Sigmund Says: Analysts Expand Their Horizon By Going Beyond Father Freud

freudcover fred harperrgb Sigmund Says: Analysts Expand Their Horizon By Going Beyond Father Freud

Illustration by Fred Harper

In 1909, after a six-day journey from Vienna with his associates Carl Jung and Sándor Ferenczi, Sigmund Freud arrived in New York Harbor and spent a week sightseeing in the city. He had traveled to America to give a series of lectures on his “talking cure” at Clark University in Massachusetts. Before heading north, he spent time walking in Central Park and visiting the tenements of the Lower East Side. He saw the amusement rides on Coney Island and marveled at the antiquities in the Metropolitan Museum. Though his physical presence in the city was short-lived, New York has become Freud’s cultural home in the U.S. One hundred years later, the archetype of the neurotic, upper-middle-class Upper West Sider lying on the couch—perpetuated by everyone from Philip Roth to Woody Allen—is still how much of the public thinks of psychoanalysis. (“Tell me about your relationship with your mother…”) Several generations have been raised on the notion of psychoanalysis as New Yorker cartoon.

This is something that analytic institutions like the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute must reckon with.
Inside NYPSI’s headquarters on the Upper East Side, the cream-colored walls and dark brown carpet give off a sterile, medical feel, like a photograph of a hospital lobby from decades past. Posters and busts of Freud adorn the space. NYPSI, the oldest analytic institution in the country, celebrated its 100th anniversary this year. The faculty here have a reputation among fellow analysts as the most Freudian of Freudians, but they are nevertheless trying to keep up with changing times.

Sitting in an upstairs office was Maxine Gann, a Ph.D. who trained at the institute in the ’90s and was in the first class that was entirely female, and Roger Rahtz, M.D., the president of the board, who enrolled at the Institute in 1973.

The NYPSI, first known as the New York Psychoanalytic Society, was founded in 1911 by Dr. A.A. Brill, at the time Freud’s biggest champion in the States and the person responsible for bringing the good doctor to America. It was here that Freud’s disciples like Ernst Kris, Charles Brenner and Margaret Mahler began developing Freud’s theory in the United States.

“It’s not just about doing psychoanalysis anymore,” said Dr. Gann, speaking of the practice today. “Nobody so far as I know would raise an eyebrow if an analyst prescribed an antidepressant for a patient who was really in a bad way.”

“Among some,” Dr. Rahtz clarified.

“Well, at this instant.”

“To some degree,” he conceded.

“There’s a much broader, more open mind-set,” Dr. Gann said. “I’ll tell people to lay down on the couch and ‘tell me more’ if I think that’s the best treatment for my patient. But I know people who say, ‘I wish my analyst would shut up.’”

Indeed, among analysts there is little consensus on how to keep Freud relevant, and like the rest of the field, the NYPSI is trying to expand and make room for methods other than classical Freudian analysis. Even so, they still have a reputation among the analytic community of being dogmatic. One analyst, a social worker with a Ph.D. in psychology who did an externship at the NYPSI a few years ago, described a class syllabus that had been reprinted since 1980, the date crossed out and a more current one put in its place.

Further adding to the difficulty of negotiating such a balance is that the discourse is taking place in a cultural milieu in which the figure of Freud is at best a looming historical presence, and at worst a punch line.


  1. Mine's A Newt says:

    The founder of psychology, as a scientific discipline, was Victor Kraeppelin, a psychiatrist who actually observed patients, noted and categorised symptoms, trying to describe what was actually present before making up theories about it. Because he was a scientist, who published objective and falsifiable work, there is no cult around his name, and most of his work has been superseded by by later psychologists. It’s an honourable position to be in.   

    Psychoanalysis was a business and a cult, and it had nothing in common with science. It’s to psychology what astrology is to astronomy: a pre-scientific precursor, of historical interest at best. 
    Still, while there are still clients who will pay for psychoanalytic sessions, then psychoanalysis will survive, and psychoanalysts will need to know somthing about Freud, of only his business practices. 

    But psychologists? No, they don’t need to study Freud or psychoanalysis at all. 

    There’s a reason Freud mainly clogs up literature rather than psychology courses these days. It’s that the more people know of him, the less seriously he’s taken. And even humanities courses are wising up, and moving on.    

    1. Bkerr says:

      Name one law found by any current psychological research.

      Psychotherapy is an art and all the better for it.

      1. Mine's A Newt says:

        Scientists haven’t really been in the law-announcing business for the last hundred years or so. Scientists make observations, develop theories and hypotheses. They then publish the results, including how they got them, so that other people can test their work. 
        For example, you could look up Volume 43, issue 3 of The International Journal of Psychology, which has some interesting empirical stuff on how people’s perception of their life partner predicts their reaction to stress. Alternatively, a friend of mine is doing research with prisoners (so far unpublished), to see if violent offenders differ from the rest of us in their ability to recognise emotional expressions in others. What he finds won’t be a “law”. It’ll just be a “finding”, which we hope will be useful in reducing violent offences. So that’s the sort of thing that science does. It has nothing in common with the sort of arm-waving Freud did, or with psychoanalysis. “Psychotherapy”, which is not the same thing as “psychoanalysis” (good word-switch, though), is indeed an art. Medical practice is also an art. But it has to be informed by good science. A doctor whose practice is informed by pseudoscience like homeopathy or cancer quackery runs the risk of killing people. Similarly, psychotherapy is an art that needs to be informed by valid science. A practitioner “informed” by psychoanalytic doctrines is useful mainly for lightening the wallets of rich and gullible people, who can afford endless sessions with an expensive friend. Worse, he or she may do harm by steering people who need actual intervention away from more useful therapies. 

