Talking cure  

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The Talking Cure was a term originally offered, along with "chimney sweep", by Josef Breuer's patient Bertha Pappenheim (written about in Studies on Hysteria in 1893 as Anna O.) to describe the talking therapy that relieved her of her hysterical symptoms. 'On one occasion she related the details of the first appearance of a particular symptom and, to Breuer's great astonishment, this resulted in its complete disappearance'. (Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (Penguin 1964)p. 202) As Lacan later put it, 'the more Anna provided signifiers, the more she chattered on, the better it went'.



Bertha's symptoms - 'headaches, intervals of excitement, curious disturbances of vision, partial paralyses and loss of sensation' (Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for our Time (London 1988) p. 65) - which had no organic origin and are currently referred to as somatoform disorders, were found to ameliorate once repressed trauma and their related emotions were expressed, a process later called catharsis. 'Breuer rightly claimed a quarter of a century later that his treatment of Bertha Pappenheim contained "the germ cell of the whole of psychoanalysis"'. (ibid)

The term "talking cure" was later adopted by Sigmund Freud to describe the fundamental work of psychoanalysis, and in fact he referred to it, as well as the Anna O. case study, in North America in his Lectures on Psychoanalysis at Clark University, Worcester, MA, in September 1909: 'The patient herself, who, strange to say, could at this time only speak and understand English, christened this novel kind of treatment the "talking cure" or used to refer to it jokingly as "chimney-sweeping"'. (Sigmund Freud, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Penguin 1995) p. 8-9)

The 'talking cure' is a phrase that is now used more widely by a variety of talking therapies.

Celebrity endorsement

Diane Keaton attributes her recovery from bulimia to the talking cure: "All those disjointed words and half-sentences, all those complaining, awkward phrases...made the difference. It was the talking cure; the talking cure that gave me a way out of addiction; the damn talking cure".


'Psychoanalytically, what appears as a "talking cure" may well be a placebo, or at best a deeply craved, addictive painkiller'.

See also

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