Feet of Clay - A Study of Gurus: Freud
by Anthony Storr
THROUGHOUT HIS LONG life, Freud claimed to be a scientist. He would have indignantly repudiated the title of guru, and dismissed any suggestion that he was promulgating a faith. Yet psychoanalysis is partly based on personal revelation and is neither a science nor merely a method of treatment. Ernest Gellner's brilliant book The Psychoanalytic Movement is an enquiry into how psychoanalysis so quickly became 'the dominant idiom for the discussion of the human personality and of human relations." He calls psychoanalysis 'a theory, a technique, an organization, a language, an ethos, an ethic, a climate.' Freud was far more of a guru than his followers have acknowledged.
It is true that, in German speaking countries, the word 'science' has different overtones from those to which we are accustomed in England. Naturwissenschaft is what we call science: Geistwissenschaft refers to the humanities. But the same word Wissenschafter is used for both scholar and scientist, which somewhat blurs the distinction. Freud certainly began his professional career as a scientist in the English sense, for he earned out anatomical and physiological research in the laboratories of Ernst Brcke, who was a notoriously hard-headed determinist. Freud remained a determinist, believing that all psychological phenomena are rigidly determined by the principle of cause and effect. If he could have afforded to do so, Freud would have preferred to spend his life in scientific research; but his wish to get married compelled him to qualify in medicine and embark upon medical practice as a way of making a living. Freud cannot be accused of not understanding the requirements of science, although he himself abandoned them.
It can be argued that Freud spent most of his life in work which is as difficult to quantify or replicate as is philosophy. But he insisted on calling psychoanalysis a science, in spite of the fact that very few of the hypotheses of psychoanalysis can be subjected to scientific scrutiny and proved or disproved. Observations made during the course of psychoanalytic treatment are the basis for most psychoanalytic theories; but each psychoanalytic session is unique and cannot be replicated. Moreover, observations made during the course of psychoanalytic treatment are inevitably contaminated with the subjective prejudice of the observer. This is why philosophers and scientists have generally rejected psychoanalysis as scientifically unsound. If Freud had been content to maintain that psychoanalysis was a hermeneutic system, a historical way of interpreting human behaviour in terms of past events and influences, he might have kept the respect of scientists.
However, the fact that Freud was not the scientist which he claimed to be does not diminish his importance. He is rightly linked with Marx and Darwin as being one of the three original thinkers who have most altered man's view of himself in the twentieth century. Even if every theory which Freud advanced could be proved wrong, it would still be the case that Freud caused a revolution in the way we think. Freud did not invent the concept of the unconscious, but he applied it clinically and made it operational. His reductive approach to the mind tended to interpret highly complex behaviour in terms of simple, biological origins. He was an expert at undermining pretensions, and at reducing all human striving to the lowest common denominator. The founder of psychoanalysis had a low opinion of the majority of human beings. As he remarked in one of his letters to Fliess, he became a therapist against his will, and was not inspired by any altruistic desire to relieve suffering. But the fact that he remained detached and impersonal when treating patients contributed to his insights, especially to his discovery of transference. Freud was a remarkably perceptive observer whose detailed accounts of mental states like melancholia and obsessional neurosis are still illuminating. Many of his original papers are classics, which should be read and re-read because of the excellence of Freud's clinical descriptions. It is psychoanalytic causal explanations in terms of infantile experience and phantasy which make us incredulous, not Freud's portrayals of psychiatric phenomena.
It is still insufficiently appreciated that some of the most fundamental hypotheses of psychoanalysis had nothing to do with the objective observation of clinical cases. As with the revelations of the gurus whom we have already examined, they had a purely subjective origin, and followed upon a period of mental and physical distress; Freud's 'creative illness'. The Oedipus complex and the theory of dreams were the product of Freud's own self-analysis. As Ellenberger points out:
Over a period of about six years (1894 to 1899) four events are inextricably intermingled in Freud's life: his intimate relationship with Wilhelm Fliess, his neurotic disturbances, his self-analysis, and his elaboration of the basic principles of psychoanalysis.'
