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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

I am posting this thoughtful article, which was not written in response to Tallis but some months earlier, in reply to the general phenomenon of severe criticisms of psychoanalysis. (I contributed chunk of it towards the end.) I think it is relevant to the Tallis debate. It appeared in The Culture, a magazine section of The Sunday Times.
Bob Young


FREUD-BAITING

Paul Williams, a psychoanalyst and anthropologist, examines the current witch-hunt against Freud and psychoanalysis and finds that 'truth' is up for sale in the free market economy.

There exists today a misguided campaign of vilification by some academics against Freud which derives from intellectual rivalry, an ideological worship of 'science' (a characteristic of our era) and, I believe, a profound ignorance of psychoanalysis, especially the workings of the unconscious mind. What is eating these people to make them so bitter?

To say that Freud exerted enormous influence on twentieth century culture is so obvious as to seem banal. His ideas concerning the power of sexuality on our identity and the way we relate to ourselves and others (even from infancy), and his studies of the complexity of the unconscious mind have rendered 'the internal world' an accepted currency amongst clinicians, philosophers, scientists, writers, artists and the public. At the same time, psychoanalysis has been periodically subjected to criticism, usually on the lines that it is not proper science. The criticism comes in sporadic waves (remember Eysenck?), and we are currently enjoying a bout of it, of which Allen Esterson's tirade (The Culture, May 29) is an example, albeit of a personal and nasty variety. The more vicious assaults are not, as they would have us believe, simply concerned with questions of scientific respectability. If that were all there was at stake, passions would not be roused on such a scale. Their objective bears more widely on our ideas of freedom of expression and intellectual democracy, in an age when the power of science and access to control over knowledge have never been more prized (they are more than ever the gateway to resources of many kinds). Those who wish to smear and dismantle Freud's work seek opportunities to define and manage what the rest of us think and believe about the way our minds and bodies function. Freud-baiting is above all a political activity. Groups representing certain (often reactionary) areas of science, literature and politics spare no effort to legitimize and monopolize 'truth'. For them, Freud is a special target, not just because he overturned certain preconceptions of conventional science, but because he had the audacity to try to demonstrate how human minds work - something orthodox science, including medicine and psychiatry, has failed to achieve. In addition, he was an acknowledged literary master who also had a brilliant translator in James Strachey, to the dismay of certain literary professionals. To distinguish more valid criticisms of Freud from institutional and political bigotry, we need to examine the charges against psychoanalysis.

Freud is not scientific. This chestnut could have been heard crackling in any Viennese drawing room fire a century ago. It is the pronouncement of orthodox science (traditionally, in Britain, certain branches of medicine, psychiatry and clinical psychology) against a perceived heresy. How valid is the accusation? Adolf Grünbaum 1984 critique of psychoanalysis' scientific methods was the most scholarly and impressive ever undertaken. He concluded that although Freud's theories are capable of meeting the requirements for falsifiability laid down by Karl Popper (criteria justifying the title 'scientific'), these cannot be confirmed within the clinical psychoanalytic setting (physics has suffered from comparable difficulties). This is a significant criticism, yet I suspect few psychoanalysts would argue with it, let alone feel abashed. This is because Grünbaum study does not address the hermeneutic complexity which is, in my view, inherent in the observation and interpretation of unconscious mental life, and without which psychoanalysis cannot be properly understood. In addition, analysts know that psychoanalysis has come a long way since the time of Freud. Existing theories have evolved, new theories have emerged and many of Freud's ideas have been shown to be true through overwhelming, rigorous clinical observation, whilst others haven't. For example, the ubiquity of sexual fantasy and its role in human development is now capable of being demonstrated. The existence of an internal world of 'object-relations' (a clumsy term meaning 'an internal population of key people') with implications for mental functioning is beyond doubt. Conversely, Freud's work on the origins of taboos, sacrifices and 'the primal horde' is held to be anthropologically naive. His work on religion (we cling guiltily to a notion of a benign Father-God to remain passive, subservient and infantile) has similarly been found to be limited, although recent re-appraisal suggests he may have been onto something. Psychoanalysts have been lax in presenting the body of evidence - on unconscious structures, developmental processes and clinical features of growth and disintegration - that now exists to support the scientific validity of psychoanalysis. It is within their capacity to do so and it would help their cause.

