This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Freud and psycho-analysis: still useful?

Freud and psycho-analysis: still useful? - Comments

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 1 by Red Dog

I'm with your friend who studies neuro-psychology. I received a BS in psychology back in the 70's and at first I expected to learn all about Freud but when I asked a professor he said that no one (at least no one who considers themself a scientist) still teaches Freud except for historical background. If you study the Philosophy of Science you find that Freudianism is literally a text book example of a theoretical framework that is not scientific. Karl Popper was the first person to really clearly show this, that when Freud looked at data he could never find anything that contradicted his theory. If his theory predicted a patient would do X but the patient did the opposite then the patient was having a reaction formation or some other rationalization.

I think its possible that some therapists trained in Freudianism can still benefit their patients. I've worked a bit in the mental health field and in my experiences the best therapists were more like artists than scientists. Some people just have a knack for getting people to talk and knowing when to be supportive and when to confront their patients.

Its really kind of sad that Freud is still taught so many places and even in various intellectual circles (discussions of art and literature) talked about as if he had great relevance to understanding the human mind. In reality he has as much validity as astrology.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 13:46:17 UTC | #885712

KRKBAB's Avatar Comment 2 by KRKBAB

I looked for somewhere to post this thought I had- so it's a bit like ad hoc relevance (my apologies in advance). I saw "The Exorcist" in it's entirety for the first time last night. One of Linda Blair's lines was "Your mother sucks cock (s-?) in HELL". The intended shock value of this line worked on me for about a millisecond. Like most people, I've thought a long time about the psychological aspects of sex. That particular line from the film instantly annoyed the hell (pun not intended) out of me (even as a male). The idea that the most degrading thing imaginable in Catholicism is fellatio, which surely is in the top 3 or 4 most common hetero sex acts, is incredibly immoral (subjectively, of coarse). This may be nothing new to people who have studied Freud and/or sexual morays, but for some reason, it struck me like a lightening. Again, apologies for the forced relevance to this post, but perhaps there is a good take by students or academia interested in Freud's work on the matter.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:07:41 UTC | #885718

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 3 by Schrodinger's Cat

The main problem with Freud's theories is the utter subjectivity of his own interpretations. Freudian theory is simply not proper science, because it is not falsfiable. To my mind ( and a great many detractors of Freud ), he did not 'discover' aspects of the mind......he invented them. Because the theory is not falsifiable, Freud could then claim that his theory 'explains' the mind, and nobody could prove him wrong.....so he gained followers who believed he was right. This is pseudoscience at its worst.

I'm not so sure modern psychology has escaped from Freud...even where claiming to have done so.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:10:31 UTC | #885719

KRKBAB's Avatar Comment 4 by KRKBAB

Comment 1 by Red Dog- I read your post after I posted my own. So maybe a revised question of mine (now almost entirely off topic! :) ) would be a comment on my thoughts even if from a non- Freudian take.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:11:23 UTC | #885720

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 5 by Premiseless

I read some Freud , or attempted to back in the late 70's but found it intensely aggravating and very disturbing to my inquiring mind so resorted to trying to understand the Bible instead. You can laugh but it has not been funny I can assure you! It stopped me from understanding myself for most of my life! There's a film out "A Dangerous Method." Unfortunately it does not have a scene where he gets kicked in the nuts! Anyhow, to what extent are some of the terms he used still relevant? Have some been modified for more recent thinking or dropped altogether in favour of replacements? This is the problem when language holds fast to terms whilst the thinking about them changes. Is there a reliable reference vocabulary and definition universally accepted as science?

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:20:22 UTC | #885723

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 6 by Red Dog

Comment 3 by Schrodinger's Cat :

The main problem with Freud's theories is the utter subjectivity of his own interpretations. Freudian theory is simply not proper science, because it is not falsfiable.

Completely agree.

To my mind ( and a great many detractors of Freud ), he did not 'discover' aspects of the mind......he invented them. Because the theory is not falsifiable, Freud could then claim that his theory 'explains' the mind, and nobody could prove him wrong.....so he gained followers who believed he was right. This is pseudoscience at its worst.

From the standpoint of the history of Western thought I still think Freud was a brilliant man and made significant contributions. I think of him somewhat like Aristotle, he got almost everything wrong but sometimes just asking the right questions (even if you come up with all the wrong answers) can be a step in the right direction.