During these years, Freud broke with Josef Breuer, his first collaborator. He also wrote, and then abandoned, his Project for a Scientific Psychology, which was his attempt to link psychological and neurological mechanisms. He suffered from a recurrent cardiac arrhythmia, shortness of breath, and disturbing doubts alternating with the conviction that he was on the brink of making great discoveries. He brooded constantly on the problems of the neuroses. His letters to Fliess reveal a recurrent state of mental torment. His distress was increased by the death of his father in October 1896.
The publication of The Interpretation of Dreams in November 1899, the book which more than any other enshrines Freud's 'revelation', can be taken to mark the end of his creat'ive illness. He was convinced that he had indeed discovered a new theory of the mind. As Peter Gay puts it: 'By the time he published The Interpretation of Dreams at the end of 1899, the principles of psychoanalysis were in place." But these principles were based more upon Freud's own subjective experience and his own dreams than upon clinical observation. He himself recorded the subjective origin of his dream theory. While staying at the Schloss Bellevue outside Vienna in July 1895, Freud dreamed his famous dream of 'Irma's injection.' The details of this famous dream, which has provoked a vast literature, can be found in The Interpretation of Dreams. In this context, it is enough to say that Freud interpreted the dream as an attempt to absolve him from mishandling the treatment of a patient, and therefore concluded that the dream represented the fulfilment of a wish. When he stayed again at the Schloss Bellevue in 1900, he wrote to his friend Fliess:
Do you suppose that someday one will read on a marble tablet on this house:
Here, on July 24, 1895,
the secret of the dream
revealed itself to Dr. Sigm. Freud.
Freud's creative illness was followed by the conviction that he had indeed discovered a new theory of the mind. He continued to believe that The Interpretation of Dreams contained the most valuable of all his insights. It was because so many of his ideas originated from his self-analysis that Freud was certain that they were valid. For example, he wrote to Fliess:
A single idea of general value dawned on me. I have found, in my own case too, [the phenomenon of] being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood.'
This is how the Oedipus complex became established as a cornerstone of psychoanalytic theory!
We have already observed that one of the characteristics of gurus is that they generalize from their own experience. Freud is a prime example. As Breuer wrote to Auguste Forel:
Freud is a man given to absolute and exclusive formulations: this is a psychical need which, in my opinion, leads to excessive generalization.
A good example of this is Freud's theory of dreams. Freud stated that, with very few exceptions, dreams were disguised, hallucinatory fulfilments of repressed sexual wishes of an infantile kind. In spite of a good deal of evidence to the contrary, Freud tenaciously held to this theory, providing many extremely ingenious interpretations of dreams to support it. There is ample reason to suppose that dreams are of many different varieties, but once Freud had formulated a theory, he was so convinced that he was right that no criticism by others was able to shake him. Again, we encounter a belief system rather than a scientific theory which can be proved or disproved.
Freud originally thought that hysteria was caused by premature sexual experience in the early years of childhood, and that this was the result of seduction by a parent or other adult. In his paper The Aetiology of Hysteria, he wrote that, on the basis of eighteen cases,
Whatever case and whatever symptom we take as our point of departure, in the end we infallibly come to the field of sexual experience.'
This was the last time Freud attempted to give any figures concerning aetiology, and, even in this instance, there were no controls. There is also no evidence that the analysis of any of these cases was completed or that any of the patients were actually cured. Freud went on to say:
I therefore put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experience, occurrences which belong to the earliest years of childhood, but which can be reproduced through the work of psychoanalysis in spite of the intervening decades. I believe that this is an important finding, the discovery of a caput Nili in neuropathology.
He believed that the repression of such incidents prevented the adult from achieving a normal sex life, but that psychoanalysis could bring the traumatic events back to consciousness, and, by abreacting the emotions connected with them, free the patient of their malign effects.
There are in fact a variety of reasons why patients develop hysterical symptoms. One such reason is the necessity of escaping from an intolerable situation. Soldiers exposed to long periods of stress in the trenches during the First World War sometimes developed paralyses, blindness, or other symptoms for which no organic cause could be discovered, but which had the result of temporarily removing them from the front line. Sexual trauma is not the only kind of trauma to give rise to hysterical symptoms; but Freud gave sexuality so central a place in psychoanalytic theory that he paid scant attention to other factors. It was Freud's insistence that sexuality was the causal factor in every case of hysteria that brought an end to Josef Breuer's collaboration with him.
