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Sabina Spielrein was born into a family of Russian Jewish doctors and scientists. Her mother was a dentist and her father was an entomologist who became a successful merchant. Her parents had extremely strict rules for their children and beat them when they failed to obey. They also provided a rigorous education and by the age of six, Sabina spoke Russian, German and French and was learning to play the piano. At age 10, she began attending a girls’ grammar school, completing her studies with honors in 1904. She was affected by a mental condition as a teenager and was admitted to the Burghölzli Treatment and Care Institution (or Psychiatric Clinic) near Zürich, where Carl Jung was working. There she developed a deep emotional bond with Jung. He encouraged her to go to medical school and became her dissertation advisor. Some historians believe the couple had a sexual relationship as well. Sabina Spielrein graduated from medical school at the University of Zurich in 1911, and was elected a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Her dissertation, "Concerning the Psychological Content of a Case of Schizophrenia," was the first psychoanalytical dissertation written by a woman. It was published in 1911 as the lead paper in a periodical edited by Jung. Sabina Spielrein first wrote to Sigmund Freud in 1909, and met him in 1911 in Vienna; he was greatly impressed by her and sent her some of his patients. They continued meeting and corresponding until at least 1923. In 1912, she married Dr. Paul (Pavel) Scheftel, a Russian-Jewish physician with whom she had two daughters. She spoke at the sixth International Psychoanalytic Congress at The Hague in 1920 and shared her theories on child development. She moved to Geneva to work at the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, where she spent three years and was the analyst for Jean Piaget. She also wrote part of a novel and was a theater critic for the Journal de Genève, but she was unable to make a living. In 1923, she returned to Russia and became director of the child psychology department at the First Moscow University. She went back to her hometown of Rostov-on-Don in about 1924 and reunited with her husband. She founded a psychoanalytic children’s nursery and taught at the university until 1936, when Stalin banned psychoanalysis. During her career, Sabina Spielrein published 30 psychoanalytic papers in French and German. The majority of them have never been translated into English. Her two most significant works were her dissertation and her second work, "Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being." She was a pioneer in the development of the psychoanalytic movement, although her contributions have been largely overlooked and forgotten until recently. She faced many obstacles because she was a woman working in a predominantly male profession, and because she was a Jew during a period of violent anti-Semitism in Europe. Sabina Spielrein and her children were murdered by the Nazis in August 1942, during World War II.
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