If Freud-baiters themselves realize that modern psychoanalysis is not identical with Freud, why are they so worked up? Their witch-hunt is not simply about how Freud worked (although this is important to clarify given that Freud's methods cause them such confusion), but about what he discovered. By attacking the founder of psychoanalysis, they hope ultimately to destroy the discovery which has enabled human beings to alter radically the way they think about themselves and the world - a discovery academia and literary critics have never been able to address convincingly.

Freud struggled to approach an astonishing domain of human existence - the unconscious mind - for which no systematic explanation was available. Of course, the unconscious existed before Freud, but he was the first to try to properly explain it in psychological terms. Think of your own fantasies. Grudges, daydreams, sexual and aggressive imaginings. These are conscious thoughts, and unpredictable enough, you may say. What of that subterranean, mental cinema-complex where anarchy reigns, known as your unconscious? One night, you dream you're the boss chairing a meeting at work, when your mother walks in and says "But he really is quite hopeless, you know". The next night you're wandering the streets of your childhood when you're arrested by Customs and Excise - a half pound of butter has gone missing from your bank manager's briefcase. What on earth is going on? These unconscious images depict, in primary form, our emotional lives. Images join up to form unconscious fantasies. These can take the form of dreams, and they can influence waking life. You feel their after-effects when you wake up with lingering erotic fantasies after a sexual dream, or are fearful following a nightmare. Some unconscious fantasies last a lifetime, often unacknowledged by the person having them. If they are pathological, they can give rise to illness, even to the abuse of children, rape or murder. Other people may spend their lives searching for Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful, or convinced everyone hates them, and so on. We all have unconscious fantasies, extreme or not, and they are discerned through dreams and ways in which the unconscious 'leaks' into consciousness.

Freud studied the irrational unconscious, as well as consciousness, in the strictly rational manner of nineteenth century scientific inquiry. After failing to account for psychological functioning along neurological lines (prevailing theories of mind and brain were too primitive to link up) he created a new vocabulary - psychoanalysis - forged from rational scientific observation and hermeneutic inquiry. The hermeneutic method involves interpretation of phenomena not always immediately apparent to or measurable by the observer, in order to gain a sense of their meaning. This branch of science has a long and respectable history, and is used by philosophers (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Habermas etc) and by social scientists to study culture and morality (Dilthey, Goffman, Foucault). It is taught in most universities today. Certain orthodox scientists and academics (including those who would dismiss anthropology, sociology, philosophy and the human sciences as subjective, second-rate disciplines) consider that anything other than 'pure' science isn't valid. As contemporary, 'pure' science has grown in iconic appeal over recent years, due to its seductive promises of certainty, so increasing numbers of people have turned to this type of high-tech truth for intellectual security. This does not detract from the validity either of empiricism or the hermeneutic method. It does, however, make for political conflict. What led Freud to use the methods he did?

He and subsequent analysts found the unconscious to be immensely contradictory and labile. It can say one thing, then promptly deny it. Black can become white, white black. Life can feel wonderful (even though you're depressed), good is bad, bad good. Your own dreams will confirm this. Empirical observation and hermeneutic study by Freud and subsequent generations of psychoanalysts have revealed laws governing the operations of the unconscious. Freud-baiters cannot deal with this evidence. They insist upon a solely intellectualist appraisal of psychoanalysis and the unconscious. A strictly rationalist critique is, however, wholly inadequate to account for the surreal, elusive phenomena of the unconscious. Their inability or unwillingness to immerse themselves in any methodological debate concerning the unconscious, forces them to remain mute regarding its existence and meaning. 'Pure' science cannot define it: Freud's methods are discounted using elitist truth criteria: meanwhile, the unconscious continues to exist (as everyone knows), patients suffer and psychoanalysts try to help them, and increase the sum of human knowledge.