Freud came to believe that his first theories were wrong; that not all cases of hysteria could be explained by actual sexual seduction in early childhood. Although he recognized that such seductions undoubtedly occurred, and might cause lasting damage, he could not believe that they happened quite as Frequently as his growing practice suggested. Moreover, he had observed that his brother and sisters exhibited some hysterical symptoms. If actual seduction was the cause, Freud would have had to incriminate his own father, who, he was sure, could not have behaved in such a fashion. It took him a long time and a great deal of dedicated self-analysis before he could construct alternative theories which satisfied him. As his own childhood memories emerged, he became gradually more aware of his own early sexual phantasies. This led him to conclude that neurotic symptoms were more closely related to phantasies than to actual events.
Freud's original aim was to establish psychoanalysis as a method of treatment comparable with the medical treatment of disease. He believed that he had discovered the cause of neurotic symptoms, and also a technique for getting rid of them. After abandoning the seduction theory, he concluded that what was subjected to repression were instinctual impulses manifesting themselves as phantasies. If a patient could be helped to overcome the blocks imposed by repression, and recall his or her earliest infantile sexual impulses, these could be brought into consciousness and abreacted, thus opening the previously impeded path toward sexual maturity. If this goal was reached, neurosis must disappear; since, according to Freud, all neuroses were the indirect expression of repressed infantile sexual impulses and mature sexual satisfaction was incompatible with neurosis.
If Freud's original model had been true, psychoanalysis could have been taught and learned like any other medical or surgical technique, and the analyst could have remained a detached, skilled practitioner who simply observed his patient's behaviour and interpreted his verbal communications. There were three main reasons why this hope remained unfulfilled. First, to Freud's initial distress, he encountered the phenomena of transference. Although Freud tried to maintain his preferred role of being no more than a 'mountain guide', he found that, inevitably, his patients put him in the position of a father-figure, an idealized lover, or even a saviour. What his patients wanted was far more than the abolition of their neurotic symptoms: they wanted his understanding, his appreciation of them as individuals, his concern, even his love.
Second, as Freud developed psychoanalytic theory, he spread its net wider and wider, until it included art, literature, religion, humour, and anthropology. In other words, psychoanalysis became a generalized psychology which purported to explain the normal human being as well as the neurotic, and which could be applied to the whole of human culture.
Third, the type of patient seeking psychoanalytic treatment changed. Many of Freud's early patients were hysterics of a type rarely encountered today. Others were obsessionals with clear-cut symptoms in the shape of compulsive rituals or thoughts. As psychoanalysis became established, the boundary between psychological health and illness became blurred, so that more and more patients consulted psychoanalysts about what have been called 'problems in living'; difficulties in relationships, or a generalized dissatisfaction with life. Some analysts believed that, if men and women were to be able to reach their full potential, everyone should be analysed. For many who volunteered to lie on the couch, psychoanalysis was no longer a technique of abolishing neurotic symptoms. It had become a way of making sense out of life and giving it meaning.
In the early days there was no questions Freud's mind of psycho-analysis becoming a substitute for religion, since he himself rejected religious belief as a disguised infantile longing for a father's protection, and interpreted religious observances as ritual ways of defending the self against the incursion of unacceptable instinctive forces. In Freud's view, religion was no more than a universal obsessional neurosis. The last sentence of his book 7he Future of an Illusion is:
No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.
However, Freud's belief in psychoanalysis went far beyond any scientific evidence which might support it. In May 1913 he wrote to his disciple Ferenczi, 'We possess the truth; I am as sure of it as fifteen years ago"' (when he was writing The Interpretation of Dreams).
Although Freud continued to proclaim that psychoanalysis was a science, psychoanalysis became a movement which more closely resembled a secular religion than a set of scientific theories. It ma y have been inevitable, though regrettable, that a theory which apparently comprehended so much of that which constitutes human life should itself become a way of life, and, since Freud was its originator, that he should be regarded as someone who knew and taught how life should be lived; a guru rather than merely a physician. But Freud was certainly not averse to adopting this role.
