Otto Rank is now widely acknowledged as the most important precursor of humanistic and existential psychotherapy—influencing such well-known writers as Carl Rogers, Rollo May, and Ernest Becker. The topics he covered include separation and individuation, projection and identification, love and will, relationship therapy, and neurosis as a failure in creativity. Reading his books today reveals that Rank, much maligned by orthodox psychoanalysts of his era, invented the modern approach to psychotherapy in the 1920s.
Rank discusses the ultimates - psychological concepts which go beyond the individual's makeup, such as fear of death, desire for immortality, sexuality, and the need for love. He speaks often of Man's fears and irrationalities, but he does not try to exorcise or explain them away; rather he accepts them both as integral parts of the fabric of the human condition. Unlike many other intellectuals of the twentieth century, Rank maintains a place for the soul rather than dismissing it as a fantasy. The soul and the beliefs about it, he argues, set forth the foundation for psychology, with its complex analyzes of consciousness, self-consciousness, and personality.
The basic orientation of Otto Rank can be stated very explicitly. Rank rejected the key concept of the Oedipal situation as the source of psycho-pathology and adopted the birth experience as the origin of the essential trauma. He conceptualized that during the intrauterine experience the child experienced total union, which forever continued as the key motivation in a person's search for total fulfillment. He continues to long for this state, even as he experiences partial union in each relationship, and it is also anticipated in the hoped-for ultimate union after death. The birth experience terminated the original state of bliss and thus became such a traumatic experience that it became the origin of all anxiety, due to the fear of separation.
A second distinguishing feature of Rank's approach is the emphasis that he placed on the will. He called the will, "A positive guiding organization and integration of the self, which utilizes creativity as well as inhibits and controls the instinctual drives." By this he meant that man was not a victim of his instinctual impulses, but rather he was capable of directing these forces, either negatively for his own destruction or else he could organize them positively for creative self-expression and growth.
This leads to Rank's concept of creativity. For him the essential struggle of Man was not to achieve health or normalcy but rather to express himself creatively, so as to discover and express his own uniqueness and distinctiveness. Personal growth therefore becomes the process of taking responsibility for one's own life and to express one's will creatively in life situations. To achieve this an individual needs to face his own guilt and fear, that has resulted in a negative pattern of behavior, and break loose from this pattern and risk the courage to create.
At this moment the individual returns to the initial birth trauma, since every act of creativity is a rebirth process. He must relive the separation experience in every creative act. But now, instead of wishing for safety and union, he realizes that he must believe in himself as a self-reliant individual, different and differentiated from others, even at the possible price of being rejected by others.
One of the most outstanding proclamations of Otto Rank was his absolute belief in the uniqueness of every human being. The most quoted statement of his says it precisely: "Will people ever learn... that there is no other equality possible than the equal right of every individual to become and be himself, which actually means to accept his own difference and have it accepted by others."
Gregory Mitchell developed Mind Development courses in the 1960's to help individuals develop and express their uniqueness.