Otto Rank, cropped from the larger group photograph shown below.
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Images via Wikimedia
Commons (public domain).

Otto Rank, 1884-1939, was the first lay-analyst, or non medically-qualified member, of the pioneering Vienna Psychoanalytic [hereafter Psa.] Society. His introduction in 1906, we are reliably informed, was via Alfred Adler, 1870-1937, and would have led to a visit to the growing Wednesday Psychological Society, (Jones, 1955: Ch. "Emergence from Isolation"). Rank appears to have been from an under-privileged background, and received much encouragement from Freud to complete his education, attend the University of Vienna and eventually to present, in 1911, a pioneering psycho-literary study on the Lohengrin Saga of mediaeval German "Romance," by Richard Wagner, 1813-1883. This formed the first PhD dissertation in applied psychoanalytic studies. Previously, Freud had also directed Rank towards the latter's successful publication of his early book-manuscript Der Künstler (The Artist) of 1906-07.

Freud's high opinion of Rank was testified by the appointment of the younger colleague to a number of important early positions: c.1908 paid Secretary to the developing Vienna Psa. Society; co-editor in 1911 of the new journal of applied studies Imago, named after the profound, eponymous and sole (autobiographical) novel by Swiss poet Carl Spitteler, 1845-1924 (chosen by Rank's co-editor, Hanns Sachs, 1881-1947); and from 1912 co-editor of the new principal journal Internationale Zeitschrift für ärtzliche Psychoanalyse (International Journal for Medical Psychoanalysis). From 1914 and the 4th edn. to 1930 and the 7th edn. of Freud's major work The Interpretation of Dreams, Rank not only took responsibility for updating the very large bibliographies in the book, but also contributed two new chapters on Applied Psychoanalysis (Rank, 1914).

The "Committee" in 1922 (from left to right): Otto Rank, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Abraham, with Max Eitingon, Sándor Ferenczi, Ernest Jones, and Hanns Sachs. Source: as above.

At the 3rd International Psa. Congress, held at Weimar in 1911, Rank presented a paper on "The Motif of Nudity in Poetry and Legends." A year later, as part of the reaction of Freud's closest supporters to the difficulties presented by Carl Gustav Jung, 1875-1961, and others in the Zurich group, Rank became the youngest member of the famously protective inner "Committee." His experiences in the General European War, 1914-1918, were almost disastrous for a sensitive personality: conscripted in June 1915 by which time all hopes of early victory had been dashed for all the belligerents and their populations; transferred to distant Krakow in 1916; a winter of depression, followed by a second more severe attack in late 1917, and such weighty matters have been cited for his "changed" personality post-war, when his correspondence with one other Committee member [largely lost/unpublished] may have been the first signs of the future break with the circle of Freud (Jones, 1957). An alternative view could point to Rank's meeting of his future wife, Beata Minzer, 1886-1961, at Krakow; their marriage days before the end of war, and a prompt return of the couple to Vienna, where Rank presented his wife to Freud. Beata Rank would subsequently make herself into a competent psychoanalyst and mother, even overcoming Freud's misgivings about "the little Polish house-frau" of the talented Rank.

By 1924 Rank was ready to branch out on his own, both in technical matters (Ferenczi & Rank, 1924) and in theoretical questions (Rank, 1924). Whereas the new technical innovations of "active therapy" could be tolerated as individualistic variations amongst analysts, the theoretical divergence would become anathema, a fundamental overthrow of a principal Freudian shibboleth, namely the central theme of the Oedipus Complex in universal child development. With Rank's presentation of apparent evidence for a "birth-trauma," occurring some years earlier than Freud's previously formative early Oedipal events, and also with Rank's new and caustic emphasis on the terminological "pre-oedipal" primacy, battle-lines were soon drawn for a repetition of the earlier dissensions suffered with Carl Gustav Jung, 1875-1961; and with the Viennese Alfred Adler, 1870-1937 and Wilhelm Stekel, 1868-1940.

From 1926-1939 the Ranks were based in Paris, and Otto made frequent visits to the US and universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Yale in the dissemination of the new depth-psychology insights. Rank died of kidney complications in New York City, to where Beata eventually emigrated.

Related Material


Jones, Ernest.The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. Vols. II and III. London: Hogarth Press, 1955, 1957.

Liebermann, E. James and Kramer, R. The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto Rank. Inside Psychoanalysis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2012.

Rank, Otto.Der Künstler. Ansätze zu einer Sexualpsychologie. (The Artist. Approaches to a Sexual Psychology). 1907. Leipzig, Vienna, Zurich: Internationaler Psa. Verlag, 1918.

_____. Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden: Versuch einer Mythendeutung. (The Myth of the Birth of the Hero: An Attempt at Myth Interpretation). 1909. Vienna & Leipzig: Franz Deuticke Verlag, [1909] 1922.

_____. Traum und Dichtung (Dreams and Poetry) and Traum und Mythus (Dreams and Myths). In S. Freud. Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams). 4th edn. Leipzig & Vienna: Deuticke, 1914.

_____. Das Trauma der Geburt und seiner Bedeutung für die Psychoanalyse. (The Trauma of Birth and Its Importance for Psychoanalysis). Leipzig, Vienna, Zurich. Internationaler Psa. Verlag. 1924.

_____. The Trauma of Birth. New York. Robert Brunner. [1924] 1952. (Later English editions of this, Rank's foremost book, include New York: Harper Collins, 1973 et seq.)

_____, and Ferenczi, S. Entwicklungsziele der Psychoanalyse. (The Development of Psychoanalysis). Nervous & Mental Diseases Publishing Co., 1925.

_____. Art and Artist. New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1932.

Created 01 March 2021