If we compare Freud with the other gurus whom we have considered, we can say that he was less isolated in childhood and adolescence than some. But he confessed that he was bored by most of his contemporaries, and concentrated on one or two intimates. One such was Eduard Silberstein, a young Romanian whom Freud met when in his early teens. They learned Spanish together, and formed a kind of secret society for two with its own private terms of reference. Freud's friendship with Silberstein is the nearest he came to a relationship on equal terms. However, as Phyllis Grosskurth points out, 'it is clear that for Freud letters were more important than actual encounters."' Freud suggested that a weekly exchange of letters describing each other's activities would be more revealing than meeting. When Silberstein admitted his infatuation with a girl whomFreud considered his inferior, Freud exhibited considerable jealousy. Silberstein later married a wife who became so severely depressed that he sent her to Freud for treatment. Whether Freud actually saw her or not is unclear; but she committed suicide on May 14, 1891 by throwing herself down the stairwell of the building in which Freud practised.
Another intimate was Wilhelm Fliess, the recipient of the famous series of letters from Freud which have thrown so much light upon the history of psychoanalysis. Although Fliess was a little younger than Freud, Freud looked up to him, idealized him, and was sometimes embarrassingly sycophantic. As Fliess practised as a surgeon in Berlin and Freud lived in Vienna, their relationship was chiefly epistolary. Freud's dependency on Fliess gradually diminished until their friendship came to an end by the beginning of 1902. Freud's masochistic submission, in this example, can be seen as the reverse of the dominance which he later established over his pupils and disciples. Like other gurus, Freud found it difficult to achieve relationships on equal terms. It is interesting and relevant that An Autobiographical Study concentrates almost exclusively on the development of psychoanalysis, and tells us hardly anything about his personal life or relations with other people.
Freud also resembled other gurus in being intolerant of criticism. He treated disagreement as personal hostility. He remained the dominant figure in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, and maintained his ascendancy by keeping a distance between himself and the other members. Even his earliest and most faithful adherents could claim Freud only as a Master, not as a friend.
Although Freud revised his ideas on a number of occasions throughout his life, the revisions were always brought about by new insights of his own rather than as a consequence of criticism by others. It has often been remarked that the squabbles about psycho~ analytic theory which resulted in so many members of Freud's early circle resigning or being expelled as heretics seemed like doctrinal disputes within a Church rather than scientific disagreements. The latter can certainly be bitter; but seldom involve the character assassination and pejorative language which Freud used to describe those adherents who later disputed his theories. Freud's dogmatism and intolerance of disagreement led to the departure of many colleagues, including Adler, Stekel, Jung, and eventually Rank and Ferenczi, from the psychoanalytic movement. When his associates remained faithful disciples, Freud gave them his approval; but when they disagreed, he abused them, or accused them of being mentally ill. Adler was described by Freud as paranoiac; Stekel as unbearable and a louse; jung as brutal and sanctimonious. Psychoanalysis became more and more like a religious cult, and Freud himself applied the term heretics to defectors.
Although Freud dismissed religion as an illusion, his conviction that he was right was a matter of faith rather than of reason. As Richard Webster aptly observes:
What is remarkable about Freud's leadership of the psychoanalytic movement is that although he quite clearly did not believe in any kind of supernatural creator, he adopted almost without exception the strategies of those who did. In effect he treated his own theoriesas if they were a personal revelation granted to him by God and demanded that others should accord to them the reverence which the sacred word usually commands."
As Freud himself might have remarked, but did not do so in his own case, this insistence that disciples accept a guru's message without criticism argues that the guru himself has secret doubts. We have already observed that gurus need the reassurance which disciples provide, just as disciples need the guru as leader.
Freud was certainly deeply disturbed by the defection of Jung. However, he was somewhat mollified by the suggestion, advanced by Emest Jones and Sandor Ferenczi, that a secret committee of true believers should be formed which would preserve and protect both Freud and his theories. The committee consisted of Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, Ernest Jones, Hanns Sachs, Sandor Ferenczi, and Otto Rank, who were selected as especially dependable, although as noted earlier, the last two eventually defected.
