Six Degrees of Freud

Most people have heard of the parlor game called ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’ It is a tongue-in-cheek morph on the concept of ‘six degrees of separation.’ Regarding the latter, it has been opined that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance-links apart. Kevin Bacon, the prolific character actor, then became the focus when movie buffs started to challenge one another to find the shortest path between a seemingly unrelated Tinseltown personality and Bacon. The game rests on the assumption that Bacon has been in so many different movies involving such a vast number of fellow thespians, producers, and directors that anyone in Hollywood is six or fewer films distant from him.

Example involving Actor X: “Actor X was in Movie A with Actor Y. Actor Y was then in Movie B with Actor Z. Actor Z appeared in Movie C with Actress Q. And Actress Q filmed Movie D with Kevin Bacon.”

See? Only four degrees of separation there. And the fewer degrees that can be shown, the more likely it is that the player will win the round and someone else will buy the drinks.

[sidebar: Kevin Bacon was reportedly so amused by this that he started a charitable foundation that he named]

Anyway, I was thinking back to my own career and remembering one of my learned former professors – JB – at the University of Virginia. Dr B was an esteemed and (to new residents) inscrutable presence in the psychiatric department. A man of short stature who spoke with the hint of a central European accent, he still then wore a long white coat after such had gone out of practice in most mental health circles. His usual modus was to peer silently from under huge Brezhnevian eyebrows at the dynamics of group therapies, saying little until, like the Sphinx awakening, he would utter a pearl of wisdom as everyone looked his way in awe.

JB was a bit of a mystery, as he never talked about himself with students and residents. Forced to escape his homeland when it was overrun by the Nazis, reliable sources said that after medical school in the UK, JB served as a medical officer in the Royal Army/ UN forces in Korea. It was in that setting that he first encountered POWs who had been subjected to extreme conditioning propaganda by their North Korean captors – what the rest of the world calls ‘brainwashing.’ JB apparently became interested in the psychological sequelae of such trauma. After his military service, he decided to return to residency and become a psychiatrist to pursue these interests. And later he came to the United States and settled into academia.

And that’s where it gets curious, because during his subspecialty training in London following his discharge from the army, JB was intensively supervised by arguably the preeminent psychoanalyst of that era – none other than Anna Freud, the sixth and last child of Sigmund Freud.

That means that I am only three degrees of separation from Sigmund himself, and a mere two from Anna.

For one in the mental health profession, this is heady stuff indeed. And it is far more compelling than any round of drinks won by connecting with Kevin Bacon!

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