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PSYCHOTHERAPY IN THE THIRD REICH: THE GOERING INSTITUTE by Geoffrey Cocks (Oxford: $24.95; 416 pp.)

January 13, 1985|Harvey Mindess | Mindess is director of the Graduate Psychology Program at Antioch University West

Have you ever wondered how psychotherapy was practiced in Nazi Germany? Probably not, but consider the question; it contains some interesting issues. If therapy is designed to help people find their own inner truth and take responsibility for their lives, does it not run counter to a totalitarian regime's insistence on submission to the state? If therapy owes a great debt to Freud, how could German practitioners acknowledge that debt without opposing Hitler's fanatical anti-Semitism?

"Psychotherapy in the Third Reich," by historian Geoffrey Cocks, answers these and related questions with precision. Amassing voluminous details on who did what and why, Cocks provides an account that will serve as a reference work for students of the period. Objective and careful, he writes like a scholar who has studied his topic exhaustively and is determined to tell us all. Since there are no highs or lows in his prose, however, no impassioned arguments or dreadful revelations, it is almost impossible for the general reader to stay alert for more than a few pages at a time.

Cocks says, "It is not the intent of this book to attempt to justify or condemn the morals and ethics of psychotherapists in the Third Reich, or to assess the degree of their historical responsibility for the advent and actions of the Nazis. Rather, it means to demonstrate and explain the psychotherapists' success within, and often against, the medical establishment in Germany between 1933 and 1945." He sticks to this aim like glue but spends so much time on forgotten figures like Heyer, Schultz-Hencke, Hattingberg, and Achelis that one becomes restless with his compulsiveness, impatient to hear something about someone who matters today.

Happily, he eventually comes round to the facts about Jung's collaboration with the Nazis. An explosive issue in Jung's career: the years he served as executive officer of an association from which Jews were excluded, whose members were expected to subscribe to the tenets of "Mein Kampf"; his relationship with M. H. Goering (Hermann Goering's cousin and the head of the German Institute for Psychological Research and Psychotherapy); the public pronouncements Jung made that could be interpreted as favorable to the notion of the master race, have been debated vociferously in the past. Cocks presents an even-handed rendering of these events and their implications, stopping short of exonerating or convicting Jung on questions of anti-Semitism and support of German Fascism. "Jung's ambiguous embracing of forces, symbols, races, and elites led to the same sort of relativism that had paralyzed German intellectuals of the 19th and 20th centuries. Beyond this, his statements of the Nazi era exhibited a fairly distinct disdain for what he saw as a shallow and mechanical democracy in its denial of the awesome depths of the human soul. . . ."

Cocks' conclusion on Jung is in line with his historical perspective: "To understand fully Jung's motives for his involvement with psychotherapy in Germany in the 1930s would require a psychological analysis of his life and work. . . . To view his actions within the context of the history of German psychotherapy, however, is to see that . . . he was drawn into the situation by both the threat and the opportunity that confronted psychotherapists during the Third Reich." This perspective--individuals seen as pawns in the game of history--makes everyone dealt with seem less than malicious, less than noble. That is probably the truest way to look at human behavior, yet the understated treatment of the dimension of moral choice robs the account of drama and high significance.

Cocks says, "There are no heroes in this book; it is an unhappy fact that most, if not all, of the psychotherapists in the Third Reich were more concerned about their own, and their profession's, survival than they were about the fate of others. But to dismiss their work on this basis alone would be to ignore common human frailties as well as a significant degree of accomplishment during very difficult times." An entirely reasonable summation, one concludes--but if accommodation to Nazism does not demand a cry of outrage, what does?

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