The Neo-Freudian psychiatrists and psychologists were a group of loosely linked American theorists of the mid-twentieth century, who were all influenced by Sigmund Freud, but who extended his theories, often in social or cultural directions. They have been defined as 'American writers who attempted to restate Freudian theory in sociological terms and to eliminate its connections with biology'.[1]

Dissidents and post-Freudians

The term "neo-Freudian" is sometimes loosely (but inaccurately) used to cover those early followers of Freud who at some point accepted the basic tenets of Freud's theory of psychoanalysis but later dissented from it. 'The best-known of these dissenters are Alfred Adler and Carl Jung...The Dissidents'.[2]

The 'Independent Analysts' Group of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, as distinct from the Kleinians and what are now called the Contemporary Freudians',[3] who include figures such as Christopher Bollas, D. W. Winnicott and Adam Phillips, are — like the ego-psychologists such as Heinz Hartmann or the intersubjectivist analysts in the States — perhaps best considered of as 'different schools of psychoanalytic thought',[4] or as ' developments'.[5]

It was only in a jocular, derogative way that one might have spoken in the Eighties of 'today's nouvelle vague neo-Freudians, Kernberg and Kohut'.[6]

Neo-Freudian ideas

An interest in the social approach to psychodynamics was the major theme linking the so-called Neo-Freudians. Adler had perhaps been 'the first to explore and develop a comprehensive social theory of the psychodynamic self';[7] and 'after Adler's death, some of his views...came to exert considerable influence on neo-Freudian theory':[8] indeed, it has been suggested of 'Horney and Sullivan...that these theorists could be more accurately described as "neo-Adlerians" than "neo-Freudians"'.[9]

As early as 1936, however, Fromm had been independently regretting that psychoanalysts 'did not concern themselves with the variety of life experience...and therefore did not try to explain psychic structure as determined by social structure'.[10]

Horney too 'emphasised the role culture exerts in the development of personality and downplayed the classical driven features outlined by Freud'.[11]

Erikson for his part stressed that 'psychoanalysis today is...shifting its the study of the ego's roots in social organisation', and that its method should be 'what H. S. Sullivan called "participant", and systematically so'.[12]

Harald Schultz-Hencke (1892–1953), doctor and psychotherapist, was thoroughly busy with questions like impulse and inhibition and with the therapy of psychoses as well as the interpretation of dreams. He worked with Matthias Göring in his institute (Deutsches Institut für psychologische Forschung und Psychotherapie). He created the name "Neopsychoanalyse" in 1945.[13]

The 'Neo-Freudian revolt against the orthodox theory of instincts' was thus anchored in a sense of what Sullivan termed '"our incredibly culture-ridden life"'.[14] By their writings, and 'in accessible prose, Fromm, Horney, and others mounted a cultural and social critique which became almost conventional wisdom'.[15]

Through informal and more formal institutional links, such as the William Alanson White Institute, as well as through likeness of ideas, the Neo-Freudians made up a cohesively distinctive and influential psychodynamic movement.

Horney theorized that to deal with basic anxiety, the individual has three options:

Neo-Freudian, Abram Kardiner, was primarily interested in learning how a specific society acquires adaptation with respect to its own environment. He does this by forming within its members what he names a "basic personality." The "basic personality" can initially be traced to the operation of primary institutions. It ultimately creates clusters of unconscious motivations in the specific individual "which in turn are projected in the form of secondary institutions," such as reality systems. The basic personality finds expression in the secondary institutions.[17]


'Fenichel developed a stringent theoretical critique of the neo-Freudians',[18] which informed and fed into the way 'Herbert Marcuse, in his "Critique of Neo-Freudian Revisionism"...icily examines the tone of uplift and the Power of Positive Thinking that pervades the revisionists' writings, and mocks their claims to scientific seriousness'.[19]

In comparable fashion, 'an Mr Edward Glover, entitled Freudian or Neo-Freudian, directed entirely against the constructions of Mr Alexander'[20] equally used the term as a form of orthodox reproach.

In the wake of such contemporary criticism, a 'consistent critique levelled at most theorists cited above is that they compromise the intrapersonal interiority of the psyche'; but one may accept nonetheless that 'they have contributed an enduring and vital collection of standpoints relating to the human subject'.[21]

Influence and successors

In 1940, Carl Rogers had launched what would become person-centered psychotherapy, 'crediting its roots in the therapy of Rank...& in the neo-Freudian analysts — especially Karen Horney'.[22] A decade later, he would report that it had 'developed along somewhat different paths than the psychotherapeutic views of Horney or Sullivan, or Alexander and French, yet there are many threads of interconnection with these modern formulations of psychoanalytic thinking'.[23]

A half-century further on, whether by direct or by indirect influence, 'consistent with the traditions of these schools, current theorists of the social and psychodynamic self are working in the spaces between social and political theory and psychoanalysis (Wolfenstein 1993; Chodorow 1994; Hinshelwood 1996)'[24] once again.

Cultural offshoots

In his skit on Freud's remark that 'if my name were Oberhuber, my innovations would have found far less resistance',[25] Peter Gay, considering the notional eclipse of "Oberhuber" by his replacement Freud, adjudged that 'the prospect that deviants would have to be called neo-Oberhuberians, or Oberhuberian revisionists, contributed to the master's decline'.[26]


Others with possible Neo-Freudian links


  1. Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London 1995) p. 60
  2. Eric Berne, A Layman's Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis (Middlesex 1976) p. 277 and p. 298
  3. Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (London 1996) p. 177n
  4. John H. Padel, "Freudianism: Later Developments" in Richard Gregory ed, The Oxford Companion to the Mind (Oxford 1987) p. 270
  5. Jean-Michel Quinodox, Reading Freud (London 2005) p, ix
  6. Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (London 1988) p. 28
  7. Paul Brinich/Christopher Shelley, The Self and Personality Structure (Buckingham 2002) p. 61
  8. O. Zangwill, "Freud", in Gregory, Mind, p. 269
  9. Brinich, Self, p. 54
  10. Quoted in Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (London 1994) p. 132
  11. Brinich, Self, p. 61
  12. Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society (Middlesex 1973) p. 13-4
  13. Alain de Mijolla International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, 3 Vols., Publisher: Macmillan Reference USA; 1st edition (2005), ISBN 0-02-865927-9
  14. Martin Birnbach, Neo-Freudian Social Philosophy (Stanford 1961) p. 50
  15. Russell Jacoby, The Repression of Psychoanalysis: Otto Fenichel and the Political Freudians (Chicago 1986) p. 153
  16. Carlson, N. R. (2010). Psychology, the science of behaviour. (4 ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. p. 459
  17. Lunksy, L.L. "Neo-Freudian Social Philosophy ." Archives of Internal Medicine. 111.5 (1963): 680–680. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.
  18. Jacoby, Otto Fenichel and the political Freudians p. 153
  19. Malcolm, Impossible p. 28
  20. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (London 1994) p. 174
  21. Brinich, Self, p. 66
  22. Howard Kirschenbaum, The Life and Work of Carl Rogers (Ross-on-Wye 2007) p. 109
  23. Rogers, quoted in Kirschenbaum, Rogers p. 279
  24. Brinich, Self, p. 66
  25. Quoted in Peter Gay, Reading Freud (London 1990) p. 160
  26. Gay (1990), p. 163

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