Austrian medical doctor, psychotherapist, and founder of the school of individual psychology. In collaboration with Sigmund Freud and a small group of Freud's colleagues, Adler was among the co-founders of the psychoanalytic movement as a core member of the Vienna...

 and then Jung
Carl Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of Analytical Psychology. Jung is considered the first modern psychiatrist to view the human psyche as "by nature religious" and make it the focus of exploration. Jung is one of the best known researchers in the field of dream analysis and...

 developed. Rank was the most prolific author in the "ring" besides Freud himself, extending psychoanalytic theory
Psychoanalytic theory
Psychoanalytic theory refers to the definition and dynamics of personality development which underlie and guide psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy. First laid out by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalytic theory has undergone many refinements since his work...

 to the study of legend
A legend is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude...

, myth
The term mythology can refer either to the study of myths, or to a body or collection of myths. As examples, comparative mythology is the study of connections between myths from different cultures, whereas Greek mythology is the body of myths from ancient Greece...

, art
Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect....

, and other works of creativity
Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new that has some kind of value. What counts as "new" may be in reference to the individual creator, or to the society or domain within which the novelty occurs...

. He worked closely with Freud, contributing two chapters on myth and legend to later editions of The Interpretation of Dreams. Rank's name appeared underneath Freud's on the title page of Freud's greatest work for many years. Between 1915 and 1918, Rank served as Secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association
International Psychoanalytical Association
The International Psychoanalytical Association is an association including 12,000 psychoanalysts as members and works with 70 constituent organizations. It was founded in 1910 by Sigmund Freud, on an idea proposed by Sándor Ferenczi...

 which Freud had founded in 1910. Everyone in the small psychoanalytic world understood how much Freud respected Rank and his prolific creativity in expanding psychoanalytic theory.

In 1924, Rank published Das Trauma der Geburt (translated into English as The Trauma of Birth in 1929), exploring how art, myth, religion, philosophy and therapy were illuminated by separation anxiety
Separation anxiety
Separation anxiety may refer to:*Separation anxiety disorder or Separation anxiety test*Spider-Man & Venom: Separation Anxiety, a 1995 SNES video game*Separation Anxieties, a 2000 album by 12 Rods...

 in the “phase before the development of the Oedipus complex” (p. 216). But there was no such phase in Freud’s theories. The Oedipus complex
Oedipus complex
In psychoanalytic theory, the term Oedipus complex denotes the emotions and ideas that the mind keeps in the unconscious, via dynamic repression, that concentrate upon a boy’s desire to sexually possess his mother, and kill his father...

, Freud explained tirelessly, was the nucleus of the neurosis
Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving distress but neither delusions nor hallucinations, whereby behavior is not outside socially acceptable norms. It is also known as psychoneurosis or neurotic disorder, and thus those suffering from it are said to be neurotic...

 and the foundational source of all art, myth, religion, philosophy, therapy – indeed of all human culture and civilization. It was the first time that anyone in the inner circle had dared to suggest that the Oedipus complex might not be the supreme causal factor in psychoanalysis. Rank was the first to use the term “pre-Oedipal” in a public psychoanalytic forum in 1925 (Rank, 1996, p. 43). In a 1930 self-analysis of his own writings, Rank observes that "the pre-Oedipal super-ego has since been overemphasized by Melanie Klein
Melanie Klein
Melanie Reizes Klein was an Austrian-born British psychoanalyst who devised novel therapeutic techniques for children that had an impact on child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis...

, without any reference to me" (ibid., p. 149n). In the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

Rank will be credited with coining the term "pre-Oedipal", which was previously mistakenly thought to have been introduced by Freud or Klein.

After some hesitation, Freud distanced himself from The Trauma of Birth, signalling to other members of his inner circle that Rank was perilously close to anti-Oedipal heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

. Confronted with Freud’s decisive opposition, Rank resigned in protest from his positions as Vice-President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, director of Freud’s publishing house, and co-editor of Imago and Zeitschrift. His closest friend, Sándor Ferenczi
Sándor Ferenczi
Sándor Ferenczi was a Hungarian psychoanalyst, a key theorist of the psychoanalytic school and a close associate of Sigmund Freud.-Biography:...

, with whom Rank collaborated in the early Twenties on new experiential, object-relational and "here-and-now" approaches to therapy, vacillated on the significance of Rank's pre-Oedipal theory but not on Rank's objections to classical analytic technique.