Before Freud there was no concept of mental health, talking therapy, the unconscious, etc. He made some very important contributions in getting people to think about psychology as a science and mental health as a part of medicine. Also, just getting people to acknowledge the importance of sexuality in our mental health and development, while it seems like common sense now it was a controversial idea back in the Victorian age.

I'm not so sure modern psychology has escaped from Freud...even where claiming to have done so.

I think you need to differentiate between psychology as a science and psychiatry as a mental health discipline. From the standpoint of psychology as a science, at least in the US, I think Freud has been completely purged. As I said in my first comment even back in the 70's he wasn't taught in the psychology departments of reputable universities except for historical purposes. However, from the standpoint of mental health and also the understanding that your average layman or even your average intellectual who doesn't have a strong foundation in science I agree Freud is still very much with us and its an example of how little people really understand the scientific method that he is.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:24:02 UTC | #885724

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 7 by Red Dog

Comment 5 by Premiseless :

Anyhow, to what extent are some of the terms he used still relevant? Have some been modified for more recent thinking or dropped altogether in favour of replacements? This is the problem when language holds fast to terms whilst the thinking about them changes. Is there a reliable reference vocabulary and definition universally accepted as science?

I think the answer to your question "Is there a reliable reference vocabulary and definition universally accepted as science?" is no. Remember that psychology is still a very immature science. There has been great progress in some areas such as neurophysiology but especially when you get to the more abstract areas of human behavior I don't think there is anything close to a consensus about one coherent theory and set of terms.

And I would agree that Freud's terminology still lives on quite a bit even in psychologists who are true scientists. Its just inevitable because as I said in an earlier quote even though Freud got most or all of the answers wrong he was the first one to ask many of the questions so his terms such as the unconscious still live on.

BTW, Steven Pinker has a lot of interesting stuff to say about language and how it evolves. I'm currently reading "The Stuff of Thought" and at least in the early pages (as far as I've got) he talks about these things. Also, in The Blank Slate where he does a great job of demolishing a lot of preconceived notions about language and saying some very interesting things about how it evolved and is used. Actually, I would recommend any book he's ever written, he is a great writer and if you want to see some actual psychology that is real science he is a great place to start.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:36:16 UTC | #885727

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 8 by Red Dog

It would be greatly appreciated if any experts out there could present some conclusive papers, or make their case in layman's terms.

A good starting point would be the works of Karl Popper on Philosophy of Science and the need for a theory to be falsifiable. Here is a short paper I found online by him on the topic, its just an introduction though.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 14:47:43 UTC | #885730

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 9 by irate_atheist

No.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 15:44:28 UTC | #885739

Zelig's Avatar Comment 10 by Zelig

Comment 6 by Red Dog :

From the standpoint of the history of Western thought I still think Freud was a brilliant man and made significant contributions. I think of him somewhat like Aristotle, he got almost everything wrong but sometimes just asking the right questions (even if you come up with all the wrong answers) can be a step in the right direction.

I tend to agree, though I see him more like Schopenhauer rather than Aristotle.

It's extremely important to distinguish, whenever possible, fact from fiction. But, it's equally important not to be afraid of acknowledging the possibility of very ugly facts. Without accepting this possibility no real science is possible.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 16:29:55 UTC | #885759

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 11 by AtheistEgbert

It's best to make your own mind up by doing your own research, and avoid 'experts' as far as possible.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 16:39:05 UTC | #885762

PrayForMe's Avatar Comment 12 by PrayForMe

It sounds to me like your friend may have unresolved abandonment issues surrounding her relationship with her mother. You're welcome.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 16:55:35 UTC | #885767

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 13 by Premiseless

Comment 7 by Red Dog :

BTW, Steven Pinker has a lot of interesting stuff to say about language and how it evolves. I'm currently reading "The Stuff of Thought" and at least in the early pages (as far as I've got) he talks about these things. Also, in The Blank Slate where he does a great job of demolishing a lot of preconceived notions about language and saying some very interesting things about how it evolved and is used. Actually, I would recommend any book he's ever written, he is a great writer and if you want to see some actual psychology that is real science he is a great place to start.

