Freud Goes Up in Smoke – Toronto Star
Sun, 16 Nov 2003
Neighbours: Freud And Hitler In Vienna, a just released film juxtaposes what Sophie Freud, granddaughter of the father of psychoanalysis calls two “false prophets of the 20th century.”
Sigmund Freud, who was once regarded as a messiah and an intellectual icon whose iron fisted dominance in psychiatry lasted more than 50 years after his death, is now declared unworthy of a footnote in history by contemporary psychiatrists!
It would seem that institutional psychiatry–unlike other fields of medicine– is inherently, doggedly intolerant of any competing theories. At any given moment, psychiatry tolerates but a single theoretic doctrine to explain (without empirical proof) the cause and criteria of mental illness. On the basis of that one unproven theory–be it psychoanalysis or biochemical imbalance– children and adults are assigned a mental “disorder” from a checklist and prescribed (often radical) treatments whose results have often been disastrous.
It would seem that psychiatry favors the following path: “If neither the facts nor the law favor your position, pound the table.”
Lacking a body of scientific evidence, lacking empirical evidence that patients are helped to recover by the prescribed treatments, psychiatry swerves from one extreme orthodoxy to another. One dogma (psychoanalysis) has been traded for another (biochemical imbalance) with equal fervor and baseless certitude, unfortunately with equally poor results.
When will the public wake up to the hazards resulting from psychiatry’s current drug-based dogma which, in large part is a result of financial ties to drug manufacturers? Psychiatrists use their influence to promote increased use of psychoactive drugs. They advise millions of parents to feed their children powerful psychotropic drugs whose long-term drug-induced effects on children’s developing brains are not monitored or recorded. Organized psychiatry in concert with the drug industry influence state mental health care policies. Does no one bear responsibility for protecting children’s best interest?
Nov. 14, 2003. 07:31 AM
Freud goes up in smoke
Granddaughter dismisses theories as outdated
Psychoanalysis done in by new drug therapies
Would the last Freudian please turn out the lights?
The dimming of Freud’s influence and fading of what he preached and practised — from penis envy to psychoanalysis — are making him little more than a footnote of history despite his brand name.
“The idea that the unconscious mind makes people ill is no longer credible,” says Edward Shorter, author of A History Of Psychiatry and history of medicine professor at the University of Toronto, on sabbatical leave this year.
“It’s hard to imagine a scientific article in psychiatry that would treat him even as footnote.”
In the film Neighbours: Freud And Hitler In Vienna, which opens the Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival tonight, Freud’s granddaughter Sophie reminisces about her famous relative. “In my eyes, both Adolf Hitler and my grandfather were false prophets of the 20th century.”
Retired as a professor of psychology at Simmons College in Boston, Sophie Freud will be at tonight’s screening and will participate in a discussion afterwards.
She dismisses most of her grandfather’s theories as “outdated” and says that another psychiatrist, Irving Goffman, “had a much better grasp on human motivation than Freud.”
She also faults her grandfather for “being very angry about any critique and viewing people who criticized him, or thought otherwise, as villains.”
Freud and Hitler didn’t just share a neighbourhood in Vienna, she says in the film. “They also shared the ambition to convince other men of the one and only truth that they had come upon.”
Speaking by phone from Boston, Sophie Freud attacks Sigmund’s certainty.
“Never could he be wrong,” she says. “That lasted for 50 years after his death, until a few people started to dare to say, “Yes, but …”
Before long, “but” became outright scepticism.
“Penis envy, the bad mother — nobody believes that stuff anymore,” says Shorter.
“Completely absurd,” agrees historian of psychology Sonu Shamdasani of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine in London, England, and author of Jung And The Making Of Modern Psychology: The Dream Of A Science.
Freudian beliefs and psychoanalysis, he says, “were never a science. Freud was a fashion, and then he became unfashionable.”
In little more than a century, Sigmund Freud went from upstart to irrelevant.
But in between, during the golden age of psychoanalysis from 1920 to 1970, he was regarded as a messiah and an intellectual icon.
“Everyone was into it,” recalls Dr. Joel Paris, chief of the department of psychiatry at McGill University, about Freud’s theories and psychoanalysis. “This is what we talked about and believed.”