The recommendation in Freud’s technical papers for analysts to be emotionless, according to Ferenczi and Rank (1924), had led to "an unnatural elimination of all human factors in the analysis" (pp. 40–41), and to "a theorizing of experience [Erlebnis]" (p. 41): the feeling experience of the intersubjective relationship, two first-person experiences, within the analytic situation. "The characteristic of that time," remembers Sándor Radó, who was in analysis with Karl Abraham
Karl Abraham
-Further reading:* Freud, S. . Mourning and Melancholia. Standard Edition, 14, 305-307.* May-Tolzmann, U. . The Discovery of the Bad Mother: Abraham’s contribution to the theory of Depression...

 from 1922 to 1925, "was a neglect of a human being's emotional life." Adds Rado: "Everybody was looking for oral, pregenital, and genital components in motivation. But that some people are happy, others unhappy, some afraid, or full of anger, and some loving and affectionate -- read the case histories to find how such differences between people were then absent from the literature." (Roazen & Swerdloff, 1995, pp. 82–83)

All emotional experience by human beings was being reduced by analysis to a derivative, no matter how disguised, of libido. For Freud, emotion was always sexual, derived from a dangerous Id that must be surgically uprooted: "Where Id was [Wo es war]," Freud said famously, "there ego shall be [soll ich werden]" (S.E., 22:80).

“Libido,” according to Freud’s 1921 work on Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (S.E., 18: 90), “is an expression taken from the theory of the emotions.” Emotion is the cause of neurotic disorder. Increases in emotion, according to Freud, are unpleasurable. Cure, for Freud, means analyzing, "working through" and eventually uprooting the emotions of the patient, “like the draining of the Zuyder Zee” (Freud, S.E., 22:80). The analyst makes the unconscious conscious by providing cognitive insight to the patient, thereby subduing the pressing drive for the irrational, for emotions—for the Id—to emerge from the patient’s unconscious.
In a 1927 lecture, Rank (1996) observes that “surgical therapy is uprooting and isolates the individual emotionally, as it tries to deny the emotional life” (p. 169), the same attack he and Ferenczi had leveled against psychoanalytic practice in their joint work. Reducing all emotional experience—all feeling, loving, thinking, and willing—to sex was one of Freud's biggest mistakes, according to Rank, who first pointed out this confusion in the mid-twenties. Emotions, said Rank, are relationships. Denial of the emotional life leads to denial of the will, the creative life, as well as denial of the interpersonal relationship in the analytic situation (Rank, 1929–31).

For Freud, said Rank in Will Therapy (1929–31), "the emotional life develops from the sexual sphere, therefore his sexualization in reality means emotionalization" (p. 165), two experiences that psychoanalysts continued to conflate for half a century after Freud’s death. Until the end of the 20th century, psychoanalysis had no theory of emotional experience and, by extension, no theory of emotional intelligence. Weinstein (2001) identified over two dozen articles in the major psychoanalytic journals lamenting the absence of a theory of emotions. "[S]uch comments persisted through to the 1990s" (Weinstein, 2001, p. 40).

"The emotional impoverishment of psychoanalysis," wrote Ernest Becker (1973) in The Denial of Death, which was strongly influenced by Rank's ideas, "must extend also to many analysts themselves and to psychiatrists who come under its ideology. This fact helps explain the terrible deadness of emotion that one experiences in psychiatric settings, the heavy weight of the character armor erected against the world" (p. 195n).

Written privately in 1932, Ferenczi’s Clinical Diary identified the “personal causes for the erroneous development of psychoanalysis” (Ferenczi, 1995, p. 184). According to Ferenczi, "… One learned from [Freud] and from his kind of technique various things that made one’s life and work more comfortable: the calm, unemotional reserve; the unruffled assurance that one knows better; and the theories, the seeking and finding of the causes of failure in the patient instead of partly in ourselves … and finally the pessimistic view, shared only with a few, that neurotics are a rabble [Gesindel], good only to support us financially and to allow us to learn from their cases: psychoanalysis as a therapy may be worthless" (Ferenczi, 1995, pp. 185–186).

But terrified at the prospect of losing Freud's approval, Ferenczi aborted his enthusiasm for The Trauma of Birth and began to distance himself personally from Rank – whom he shunned during a chance meeting in 1926 at Penn Station in New York. "He was my best friend and he refused to speak to me," Rank said (Taft, 1958, p. xvi).

Ferenczi's rupture with Rank cut short radical innovations in practice, and left no one in the inner circle who would champion relational, pre-Oedipal or "here-and-now" psychotherapy. Classical psychoanalysis, along the lines of Freud's 1911-15 technical writings, would now be entrenched in training institutes around the world. The attack leveled in 1924 by Ferenczi and Rank on the increasing "fanaticism for interpretation" and the "unnatural elimination of all human factors" from the practice of analysis would be forgotten.