OK I've ordered a copy of Stuff'. Thanks for the recommendation. I watched part of a recent video of his posted here and found it less than convincing. Like I wanted to take issue with claim after claim. Anyhow, I'll bow to what you recommend and see how I digest it. Rarely do I read anything on the psychology side that at some point doesn't shout baloney and put me off the whole charade. It's as if most 'expert opinion' is riding high on a cow pat foundation. I want it not to - absolutely, so that maybe I can begin to understand how this stuff slots together better than if I simply use my own reasonings. To date no joy on this front! Science per se, however, has me struggling to keep up with just the basics!

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:18:42 UTC | #885783

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 14 by Tyler Durden

Are Freudian theories, in particular psycho-analysis, still useful in treating patients?

@Sjoerd -

Neuropsychology trumps Freudian psychoanalysis hands down. While Freud proposed some interesting theories, and instigated the field of analysis ("talk therapy") itself, unfortunately his conclusions were highly subjective, unfalsifiable, and unethical, to say the least.

Neuropsychology seeks to treat patients based on empirical evidence i.e. brain imaging scans, EEG, and standardised clinical assessments (WISC; WAIS; the Halstead-Reitan tests).

There is an emerging field known as Neuropsychoanalysis that seeks to merge research from both disciplines, which may of interest to both your friends, but Freudian theories, and practicies, will always fall short of empirical evidence and objectivity.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:38:12 UTC | #885785

Sjoerd Westenborg's Avatar Comment 15 by Sjoerd Westenborg

Hey guys, thanks for the responses. I already thought this would be the case, right now I'm looking into his indirect influence on modern psychology. I'm only at Lacan right now, but I'm curious as to where this will lead me. As to the following comment:

Comment 11 by AtheistEgbert :

It's best to make your own mind up by doing your own research, and avoid 'experts' as far as possible.

Yup, but if you're still in university and have job, time is limited.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:44:06 UTC | #885788

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 16 by Tyler Durden

Comment 15 by Sjoerd Westenborg :

... right now I'm looking into his indirect influence on modern psychology. I'm only at Lacan right now, but I'm curious as to where this will lead me.

To the chemist for some paracetamol, or the pub, for a large one - Lacan was batshit crazy :)

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:09:54 UTC | #885797

Sean the Sorcerer's Avatar Comment 17 by Sean the Sorcerer

Freud, like Jung and so much else that is called “psychology,” is really a branch of the occult: fascinating, insightful, bewildering, irrational, creative and utterly subjective. You can spend decades studying the stuff and never really pin it down. I like to think of it as part of the great Art of the Subjective Mind, which is the antithesis of Science and perhaps the last great frontier of knowledge. I love the stuff myself because some part of me strongly resists the idea that there is One True Way called the Scientific Method to which all knowledge must be subjected before it may be accepted as True.

I think many of you need to do some self-reflection and consider the possibility that what you are promoting here is really a form of intellectual fascism which seeks to sacrifice almost the entirety of human thought upon the altar of Science. It seems to me that the debate between science and religion, science and art, science and the occult, or what have you, comes down to a debate about the value of the subjective mind. Some believe that the Subjective Mind is something to be destroyed, that there is a thing called Objective Truth which exists and must be submitted to; others are of the opinion that no such thing exists, or if it does, it is trumped by the Subjective Mind. I see no way to resolve this debate myself, and see the wisdom of both sides. The question is whether these Reality Wars can be settled somewhere other than the battlefield, or if all this debate is really just a waste of time.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:39:01 UTC | #885806

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 18 by Red Dog

Comment 17 by Sean the Sorcerer :

Freud, like Jung and so much else that is called “psychology,” is really a branch of the occult: fascinating, insightful, bewildering, irrational, creative and utterly subjective. You can spend decades studying the stuff and never really pin it down. I like to think of it as part of the great Art of the Subjective Mind, which is the antithesis of Science and perhaps the last great frontier of knowledge. I love the stuff myself because some part of me strongly resists the idea that there is One True Way called the Scientific Method to which all knowledge must be subjected before it may be accepted as True.

