What’s Dangerous in “The Dangerous Method?”

“The Dangerous Method” is a film portraying a few years in the early development of psychoanalysis, when Freud and Jung exchanged and debated ideas about the cause and treatment of neuroses. While reviews for this film are all over the place, from “rotten tomato,” to “sharply written and superbly directed,” most reviewers agree that this is an engaging and thought-provoking drama with terrific performances from all three leads (although personally, I thought Keira Knightly’s dramatization of mental illness was overacted and maybe ridiculous).

So other than possible boredom and laughing in the wrong places, what is dangerous about the movie and the method?

Carl Jung was a new psychoanalyst in 1904 Zurich who decides to test Freud’s controversial “talking cure” on a beautiful but deeply disturbed patient, Sabina Speilrein (a real person and overlooked contributor to psychoanalytic theory).  The talking cure (plot spoiler) ultimately cures her and she goes first to medical school and then on to becoming a psychoanalyst herself.  During this period, Jung goes to Vienna to see Freud, who comes to see Jung as his disciple.

Now comes the dangerous part.  Freud sends a sex-obsessed patient, Otto Gross, to Jung for treatment, but Gross turns the tables on Jung, encouraging Jung to follow his impulses.  Jung doesn’t waste a nano-second beginning a passionate affair with a more than willing Sabina.

What’s dangerous about the talking cure and the therapeutic relationship is that when the therapist is vulnerable, either due to character flaws or difficulties in his personal life, boundaries can get crossed.

On Good Authority has produced two 3 CE programs on the subject of the sexual relationship between therapist and patient.  These count as ethics credits, but certainly go beyond risk management into a discussion of countertransference, a confession by a therapist who fell in love with her patient, and a discussion of the rehabilitation of therapists who have crossed this boundary.

See “Sexual Misconduct” (Ethics 7) and “Repercussions of Sexual Misconduct” by clicking on the Ethics curriculum in the Course Catalog of this website.