Relational, expressive and "here-and-now" therapy would not be acceptable to most members of the American Psychoanalytic Association
American Psychoanalytic Association
American Psychoanalytic Association is an association of psychoanalysts in the United States. It was founded in 1911, and forms part of the International Psychoanalytical Association.-External links:**...

 or the International Psychoanalytic Association for half a century. "[T]hose who had the misfortune to be analyzed by [Rank] were required to undergo a second analysis in order to qualify" for membership in the American Psychoanalytic Association (Lieberman, 1985, p. 293). As far as classical analysis was concerned, Rank was dead.

Post-Vienna life and work

In May 1926, having made emotional relationship in the "here-and-now" central to his practice of psychotherapy, Rank moved to Paris where he became a psychotherapist for artists such as Henry Miller
Henry Miller
Henry Valentine Miller was an American novelist and painter. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms and developing a new sort of 'novel' that is a mixture of novel, autobiography, social criticism, philosophical reflection, surrealist free association, and mysticism, one that is...

 and Anaïs Nin
Anaïs Nin
Anaïs Nin was a French-Cuban author, based at first in France and later in the United States, who published her journals, which span more than 60 years, beginning when she was 11 years old and ending shortly before her death, her erotic literature, and short stories...

 and lectured at the Sorbonne
The Sorbonne is an edifice of the Latin Quarter, in Paris, France, which has been the historical house of the former University of Paris...

 (Lieberman, 1985).

According to Rank, all emotional life is grounded in the present. In Will Therapy, published in German in 1929-31, Rank uses the term “here and now” for the first time in the psychotherapeutic literature: “Freud made the repression historical, that is, misplaced it into the childhood of the individual and then wanted to release it from there, while as a matter of fact the same tendency is working here and now” (Rank, 1929–31, p. 39). Instead of the word Verdrängung (repression), which laid stress on unconscious repression of the past, Rank preferred to use the word Verleugnung (denial), which focused instead on the emotional will to remain ill in the present: “The neurotic lives too much in the past [and] to that extent he actually does not live. He suffers … because he clings to [the past], wants to cling to it, in order to protect himself from experience [Erlebnis], the emotional surrender to the present” (Rank, 1929–31, p. 27).

In France and later in America, Rank enjoyed great success as a therapist and writer from 1926 to 1939. Traveling frequently between France and America, Rank lectured at universities such as Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, Stanford
Stanford University
The Leland Stanford Junior University, commonly referred to as Stanford University or Stanford, is a private research university on an campus located near Palo Alto, California. It is situated in the northwestern Santa Clara Valley on the San Francisco Peninsula, approximately northwest of San...

, and University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

 on relational, experiential and “here-and-now” psychotherapy, art, the creative will, and “neurosis as a failure in creativity” (Rank, 1996).

Just as Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson was a Danish-German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on social development of human beings. He may be most famous for coining the phrase identity crisis. His son, Kai T...

 was the first analyst to focus on identity and adulthood, Rank was the first to propose that separation from outworn thoughts, emotions and behaviors is the quintessence of psychological growth and development. In the late 1920s, after he left Freud’s inner circle, Rank explored how human beings can learn to assert their will within relationships, and advocated a maximum degree of individuation (or "difference") within a maximum degree of connectedness (or "likeness"). Human beings need to experience both separation and union, without endlessly vacillating between the two poles.

Foreshadowing the central themes of Piaget
Piaget is surname of:* Edouard Piaget , Swiss entomologist* Jean Piaget , Swiss developmental psychologist* Paul Piaget , a Swiss rower...

, Kohlberg
- Municipalities :Germany* Kohlberg, Baden-Württemberg, in the district of Esslingen* Kohlberg, Bavaria in the district of Neustadt * Kohlberg , in Saxony...

, McClelland
- People :* Charles A. McClelland , American political systems analyst* David McClelland, American psychologist* Douglas McClelland, Australian politician* Hugh McClelland , Australian politician...

, Erikson
Erikson is a common Scandinavian patronymic surname meaning "son of Erik", itself an Old Norse given name. There are other spelling variations of this surname as it's common amongst Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans. Erikson is uncommon as a given name...

 and Robert Kegan
Robert Kegan
Robert Kegan is the William and Miriam Meehan Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard University. Additionally he is the Educational Chair for the Institute for Management and Leadership in Education and the Co-director for the Change Leadership Group...

, Rank was the first to propose that human development is a lifelong construction, which requires continual negotiation and renegotiation of the dual yearnings for individuation and connection, the will to separate and the will to unite. Decades before Ronald Fairbairn
Ronald Fairbairn
William Ronald Dodds Fairbairn was a Scottish psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and a central figure in the development of the object relations theory of psychoanalysis.-Life:He was born in Edinburgh in 1889...