Freud was a liar. Here enters a shrill, last ditch argument. Literary Freud-baiters in particular leap on Freud's change of mind regarding the seduction theory and the correspondence regarding case histories is used as evidence. These charges are specious, but they are understandable given the rationalist straitjacket that constricts their case. Freud may have had many of the faults of a Victorian patriarch, but he was not a liar. He believed his female patients to have been seduced. He later believed that fantasies of seduction occurred, and he was open about it. Intellectual honesty and a willingness to change his mind were characteristics of his work throughout his life. Analysts know that many patients do experience fantasies of seduction. Also, many patients have been seduced and abused. The two groups are not co-terminous and discerning the truth of abuse in a given case is a delicate undertaking which takes into account factors other than fantasies (a factor of importance in the 'false memory' debate). Extensive research over the past fifteen years has confirmed this, and even despite this work, the analyst may never know the full truth.

Freud 'the liar' is accused of claiming therapeutic successes which were later proved not to be so (Anna O. and Serge Pankejeff, 'The Wolf Man', are sometimes cited). Has a clinician never before believed a patient to be improved, even cured, only for the patient to fall ill again, often years later? Does this constitute a scandal, or a lie? To suggest, as Esterson does, that Freud should have had the clinical knowledge we have today to enable him to discern his patients' more complex pathology (or more ridiculous, that he had it and didn't use it), is like castigating the inventor of the horse and cart for not having come up with the motor car while he was at it.

The 'Freud the liar' argument derives from the limited, purely cognitive appraisal of Freud's work by literary critics, an approach which parallels in narrowness the rigid objectivism of the 'pure' scientists. Both groups choose to remain oblivious to the dimension of unconscious mental life, including, it would seem, their own. The result has been a series of shallow, one-dimensional and partisan critiques which sound more like mechanical descriptions of a Cézanne or a Vermeer than the paintings themselves. A list of colours, chemical compounds of the paint and number of brushes used are given, from which the work is judged. Absent is any scientific or theoretical embrace of the forces which impel such creations in the first place, or of the technical achievements involved. Practising psychoanalysis is akin to restoring a painting, in fact. Patient and analyst attempt together to lift the grime and wear of the years without damaging the original underneath. Where damage appears, repair is carefully undertaken in accordance with, as far as is possible, the intentions of the creator - the self of the patient. This is achieved collaboratively by rigorous observation and unhurried interpretation of unconscious evidence. The process is both a science and an art. Tens of thousands of people have benefited from psychoanalysis and its associated therapies. Are the Freud-baiters so shameless as to advise these people that their improved health is a delusion?

Psychoanalysis doesn't work. This brings us to a final and fundamental criticism by the Freud-baiters, and one that is not only erroneous but offensive to analysts and patients. It would be foolish to say that there are not bad analysts or failed analyses - of course there are, as there are failures in any professional group. However, in competent hands psychoanalysis is, for many patients, a very powerful and successful treatment method, as are its derivative therapies. Dr Michael Farrell, a leading Maudsley psychiatrist (not an analyst) spearheading the drive to try to prevent street drugs from wrecking the lives of British youth, recently remarked: "Freud and psychoanalysis effectively invented 'talking treatments', or psychotherapy. In the last seventy five years talking treatments have acquired a central place in psychiatry, including in the NHS. We now talk to people about their behaviour and their mental problems."

Human beings grow and flourish psychologically when their inner selves experience and assimilate the deepest emotional truths that being alive arouses. They need to be bonded to others to achieve this. To acquire psychological health is no less than a creative oeuvre, requiring an appropriate setting. For many this is the home. Others, whose formative years fail them, never settle in their personalities until they re-find themselves. The careers of many artists, scientists and ordinary people are testimonies to this search. It can be a difficult and painful undertaking which many people avoid. In the past fifteen years reactionary politics, behaviourism, 'pure' science and high-speed, high-tech consumerism have striven to deter us from the complex task of maturing. Illusions of gratification and success are commodities peddled to maintain this deception, and they now include 'truth', whether religious, scientific or political. The commercialization of everything affects knowledge as much as any other area of life. In reality, understanding the world and oneself is immensely difficult. Psychoanalysis is committed to this task using scientific skills of an observational and interpretive nature, art and, unfashionably, patience.

