Travels to Vienna with my students

Psychology has its roots in the upper class of Vienna, in the early 1900s.  Freud famously was one of the first to engage in talk therapy- mostly with upper class, neurotic Viennese women who didn’t have anything to do but spend their money on expensive analysis.

I am privileged every year to take a group of mostly American university undergraduates to visit the city and get an immersive experience amongst psychology’s beginnings.  This year, as is usual, we left on a Monday and began with a walking tour of old Vienna.   As a city, Vienna is replete with relevant history about both world wars.   Hitler came to Vienna to annex Austria and set up some of the first concentration camps.   Though many Austrian people prefer to think of themselves as victims to an occupation, some younger people are starting to take more ownership as guilty bystanders who could have done more for the Jews. We saw a lot of the infamous historical sites and also some of the older ones that were more associated with the Habsburg empire.

We also visited the Viktor Frankl museum and attended a talk about his life and theory.  A volunteer named Karl Konig usually gives this talk and he always seems to really be passionate about the subject matter.  If you have not read ‘Man’s search for meaning’, I highly recommend it; Frankl wrote much of it when he was in a Nazi concentration camp and its beautiful testament to hope and survival despite cruel and extended mistreatment.  To supplement this visit, the class took a tour of Mauthausen concentration camp, the next day, where the saw the remains of the camp and the memorial and museum.  It’s a troubling visit which I purposely distance myself from.  I have been there about five times and I was fully present the first two and it really is just an awfully dark experience to repeat.  I think that everyone should visit one once, however.  We humans need reminders of our own atrocities and the depths to which we can sink as a warning to avoid the pitfalls of dehumanization.  At any rate, it was sobering, and my students and I had a wrap-up afterward.  Interestingly, though the concentration camp seemed to hit most of them hard, a sense of worry was prevalent: many fear that history is, or will soon, repeat itself and that fascism and racism are on the rise.  I share their concerns on one hand, but also find that, in a parental way, I am concerned about them how worried they are.  As a group, they have grown up with school shootings and terrorism.   They seem to walk through life with more thoughts about their own deaths than I did at their age.  They shouldn’t have to be so worried.

The last part of the week was rounded off by a visit to the Adler Institute and the Freud Museum.  I have never quite been able to relate to Adler’s theories, but still find it impressive how he was able to bring psychoanalysis to the community.  He found it important to treat everyday people, unlike Freud, who only treated the Vienna elite.

The Freud museum is interesting, and I am always a little awed to stand in the room where the Wednesday group met.  I can imagine myself sitting in his waiting room, studying at his name plate.  I find it interesting that Sigmund Freud, a man who thought it was important to be a ‘blank slate’ and thus let one’s clients project their innermost feelings onto the analyst, had an office that was ornate and filled with archeological relics.  Certainly, he must have known that his taste in décor said something about his own unconscious. 

This post is just an overview of many of the historic and educational places one can visit in Vienna, for the person who is studying psychology.  Going as part of a University class gives one an excuse to visit places where one might not normally bother, if one was travelling just for pleasure.  It’s a unique and fun way to Vienna and I look forward to taking another group of students, next year.