The Discovery of the Self: A Study in Psychological Cure, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Discovery of the Self

A Study in Psychological Cure, 1st Edition

By Elizabeth Severn

Edited by Peter L. Rudnytsky


150 pages

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Elizabeth Severn, known as "R.N." in Sandor Ferenczi’s Clinical Diary, was Ferenczi’s analysand for eight years, the patient with whom he conducted his controversial experiment in mutual analysis, and a psychoanalyst in her own right who had a transformative influence on his work. The Discovery of the Self is the distillation of that experience and allows us to hear the voice of one of the most important patients in the history of psychoanalysis. However, Freud branded Severn Ferenczi’s "evil genius" and her name does not appear in Ernest Jones’s biography, so she has remained largely unknown until now. This book is a reissue of Severn’s landmark work of 1933, together with an introduction by Peter L. Rudnytsky that sets out the unrecognized importance of her thinking both for the development of psychoanalysis and for contemporary theory.

Inspired by the realization that Severn has embedded disguised case histories both of herself and of Ferenczi, as well as of her daughter Margaret, Rudnytsky shows how The Discovery of the Self contains "the other side of the story" of mutual analysis and is thus an indispensable companion volume to the Clinical Diary. A full partner in Ferenczi’s rehabilitation of trauma theory and champion of the view that the analyst must participate in the patient’s reliving of past experiences, Severn emerges as the most profound conduit for Ferenczi’s legacy in the United States, if not in the entire world.

Lacking any institutional credentials and once completely marginalized, Elizabeth Severn can at long last be given her due as a formidable psychoanalyst. Newly available for the first time in more than eighty years, The Discovery of the Self is simultaneously an engaging introduction to psychotherapy that will appeal to general readers as well as a sophisticated text to be savored by psychoanalytic scholars and clinicians as a "prequel" to the works of Heinz Kohut and a neglected classic of relational psychoanalysis.


"The Discovery of the Self is a fascinating and historically significant work introducing and promoting a psychoanalytic project (with underpinnings of Freud and Ferenczi) for a general audience. We see Severn's preoccupation with trauma and fragmentation and her determination to explore the newly opened realm of unconscious forces underlying conscious thought and action. This was and still is the most alarming and unsettling aspect of psychoanalytic thought. Severn understands its fecundity and makes her case with fervor and clarity."-from the essay The Work of Elizabeth Severn: An Appreciation by Adrienne Harris and Lewis Aron.

"Just as Josef Breuer and Bertha Pappenheim ("Anna O.") are known as co-creators of the talking cure, another generative dyad, Sandor Ferenczi and Elizabeth Severn ("R.N."), co-created mutual analysis. Nowadays, nobody practices it concretely (patient and therapist taking turns on the analytic couch), but we recognize its enormous contribution to appreciating intersubjectivity and thoughtful self-disclosure in psychoanalytic treatment. So far we knew about this bold experiment only from Ferenczi's Clinical Diary; with the republication of Severn's Discovery of the Self, the other side of the coin allows us fuller understanding of their fateful encounter."-Emanuel Berman, Ph.D, Israel Psychoanalytic Society.

Table of Contents


The Work of Elizabeth Severn: An Appreciation by Adrienne Harris and Lewis Aron

Introduction: The Other Side of the Story: Severn on Ferenczi and Mutual Analysis Peter L. Rudnytsky

I. What Is the Self?: An Analysis of the Human Psyche.

II. What Makes People Ill: Psychological Causes behind Physical Phenomena—an Analysis of Human Pain and Disorder.

III. Psycho-Analysis—the Modern Method of Cure: Its Aims and Practice. Its Limitations.

IV. Psycho-Synthesis—the Building-up Process: Reintegration of Mind and Body.

V. Nightmares are Real: Dreams and Insanity—the Light they Throw on Psychic Traumas and Human Destiny in General.

VI. The Emotional Life: On Being in Love. Problems of the Affections, Sexuality, etc.—Emotional Maladies, their Readjustment and Cure.

VII. A Way Out—Plasticity of the Human Mind, Education of Children: Expansion of Perception. Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Yoga, Nirvana, etc. Acquaintance with one’s own Unconscious Recognition of ‘Infinity.’ The Liberation of the Self.

About the Author/Editor

Peter L. Rudnytsky is Professor of English at the University of Florida and Head of the Department of Academic and Professional Affairs of the American Psychoanalytic Association. From 2001 to 2011 he was editor of American Imago and he currently coedits the History of Psychoanalysis series with Karnac and the Psychoanalytic Horizons series with Bloomsbury.

About the Series

Relational Perspectives Book Series

The Relational Perspectives Book Series (RPBS) publishes books that grow out of or contribute to the relational tradition in contemporary psychoanalysis. The term relational psychoanalysis was first used by Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) to bridge the traditions of interpersonal relations, as developed within interpersonal psychoanalysis and object relations, as developed within contemporary British theory. But, under the seminal work of the late Stephen Mitchell, the term relational psychoanalysis grew and began to accrue to itself many other influences and developments. Various tributaries—interpersonal psychoanalysis, object relations theory, self psychology, empirical infancy research, and elements of contemporary Freudian and Kleinian thought—flow into this tradition, which understands relational configurations between self and others, both real and fantasied, as the primary subject of psychoanalytic investigation.  

We refer to the relational tradition, rather than to a relational school, to highlight that we are identifying a trend, a tendency within contemporary psychoanalysis, not a more formally organized or coherent school or system of beliefs. Our use of the term relational signifies a dimension of theory and practice that has become salient across the wide spectrum of contemporary psychoanalysis. Now under the editorial supervision of Lewis Aron and Adrienne Harris with the assistance of Associate Editors Steven Kuchuck and Eyal Rozmarin, the Relational Perspectives Book Series originated in 1990 under the editorial eye of the late Stephen A. Mitchell. Mitchell was the most prolific and influential of the originators of the relational tradition. He was committed to dialogue among psychoanalysts and he abhorred the authoritarianism that dictated adherence to a rigid set of beliefs or technical restrictions. He championed open discussion, comparative and integrative approaches, and he promoted new voices across the generations.  

Included in the Relational Perspectives Book Series are authors and works that come from within the relational tradition, extend and develop the tradition, as well as works that critique relational approaches or compare and contrast it with alternative points of view. The series includes our most distinguished senior psychoanalysts along with younger contributors who bring fresh vision.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health