Unlike most analytical psychiatrists training in the 1960s, Paris didn’t go to a psychoanalytic institute. “And I was considered a rebel for not doing it, ” he says.
He adds, “I think it was a case of the Emperor’s new clothes.”
Paris is completing a book on “how it happened that 40 years ago, psychoanalysts were leaders of psychiatry and today they have become marginal.”
One reason, he says, is because at the time psychiatry didn’t really have anything else to offer.
Plus, “the public relations was really excellent because they said you had to be analyzed too, so we all got analyzed. Once you’ve been analyzed and the longer you’ve spent on couch, isn’t it harder to say, `Maybe this wasn’t the best idea’?”
Psychology historian Shamdasani says Freud was “a good marketer.”
“Freudian legend erroneously gave Freud credit for formulating a revolutionary theory, which it is nothing of the sort,” he says.
But even today Freud is not without some diehard disciples, a dwindling coterie who still practise Freudian analysis.
“A few of these aging dinosaurs clung to the true faith,” says Shorter, “but psychoanalysis has really vanished from psychiatry.”
The granddaughter of the father of psychoanalysis explains, “The bad thing was that psychoanalysis kept itself apart from the scientific advances of time, stuck in a 19th-century way of thinking.”
Freud’s status started to take a tumble in the 1960s when authority and established ideas were overturned, in particular those that he represented: institutionalized medicine, psychiatric treatment, patriarchy.
“It started with his view of women,” Sophie Freud says, explaining her disillusionment with her grandfather’s thinking.
“If you didn’t have a vaginal orgasm, you were not a mature woman, and the clitoris didn’t count. Stuff like that, penis envy, it was amazing. Women believed the great man more than their own bodily experiences.”
But she doesn’t hold Freud responsible for the subjugation of women.
“His ideas grew out of society. He mirrored in his theories the belief that women were secondary and were not the norm and didn’t quite measure up to the norm.”
But what really did in Freud was not feminism but drugs, according to Shorter.
Beginning with Miltown in the 1950s, the efficacy of pharmaceuticals in fixing mental ailments from schizophrenia to depression made Freud’s theories outmoded, even risible.
“The mechanism could not possibly be the unconscious mind,” says Shorter. “These drugs address the brain.”
Other factors, too, contributed to the collapse of Freudianism: historical research revealing the falseness of the Freudian legend, the rise of evidence-based medicine, the motivation of psychiatry to get back into the medical mainstream, the theories of developmental psychology that contradicted Freud’s theories about childhood, and competing psychotherapeutic approaches including cognitive behaviour therapy which was shown to be more effective than psychoanalysis.
Finally, a flap in the mid-1980s about “recovery” during therapy of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse and satanic rituals served as a nail in the coffin.
“If penis envy made us look dumb, this will make us look totally gullible,” said psychiatrist Paul McHugh at the time, while chairman of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
The latest thrust in the demise of Freud is brain research. “The big shots in psychiatry now are people who do imaging and genetics,” says McGill’s Paris.
With biology and brain chemistry accountable for psychiatric disorders and technology replacing hypothesizing, Freud’s theories have gone the way of leeches and laudanum.
Could it be that Freud is the Ptolemy of medicine, Ptolemy being the astronomer circa 150 A.D. who believed the earth was the centre of the universe?
Sophie Freud believes her grandfather deserves some respect for his ideas, if not adherents. “There’s no need to tear down the interesting things he thought about,” she says.
Paris says there’s a legacy that does need to be retained.
“Psychoanalysis taught us to listen to our patients, to empathize, to spend time with them,” he says.
Also, he says, “Everybody agrees that there is an unconscious. But the idea that it’s structured in the way Freud described or that you can get access to it through dreams or free association is not generally accepted any longer.”
New York psychiatrist Kenneth Porter, of the Center for Spirituality and Psychotherapy, is even more respectful.
“Right now society is in a stage of adolescence with regard to Freud,” he says. “It’s how our teenage kids relate to us: `You’re crazy, you don’t know nothing, you’re outdated.’
“When they’re little, they think of us as god, which was how we thought of Freud for the first 40 years. I think society is going to come to a more mature relationship with Freud. So much that he taught us is so healing.”
Sure, he made mistakes, says Porter, “but he figured the whole thing out himself and never even had an analyst to help him!”
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