For and Against Psychoanalysis

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Through their minds we witness the slow but inevitable dissolution — over the course of some 30 years — of the southern aristocratic Compson family. It is often read as a violent critique of psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis is such a practice. There it can be identified with non-functional bodily pleasures that can be described in physiological terms. Whether she likes it or not, whether he knows it or not, the adult confronts the little child with enigmatic sexual messages — a passionate kiss, a pregnant mother etc — that the child can only partially integrate in its own experience. Psychoanalysis emerges not so much as Darwinian psychology, but a psychology for Darwinism.

Also by Stephen Frosh

In , this novel caused controversy in particular because of the masturbation scenes and the frank language. The Emergence of Sexuality by Arnold Davidson Psychoanalysis can only be properly understood in relation to the psychiatry and sexology of its time.

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Psychoanalysis was on the one hand instrumental to this emergence. But it promised at the same time a radical break with this style of reasoning. As an undergraduate, at Yale, he had fallen in love with Nietzsche, and Nietzsche had led him to Freud. Crews began teaching a popular graduate seminar on the subject. He also got involved in the antiwar movement on campus, serving as a co-chair of the Faculty Peace Committee.

Like many people at Berkeley in those days, he became radicalized, and he considered his interest in Freud to be part of his radicalism. Students would propose contradictory psychoanalytic readings, and they all sounded good, but it was just an ingenuity contest. There was no way to prove that one interpretation was truer than another.

Psychoanalysis was beginning to look like a circular and self-justifying methodology. The article was a review of several books by revisionists. Psychoanalysis had already been discredited as a medical science, Crews wrote; what researchers were now revealing was that Freud himself was possibly a charlatan—an opportunistic self-dramatizer who deliberately misrepresented the scientific bona fides of his theories.

People who send aggrieved letters to the Review often seem to have missed the fact that the Review always gives its writers the last word, and Crews availed himself of the privilege with relish and at length. He gave, on balance, better than he got. Crews had retired from teaching in , and is now an emeritus professor at Berkeley.

Part of the decline had to do with social change. Psychoanalysis was also taking a hit within the medical community. Studies suggesting that psychoanalysis had a low cure rate had been around for a while. But the realization that depression and anxiety can be regulated by medication made a mode of therapy whose treatment times reached into the hundreds of billable hours seem, at a minimum, inefficient, and, at worst, a scam.


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Managed-care companies and the insurance industry certainly drew that conclusion, and the third edition of the DSM , in , scrubbed out almost every trace of Freudianism. Meanwhile, the image of Freud as a lonely pioneer began to erode as well. He had flown to Vienna after the Nazis arrived to urge Freud to flee. But the image originated with, and was cultivated by, Freud himself. One corner of Anglo-American intellectual life where Freudianism had always been regarded with suspicion was the philosophy department.

A few philosophers, like Stanley Cavell, who had an interest in literature and Continental thinkers took Freud up.

Evidence base of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy

But to philosophers of science the knowledge claims of psychoanalysis were always dubious. Swales and other researchers were also able to show that Freud consistently misrepresented the outcomes of the treatments he based his theories on. In the case of one of the only patients whose treatment notes Freud did not destroy, Ernst Lanzer—the Rat Man—it is clear that he misrepresented the facts as well.

In a study of the forty-three treatments about which some information survives, it turned out that Freud had broken his own rules for how to conduct an analysis, usually egregiously, in all forty-three. In , a British researcher, E. Thornton suggested that Freud was often high on cocaine when he wrote his early scientific articles, which accounts for their sloppiness with the data and the recklessness of their claims. That year, in an interview with a Canadian philosophy professor, Todd Dufresne, Crews was asked whether he was ready to call it a day with Freud.

Crews seems to have grown worried that although Freud and Freudianism may look dead, we cannot be completely, utterly, a hundred per cent sure. The new book synthesizes fifty years of revisionist scholarship, repeating and amplifying the findings of other researchers fully acknowledged , and tacking on a few additional charges. Crews is an attractively uncluttered stylist, and he has an amazing story to tell, but his criticism of Freud is relentless to the point of monomania. It ought to come with a bulb of garlic. This is, obviously, the reputation the Woolfs carried with them when they went to meet Freud in As Crews is right to believe, this Freud has long outlived psychoanalysis.

That persona helped Freud to evolve, in the popular imagination, from a scientist into a kind of poet of the mind. And the thing about poets is that they cannot be refuted. Freud and his concepts, now converted into metaphors, joined the legion of the undead. Is there anything new to say about this person?

Spaces of Psychoanalysis

Freud got engaged in , when he was twenty-six, and the engagement lasted four years. He and Martha spent most of that time in different cities, and Freud wrote to her virtually every day.

For and Against Psychoanalysis

Some fifteen hundred letters survive. Crews makes a great deal of the correspondence, and he finds much to disapprove of. Who would want to be judged by letters sent to a lover? What the excerpts that Crews quotes seem to show us is an immature and unguarded young man who is ambitious and insecure, boastful and needy, ardent and impatient—all the ways people tend to come across in love letters. But young people want to make a living. Freud mentions cocaine often in the letters. He used it to get through stressful social situations, but he also appreciated its benefits as an aphrodisiac, and Crews quotes from several letters in which he teases Martha about its effects.

For and Against Psychoanalysis by Stephen Frosh

He was taller than Martha, but not by much. During his engagement, for example, Freud spent four months studying in Paris, where he sometimes suffered from anxiety. He also suspects that Freud had sex with a prostitute, and was therefore not a virgin when, at the age of thirty, he finally got married.

That he had an eye for sexy women. That he masturbated, solicited a prostitute, shared he-man fantasies with his girlfriend, and got crushes on male friends. Who cares? Human beings do these things. Even if Freud had sex with Minna Bernays—so what? The standard revisionist hypothesis is that the sex took place on trips that the two took together without Martha, of which, as Crews points out, there were a surprising number.

But Crews imagines assignations in the family home in Vienna as well. This distance allows Frosh to observe psychoanalysis from a unique vantage. Beginning with Freud, Frosh illustrates the appeal of this last of the great patriarchs, who harshly judged us, yet also offered his sympathetic ear for our confessions, anxieties, secrets and doubts.

But on top of this [candidates] accept the yoke of the psychoanalytic community; they become incorporated into it, if not as full believers then at least as quiet assenters; they do not rock the boat. Strong words indeed; but not untrue. And yet just before Frosh would have us scuttle any consideration of the value psychoanalysis at all, he recognizes the profoundly personal transformative effects a psychoanalytic treatment may have. Having rightfully excoriated psychoanalysis for its crushing authoritarianism, Frosh moves into a rather nuanced appreciation of the wonderfully irrational and powerfully unique qualities of a tradition that challenges and disrupts common sense and overturns cherished beliefs, whether they be personal or societal.

He takes up what it is required for a discipline to be called a science, and why psychoanalysis over its history has been so eager to be viewed as a science. Is the goal of psychoanalytic therapy more akin to an exorcism of past hurts? His treatment of these areas is scholarly, and he might only be faulted for his predominate focus on British theory to the exclusion of other schools.

Hence his treatment of these topics issues from the work of Bion, Klein, Steiner, and Winnicott primarily; though again, the conclusions Frosh comes to in surveying these areas is one that is very friendly to relational thinking.

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