Sabina Nikolayevna Spielrein (Russian: Сабина Николаевна Шпильрейн, IPA: [sɐˈbʲinə nʲɪkɐˈlajɪvnə ʂpʲɪlʲˈrɛjn]; 7 November 25 October 1885 OS – 11 August 1942) was a Russian physician and one of the first female psychoanalysts. She was in succession the patient, then student, then colleague of Carl Gustav Jung, with whom she had an intimate relationship during 1908–1910, as is documented in their correspondence from the time and her diaries. She also met, corresponded, and had a collegial relationship with Sigmund Freud. She worked with and psychoanalysed Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. She worked as a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, teacher and paediatrician in Switzerland and Russia. In a thirty-year professional career, she published over 35 papers in three languages (German, French and Russian), covering psychoanalysis, developmental psychology, psycholinguistics and educational psychology. Among her works in the field of psychoanalysis is the essay titled "Destruction as the Cause of Coming Into Being", written in German in 1912.
Spielrein was a pioneer of psychoanalysis and one of the first to introduce the concept of the death instinct. She was one of the first psychoanalysts to conduct a case study on schizophrenia and have a dissertation appear in a psychoanalytic journal. Spielrein is increasingly recognized as an important and innovative thinker who was marginalized in history because of her unusual eclecticism, refusal to join factions, feminist approach to psychology, and her murder in the Holocaust.
She was born in 1885 into a wealthy Jewish family in Rostov-on-Don, Russian Empire. Her mother Eva (born Khave) Lublinskaya was the daughter and granddaughter of rabbis from Yekaterinoslav. Eva trained as a dentist, but did not practice. Sabina's father Nikolai (born Naftul) Spielrein was an agronomist. After moving from Warsaw to Rostov, he became a successful merchant. On her birth certificate, Sabina appeared as Sheyve Naftulovna, but throughout her life and on official documents she used the name Sabina Nikolayevna. She was the eldest of five children. All three of her brothers later became eminent scientists. One of them, Isaac Spielrein, was a Soviet psychologist, a pioneer of work psychology. Another was the mathematician Jan Spielrein. From her early childhood, Sabina was highly imaginative and believed that she had a 'higher calling' to achieve greatness, and she communicated about this privately with a 'guardian spirit'.: 60 However, her parents' marriage was turbulent and she experienced physical violence from both of them. She suffered from multiple somatic symptoms and obsessions.
Some commentators believe she may have been sexually abused by someone in the family.
She attended a Froebel school followed by the Yekaterinskaya Gymnasium in Rostov, where she excelled in science, music and languages. She learned to speak three languages fluently. During her teens, she continued to be troubled emotionally and became infatuated first with her history teacher, then with a paternal uncle.: 65 While at school, she resolved to go abroad to train as a doctor, with the approval of her rabbinic grandfather. At the end of her schooling she was awarded a gold medal.
Following the sudden death of her only sister Emilia from typhoid, Spielrein's mental health started to deteriorate, and at the age of 18 she suffered a breakdown with severe hysteria including tics, grimaces, and uncontrollable laughing and crying. After an unsuccessful stay in a Swiss sanatorium, where she developed another infatuation with one of the doctors, she was admitted to the Burghölzli mental hospital near Zurich in August 1904. Its director was Eugen Bleuler, who ran it as a therapeutic community with social activities for the patients including gardening, drama and scientific lectures. One of Bleuler's assistants was Carl Jung, afterwards appointed as deputy director. In the days following her admission, Spielrein disclosed to Jung that her father had often beaten her, and that she was troubled by masochistic fantasies of being beaten. Bleuler ensured that she was separated from her family, later requiring her father and brothers to have no contact with her. She made a rapid recovery, and by October was able to apply for medical school and to start assisting Jung with word association tests in his laboratory. Between October and January, Jung carried out word association tests on her, and also used some rudimentary psychoanalytic techniques. Later, he referred to her twice in letters to Freud as his first analytic case, although in his publications he referred to two later patients in these terms.: 47, 187 During her admission, Spielrein fell in love with Jung. By her own choice, she continued as a resident in the hospital from January to June 1905, although she was no longer receiving treatment. She worked as an intern alongside other Russian students there including Max Eitingon, as well as expatriate psychiatrists who were studying with Bleuler, including Karl Abraham.
She attended medical school at the University of Zurich from June 1905 to January 1911, excelling there academically. Her diaries show a very broad range of interests and reading including philosophy, religion, Russian literature and evolutionary biology. She lived in several different apartments, mixing in a social circle of predominately fellow Russian Jewish women medical students. Many of these, together with Spielrein, became fascinated with the emerging movement of psychoanalysis in western Europe, and studied with Bleuler and Jung. Spielrein's main focus while in medical school was on psychiatry. A number of the students, like Spielrein, subsequently became psychiatrists, spent time with Freud in Vienna, and published in psychoanalytic journals. These included Esther Aptekman, Fanya Chalevsky, Sheina Grebelskaya and Tatiana Rosenthal. Politically, Spielrein identified with socialism, although some of her Russian student contemporaries were followers of the Socialist Revolutionary Party or of Zionism.