I think many of you need to do some self-reflection and consider the possibility that what you are promoting here is really a form of intellectual fascism which seeks to sacrifice almost the entirety of human thought upon the altar of Science. It seems to me that the debate between science and religion, science and art, science and the occult, or what have you, comes down to a debate about the value of the subjective mind. Some believe that the Subjective Mind is something to be destroyed, that there is a thing called Objective Truth which exists and must be submitted to; others are of the opinion that no such thing exists, or if it does, it is trumped by the Subjective Mind. I see no way to resolve this debate myself, and see the wisdom of both sides. The question is whether these Reality Wars can be settled somewhere other than the battlefield, or if all this debate is really just a waste of time.

When I read your first paragraph saying that "Freud,... is really a branch of the occult" I assumed you were attacking Freud and was going to come to his defense. But from your second paragraph it sounds as if you think that the fact that Freud's work should be considered part of the occult is actually a good thing and that we are being overly scientific in not saying that the occult should have as much relevance for mental health as science. On the contrary I think its you who need some self reflection. Why should things that we know have no scientific relevancy be any more useful for mental health than for physical health? Just as I wouldn't use a quack cure for my body such as homeopathy I wouldn't use a quack psychotherapy such as Freudian analysis.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:50:29 UTC | #885809

ewaldrep's Avatar Comment 19 by ewaldrep

This is an interesting post. I am a fourth year clinical graduate student in psychology, specializing in posttraumatic stress disorder. As far a Freud goes, he is taught mostly as historical but there is still quite a bit of his influence along the east coast of the US. Many people tend to criticize him harshly but he was before Popper’s influence on the philosophy of science, and on a lot of cocaine . In addition, his theories changed over the years and did evolve from a more neurological perspective into the psychoanalytic that he is most remembered for.

For most practicing clinicians, Freud’s methods are not used and have been replaced by cognitive behavioral approaches. As Red Dog noted above, clinical work is like art and a good clinician will introduce things that will help the patient and if that happens to be a defense mechanism described by Freud, then it may be worthwhile (see Persuasion and Healing, book).

Some research still uses some of the idea’s influenced by Freud, such as implicit biases (replacing unconscious motivations) that are used in social psychology. There are some influences in Terror Management theory as well, to list a couple. The research is empirical and is peer reviewed and critiqued as well it should.

As far as neuropsychology, I am also being trained in that field as well. Neuropsychology is different insofar as we test domains of functioning within the brain to determine compromised brain systems and help develop strategies to overcome them. However, neuropsychology and clinical psychology do not overlap quite as much as one would think. It has provided a vast amount of data and improved, and will continue to improve, our understanding of how the brain functions and how we interpret the world around us. I hope to continue to do more research in this area, particularly mTBI and PTSD myself.

I hope this helps some but please let me know if more would be helpful.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:51:33 UTC | #885810

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 20 by Red Dog

Comment 14 by Tyler Durden :

Are Freudian theories, in particular psycho-analysis, still useful in treating patients?

@Sjoerd -

Neuropsychology trumps Freudian psychoanalysis hands down. While Freud proposed some interesting theories, and instigated the field of analysis ("talk therapy") itself, unfortunately his conclusions were highly subjective, unfalsifiable, and unethical, to say the least.

I agree with all that and with everything else in your comment. But I want to point out that Neuropsychology isn't the sum total of either psychology or psychiatry. Just because Freud was a quack doesn't mean all talking therapies are useless.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 19:54:40 UTC | #885811

Sean the Sorcerer's Avatar Comment 21 by Sean the Sorcerer

Comment Removed by Author

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 20:03:13 UTC | #885812

Sean the Sorcerer's Avatar Comment 22 by Sean the Sorcerer

Comment 18 by Red Dog :

Why should things that we know have no scientific relevancy be any more useful for mental health than for physical health? Just as I wouldn't use a quack cure for my body such as homeopathy I wouldn't use a quack psychotherapy such as Freudian analysis.

Because these "quack cures" may convince a person's subjective mind that they work and may make them feel subjectively better even if scientific tests can't detect it. For example, I recently watched a video which attempted to debunk a faith healer by showing the deceptive methods he employed. The funny thing is, the people he was "healing" seemed genuinely happy about what he was doing, and didn't seem to care that scientifically it was a fraud. This use of the placebo effect is probably the oldest form of healing, dating back to the first shamans, yet Western science seems to want to to totally discredit it. This seems insane to me, since one's subjective state of being is all that really matters, even if it can't be measured by any known scientific method. Does this answer your question?

