Otto Rank: biography of this Viennese psychoanalyst

Otto Rank’s work on psychoanalysis has been very extensive, highlighting his theory of birth trauma which has sparked much controversy, both inside and outside of psychoanalysis.

This Viennese psychoanalyst, disciple and friend of Sigmund Freud for twenty years, was one of the main precursors of brief dynamic psychotherapy, framed in the current of psychoanalysis.

Below we will see a brief biography of Otto Rank, who is considered by many to be the second most prolific psychoanalyst, after Freud himself, given the historical and social context in which Rank and his contemporaries lived between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. XX.

    Brief biography of Otto Rank

    Otto Rosenfeld, better known as Otto Rank because he changed his last name due to disagreements with his father, was born in the city of Vienna (Austria) in 1884, in a humble and hard-working family.

    In his youth, Rank began working as a mechanic while combining it with reading and writing at night, two of his great passions.

    His first major publication was a book known as “The Artist”, part of the psychoanalytic current, which fell into the hands of Sigmund Freud, who was impressed to read it and, for this reason, contacted Otto Rank. to invite him to join the Psychological Society of Wednesdays, of which he would later be appointed secretary general.

    At 21, Rank had become a friend and disciple of Freud and, following his advice, he refused to study medicine in order to study at the university, being supported at all times by Freud, until he obtained his doctorate in philosophy.

    There are sources which claim that Rank became Freud’s closest collaborator for 20 years and that he was one of the most important psychoanalysts who achieved great success and also suffered the vicissitudes of the development of the psychoanalysis.

      After World War I

      After the end of World War I, Otto Rank got married and began his work as a psychoanalyst, combining his work as a psychotherapist with that of director of a publishing house known as “Internationaler Psychanalytischer Verlag” and also as co-editor, together with psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, of the International Journal of Pycho-Analysis.

      Rank’s life has not been without setbacks and his colleague Ernest Jones has gone so far as to say that in the years following the end of World War I, Rank underwent a major change in his personality traits and that this was one of the main reasons why, in the 1920s, she began to separate from the traditional psychoanalysis that prevailed at the time.

      It was at this time that he published The Traumatism of Birth (1923), based on an idea of ​​Freud, characterized by the allegation that at birth human beings experience anxiety for the first time, triggering the paradigm of “this emotional state”.

        Break with Freud and his theories of psychoanalysis

        After twenty years of being friends and disciple of Freud, they both ended up separating their lives and following different paths in 1926., the same year, Rank moved to Paris. This fact was promoted by the theory of birth trauma, which has been interpreted in such a way as to undermine the theory of the Odipus complex developed by Freud. It gradually separated from the psychoanalytic movement, becoming harshly criticized by some of its most loyal members.

        Once out of the psychoanalytic movement, Rank continued his work under the principles that efficacy and common sense prevailed over therapy itself, opposing therapists who placed the theory of his therapeutic model above its own. efficiency.

        In 1936 he moved to New York, continuing his work as a therapist until his death in 1939., a few weeks after Freud’s death.

          Main theories of Otto Rank

          Otto Rank’s psychoanalytic theory presents, among his main ideas, that of the traumatic event, which he considers to be birth and the anguish that this entails. This theory has sparked much controversy over the years and is one of the reasons Rank separates “in crescendo” from central ideas of Freudian psychoanalytic theory, because Rank’s theory reduced the relevance of Oedipal conflicts from ” human being “.

          Rank was one of the first psychologists to study attachment, highlighting the mother-child relationship in the early years of life, which has an impact on later development. In this regard, developed a theory of neurosis, based on the separation anxiety experienced by humans and marking the rest of their lives.

          Each person is seen on the basis of Rank’s psychoanalytic theory as the creator of their own life, in that they are seen as an artist who has the ability to develop the life they desire, thus affirming their own individuality. . A person with neurosis is considered, according to Rank’s theory, as a missing artist.

          The process of individuality involves separations and hardships, overcoming group resistance and all of this comes with feelings of guilt and anxiety. Therefore, the psychoanalyst in this process will be responsible for making it easier for the patient to be himself in the therapeutic sessions, so that he can accept his individuality with as little guilt and anguish as possible.