, now credited by many as the inventor in the 1940s of modern object-relations theory, Rank's 1926 lecture on "The Genesis of the Object Relation" marks the first complete statement of this theory (Rank, 1996, pp. 140–149). By 1926 Rank was persona non grata in the official psychoanalytic world. There is little reason to believe, therefore, that any of the other writers credited with helping to invent object relations theory (Melanie Klein
Melanie Klein
Melanie Reizes Klein was an Austrian-born British psychoanalyst who devised novel therapeutic techniques for children that had an impact on child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis...

 or Donald Winnicott
Donald Winnicott
Donald Woods Winnicott was an English paediatrician and psychoanalyst who was especially influential in the field of object relations theory. He was a leading member of the British Independent Group of the British Psychoanalytic Society, and a close associate of Marion Milner...

, for example) ever read the German text of this lecture, published as Zur Genese der Object-beziehung in Vol. 1 of Rank's Genetische Psychologie (1927, pp. 110–22).

Rank died in New York City in 1939 from a kidney infection, one month after Freud's physician-assisted suicide on the Jewish Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur , also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jews. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue...

. "Komisch" (strange, odd, comical), Rank said on his deathbed (Lieberman, 1985, p. 389).


Rollo May
Rollo May
Rollo May was an American existential psychologist. He authored the influential book Love and Will during 1969. He is often associated with both humanistic psychology and existentialist philosophy. May was a close friend of the theologian Paul Tillich...

, a pioneer of existential psychotherapy in the United States, was deeply influenced by Rank’s post-Freudian lectures and writings and always considered Rank to be the most important precursor of existential therapy. Shortly before his death, Rollo May wrote the foreword to Robert Kramer's edited collection of Rank’s American lectures. “I have long considered Otto Rank to be the great unacknowledged genius in Freud’s circle,” said May (Rank, 1996, p. xi).

In 1936 Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers
Carl Ransom Rogers was an influential American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology...

, the most influential psychologist in America after William James
William James
William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism...

, invited Otto Rank to give a series of lectures in New York on Rank’s post-Freudian models of experiential and relational therapy. Rogers was transformed by these lectures and always credited Rank with having profoundly shaped "client-centered" therapy
Person-centered psychotherapy
Person-centered therapy is also known as person-centered psychotherapy, person-centered counseling, client-centered therapy and Rogerian psychotherapy. PCT is a form of talk-psychotherapy developed by psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1940s and 1950s...

 and the entire profession of counselling. "I became infected with Rankian ideas," said Rogers (Kramer, 1995).(

The New York writer Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman (writer)
Paul Goodman was an American sociologist, poet, writer, anarchist, and public intellectual. Goodman is now mainly remembered as the author of Growing Up Absurd and an activist on the pacifist Left in the 1960s and an inspiration to that era's student movement...

, who was co-founder with Fritz Perls
Fritz Perls
Friedrich Salomon Perls , better known as Fritz Perls, was a noted German-born psychiatrist and psychotherapist of Jewish descent....

 of the Gestalt
Gestalt therapy
Gestalt therapy is an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility, and that focuses upon the individual's experience in the present moment, the therapist-client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person's life, and the self-regulating...

 method of psychotherapy, one of the most popular in the world today, and one that makes Otto Rank's "here-and-now" central to its approach, described Rank’s post-Freudian ideas on art and creativity as “beyond praise” in Gestalt Therapy (Perls, Goodman and Hefferline, 1951, p. 395). According to Ervin Polster (1968), a pre-eminent Gestalt therapist, "Rank brought the human relationship directly into his office. He influenced analysts to take seriously the actual present interaction between therapist and patient, rather than maintain the fixed, distant, 'as though' relationship that had given previous analysts an emotional buffer for examining the intensities of therapeutic sensation and wish. Rank's contributions opened the way for encounter to become accepted as a deep therapeutic agent" (p. 6).

Rank also affected the practice of action-oriented and reflective therapies such as dramatic role-playing and psychodrama. "Although there is no evidence of a direct influence, Rank's ideas found new life in the work of such action psychotherapists as Moreno, who developed a psychodrama technique of doubling ... and Landy [director of the drama therapy program at New York University], who attempted to conceptualize balance as an integration of role and counterrole" (Landy, 2008, p. 29).

Rank was the first to see therapy as a learning and unlearning experience. The therapeutic relationship allows the patient to: (1) learn more creative ways of thinking, feeling and being in the here-and-now; and (2) unlearn self-destructive ways of thinking, feeling and being in the here-and-now. Patterns of self-destruction ("neurosis") represent a failure of creativity not, as Freud assumed, a retreat from sexuality.

Rank's psychology of creativity has recently been applied to action learning
Action learning
Action learning is an educational process whereby the participant studies their own actions and experience in order to improve performance. Learners acquire knowledge through actual actions and repetitions, rather than through traditional instruction....