Why are so many attacks on Freud occurring now? I think that the period since 1989 has been horribly sobering. Take away the Cold War and what do you get? Peace? Fraternal Love? Generosity of Spirit? No, you get, as Freud observed, the return of the (literally and militarily) repressed. We are now having to face in more complex forms the destructive, envious, ungenerous and murderous side of human nature. The dessication of compassion is apparent in the escalation of drug-related killings, mass and serial murders, the Bulger case, the annihilation of children on the streets of Brazil, Dahmer, Frederick West, the Soviet Mafia, Yardies and so on. Remove the evil empire as a convenient scapegoat in which to locate everything negative and you have to face up to the destructive impulses of your own country, your region, your city, your neighbourhood, your ethnicity, your kids' school, your self. I think this leads to a hatred of the way of thinking which has most to say about these things - psychoanalysis. So let's get Freud. He brought up all this stuff. He said that civilization was a veneer over polymorphous perversity, incest, rapaciousness, man as a wolf to other men. He said neurosis was the price of civility, goddam him. He must be a cheat, a liar, and anyway all his followers f*** their patients, don't they? And get them to tell lies. And turn them against their wives and husbands. The analysts and therapists are held responsible for evoking all these things that I cannot bear to know about my friends, my family and myself.

Unless the Freud-baiters provide a coherent critique of psychoanalytic methodology, particularly in relation to the unconscious mind (and perhaps propose their own alternative at the same time) they should put up or shut up. Otherwise, their legacy will be that brand of unbridled, destructive moralizing and cynicism which so characterizes the age in which we live. In the meantime, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, which have acquired too much momentum to be dislodged by such arcane debate, will continue to what they are demonstrably good at: relieving mental suffering.

Paul Williams is the co-author, with Murray Jackson, of a new book - 'Unimaginable Storms: a search for meaning in psychosis' - published in London by Karnac Books.

 


human-nature.com
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

I am posting this thoughtful article, which was not written in response to Tallis but some months earlier, in reply to the general phenomenon of severe criticisms of psychoanalysis. (I contributed chunk of it towards the end.) I think it is relevant to the Tallis debate. It appeared in The Culture, a magazine section of The Sunday Times.
Bob Young


FREUD-BAITING

Paul Williams, a psychoanalyst and anthropologist, examines the current witch-hunt against Freud and psychoanalysis and finds that 'truth' is up for sale in the free market economy.

There exists today a misguided campaign of vilification by some academics against Freud which derives from intellectual rivalry, an ideological worship of 'science' (a characteristic of our era) and, I believe, a profound ignorance of psychoanalysis, especially the workings of the unconscious mind. What is eating these people to make them so bitter?

To say that Freud exerted enormous influence on twentieth century culture is so obvious as to seem banal. His ideas concerning the power of sexuality on our identity and the way we relate to ourselves and others (even from infancy), and his studies of the complexity of the unconscious mind have rendered 'the internal world' an accepted currency amongst clinicians, philosophers, scientists, writers, artists and the public. At the same time, psychoanalysis has been periodically subjected to criticism, usually on the lines that it is not proper science. The criticism comes in sporadic waves (remember Eysenck?), and we are currently enjoying a bout of it, of which Allen Esterson's tirade (The Culture, May 29) is an example, albeit of a personal and nasty variety. The more vicious assaults are not, as they would have us believe, simply concerned with questions of scientific respectability. If that were all there was at stake, passions would not be roused on such a scale. Their objective bears more widely on our ideas of freedom of expression and intellectual democracy, in an age when the power of science and access to control over knowledge have never been more prized (they are more than ever the gateway to resources of many kinds). Those who wish to smear and dismantle Freud's work seek opportunities to define and manage what the rest of us think and believe about the way our minds and bodies function. Freud-baiting is above all a political activity. Groups representing certain (often reactionary) areas of science, literature and politics spare no effort to legitimize and monopolize 'truth'. For them, Freud is a special target, not just because he overturned certain preconceptions of conventional science, but because he had the audacity to try to demonstrate how human minds work - something orthodox science, including medicine and psychiatry, has failed to achieve. In addition, he was an acknowledged literary master who also had a brilliant translator in James Strachey, to the dismay of certain literary professionals. To distinguish more valid criticisms of Freud from institutional and political bigotry, we need to examine the charges against psychoanalysis.

