Chapter 9:  Horney – Shifting Perspectives on Psychodynamic Theory

Part 3: Horney’s Challenge for Psychoanalysis

One of the actions that made Horney most controversial was her willingness to challenge how psychoanalysis should be conducted with patients.  In New Ways in Psychoanalysis (Horney, 1939), Horney made it very clear why she thought that psychoanalysis needed to be questioned.  “My desire to make a critical re-evaluation of psychoanalytical theories had its origin in a dissatisfaction with therapeutic results” (pg. 7; Horney, 1939).  Simply put, she had asked many leading psychoanalysts questions about problems in treating her patients, and none of them could offer meaningful answers (at least, they had no meaning for Horney).  In addition, a few of them, such as Wilhelm Reich, encouraged her to question orthodox psychoanalytic theory. As always, Horney did not see this as a rejection of Freud. Indeed, she felt that as she pursued new ideas, she found stronger reasons to admire the foundation that Freud had established.  More importantly, she was upset that those who criticized psychoanalysis often simply ignored it, rather than looking more deeply into the valuable insights she believed it still had to offer for any therapist. As before, she saved her most serious critiques for the study of feminine psychology, though she still considered psychoanalysis with an emphasis on culture to be a valid therapeutic approach:

The American woman is different from the German woman; both are different from certain Pueblo Indian women.  The New York society woman is different from the farmer’s wife in Idaho. The way specific cultural conditions engender specific qualities and faculties, in women as in men – this is what we may hope to understand. (pg. 119; Horney, 1939)

In her second book on therapy, Horney proposed something quite radical: the possibility of Self-Analysis (Horney, 1942).  She considered self-analysis important for two main reasons.  First, psychoanalysis was an important means of personal development, though not the only means.  In this assertion, she was both emphasizing the value of psychoanalysis for many people, while at the same time saying that it wasn’t so important that it had to conducted in the orthodox manner by an extensively trained psychoanalyst, since there are many paths to self-development (e.g., good friends and a meaningful career).  Second, even if many people sought traditional psychoanalysis, there simply aren’t enough psychoanalysts to go around. So, Horney provided a book to help those willing to pursue their own self-analysis, even if they do so only occasionally (which she believed could be quite effective for specific issues).  She did not suggest that self-analysis was by any means easy, but more important was the realization that it was possible. With regard to the possible criticism that self-analysts might not finish the job, that they might not delve into the darkest and most repressed areas of their psyche, she simply suggested that no analysis is ever complete.  What matters more than being successful is the desire to continue (Horney, 1942).

When the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis was established, an important part of their mission was community education.  One of the courses was entitled Are You Considering Psychoanalysis?  This course was so popular that the instructors decided to publish a book by the same name, and Horney was chosen as the editor-in-chief (Horney, 1946).  The chapters present very practical topics, such as: What Are Your Doubts About Psychoanalysis? (Kelman, 1946); What Do You Do in Analysis? (Kilpatrick, 1946); and How Does Analysis Help? (Ivimey, 1946).  Perhaps reflecting her own concerns about the ability of psychoanalysis to “cure” a person’s problems, Horney entitled the final chapter, which she wrote herself:  How Do You Progress After Analysis?  She begins the chapter by addressing the concern that many of her patients had: Why would a person need more progress after psychoanalysis?  Isn’t psychoanalysis supposed to resolve all of a person’s psychological problems? As noted above, however, Horney felt that no analysis is ever complete.  But this time the reasoning is not based on questioning the effectiveness of psychoanalysis itself. Rather, it is based on the potential for human growth, a potential that is boundless.  “Your growth as a human being, however, is a process that can and should go on as long as you live…analytical therapy merely sets this process in motion…” (pg. 236; Horney, 1946).

Supplemental Materials

Performing Therapy on Yourself:  Self-Knowledge and Self-Realization

This video [8:19] explores Horney’s ideas on the reasons why unconscious disturbances form, and it explores the possibility of attaining self-knowledge in order to become free of the crippling influences of unconscious disturbances.



Text:  Kelland, M. (2017). Personality Theory. OER Commons. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from  Licensed under CC-BY-4.0.
Academy of Ideas.  (2018, September 10).  Performing therapy on yourself: Self-knowledge and self-realization.  [Video File]. Retrieved from Standard YouTube License.


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PSY321 Course Text: Theories of Personality Copyright © by The American Women's College Psychology Department and Michelle McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.