Monday, January 22, 2007

Freud a fraud?

I posted an attack on the scientific validity NLP in November last year and am still receiving comments, although they’re getting weirder by the day. This led me to some further reading on psychotherapy and Freud, as it wasn’t clear to me whether any of Freud’s theories are now used in modern psychology. I was familiar with Popper so started with Polayni and Nagel. All three show that Freud’s theories are largely self-fulfilling and not scientific in the sense that Freud claimed they were. So far so good. Then I tried Grunbaum which led me to Macmillan and Frank Cioffi.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer scale of the debunking. Little, if any, of Freud’s work has survived the scrutiny of later research, either of Freud’s methods and data or the phenomena themselves when examined with scientific rigour. The list of debunked theories include:

Freudian slips
Free association
Id, ego and superego
Transference (and counter-transference)
Penis envy
Oedipus complex
Infantile sexuality

In short, Freudian psychoanalysis has been abandoned by serious, scientific psychology. It turned out to be a non-empirical mess from which nothing was salvageable. Of course, I could just be suffering from any combination of the above conditions.


Anonymous said...

Sadly not everyone has been prepared to let go of Freud's notions, in spite of all the debunking that's been going on. In typical NHS fashion, we waited more than a year for an appointment with a psychotherapist for our son who, at the tender age of 9, was suffering from terrible bouts of anxiety and panic attacks. I almost groaned when all the waiting and anxiety (on our part, too), culminated in the therapist telling us the child was Oedipal. Good grief - it must have been pick-a-label week!

Donald Clark said...

This speculation about the unconscious is awful. Searle regards all who talk about the unconscious mind as 'having no clear idea what they're talking about'. They seem to assume that it has the same status as conscious events.

For more detailed accounts of the doubtful origins and lack of evidence for the Oedipus Complex see Macmillan in Freud Evaluated and Bruce Bower in 'Oedipus Wrecked' Science Now. There are literally dozens of clear accounts on how Freud fabricated the idea and provided no reliable evidence for its therapeutic benefits.

I really do think Freud has bequeathed us a set of fictions that are destined to just hang around in our language and institutions.

Anonymous said...

Just finished re-watching the excellent BBC documentary series, Century of the Self, available at the internet archive. I think Freud's legacy is far more troubling than just hanging around in our language and institutions.

Damien DeBarra said...

Donald - have you watched Adam Curtis' 'The Century of the Self'? A superb documentary series which gives a savage, damning view on the horrid way in which Freud (and his increasingly crazier family) have been responsible for a breathtaking amount of human misery and conflict in the 20th century.

You can watch the whole thing on Google Video here:

Mark Davis said...

I'm somewhat of an anti-Freudian but just today am changing my mind having read VS Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain - and finding surprising evidence of denial, repression etc.
e.g. patients with a type of damage to right hemisphere deny they are paralysed.. despite the obvious fact that they are. Surprisingly a jet of cold water in the right ear apparently allows them to be aware they are paralysed. The next day they again deny they are paralysed and deny that they become aware they were paralysed. Too complex to explain it all here but VS Ramachandran cites good evidence for denial, repression, reaction formation, rationalisation and projection.

Unknown said...

i think there could be truth to the oedipus complex but it is not mans goal to copulate with ones mother..perhaps attraction but he is very on point with much of his other work