Otto Rank

Otto Rank

Otto Rank - original name Otto Rosenfeld b. April 22, 1884, Vienna d. Oct. 31, 1939, New York City Austrian psychologist who extended psychoanalytic theory to the study of legend, myth, art, and creativity and who suggested that the basis of anxiety neurosis is a psychological trauma occurring during the birth of the individual.

Rank came from a poor family and attended trade school, working in a machine shop while trying to write at night. His reading of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams inspired him to write Der Knstler (1907; "The Artist"), an attempt to explain art by using psychoanalytic principles.

This work brought him to the attention of Freud, who helped arrange his entry to the University of Vienna, from which he received his doctorate in philosophy in 1912. While studying at the university, he legally adopted his pen name of Otto Rank and published two more works, Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden (1909; The Myth of the Birth of the Hero) and Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (1912; "The Incest Motif in Poetry and Saga"), in which he attempted to show how the Oedipus complex supplies abundant themes for poetry and myth.

Rank served as secretary to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and as editor of its minutes, and from 1912 to 1924 he edited the Internationale Zeitschrift fr Psychoanalyse ("International Journal of Psychoanalysis").

In 1919 he founded a publishing house devoted to the publication of psychoanalytic works and directed it until 1924.

Publication of Das Trauma der Geburt und seine Bedeutung fr die Psychoanalyse (1924; The Trauma of Birth) caused Rank's break with Freud and other members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, which expelled him from its membership.

The book, which argued that the transition from the womb to the outside world causes tremendous anxiety in the infant that may persist as anxiety neurosis into adulthood, was seen by many members of the Viennese society as conflicting with the concepts of psychoanalysis.

Following the break, which became complete in the mid-1920s, Rank taught and practiced in the United States and Europe (chiefly Paris) for about 10 years, settling in New York City in 1936.

During the 1930s Rank developed a concept of the will as the guiding force in personality development. The will could be a positive force for controlling and using a person's instinctual drives, which were seen by Freud as the motivating factors in human behaviour.

Thus, in Rank's view, resistance by a patient during psychoanalysis was a manifestation of this will and not inherently a negative factor; instead of wearing down such resistance, as a Freudian analyst would attempt, Rank would use it to direct self-discovery and development.

Rank's attempt to reduce all of psychology to a monolithic system based on the birth trauma is viewed as a serious departure from a scientific orientation.

But his emphasis on personal growth and self-actualization and his application.

Another interesting idea Rank introduced was the contest between life and death.  He felt we have a "life instinct" that pushes us to become individuals, competent and independent, and a "death instinct" that pushes us to be part of a family, community, or humanity.  We also feel a certain fear of these two.  The "fear of life" is the fear of separation, loneliness, and alienation;  the "fear of death" is the fear of getting lost in the whole, stagnating, being no-one.

Our lives are filled with separations, beginning with birth.  Rank's earliest work, in fact, concerned birth trauma, the idea that the anxiety experienced during birth was the model for all anxiety experienced afterwards.  After birth, there's weaning and discipline and school and work and heartbreaks....  But avoiding these separations is, literally, avoiding life and choosing death -- never finding out what you can do, never leaving your family or small town, never leaving the womb!

So we must face our fears, recognizing that, to be fully developed, we must embrace both life and death, become individuals and nurture our relationships with others.

Otto Rank never founded a "school" of psychology like Freud and Jung did, but his influences can be found everywhere.  He has had a significant impact on Carl Rogers, a more subtle one on the older Adler, as well as Fromm and Horney, and an influence on the existentialists, especially Rollo May.  Other people have "reinvented" his ideas, and we can find bits and pieces of Otto Rank in competence motivation, reactance theory, and terror management theory.

If you would like to learn more about Otto Rank's theory, his most important works are Art and Artist, Truth and Reality, and Will Therapy.