Like other gurus, Freud possessed considerable charisma, based upon his certainty that he was right. His ideas began to spread throughout the western world, partly because he was a gifted writer and speaker. Freud's literary style was commented upon favourably while he was still at school. In 1930, he was awarded the Goethe prize for literature. Even in translation, Freud's writings are a pleasure to read. He is persuasive because he is at pains to disarm possible critics, and because he presents his conclusions as the only sensible deductions from the facts. The reader is lulled into accepting Freud's conclusions because his literary skill has made them appear more reasonable than they are.
He was equally persuasive as a speaker. Freud was never a demagogue, but he was a fluent lecturer who could hold forth coherently without notes for as long as four hours to an audience who listened enthralled. He did not harangue, but spoke slowly, clearly, and energetically. Often, he would interrupt his discourse to invite questions. His Introductory Lectures, delivered in three series at the University of Vienna, and subsequently published, were among the most commercially successful of his writings. His biographer, Peter Gay, admired his persuasive skills and wrote:
The very sequence of the lectures was a cunning effort at seduction: by beginning with slips, Freud introduced his audience to psychoanalytic ideas through ordinary, often amusing, mundane events; moving on to dreams, another mental experience familiar to all, he departed from the solid ground of common sense, slowly, deliberately.
As we have seen, Freud exhibited a number of the typical features of gurus, but virtually none of their corrupt or disreputable characteristics. He charged high fees to those who could afford them, but was also generous to those in need. He himself lived simply; and apart from his obsessional accumulation of antique statuettes, showed no evidence of extravagant tastes or of personal concern with accumulating money. It may have been different where funding the movement was concerned. Frederick Crews has disinterred a disagreeable story of Freud suggesting to a colleague that he should proceed with his aim of divorcing his wife and marrying an heiress in order to get hold of some of her money for the 'Psychoanalytic Funds'., But the tone of Freud's reported letter about this is ironic and facetious, and it would be unwise to read much into it.
Freud was dogmatically sure of his theories; but, unlike some of the gurus whom we have considered, exhibited no features of psychotic illness like delusions or hallucinations. He may sometimes have overemphasized the antisemitism which had delayed his professional promotion, and which, in his view, also posed a threat to psychoanalysis; but it could not possibly be alleged that he was seriously paranoid. For antisemitism in Vienna was an ever-present reality. It markedly increased during the latter years of the nineteenth century. A stock market crash, for which the Jews were blamed, occurred in 1873, the year in which Freud went to university. Karl Lueger, who became Mayor of Vienna in 1897, had made antisemitism a feature of his election campaign. When Hitler marched into Austria in March 1938, the Viennese Nazis were amongst the most virulent of his antisemitic followers.
Freud was not above enlisting the help of former patients to gain advancement, but this hardly amounts to corruption. Frau Elise Gomperz and the Baroness Marie von Ferstel both approached the Minister of Education on Freud's behalf, asking that he should begiven the position of associate professor, for which he had been repeatedly rejected over several years. The Baroness presented the Minister with a painting for the new gallery he was intending to establish, which may have been a token of gratitude.
Freud may or may not have had an affair with his sister-in-law, but there is no evidence, so far as I know, that he abused his position by seducing either patients or psychoanalytic colleagues. He was certainly attracted by Lou Andreas Salome - who wasn't? - but he did not meet her until 1911, when she was fifty and he was fifty-five. Her picture adorned his study wall, and he conducted a long correspondence with her. Judging by what we know of Freud's character, it is unlikely that he was sexually active outside marriage. He was busy with patients during the day, and then wrote late into the night.
Although many of Freud's ideas were unsound, I think his influence upon the way we think about ourselves has, on the whole, been beneficial. Psychoanalysis has increased tolerance of unconventional behaviour and has banished some forms of prudery. Freud's technique of listening to distressed people over long periods rather than giving them orders or advice has formed the foundation of most modem forms of psychotherapy, with benefit both to patients and practitioners. But the fact that Freud became elevated into a guru and that psychoanalysis became a way of life has had a number of undesirable consequences from which we have not fully recovered.
