The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim
The Woman Who Invented Freud's Talking Cure
by Gabriel Brownstein
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Pub Date 16 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 15 Apr 2024
The story of a patient who changed the world, and the mystery of her illness.
In 1880, young Bertha Pappenheim got strangely ill—she lost her ability to control her voice and her body. She was treated by Sigmund Freud’s mentor, Josef Breuer, who diagnosed her with “hysteria.” Together, Pappenheim and Breuer developed what she called “the talking cure”—talking out memories to eliminate symptoms. Freud renamed her “Anna O” and appropriated her ideas to form the theory of psychoanalysis. All his life, he told lies about her. For over a century, writers have argued about her illness and cure.
In this unusual work of science, history, and psychology, Brownstein does more than describe the controversies surrounding this extraordinary woman. He brings Pappenheim to life—a brilliant feminist thinker, a crusader against human trafficking, and a pioneer—in the hustling and heady world of nineteenth-century Vienna. At the same time, he tells a parallel story that is playing out in leading medical centers today, about patients who suffer symptoms very much like Pappenheim’s, and about the doctors who are trying to cure them—the story of the neuroscience of a condition now called FND.
The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim argues for the healing art of listening and describes the new “talking cures” emerging out of neuroscience today.