, an inquiry-based process of group problem solving, team building, leadership development and organizational learning (Kramer 2007; 2008). The heart of action learning is asking wicked questions to promote the unlearning or letting go of taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs. Questions allow group members to “step out of the frame of the prevailing ideology,” as Rank wrote in Art and Artist (1932/1989, p. 70), reflect on their assumptions and beliefs, and reframe their choices. The process of “stepping out” of a frame, out of a form of knowing – a prevailing ideology – is analogous to the work of artists as they struggle to give birth to fresh ways of seeing the world, perspectives that allow them to see aspects of the world that no artists, including themselves, have ever seen before.

The most creative artists, such as Rembrandt, Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art...

 and Leonardo
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

, know how to separate even from their own greatest public successes, from earlier artistic incarnations of themselves. Their “greatness consists precisely in this reaching out beyond themselves, beyond the ideology which they have themselves fostered,” according to Art and Artist (Rank, 1932/1989, p. 368). Through the lens of Otto Rank’s work on understanding art and artists, action learning
Action learning
Action learning is an educational process whereby the participant studies their own actions and experience in order to improve performance. Learners acquire knowledge through actual actions and repetitions, rather than through traditional instruction....

 can be seen as the never-completed process of learning how to “step out of the frame” of the ruling mindset, whether one’s own or the culture’s – in other words, of learning how to unlearn.

Comparing the process of unlearning to the “breaking out” process of birth, Rank was the first psychologist to suggest that a continual capacity to separate from “internal mental objects” – from internalized institutions, beliefs and neuroses; from the restrictions of culture, social conformity and received wisdom – is the sine qua non for life-long creativity.

In a 1938 lecture, Rank said: "Life in itself is a mere succession of separations. Beginning with birth, going through several weaning periods and the development of the individual personality, and finally culminating in death – which represents the final separation. At birth, the individual experiences the first shock of separation, which throughout his life he strives to overcome. In the process of adaptation, man persistently separates from his old self, or at least from those segments off his old self that are now outlived. Like a child who has outgrown a toy, he discards the old parts of himself for which he has no further use ….The ego continually breaks away from its worn-out parts, which were of value in the past but have no value in the present. The neurotic [who cannot unlearn, and, therefore, lacks creativity] is unable to accomplish this normal detachment process … Owing to fear and guilt generated in the assertion of his own autonomy, he is unable to free himself, and instead remains suspended upon some primitive level of his evolution"(Rank, 1996, p. 270).

Unlearning necessarily involves separation from one’s self concept, as it has been culturally conditioned to conform to familial, group, occupational or organizational allegiances. According to Rank (1932/1989), unlearning or breaking out of our shell from the inside is “a separation [that] is so hard, not only because it involves persons and ideas that one reveres, but because the victory is always, at bottom, and in some form, won over a part of one’s ego” (p. 375).

In the organizational context, learning how to unlearn is vital because what we assume to be true has merged into our identity. We refer to the identity of an individual as a “mindset.” We refer to the identity of an organizational group as a “culture.” Action learners learn how to question, probe and separate from, both kinds of identity—i.e., their “individual” selves and their “social” selves. By opening themselves to critical inquiry, they begin to learn how to emancipate themselves from what they "know" – they learn how to unlearn.

In 1974, the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker
Ernest Becker
Ernest Becker was a cultural anthropologist and interdisciplinary scientific thinker and writer. He is noted for his 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death.-Early life:...

 won the Pulitzer prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

 for The Denial of Death (1973), which was based on Rank’s post-Freudian writings, especially Will Therapy (1929–31), Psychology and the Soul (1930) and Art and Artist (1932/1989). The feeling of anxiety, writes Rank in Will Therapy (1929–31), divides into two currents, running in opposite directions: one toward separation and individuation; the other toward union and collectivity. The outbreak of neurosis typically comes from the streaming together of these two fears—which Rank also calls the "fear of living" [Lebensangst] and the "fear of dying" [Todesangst] – “which, even in The Trauma of Birth, I had designated as the fear of both going forward and of going backward” (Rank, 1929–31, p. 124). A crisis "seems to break out at a certain age when the life fear which has restricted the I’s development meets with the death fear as it increases with growth and maturity," writes Rank in Will Therapy (1929–31). "The individual then feels himself driven forward by regret for wasted life and the desire to retrieve it. But this forward driving fear is now death fear, the fear of dying without having lived, which, even so, is held in check by fear of life" (pp. 188–189).

