Rebel without a couch

I’ve just discovered that the classic James Dean movie Rebel Without a Cause was inspired by a true life account of a psychiatrist’s analysis of a young ‘psychopath’.

According to this 1944 article from Time magazine, the book, called Rebel Without A Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath, was written by psychiatrist Mitchell Lindner and gave the public “one of the few play-by-play accounts of a psychoanalytic treatment ever published”.

Lindner’s subject is Harold, 21, serving a long term for a serious, unnamed crime. Harold, the son of a bull-tempered Polish laborer who speaks no English, has been in trouble with the police, mostly for pilfering, since the age of twelve. His most conspicuous psychopathic symptom was a constant blinking of his eyes.

Lindner began in orthodox analytic fashion by having the boy lie on a couch and encouraging him to talk freely. (Lindner got his transcript via a microphone concealed in the couch. Told about this at the end of the analysis, Harold himself urged the analyst to publish the record.) Without much hesitation, Harold gave the details of a hair-raising career of gun-toting, stealing, vandalism, fornication. Like all psychopaths, Harold was “a rebel without a cause, a revolutionary without a program,” a grownup infant with no self-restraint and a craving for instant satisfactions.

If you’re puzzled by the term ‘hypnoanalysis’ in the title, it was a form of Freudian psychoanalysis but where the patient was put into a hypnotic trance supposedly to encourage free association and facilitate access to the unconscious.

The idea was that it was a type of cranked up psychoanalysis that could give quicker results but, as the article notes, it was considered rather suspect by the forever orthodox Freudians.

An alternative juiced up version was ‘narcoanalysis’ that typically used barbiturate drugs for the same reason. This was the origin of the truth drug as it was wrongly thought that people hiding the truth might let it slip through if their unconscious was ‘loosened’ somewhat.

The connection between the book and the film seems to be fairly cursory though, as while the movie shares the title and is also about an antisocial young man, it’s otherwise quite different.

Link to 1994 Time article on the book.

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