Freud is not scientific. This chestnut could have been heard crackling in any Viennese drawing room fire a century ago. It is the pronouncement of orthodox science (traditionally, in Britain, certain branches of medicine, psychiatry and clinical psychology) against a perceived heresy. How valid is the accusation? Adolf Grünbaum 1984 critique of psychoanalysis' scientific methods was the most scholarly and impressive ever undertaken. He concluded that although Freud's theories are capable of meeting the requirements for falsifiability laid down by Karl Popper (criteria justifying the title 'scientific'), these cannot be confirmed within the clinical psychoanalytic setting (physics has suffered from comparable difficulties). This is a significant criticism, yet I suspect few psychoanalysts would argue with it, let alone feel abashed. This is because Grünbaum study does not address the hermeneutic complexity which is, in my view, inherent in the observation and interpretation of unconscious mental life, and without which psychoanalysis cannot be properly understood. In addition, analysts know that psychoanalysis has come a long way since the time of Freud. Existing theories have evolved, new theories have emerged and many of Freud's ideas have been shown to be true through overwhelming, rigorous clinical observation, whilst others haven't. For example, the ubiquity of sexual fantasy and its role in human development is now capable of being demonstrated. The existence of an internal world of 'object-relations' (a clumsy term meaning 'an internal population of key people') with implications for mental functioning is beyond doubt. Conversely, Freud's work on the origins of taboos, sacrifices and 'the primal horde' is held to be anthropologically naive. His work on religion (we cling guiltily to a notion of a benign Father-God to remain passive, subservient and infantile) has similarly been found to be limited, although recent re-appraisal suggests he may have been onto something. Psychoanalysts have been lax in presenting the body of evidence - on unconscious structures, developmental processes and clinical features of growth and disintegration - that now exists to support the scientific validity of psychoanalysis. It is within their capacity to do so and it would help their cause.

If Freud-baiters themselves realize that modern psychoanalysis is not identical with Freud, why are they so worked up? Their witch-hunt is not simply about how Freud worked (although this is important to clarify given that Freud's methods cause them such confusion), but about what he discovered. By attacking the founder of psychoanalysis, they hope ultimately to destroy the discovery which has enabled human beings to alter radically the way they think about themselves and the world - a discovery academia and literary critics have never been able to address convincingly.

Freud struggled to approach an astonishing domain of human existence - the unconscious mind - for which no systematic explanation was available. Of course, the unconscious existed before Freud, but he was the first to try to properly explain it in psychological terms. Think of your own fantasies. Grudges, daydreams, sexual and aggressive imaginings. These are conscious thoughts, and unpredictable enough, you may say. What of that subterranean, mental cinema-complex where anarchy reigns, known as your unconscious? One night, you dream you're the boss chairing a meeting at work, when your mother walks in and says "But he really is quite hopeless, you know". The next night you're wandering the streets of your childhood when you're arrested by Customs and Excise - a half pound of butter has gone missing from your bank manager's briefcase. What on earth is going on? These unconscious images depict, in primary form, our emotional lives. Images join up to form unconscious fantasies. These can take the form of dreams, and they can influence waking life. You feel their after-effects when you wake up with lingering erotic fantasies after a sexual dream, or are fearful following a nightmare. Some unconscious fantasies last a lifetime, often unacknowledged by the person having them. If they are pathological, they can give rise to illness, even to the abuse of children, rape or murder. Other people may spend their lives searching for Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful, or convinced everyone hates them, and so on. We all have unconscious fantasies, extreme or not, and they are discerned through dreams and ways in which the unconscious 'leaks' into consciousness.

