The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim

The Woman Who Invented Freud's Talking Cure


By Gabriel Brownstein

Formats and Prices




$41.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover $32.00 $41.00 CAD
  2. ebook $18.99 $24.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 16, 2024. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The story of a patient who changed the world, and the mystery of her illness.

In 1880, young Bertha Pappenheim got strangely ill—she lost her ability to control her voice and her body. She was treated by Sigmund Freud’s mentor, Josef Breuer, who diagnosed her with “hysteria.” Together, Pappenheim and Breuer developed what she called “the talking cure”—talking out memories to eliminate symptoms. Freud renamed her “Anna O” and appropriated her ideas to form the theory of psychoanalysis. All his life, he told lies about her. For over a century, writers have argued about her illness and cure.

In this unusual work of science, history, and psychology, Brownstein does more than describe the controversies surrounding this extraordinary woman. He brings Pappenheim to life—a brilliant feminist thinker, a crusader against human trafficking, and a pioneer—in the hustling and heady world of nineteenth-century Vienna. At the same time, he tells a parallel story that is playing out in leading medical centers today, about patients who suffer symptoms very much like Pappenheim’s, and about the doctors who are trying to cure them—the story of the neuroscience of a condition now called FND.

The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim argues for the healing art of listening and describes the new “talking cures” emerging out of neuroscience today.

  • “[F]ascinating...Brownstein toggles between Pappenheim’s ordeal in the past and the puzzled patients and physicians of the present—and the ways in which the so-called talking cure may, or may not, also fit into current treatment protocols.”
    The Wall Street Journal
  • “This is a memoir nestled in an investigation, hidden inside a mythology. And it’s really about the limits of knowledge: not just about what we know about Pappenheim, but about medicine specifically and about nonfiction in general.”
    The New York Times Book Review
  • “[A] riveting look at the boundaries between neurology and psychology and the gender dynamics of medicine. This captivates.”
    Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "In his much-anticipated book, Gabriel Brownstein excavates Bertha Pappenheim’s life, finally telling the full story of this extraordinary feminist whose work continues to impact countless patients today."
    Lilith Magazine
  • “With the heart-racing pace of a novel, Brownstein creates a moving portrait of Bertha Pappenheim as he gives her a voice, a heart, and a soul.”
    Jessica Anya Blau, author of Mary Jane
  • “This is a work of courageous and compassionate reexamination of a Jewish feminist icon who deserves to be much better known. Brownstein excavates trauma and grief, mind and brain, silencing and "the talking cure," and moves us with his portrait of Bertha Pappenheim, her passion and her purpose.”
    Anya Kamenetz, author of The Stolen Year
  • “Brownstein's wonderful book is part intellectual history, part scientific inquiry, and reads like a detective novel. The mystery concerns Freud's most famous patient, and the wildly satisfying twist is that our most fundamental ideas about the human mind grow out of this very case.”
    Joe Weisberg, creator of “The Patient” and “The Americans”
  • The Secret Mind of Bertha Pappenheim braids its fascinating stories together seamlessly. This is a very important contribution to the Pappenheim/Freud literature and to helping people with FND today.  I found the book absolutely riveting.”
    Marion A. Kaplan, Professor Emerita of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University
  • “I adored this book.  Out of a writer’s encounter with his dying psychoanalyst father flashes a revelatory Anna O. who, despite a century’s efforts to erase her real life, leaps through a told and retold history --  passionate women as mere lab specimens,  a circle of brilliant but flawed men, a moment in Vienna. Exhilarating."
    Honor Moore, author of The Bishop’s Daughter

On Sale
Apr 16, 2024
Page Count
336 pages

Gabriel Brownstein

About the Author

Gabriel Brownstein is the author of three previous books, most recently The Open Heart Club. For his short stories, he’s won a PEN/Hemingway Award and a Pushcart Prize. He’s an English professor at St. John’s University in New York City.

Learn more about this author