In the 1930s and well into the 1950s, psychoanalysts considered themselves, by virtue of their training, to have acquired a unique insight into human nature from which those who had not been analysed must always be excluded. Psychoanalytic training offered membership of an elite circle claiming superior knowledge and status. Those who questioned psychoanalytic theory or practice were said to be insufficiently analysed. As an inevitable consequence of faith combined with intolerance, psychoanalytic societies and institutes, on both sides of the Atlantic, became divided into splinter groups and warring factions, each claiming possession of 'the truth', exactly as happens in religious movements. Freud was more of a messianic figure than many people realize; but some of his disciples became deluded fanatics.
Many psychoanalysts, convinced of their own superior wisdom and insight, became as intolerant as their Master toward any who disagreed with them, including their own colleagues. The history of the internal quarrels in the British Psycho-Analytical Society between orthodox Freudians and the adherents of Melanie Klein is both absurd and intensely depressing. Here were supposedly adult, intelligent people who all professed a special understanding of human nature and considered themselves qualified to help others resolve their emotional problems, vilifying each other and tearing the Society in pieces, because of disputes about psycho-analytic doctrine which seem as ridiculous to the non-believer as do the disputes about homoousia and homoiousia, the Arian controversy which divided the Christian church in the fourth century.
One of the regrettable aspects of becoming a psychoanalyst was, and maybe still is, a tendency to become more and more isolated the from ordinary world. Janet Malcolm, describing a New York emigree analyst, wrote:
Her entire life was taken up with psychoanalytic concerns: during the day she saw patients, at night she went to meetings at the Institute, and when she and her husband went out to dinner or entertained at home it was always with analysts. Other people fall away, she explained. There is less and less to talk about with people on the 'outside' who don't look at things the way analysts do.
This is a danger affecting all esoteric groups. Just as disciples reinforce a guru's belief in himself and his mission, so disciples reinforce each other's beliefs and allegiance. Esoteric groups become mutual reassurance systems, confirming each disciple's conviction that he or she has special insights as to how life should be lived which are denied to the ordinary person.
Since psychoanalysis became a faith rather than a form of medical treatment, it was indiscriminately applied by its practitioners to all kinds of psychiatric cases, whether they showed benefit or not. One does not expose 'the truth' to the dangers of critical evaluation. The length of time required for 'complete analysis' became more and more extended. Obsessional patients, if they have the money, are notoriously liable to continue with analysis for ever, since they are often in search of a perfection which is unattainable. Since such patients provide analysts with a long-term regular income, it is unsurprising that their analyses may go on for ten years or more with minimum benefit. Other psychoanalysts have specialized in treating psychotic patients whom Freud himself would have refused to take on for treatment. As early as 1904, Freud specifically advised that analysts should only take on patients who exhibited some degree of normality from which morbid manifestations could be differentiated. This is not the case in the major psychoses. Although it is certainly true that patients suffering from schizophrenia and manic~depressive illness benefit from less doctrinaire forms of psychotherapy combined with medication, the long-term attempts of psychoanalysts to cure psychotics by Freudian psychoanalysis alone have proved so unsuccessful that some psychiatrists consider such attempts malpractice These abuses are a direct result of psychoanalysis having been elevated' into a faith, rather than remaining a treatment for illness which can be criticized, modified, or replaced by something better.
Psychoanalysis was acclaimed in the United States with particular enthusiasm. Its pre-eminence as an article of psychiatric faith was greatly increased by the influx of refugees from Central Europe who fled the Nazis. For a time, it became difficult for an aspiring psychiatrist to attain a leading position unless he had been trained as a psychoanalyst and had been accepted by one of the recognized psychoanalytic organizations. Now that psychoanalysis has been largely discarded in favour of biological psychiatry, which takes the view that mental illness depends upon physical malfunction of the brain, exactly the opposite state of affairs prevails. Freudian psychoanalysis has been so discredited that the value of psychotherapy of any kind tends to be underestimated. The prescription of drugs is easily learned, but it can never wholly take the place of psychotherapy. In the training of psychiatrists, the wheat has been thrown out with the chaff, the baby with the bath~water. This is another unfortunate consequence of psychoanalysis having become a belief system rather than remaining a heuristic discipline.