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 20:07:29 UTC | #885813

ewaldrep's Avatar Comment 23 by ewaldrep

since one's subjective state of being is all that really matters, even if it can't be measured by any known scientific method

There has been quite a lot of work done in developing methods to empirically evaluate the subjective states of people. Much of it concerns clearly defining what you are attempting to measure, such as depression, developing clear language and questions to reflect the construct, and validating the measures against other relevant variables. This is also associated with understanding the reliability of the measure and limiting the strength of conlcusions based on the associated error of the statistical models, etc. I do agree that there is clinically useful strategies that can come from various resources (see above comment). Put to empirical examination, psychoanalysis does work for some but the techiques tend to produce results much slower and with unclear reasons, making dysmantling studies difficult.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 20:21:44 UTC | #885814

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 24 by Mr DArcy

Like Irate Atheiist, IMO a one word answer:

NO!

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 20:51:28 UTC | #885818

Quine's Avatar Comment 25 by Quine

Re Comment 23 by ewaldrep

Thanks, ewaldrep, clinical research into subjectivity is also of interest in the discussions we have over dualism.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 21:38:48 UTC | #885829

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 26 by phil rimmer

No.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 22:28:59 UTC | #885835

Darwinorlose's Avatar Comment 27 by Darwinorlose

For what it's worth I'd like to recommend Freud's book "The Future of an Illusion." It is a classic work, short and to the point, on aspects on the psychology of religion, and as a work questioning why people believe in a god. I found it challenging when I first read it, and I still reread it for inspiration. It's not the final word on the subject, but it was a pretty good first word for me to consider.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 02:01:05 UTC | #885863

HypnoPete's Avatar Comment 28 by HypnoPete

I am training to become a full time hypnotherapist and the course work is heavily weighted to Freud's theories and methods.

I would recommend the book 'Freud - A Very Short Introduction' by Anthony Storr. It has chapters covering the major aspects of Freud's work and critically assesses each one in the light of modern knowledge. The conclusion that I have come to is that Freud was wrong about many things but we still have a lot to thank him for.

I feel that he postulated a model of human development and psychology which has more holes in it than Swiss cheese and yet somehow manages to explain most human behaviour most of the time. Perhaps what we should thank him most for is raising the importance of the subconscious mind and how repressed memories can affect us.

My mentor has been practising hypnotherapy and hypnoanalysis for over 30 years and has treated tens of thousands of patients. I have seen with my own eyes how somebody who has suffered crippling anxiety for years has been completely cured with a few hours of hypno-analysis because they have been able to release repressed memories. I have surprised myself by what my subconscious has revealed under hypnosis. Maybe Freud did get much wrong, yet I can testify that his theories are being used on a daily basis to bring about almost miraculous cures to many people.

What I find particularly ironic is that Freud abandoned hypnosis as a therapy and yet today using hypnotherapy we are acheiving results in a few hours that conventional psychotherapy takes hundreds of hours to match. Yet another thing that Freud got wrong - but perhaps that is another discussion.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 08:59:46 UTC | #885892

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 29 by Tyler Durden

Comment 28 by HypnoPete :

I am training to become a full time hypnotherapist and the course work is heavily weighted to Freud's theories and methods.

Why am I not surprised.

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 09:24:03 UTC | #885897

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 30 by susanlatimer

comment 29 by Tyler Durden

Why am I not surprised.

As tiresome as it must be for someone as educated as you are in your subject, it would be useful for me (and I'm sure a few others) if you would explain and/or provide links that would fill in some of the blanks on this one.

I have no knowledge about hypnotherapy in any direction. I don't know if it's utterly useless or if its just been abused (recovered memory syndrome, for instance). I wouldn't know if it's woo or legit or possibly both depending, as I have no familiarity with the subject.

I'd be grateful if you'd write a brief paragraph on it or throw a few links our way.

Thank you in advance.

(I'm going to sleep now. Please don't mistake that for bad manners. I'll check in tomorrow the first chance I get.)

Tue, 01 Nov 2011 09:33:37 UTC | #885900