Freud studied the irrational unconscious, as well as consciousness, in the strictly rational manner of nineteenth century scientific inquiry. After failing to account for psychological functioning along neurological lines (prevailing theories of mind and brain were too primitive to link up) he created a new vocabulary - psychoanalysis - forged from rational scientific observation and hermeneutic inquiry. The hermeneutic method involves interpretation of phenomena not always immediately apparent to or measurable by the observer, in order to gain a sense of their meaning. This branch of science has a long and respectable history, and is used by philosophers (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Habermas etc) and by social scientists to study culture and morality (Dilthey, Goffman, Foucault). It is taught in most universities today. Certain orthodox scientists and academics (including those who would dismiss anthropology, sociology, philosophy and the human sciences as subjective, second-rate disciplines) consider that anything other than 'pure' science isn't valid. As contemporary, 'pure' science has grown in iconic appeal over recent years, due to its seductive promises of certainty, so increasing numbers of people have turned to this type of high-tech truth for intellectual security. This does not detract from the validity either of empiricism or the hermeneutic method. It does, however, make for political conflict. What led Freud to use the methods he did?

He and subsequent analysts found the unconscious to be immensely contradictory and labile. It can say one thing, then promptly deny it. Black can become white, white black. Life can feel wonderful (even though you're depressed), good is bad, bad good. Your own dreams will confirm this. Empirical observation and hermeneutic study by Freud and subsequent generations of psychoanalysts have revealed laws governing the operations of the unconscious. Freud-baiters cannot deal with this evidence. They insist upon a solely intellectualist appraisal of psychoanalysis and the unconscious. A strictly rationalist critique is, however, wholly inadequate to account for the surreal, elusive phenomena of the unconscious. Their inability or unwillingness to immerse themselves in any methodological debate concerning the unconscious, forces them to remain mute regarding its existence and meaning. 'Pure' science cannot define it: Freud's methods are discounted using elitist truth criteria: meanwhile, the unconscious continues to exist (as everyone knows), patients suffer and psychoanalysts try to help them, and increase the sum of human knowledge.

Freud was a liar. Here enters a shrill, last ditch argument. Literary Freud-baiters in particular leap on Freud's change of mind regarding the seduction theory and the correspondence regarding case histories is used as evidence. These charges are specious, but they are understandable given the rationalist straitjacket that constricts their case. Freud may have had many of the faults of a Victorian patriarch, but he was not a liar. He believed his female patients to have been seduced. He later believed that fantasies of seduction occurred, and he was open about it. Intellectual honesty and a willingness to change his mind were characteristics of his work throughout his life. Analysts know that many patients do experience fantasies of seduction. Also, many patients have been seduced and abused. The two groups are not co-terminous and discerning the truth of abuse in a given case is a delicate undertaking which takes into account factors other than fantasies (a factor of importance in the 'false memory' debate). Extensive research over the past fifteen years has confirmed this, and even despite this work, the analyst may never know the full truth.

Freud 'the liar' is accused of claiming therapeutic successes which were later proved not to be so (Anna O. and Serge Pankejeff, 'The Wolf Man', are sometimes cited). Has a clinician never before believed a patient to be improved, even cured, only for the patient to fall ill again, often years later? Does this constitute a scandal, or a lie? To suggest, as Esterson does, that Freud should have had the clinical knowledge we have today to enable him to discern his patients' more complex pathology (or more ridiculous, that he had it and didn't use it), is like castigating the inventor of the horse and cart for not having come up with the motor car while he was at it.

The 'Freud the liar' argument derives from the limited, purely cognitive appraisal of Freud's work by literary critics, an approach which parallels in narrowness the rigid objectivism of the 'pure' scientists. Both groups choose to remain oblivious to the dimension of unconscious mental life, including, it would seem, their own. The result has been a series of shallow, one-dimensional and partisan critiques which sound more like mechanical descriptions of a Cézanne or a Vermeer than the paintings themselves. A list of colours, chemical compounds of the paint and number of brushes used are given, from which the work is judged. Absent is any scientific or theoretical embrace of the forces which impel such creations in the first place, or of the technical achievements involved. Practising psychoanalysis is akin to restoring a painting, in fact. Patient and analyst attempt together to lift the grime and wear of the years without damaging the original underneath. Where damage appears, repair is carefully undertaken in accordance with, as far as is possible, the intentions of the creator - the self of the patient. This is achieved collaboratively by rigorous observation and unhurried interpretation of unconscious evidence. The process is both a science and an art. Tens of thousands of people have benefited from psychoanalysis and its associated therapies. Are the Freud-baiters so shameless as to advise these people that their improved health is a delusion?