The "fear of life" is the fear of separation and individuation. The "fear of death" is the fear of union and merger—in essence, the loss of individuality. Both separation and union, however, are desired as well as feared since the "will to separate" correlates with the creative impulse and the "will to unite" with the need for love. To respond obsessively just to one need—by choosing to separate "totally" or to merge "totally" -- is to have the other thrown back at one's self.

According to Rank (1929–31), "Birth fear remains always more universal, cosmic as it were, loss of a connection with a greater whole [einen größeren Ganzen], in the last analysis with the 'All' [dem All] ... The fear in birth, which we have designated as fear of life, seems to me actually the fear of having to live as an isolated individual, and not the reverse, the fear of loss of individuality (death fear). That would mean, however, that primary fear [Urangst] corresponds to a fear of separation from the whole [vom All], therefore a fear of individuation, on account of which I would like to call it fear of life, although it may appear later as fear of the loss of this dearly bought individuality as fear of death, of being dissolved again into the whole [ins All). Between these two fear possibilities these poles of fear, the individual is thrown back and forth all his life, which accounts for the fact that we have not been able to trace fear back to a single root, or to overcome it therapeutically" (ibid., p. 124).

On a microcosmic level, therapy is a process of learning how to give and take, surrender and assert, merge and individuate, unite and separate—without being trapped in a whipsaw of opposites. Therapist and client, like everyone else, seek to find a constructive balance between separation and union. In psychological health, the contact boundary that links I and Thou "harmoniously [fuses] the edges of each without confusing them," Rank wrote in Art and Artist (1932/1989, p. 104). Joining together in feeling, therapist and client do not lose themselves but, rather, re-discover and re-create themselves. In the simultaneous dissolution of their difference in a greater whole, therapist and client surrender their painful isolation for a moment, only to have individuality returned to them in the next, re-energized and enriched by the experience of "loss."

"[T]he love feeling," Rank observes in a lecture delivered in 1927 at the University of Pennsylvania, "unites our I with the other, with the Thou [dem Du], with men, with the world, and so does away with fear. What is unique in love is that—beyond the fact of uniting—it rebounds on the I. Not only, I love the other as my I, as part of my I, but the other also makes my I worthy of love. The love of the Thou [des Liebe des Du] thus places a value on one's own I. Love abolishes egoism, it merges the self in the other to find it again enriched in one's own I. This unique projection and introjection of feeling rests on the fact that one can really only love the one who accepts our own self [unser eigene Selbst] as it is, indeed will not have it otherwise than it is, and whose self we accept as it is." (Rank, 1996, p. 154)

On a macrocosmic level, taking the experience of love as far as humanly possible, to the boundary of the spiritual, Rank compared the artist's "giving" and the enjoyer's "finding" of art with the dissolution and rediscovery of the self in mutual love. "The art-work," says Rank in Art and Artist, "presents a unity, alike in its effect and in its creation, and this implies a spiritual unity between the artist and the recipient" (Rank, 1932/1989, p. 113). It is in art, and its correlative, love, that microcosm meets macrocosm, the human meets the spiritual. At the height of the individuating impulse, the "will to separate," artists feel most strongly the longing for attachment, the "will to unite." Although artists begin the creative process by separating from their fellow human beings and liberating themselves from conforming to the past, escaping from the anxiety of influence, eventually the creative impulse merges into a desire for a return to "a greater whole," to "the ALL" (Rank, 1929–31, p. 155) -- in human terms, to the "collective" that alone has the power to immortalize the artist with the approval it grants the artwork:

"For this very essence of man, his soul, which the artist puts into his work and which is represented by it, is found again in the work by the enjoyer, just as the believer finds his soul in religion or in God, with whom he feels himself to be one. It is on this identity of the spiritual ... and not on a psychological identification with the artist that [aesthetic pleasure] ultimately depends... But both of them, in the simultaneous dissolution of their individuality in a greater whole, enjoy, as a high pleasure, the personal enrichment of that individuality through this feeling of oneness. They have yielded up their mortal ego for a moment, fearlessly and even joyfully, to receive it back in the next, the richer for this universal feeling (Rank, 1932/1989, pp. 109–110).