          Explain the existentialism of people like a struggle between the predisposition to be different from others and thus become a self-sufficient human being and the need to hold on to family and community.

          He uses the analogy of the uterus in the representation of the family, a symbol of security in the lives of people who break up when some of its members become independent.

          Another postulate of Rank was to claim consciousness and self-expression, in the face of the emphasis Freud’s psychoanalysis placed on the unconscious and repression, focusing more on creativity and the will to be. human than instinct and desire.

          His contributions to psychology and psychotherapy

          This tireless psychoanalyst has developed several contributions throughout his life, highlighting those exposed in this section.

          In the therapy developed by Rank, the main objective was to help patients to be reborn psychologically. to overcome the trauma of their birth.

          To achieve this psychic rebirth, the therapist seeks to connect emotionally with his patient and, after a psychotherapeutic process that takes place throughout the sessions, to end this process when the patient has been able to emerge in his own individuality. came away enriched and renewed from the experience, in addition to having learned to endure the trauma of separation.

          One of Otto Rank’s main postulates in psychotherapy was their proposal for a therapeutic model based on the time limitation of the process, that is to say the promulgation of a therapy less extensive than those which were framed in psychoanalysis in the past. This time limitation imposed it on her therapeutic model in order to facilitate the independence of her patients vis-à-vis the psychotherapist after the end of therapy, beginning to lay the foundations for the development of brief dynamic psychotherapy.

          Rank was also distinguished by his various contributions to psychoanalysis applied to psychological therapy. In addition it has developed a great work as an impeller, as much of the theory as of the practice, of the psychoanalysis.

          too much he claimed the emotional experience upon which psychological therapy was to be based. Considering thus that many classical psychoanalysts treated their patients with disaffection, so that the emotional experience of the patient diminishes and thus the treatment is dehumanized.

          In addition, he considered it more important to focus during therapy on the present and, even more, on the here and now, unlike other classical psychoanalytic therapies which focused more on the present. transferential interpretation of the patient’s past, justifying it, by focusing on the past, the patient defensively escapes from what he has experienced in the present moment.


            Otto Rank has developed prolific work in all areas in which he has worked, including that of a writer., where the works presented below stand out.

            In 1907, he concluded his book entitled “The Artist”, which dealt with art, artists and psychoanalysis, allowing Rank to demonstrate a great knowledge of the psychoanalytic model.

            “The Myth of the Hero’s Birth” is a work that Rank developed in 1909 and, three years later, published “The Reason for Incest for Poetry and Legend”.

            Considered Otto Rank’s most important work, the one he published in 1924 as “The Trauma of Birth”, where he presents his theory of “primary anxiety”, which explains the state of anxiety experienced by babies when they separate from their mother, after being in the womb for 9 months. The same year, he also published his work entitled “Don Juan”.

            In 1925, together with another psychoanalyst known as Sándor Ferenczi, he published the book entitled “Objectives for the development of psychoanalysis” which postulates a model of psychotherapy limited in time, as well as two other ideas which will lay the foundations of the psychoanalysis. development of short dynamic psychotherapy: the first is that the psychotherapist will take a more active role in the therapy sessions in order to seek material from the unconscious side of the patient and the second is that he should be responsible for setting a time limit for the sessions in order to that they do not extend in time indefinitely.

            In addition to the book he published with Ferenczi the same year, he also published his work known as “The Double”.

            In the years when he was more removed from the psychoanalytic movement, he published works such as “The Art and the Artist” in 1932; “Will Therapy”, in 1936 and; finally, “Truth and Reality”, published in 1936.

            Bibliographical references

            • Echevarría, R. (2011, July). Remember Otto Rank. Themes of psychoanalysis, 2.
            • Rodriguez, A. (2019). Manual of psychotherapies. Barcelona: Herder.
            • Sheppard, R. (2019). Freud. The man, the scientist and the birth of psychoanalysis. Madrid: Oberon Publishing.

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