Carl Jung’s Starlet
Sabina Spielrein might be considered the patient zero of psychoanalysis. She was predated by several of Freud’s most famous subjects, including Dora, but Sabina’s story of saving and survival is complicated by her relationship with Carl Jung, who, as her doctor, treated her according to Freud’s methods and inspired her to become one of the first female psychoanalysts. She is also representative of a time when treatment for debilitating symptoms of mental illness was measured in months rather than years, although in a more general sense, recovery never truly ends.
Born to a wealthy Jewish family in Rostov-on-Don, a Russian port city near the Sea of Azov, Sabina was raised speaking Russian, German, French, and English. As a child Sabina granted herself a magical power she called partunskraft, which allowed her to know and obtain everything if only she desired it, but it would be a long time before she knew herself.
After several breakdowns, she was hospitalized in the progressive Burghölzli hospital in Zurich, Switzerland. There she was treated for hysteria by director Eugen Bleuler and Jung. (Bleuler is a wash—on the one hand, he coined the term schizophrenia and believed in livable conditions for mental patients; on the other, he advocated their sterilization based on eugenics.) In that it often affected materially privileged Caucasian women, hysteria was the anorexia of its day. Hysteria was not a new concept, but it was the height of fashion when Sabina was diagnosed with it. Its patients made distress visible through gestures, postures, and embodiment, like the silent screen actresses of their time. They were stars of somatization.