Psychoanalysis doesn't work. This brings us to a final and fundamental criticism by the Freud-baiters, and one that is not only erroneous but offensive to analysts and patients. It would be foolish to say that there are not bad analysts or failed analyses - of course there are, as there are failures in any professional group. However, in competent hands psychoanalysis is, for many patients, a very powerful and successful treatment method, as are its derivative therapies. Dr Michael Farrell, a leading Maudsley psychiatrist (not an analyst) spearheading the drive to try to prevent street drugs from wrecking the lives of British youth, recently remarked: "Freud and psychoanalysis effectively invented 'talking treatments', or psychotherapy. In the last seventy five years talking treatments have acquired a central place in psychiatry, including in the NHS. We now talk to people about their behaviour and their mental problems."

Human beings grow and flourish psychologically when their inner selves experience and assimilate the deepest emotional truths that being alive arouses. They need to be bonded to others to achieve this. To acquire psychological health is no less than a creative oeuvre, requiring an appropriate setting. For many this is the home. Others, whose formative years fail them, never settle in their personalities until they re-find themselves. The careers of many artists, scientists and ordinary people are testimonies to this search. It can be a difficult and painful undertaking which many people avoid. In the past fifteen years reactionary politics, behaviourism, 'pure' science and high-speed, high-tech consumerism have striven to deter us from the complex task of maturing. Illusions of gratification and success are commodities peddled to maintain this deception, and they now include 'truth', whether religious, scientific or political. The commercialization of everything affects knowledge as much as any other area of life. In reality, understanding the world and oneself is immensely difficult. Psychoanalysis is committed to this task using scientific skills of an observational and interpretive nature, art and, unfashionably, patience.

Why are so many attacks on Freud occurring now? I think that the period since 1989 has been horribly sobering. Take away the Cold War and what do you get? Peace? Fraternal Love? Generosity of Spirit? No, you get, as Freud observed, the return of the (literally and militarily) repressed. We are now having to face in more complex forms the destructive, envious, ungenerous and murderous side of human nature. The dessication of compassion is apparent in the escalation of drug-related killings, mass and serial murders, the Bulger case, the annihilation of children on the streets of Brazil, Dahmer, Frederick West, the Soviet Mafia, Yardies and so on. Remove the evil empire as a convenient scapegoat in which to locate everything negative and you have to face up to the destructive impulses of your own country, your region, your city, your neighbourhood, your ethnicity, your kids' school, your self. I think this leads to a hatred of the way of thinking which has most to say about these things - psychoanalysis. So let's get Freud. He brought up all this stuff. He said that civilization was a veneer over polymorphous perversity, incest, rapaciousness, man as a wolf to other men. He said neurosis was the price of civility, goddam him. He must be a cheat, a liar, and anyway all his followers f*** their patients, don't they? And get them to tell lies. And turn them against their wives and husbands. The analysts and therapists are held responsible for evoking all these things that I cannot bear to know about my friends, my family and myself.

Unless the Freud-baiters provide a coherent critique of psychoanalytic methodology, particularly in relation to the unconscious mind (and perhaps propose their own alternative at the same time) they should put up or shut up. Otherwise, their legacy will be that brand of unbridled, destructive moralizing and cynicism which so characterizes the age in which we live. In the meantime, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, which have acquired too much momentum to be dislodged by such arcane debate, will continue to what they are demonstrably good at: relieving mental suffering.

Paul Williams is the co-author, with Murray Jackson, of a new book - 'Unimaginable Storms: a search for meaning in psychosis' - published in London by Karnac Books.

 


human-nature.com
© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.com logo

UK -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.co.uk logo

 | Human Nature | The Human Nature Daily Review | Psychiatry Research Online |