Dreaming for Freud: A Novel. Sheila Kohler. Viking: Penguin Group (USA). May 2014. 256 pp. ISBN#: 9780143125198.
Sigmund Freud began his practice of psychoanalysis with few patients and none who stayed long enough for him to believe he had completed a cure for their psychological problems. This is his story (because it is fiction) which the author has him writing as an account. It will contain everything about the famous patient, Dora, whom he treated. This was a patient who was rich, pampered, and defying her parents and anyone who encountered her. The reader will immediately recognize that the relationship between Freud and her was more fraught with trouble from the start!
The entire account is questionable in one sense because of Freud’s expression before he begins writing, stating it will be his act of possession, his payback (paraphrased) or price to be paid for her leaving his treatment without permission and in clear violation of his therapeutic recommendation. With such a statement, the reader might question how valid and reliable can be from a scientific point of view, but the reader becomes so quickly engaged in the account that one forgets the initial, questionable reflections so clearly indicative of powerful transference and counter-transference.
Dora when she begins treatment is 18 years old and Freud diagnoses her as an hysteric. The interaction is fascinating, revealing as much about the early 1900s in Vienna. Freud is a new therapist yearning for the approval of the psychology community of professionals and yet he is still building his theory through what he observes in his practice, especially with Dora. At first she tries to manipulate him with lies and with her assertions that her father has ulterior motives for mandating this therapy, but gradually the reader discovers a hint of her true motives. These stunningly vivid scenes keep the reading enthralled and one is able to enter the doctor’s mind and feelings as he carefully responds or is silent at the appropriate moments.
For believers of Freud’s psychoanalytic method of treatment, this novel will be enthralling; for others less familiar with the particularities of this type of psychoanalytic treatment, it will be a fascinating story and education in one phase of Freud’s life and work. Nicely done, Ms. Kohler!