In one of his most poetic passages, Rank suggests that this transcendent feeling implies not only a "spiritual unity" between artist and enjoyer, I and Thou, but also "with a Cosmos floating in mystic vapors in which present, past, and future are dissolved" (Rank, 1932/1989, p. 113)--an identity with "the ALL" that once was but is no more. The healing nature of artistic experience, Rank believed, affirms difference but, paradoxically, also "leads to the release from difference, to the feeling of unity with the self, with the other, with the cosmos" (Rank, 1929–31, p. 58). In art, microcosm meets macrocosm. Of the uncanny feeling of emotional unity we experience in surrendering ourselves—giving up temporarily the burden of our difference—to the Other in art, Rank writes in Art and Artist: "[It] produces a satisfaction which suggests that it is more than a matter of the passing identification of two individuals, that it is the potential restoration of a union with the Cosmos, which once existed and was then lost. The individual psychological root of this sense of unity I discovered (at the time of writing The Trauma of Birth, 1924) in the prenatal condition, which the individual in his yearning for immortality strives to restore. Already, in that earliest stage of individualization, the child is not only factually one with the mother but beyond that, one with the world, with a Cosmos floating in mystic vapors in which present, past, and future are dissolved. The individual urge to restore this lost unity is (as I have formerly pointed out) an essential factor in the production of human cultural values" (Rank, 1932/1989, p. 113).

No one has expressed the conflict between the will to separate and the will to unite better than Ernest Becker (1973), whose award-winning The Denial of Death captured the largest—macrocosmic—meaning of separation and union for Rank: "On the one hand the creature is impelled by a powerful desire to identify with the cosmic forces, to merge himself with the rest of nature. On the other hand he wants to be unique, to stand out as something different and apart" (Becker, 1973, pp. 151–152). "You can see that man wants the impossible: He wants to lose his isolation and keep it at the same time. He can't stand the sense of separateness, and yet he can't allow the complete suffocation of his vitality. He wants to expand by merging with the powerful beyond that transcends him, yet he wants while merging with it to remain individual and aloof ..." (ibid., p. 155).

On a microcosmic level, however, the life-long oscillation between the two "poles of fear" can be made more bearable, according to Rank, in a relationship with another person who accepts one's uniqueness and difference, and allows for the emergence of the creative impulse—without too much guilt or anxiety for separating from the other. Living fully requires "seeking at once isolation and union" (Rank, 1932/1989, p. 86), finding the courage to accept both simultaneously, without succumbing to the Angst that leads a person to be whipsawed from one pole to the other. Creative solutions for living emerge out of the fluctuating, ever-expanding and ever-contracting, space between separation and union. Art and the creative impulse, said Rank in Art and Artist, "originate solely in the constructive harmonization of this fundamental dualism of all life" (1932/1989, p. xxii).

On a macrocosmic level, the consciousness of living—the dim awareness that we are alive for a moment on this planet as it spins, meaninglessly, around the cold and infinite galaxy—gives human beings "the status of a small god in nature," according to Ernest Becker: "Yet, at the same time, as the Eastern sages also knew, man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still has the gill marks to prove it ... Man is literally split in two: he has awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with" (Becker, 1973, p. 26).

Through the influence of Ernest Becker's writings, Rank's eternal dialectic between "life fear and death fear" has been tested experimentally in Terror Management Theory
Terror management theory
Terror Management Theory , in social psychology, states that all human behavior is motivated by the fear of mortality. The theory purports to help explain human activity both at the individual and societal level...

 by Skidmore College
Skidmore College
Skidmore College is a private, independent, liberal arts college with an enrollment of approximately 2,500 students. The college is located in the town of Saratoga Springs, New York State....

 psychology professor Sheldon Solomon
Sheldon Solomon
Sheldon Solomon is a professor of psychology who teaches at Skidmore College. He earned his B.A. from Franklin and Marshall College and his doctoral degree from the University of Kansas...

, University of Arizona psychology professor Jeff Greenberg
Jeff Greenberg
Jeff Greenberg is a professor at the University of Arizona.He is notable for coining the concept of Terror Management Theory, with two of his colleagues, Sheldon Solomon and Tom Pyszczynski....

, and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs psychology professor Tom Pyszczynski
Tom Pyszczynski
Tom Pyszczynski is an American Social Psychologist.He is notable, together with Jeff Greenberg and Sheldon Solomon, for founding the field of Terror Management Theory.-References:...


The American priest and theologian, Matthew Fox
Matthew Fox (priest)
Matthew Fox is an American priest and theologian. Formerly a member of the Dominican order within the Roman Catholic Church, Fox is now a member of the Episcopal Church....

, founder of Creation Spirituality and Wisdom University, considers Rank to be one of the most important psychologists of the 20th century. See, especially, Fox's book, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2002), paperback: ISBN 1-58542-329-7.

Stanislav Grof
Stanislav Grof
Stanislav Grof is a psychiatrist, one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of analyzing, healing, and obtaining growth and insight into the human psyche...

, a founder of transpersonal psychology
Transpersonal psychology
Transpersonal psychology is a form of psychology that studies the transpersonal, self-transcendent or spiritual aspects of the human experience....

, based much of his work in prenatal and perinatal psychology on Rank's The Trauma of Birth (Kripal, 2007, pp. 249–269).

