The skepdick is taking a class in psychology this summer and had some thoughts to share about this guy:
Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis was derived in Victorian era Europe, a time of great sexual repression where even top minds had only superficial awareness of how biological processes control the brain and how brain functions control behavior and personality. Freud is known as the “father of modern psychiatry” (Biography, 1997, 0:05) and, like many other “fathers” or “mothers” of things, he had good intentions towards his patients and his field, but although his research led psychiatry in a new direction, it ultimately led Freud down a path where there was no escaping the facts that his theories were dead-ends based on false premises and his conclusions were based on observations rather than any legitimate evidence. Psychoanalysis is labeled a “science” many times in the video, as well as, by the Vienna press upon his escape to London from the Nazis in 1938, a “pornographic Jewish specialty” (Biography, 39:49). One wonders if the irony of this was not lost on Freud since he himself was worried 38 years prior that his new form of analysis would be “dismissed as a Jewish science” (Biography, 25:30). Today, few medical professionals would call psychoanalysis anything but a fringe pseudoscience.
To Freud’s credit, his attitudes towards mental illness were revolutionary and I’m impressed that he was savvy enough to dismiss the usual fringe cures of the time such as magnets, spas, and hydrotherapy as useless (Biography, 13:30). Isn’t it strange how these fringe cures are still around today? Sadly, during his 1895 trip to Paris, in an effort to learn more about how physical deformities or brain lesions may cause mental illness, he became convinced that “diseases are caused by ideas” (Biography, 11:25), certainly not how we define disease. Freud believed that all neuroses are formed as the ego (conscious mind) tries and fails to suppress urges coming from the id (unconscious mind); a fistfight if you will between different parts of our mind. Delineating the mind in such a way was a failure on his part, again, not really his fault since the biology wasn’t advanced enough for him to know better.
Freud’s observations were of a very narrow group of wealthy Jewish people, mostly women, biasing his research as much as did his culture. His theories on dream interpretation and free association have little scientific support and were not subjected to any experimental research at the time. He was also subject to a huge confirmation bias whereby he was able to find what he was looking for every time he had a session with a patient (it was always about sex, even if the patient thought otherwise). Why then do we celebrate this man who claimed to know much about sex and sexual desires, but who rarely had sex (he was convinced the “pull-out” method of birth control made men neurotic) (Biography, 17:08), who believed a baby’s primal sucking instinct was really all about sex (especially if it were a boy, then it was about sex with his mother), and who was unable to control his own desire to smoke 25 cigars a day despite his numerous bouts with cancer (and no, he didn’t really say, “a cigar is just a cigar”)?
The reason is because of his greatest contribution towards modern psychology, his“talking treatment” (Biography, 14:10). Freud likely found success with this type of therapy, not because people were learning about their supposedly repressed sexual urges or assigning meaning to random bits of data rumbling about in their heads in the form of dreams, rather because talking about your problems is simply the best form of therapy. It’s the talking that’s therapeutic and all the psychoanalysis that Freud believed he was doing in addition to talking was just a bunch of nonsense that actually got in the way of the true therapy. His falling out with his friend Carl Jung after which Freud “demanded absolute loyalty” to his ideas of psychoanalysis (Biography, 28:40) is evidence that he had fallen prey to the sunk cost fallacy at which time he was too far down the path to realize it was the wrong one.
Even though he was wrong about why people exhibit certain behavior, his methods raised awareness about mental illness in a time when mentally ill people were still being subjected to medieval levels of torture, so for that at least we should celebrate him.
Biography.com. (1997). Sigmund Freud. [Video File]. Retrieved Jun 18, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/sigmund-freud-9302400/videos/sigmund-freud-full-biography-9577539960
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