      2. “Name one law found by any current psychological research.”

        How about the law of “rich educated people will  pay big bucks to have their palms, I mean minds, read.”

    2. No-one says:

      Do you mean Emil Kraeplin?

      1. Mine's A Newt says:

        Yeah. I named him from memory, shame on me, and got it wrong. Ironic, since I was saying he should be better known. It’s Emil Kraepelin. 

        Almost everything he did has been superseded, with his category of “schizophrenia” among the last things to go. But he, and not Freud, is the original giant whose shoulders we stand on, so we can see further. 

  2. Anonymous says:

    Recent development in neurosciences   stress    Freud  `s method  to explore the unconscious mind.Freud himself  admitted that future progress of  psychoanalysis is depend on new researches in neurosciences .We must  know that Freud was  neuroscientist.He was also knew  we can only explored the causes of  neurotic, to cure them completely  is impossible.  We must remember his contribution to  explored the causes of neurotic is also immortal. He was first  scientist who gave scientific foundation to psychology.Any curious  man can learn from  his technique to explore his  his unconscious mind.I think this a great contribution he given to mankind.

  3. Hazard27 says:

    If Dr. Maxine Gunn asked me to “lay” down on the couch, I’d  have flinched at her making such a grossly sexist  move on an impatient patient.  I’d nervously ask her if I should “lie” her fee on her hands. My only encounter with a shrink in my 84 years was to control bipolar disorder. One prescription of Lithium and I was sane again, or at least as semicrazilly under control as I always been at my best. Give me a good drug anytime to avoid enduring a googly-eyed “wise man” pretending to be profound. Patrick D. Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

  4. Nilesh Salpe says:

    Sigmund Freud had founded branch of physiology in which psycho-analysis was centerpiece .But after his such a laudable work there is onus on successors to modify ,adapt and make more theory more congruent with need of contemporary culture and people .If they stick to fact that Freud had done this and that wrong in his conclusions then go ahead and correct them which would evolve our knowledge about how our mind works.Just grousing about his foibles and work would be fruitless. Freud had shown us the way …how to walk on it or even to find new shortest one is onus on Neo-Freudians . — NILESH SALPE

  5. Nilesh Salpe says:

    Sigmund Freud  had founded branch of physiology in which psycho-analysis was centerpiece .But after his such a laudable work there is onus on successors to modify ,adapt  and make more theory more congruent with need of contemporary culture  and people .If they stick to fact that Freud had done this and that  wrong in his conclusions then go ahead and correct them which would evolve our knowledge about how our mind works.Just grousing about his foibles and  work would be fruitless. Freud had shown us  the way …how to walk on it or even to find new shortest one is onus on Neo-Freudians .                 — NILESH SALPE

  6. Anonymous says:

    Freud was a fraud on the scientific method. He is now billed as a “philosopher”. Phychoanalysis is cultish – just like Freud practiced it.

    1. MJ says:

      What great contribution have you made to society besides this glib, reductive one line dismissal of something you have clearly little real knowledge of? It’s easy to mock, not so easy to found a whole new way of seeing the mind. 

      1. Anonymous says:

        “New way of seeing the mind” below the belt and through a cloud of cocaine?

  7. Psychoanalysis and Freudian theories have almost no impact on the clinical practice of psychiatry.  His influence has been cultural, not scientific, as generations of the gullible believe in the poppycock he peddled such as the Oedipus complex, oral and anal phases, etc.  There’s no scientific evidence for this garbage, and Freud’s impact has been entirely negligible in areas such as psychosis and substance abuse.

    Why do otherwise smart people waste their time with this charlatan’s fairy tales and just-so stories ?

  8. We shouldn´t be so down on Freud! A lot of terms and disorders in psychiatry don`t need Freud in order to study them, nor is necesary to read alls his work to be a good psychotherapist nowdays!  But some concepts of Freud still are of use nowdays though with some modification, such as defense mechanisms, trauma, transference, intrapsychic conflict, relationships with parents, grief! Freud is still important if one wants to study the mind in more depth, perhaps more as a historical footnote, yes, but even to these day we are discussing and trying to answer the same questions that Aristotle and Plato had, so it does no harm to familiarize a little bit with Freud! And if you are writer, come on, conflict with father is at centerpiece of all great stories, look at Star Wars!

  9. Freud was right about one thing.  Most people are… Boing!

  10. You don’t need Freud when you have drugs. I think Freud’s cocaine habit, in this sense, was more influential than his theorizing, at least in the long run.
    Feeling depressed? Big pharma has this or that drug for you for this or that malady, which has so-and-so side-effects, which will require the taking of such-and-such drugs.

    Same with spirituality. It used to take commitment and devotion to long sessions of prayer and/or meditation, etc.  But with drugs like Ecstasy, you have instant  transcendence on the dance floor at a Rave concert.
    Soma, soma, soma. Huxley saw the future.

  11. You know what would have been interesting?  Sigmund Freud vs Hal computer.

  12. It must be said, Freudianism was essentially a Jewish cult, and Jews were drawn to it for two reasons.
    Secular Jews, having given up the Old religion, needed a new faith to explain everything.
    Psychoanalysis also gave Jews a sense of power. By claiming to know more about their patients’ minds/emotions/motives than the patients themselves did,  Jewish psychoanalysists hoped to gain power over other people. Since the sort of people who sought psychoanalysis tended to be the rich elites, psychoanalysists could take over the minds of the most powerful and influential people in the modern world.
    If Marxist Jews sought to lead the masses, Freudian Jews sought to mind-control and lead the elites.