Letter: Freud's debunkers: a narrow vision of science and their own secret fears

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The Independent Online
Sir: One expects more from the Independent than a rewrite of a Freud-bashing piece that appeared in the New York Review of Books two months ago. There is now a body of first-rate historical research that has given us a welcome alternative to the hagiographic representations of Freud as the lonely pioneer creating great discoveries while suffering 'splendid isolation' in imperial Central Europe. But in the absence of clearly defined clinical or theoretical concerns, some of the new researchers and their popularisers seem content to hit out at what has been an oppressive Freudian orthodoxy by trashing Freud rather than integrating their findings with modern clinical theory and practice.

There is indeed much from a modern perspective that is dubious and unacceptable in Freud's practice. But what seem unmistakable in recent attacks is an invidious attempt to discredit psychotherapy and/or psychoanalysis as a whole by discrediting the main originator of the talking cure. The attacks on Freud have not related Freud's contributions and errors to major modern strands of pyschoanalytic theory and practice which have replaced traditional instinctual theories (sex, aggression, etc) by relational models of human development and needs. So, for example, the important question of therapist suggestion discussed by Crews is understood by relationally oriented clinicians as an avoiding reaction by an analyst not able to tolerate the difficult conflicting emotions that can be present in the consulting room.

Superficial attacks such as Crews' simply pander to those elements in our culture who find it too uncomfortable to examine subjective experience with any degree of honesty. Similarly, the question of suggestion has been seized upon to throw doubt on the reality of widespread childhood sexual abuse, reality that Freud himself never doubted. Freud was one of the great figures of the 20th century. We have something to learn about ourselves by asking why we are so willing to trash heroes we ourselves have created.

Yours faithfully,


London, NW3

29 January