It was Freud who taught us how to listen; and, as I have already observed, his technique of giving undivided attention to the problems of distressed people over long periods of time has had a strikingly beneficial effect upon many forms of psychotherapy which do not accept the doctrines of psychoanalysis in their original form. People who are mentally ill or who are suffering from severe emotional stress are in need of understanding and acceptance, whether or not they require medication. Psychotherapists learn to listen without passing judgement; to accept without issuing orders or proffering direct advice; to be both objective and compassionate. Some other gurus who were not psychoanalysts seem to have adopted this attitude to their followers when the latter needed help, as we noted in the example of Gurdjieff. The story of the rise and fall of psychoanalysis has much to teach us about those who need gurus.
Many of those who have been psychoanalytic patients do not lose all their symptoms or accept the psychoanalytic interpretation of those symptoms. Yet a number will persist with analysis in spite of not being 'cured'. I think this is because the psychoanalytic procedure provides valuable experiences which are not easily available in ordinary social life. First, simply talking about personal problems with the minimum of interruption objectifies those problems and, in doing so, may make them more easily soluble. Nearly everyone who has been in analysis gains some increase in self-understanding, because talking clarifies the issues. It could be argued that keeping a detailed diary might have the same effect; and I certainly support the idea that diaries can increase insight. But keeping a diary does not give a distressed patient the sense of being accepted as a person which a favourable experience of analysis brings. Many of those who seek analysis feel that they have never been accepted or valued for what they are. The discovery that another human being is prepared to listen, to get to know one intimately and still not reject one, is a revelation to some people.
What Freud believed he was providing is very different from what he actually provided. He thought that he had found both an explanation of neurosis and a way of curing it. But only one of the four cases which he treated personally and described in detail could be said to be cured, and we have no long-term follow-up of this patient (the 'Rat Man'). What he did provide was tolerant, continuing care over a long period, which in itself is therapeutic. The so-called 'Wolf Man' exemplifies this conclusion. He was first seen by Freud in 1910 and treated by him until July 1914. He returned to treatment with Freud from November 1919 until February 1920, and was later treated by at least four other psychoanalysts. A series of interviews with him when he was in his eighties revealed that he actually rejected the causal interpretations which Freud made about the origin of his disorder, rightly calling them far-fetched. What he valued was Freud's personal care of him. The 'Wolf-Man's' considerable improvement after his first period of treatment with Freud had nothing to do with Freud's reconstruction of his supposed infantile sexuality, but depended upon his finding in Freud an understanding father-figure upon whom he could rely.
The last of Freud's New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis is given the title 'The Question of a Weltanschauung.' It is an enthralling piece of writing which strives to persuade us that psychoanalysis is a specialist branch of science which accepts the scientific view of the universe and which is therefore quite unsuited to construct a Weltanschauung of its own. Freud rightly affirms that science
asserts that there are no sources of knowledge of the universe other than the intellectual working-over of carefully scrutinized observations - in other words, what we call research - and along- side of it no knowledge derived from revelation, intuition or divination.
But as we have seen, revelation played a vital part in Freud's original formulations. Freud then claims that psychoanalysis has extended scientific research to the mental field; a claim which cannot be substantiated. He goes on to point out that Marxism, having begun as a social science, developed into a Weltanschauung.
Any critical examination of Marxist theory is forbidden, doubts of its correctness are punished in the same way as heresy was once punished by the Catholic Church. The writings of Marx have taken the place of the Bible and the Koran as a source of revelation, though they would seem to be no more free from contradictions and obscurities than those older sacred books.
If we substitute the word 'psychoanalysis' for 'Marxist theory' in the first sentence of this passage, and the name 'Freud' for that of 'Marx' in the second sentence, we have an exact description of what happened to psychoanalysis, especially in its early days; but Freud was unable to see this.
Freud ostensibly rejected the role of guru, but in fact exemplified it. As is the case with other gurus, his legacy is mixed. He conformed to the Sanskrit definition of 'one who brings light out of darkness'; and although the light which he brought is not so bright as his disciples claimed, it has nevertheless illumined some dark corners of human behaviour, increased tolerance, contributed to the technique of psychotherapy, and revolutionized the way we think about our own behaviour. Twentieth-century man is greatly indebted to Freud.
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