Psychotherapy in the Third Reich. The Göring Institute, 2nd. Ed.


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Cocks, Geoffrey. Psychotherapy in the Third Reich. The Göring Institute, 2nd. Ed., New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997. xix + 461 pp. $29.95 Paperback.Anyone wishing to maintain the conviction of the Third Reich as the incarnation of absolute evil is advised to stay away from this book telling the story of psychotherapy in the Third Reich. It is surprisingly interesting, told in great, perhaps excessive, detail by the historian Geoffrey Cocks. Because I am not acquainted with the first edition, I cannot compare the two, but according to the author, the second edition includes new material and has been organized along narrative lines. The author has amassed a vast amount of information to clarify the complex motives of each of the players. In the process, he sometimes confuses the reader, who might feel inundated by so many facts. But whether or not all they are essential to the story, what is being conveyed is the tale of a profession in its infancy, struggling to survive in a climate that is receptive, threatening, and ultimately ready to exploit psychotherapy. In as much as psychotherapy was seen as restoring will power to the individual and returning him to productivity instead of condemning him because of a hereditary defect, it could sell itself as useful to the state. As such, it received support and was enhanced by the Nazis, but inasmuch as it did not practice eugenics in the service of the purity of the Aryan race, it had to contend with psychiatry, the most willing executioner among the mental "health" professions. At the head of this balancing act was Matthias Heinrich Göring, Hermann Göring's cousin.Cocks states that "It is therefore manifestly not the thesis of this book that Nazi Germany provided a positive environment for the practice of psychotherapy, for the advancement of science, knowledge, and human services in general, or that psychotherapists in the Third Recih were unsung heroes and martyrs. It is the thesis of this book, however, that the Third Reich witnessed not only the survival but also the professional and institutional development of psychotherapy in Germany" (p. 164). He depicts in detail the history of the forces that impinged on the young profession from the perspective of a sociologist and in this way recounts how it was influenced by the disappearance of Jewish colleagues, the various schools of thought with regard to theory, the struggle over therapies conducted by nonmedical practioners, the never-ending competition with the psychiatrists, the interests of the state including insurance reimbursements, and the ideology of the Nazi party. Each story is told separately, with the accent on the organizational fight for survival, and although Cocks amply acknowledges the brutality of the regime, his approach is more pragmatic than moralistic. This being said, I do not think that his approach is insensitive to the suffering inflicted by the regime these educated people served. He simply demonstrates that psychotherapists survived as a professional group because the government supported them because their leader had contacts in the highest circles of government; they were deemed useful in that they were instrumental in restoring their patients to fitness and productivity, high on the list of values in the Third Reich.The author plays on the irony inherent in the establishment and prospering of a worthwhile profession under such morally adverse conditions. He gives examples to prove that absolute moral judgments cannot be made about the actions of the therapists.

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