In 2008, the philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnstone published The Roots of Morality (Pennsylvania State University Press), which contains an analysis of Rank's argument that "immortality ideologies" are an abiding human response to the painful riddle of death. Sheets-Johnstone compares Rank's thought to that of three major Western philosophers—René Descartes, Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida: "Because immortality ideologies were originally recognized and in fact so named by Rank, a close examination of his writings on the subject is not only apposite but is itself philosophically rewarding ... Rank was a Freudian dissident who, in introducing the concept of immortality ideologies, traced out historical and psychological roots of 'soul-belief' (Seelenglaube)... [My chapter] points up the extraordinary cogency of Rank's distinction between the rational and the irrational to the question of the human need for immortality ideologies" (Sheets-Johnstone, 2008, p. 64). Sheets-Johnstone concludes her book on a note reminiscent of Rank's plea for the human value of mutual love over arid intellectual insight: "Surely it is time for Homo sapiens sapiens to turn away from the pursuit of domination over all and to begin cultivating and developing its sapiential wisdom in the pursuit of caring, nurturing and strengthening that most precious muscle which is its heart" (ibid., pp. 405–06).

Today, Rank can be seen as one of the great pioneers in the fields of humanistic psychology
Humanistic psychology
Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective which rose to prominence in the mid-20th century, drawing on the work of early pioneers like Carl Rogers and the philosophies of existentialism and phenomenology...

, existential psychotherapy, Gestalt therapy
Gestalt therapy
Gestalt therapy is an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility, and that focuses upon the individual's experience in the present moment, the therapist-client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person's life, and the self-regulating...

 and transpersonal psychology
Transpersonal psychology
Transpersonal psychology is a form of psychology that studies the transpersonal, self-transcendent or spiritual aspects of the human experience....


Major publications by date of first publication

Year German Title (Current Edition) English Translation (Current Edition)
1907 Der Künstler The Artist
1909 Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden (Turia & Kant, 2000, ISBN 3-85132-141-3) The Myth of the Birth of the Hero (Johns Hopkins, 2004, ISBN 0-8018-7883-7)
1911 Die Lohengrin Sage [doctoral thesis] The Lohengrin Saga
1912 Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage The Incest Theme in Literature and Legend (Johns Hopkins, 1991, ISBN 0-8018-4176-3)
1913 Die Bedeutung der Psychoanalyse fur die Geisteswissenschaften [with Hanns Sachs] The Significance of Psychoanalysis for the Human Sciences
1914 "Traum und Dichtung" and "Traum und Mythus" in Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

's Die Traumdeutung
The Interpretation of Dreams eds. 4-7: "Dreams and Poetry"; "Dreams and Myth" added to Ch. VI, "The Dream-Work." In Dreaming by the Book L. Marinelli and A. Mayer, Other, 2003. ISBN 1-59051-009-7
1924 Das Trauma der Geburt (Psychosozial-Verlag, 1998, ISBN 3-932133-25-0) The Trauma of Birth, 1929 (Dover, 1994, ISBN 0-486-27974-X)
1924 Entwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse [with Sándor Ferenczi
Sándor Ferenczi
Sándor Ferenczi was a Hungarian psychoanalyst, a key theorist of the psychoanalytic school and a close associate of Sigmund Freud.-Biography:...

The Development of Psychoanalysis / Developmental Goals of Psychoanalysis
1925 Der Doppelgänger [written 1914] The Double (Karnac, 1989, ISBN 0-946439-58-3)
1929 Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit Truth and Reality (Norton, 1978, ISBN 0-393-00899-1)
1930 (Consists of Volumes II and III of "Technik der Psychoanalyse": Vol. II, "Die Analytische Reaktion in ihren konstruktiven Elementen"; Vol. III, "Die Analyse des Analytikers und seiner Rolle in der Gesamtsituaton". Copyright 1929, 1931 by Franz Deuticke.) Will Therapy, 1929–31 (First published in English in 1936;reprinted in paperback by Norton, 1978, ISBN 0-393-00898-3)
1930 Seelenglaube und Psychologie Psychology and the Soul (Johns Hopkins, 2003, ISBN 0-8018-7237-5)
1932 Kunst und Künstler (Psychosozial-Verlag, 2000, ISBN 3-89806-023-3) Art and Artist (Norton, 1989, ISBN 0-393-30574-0)
1933 Erziehung und Weltanschauung : Eine Kritik d. psychol. Erziehungs-Ideologie, München: Reinhardt, 1933 Modern Education
1941   Beyond Psychology (Dover, 1966, ISBN 0-486-20485-5)
1996   A Psychology of Difference: The American Lectures [talks given 1924–1938; edited and with an introductory essay by Robert Kramer (Princeton, 1996, ISBN 0-691-04470-8)

External links