Searching for the Real ‘Anna O.’

THE SECRET MIND OF BERTHA PAPPENHEIM: The Woman Who Invented Freud’s Talking Cure, by Gabriel Brownstein

Bertha Pappenheim stopped eating and sleeping. She lost her language and ability to move. Her eyes crossed and her muscles spasmed.

She suffered, her doctors said, from the prevailing diagnosis afflicting primarily well-to-do women in fin de siècle Vienna: hysteria.

What this meant was and is a source of debate: Did her facial paralysis emerge from a biological condition? Was her intermittent deafness psychological — or something more metaphysical?

Her physician, Josef Breuer, taken with the engaging and beautiful young woman, began visiting her daily. Sometimes Pappenheim made up fairy tales, sometimes she spoke of her hallucinations. Together they traced the source of her trauma to her father’s sickroom and with the repressed unearthed, Pappenheim began to improve.

There was catharsis in this exchange. Pappenheim herself described the process, which came to be known as “the talking cure,” as “chimney sweeping.”

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