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

WOODY ALLEN HAD A SESSION BARBARA WALTERS HAD A SESSION ALEC BALDWIN HAD A SESSION JERRY STILLER HAD A SESSION MARCIA GAY HARDEN HAD A SESSION WARNER WOLF HAD A SESSION CELESTE HOLM HAD A SESSION DICK CAVETT HAD A SESSION JOHN CLEESE HAD A SESSION T.R. KNIGHT HAD A SESSION PATRICIA HEATON HAD A SESSION DAN LAURIA HAD A SESSION

So goes the sign out front of the theater where Freud’s Last Session is playing. It is referring to the celebrities who have gone to see the play. Based on The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi Jr., it imagines an encounter between C.S. Lewis and Freud on the day England declared war on Germany, a few weeks before Freud’s death. The two are in Freud’s study in London; Freud provides the comic relief. He talks to a non-complacent dog. He says things like, “Psychoanalysis does not profess the absolutes of religion. Thank God.” As a recurring joke, he answers the phone with a drastically drawn-out Teutonic “Hey-looooo?” When Lewis enters the room for the first time and hesitates before the famous couch in the study, Freud sneers at him and tells him to sit in the chair by his desk. That got a big laugh from the crowd.

“From day one, Freud was a huge magnet to pull people,” said Mark St. Germain, the production’s playwright of the audience-garnering subject.

Psychoanalysis changes along with culture, but Freud stays the same. Analysts and theorists continue to work with him, to build on his foundations, but to much of the American public he remains a cocaine-sniffing, whacky old man, the kind who speaks of an unseen other, buried deep inside us, who really just wants to play house with Mommy. His life’s work, of course, goes deeper than that, and what he created persists—but he remains, as one practicing Freudian called him, “a figure of levity.” For that, Freud is the great patriarch of mental health: both feared and respected, hated and idealized.

Near the beginning of Mr. St. Germain’s play, there is a moment that alludes to a scene from Freud’s childhood that is recounted in Peter Gay’s brilliant biography Freud: A Life for Our Time. His father, Jacob, a feckless wool merchant, was talking to his son about how much life had improved for Austria’s Jews. “When I was a young fellow,” he told Freud, “one Saturday I went for a walk in the streets in your birthplace, beautifully decked out, with a new fur cap on my head. Along comes a Christian, knocks off my cap into the muck with one blow, and shouts, ‘Jew, off the sidewalk!’” Freud asked his father what he did. He said: “I stepped into the road and picked up my cap.” “I don’t know which of them I detested more,” the dying Freud tells Lewis in the play.

It is the one indisputable fact that Freud got right: there’s no living down one’s parents.

mmiller@observer.com

Comments

  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.