“OTTO RANK AND THE MOBSTER”

In the twenties, Psychoanalysis had much more prestige in America than in Vienna itself where it was conceived. In particular, the New York Psychoanalytic Society had so many members that it was said that half of New Yorkers were engaged in psychoanalysis and the other half attended their practice. However, most psychoanalysts lacked first-hand information about the theoretical bases and procedures to follow in psychoanalytic therapy. For example, the use of hypnosis was abused, and even the knowledge about it was incomplete: they knew how to induce the hypnotic state in the patient, but they were unaware of the way to get him out (which was used by unscrupulous politicians to guarantee the vote). When Freud learned of these shortcomings, commissioned Otto Rank to travel to New York with the mission of bringing order to the New York Psychoanalytic Society.

Rank was fascinated by the skyscrapers. When he walked down the street he was always looking up, which several times was about to cost him his life. He soon realized that New York was a gold mine for psychoanalysts because “it was a neurotic city.” To save time, he proposed to the mayor to psychoanalyze the entire city through radio broadcasts, but the amount he asked for in exchange was exorbitant, so he had to resign himself to psychoanalyzing New Yorkers one by one. He started with the psychoanalysts themselves, which served them at the same time as training. He soon realized that these lacked the basic notions of psychoanalytic practice. To begin with, he had to convince them that it was the patient who should occupy the couch and not the analyst. He also taught them that hypnosis was only an instrument and not an end in itself. Also, he provided to them certain keys for the interpretation of dreams. He explained that dreaming about an elephant did not imply the imminent irruption of an elephant in the life of the patient.

In America, the pace of life was very different from that of old Europe. In Vienna, completing a psychoanalysis sometimes took years of endless weekly sessions. In New York, on the contrary, a patient was psychoanalyzed in three or at most four sessions of ten minutes each. And the rate was the same, so really psychoanalysis was a gold mine. Rank adapted to this fast pace and soon became a millionaire. When Freud telegraphed telling it was time for him to return, Rank played dumb. In addition, far from Freud, he had begun to develop his own ideas. The fact is that he became a celebrity in New York. Even the mobsters who, as a result of Prohibition, had become the virtual bosses of the city, asked for an appointment in his consultation. Psychoanalyzing a member of “Murder Inc.” without getting shot or stabbed was not an easy task. On one occasion, the famous gangster Dutch Schultz showed up at Rank’s practice without an appointment but wielding a submachine gun. Rank wondered what Freud would have said of psychoanalyzing someone under such conditions. Dutch did not allow Rank to sit behind him as dictated by the psychoanalyst’s protocol. He wanted to tell Rank a recurring dream that tormented him. In it, Dutch was comfortably lying on a sofa when suddenly the door opened and his mortal enemy, the prosecutor Thomas Dewey, appeared unexpectedly so that Dutch was forced to escape by jumping out the window. The problem was that the floor was the fifteenth. Rank applied the Freudian method of interpreting dreams, giving Dutch’s dream a symbolic content. According to him, the sofa represented the maternal womb, and the prosecutor Dewey was the subconscious image of Dutch’s father, of whom Dutch was jealous since he was still a foetus. Dutch was so relieved by that interpretation that he put aside his weapon and, for the first time in a while, relaxed. But Rank told him that at that time another patient had an appointment, and at saying this, the door opened and the next patient made his appearance. Upon seeing the prosecutor Dewey, whom he was the particular target, Dutch did a cartwheel and, in a reflex action, jumped out of the window.

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Otto Rank in 1924

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