Sigmund Freud:Critical Response
Freudian psychoanalytic theory did not long remain the only method of explaining the human personality. Even during Freud's lifetime, alternatives were offered by a number of other theorists, resulting in a splintering of psychological thought. Freud's early disciples
Freud's theory of psychoanalysis was built on the assumption that human beings have an unconscious mind. This unconscious mind, with its hidden drives and instincts, is what drives behavior. And since the unconscious is so pervasive and directive, it determines behavior, or to say it more philosophically, is deterministic. Psychoanalysis is a highly deterministic approach to human behavior because it assumes that behavioral patterns established in youth determine one's behavior later in life. This deterministic presupposition is in large part what made Freud's theory so intriguing and controversial.
Yet despite the controversy, psychoanalysis spread rapidly within professional circles and attracted some of the brightest physicians of the day. This included both Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, two names that would become synonymous with Freud as much for their alliance as for their eventual split.
Alfred Adler, a medical doctor with a deep interest in psychology and human nature, met Freud in their native Vienna in 1900 at a medical conference where Freud presented his new ideas about dreams and the unconscious. Freud's radical ideas were met with scorn and open hostility, as they often were during these early years of the psychoanalytic movement. Adler, one of the few who had recognized the brilliance of Freud's first major work, The Interpretation of Dreams, was dismayed by the proceedings and came to Freud's defense in an article he wrote for a medical journal. In the article, he demanded that Freud's views be given the respect and attention they deserved. Adler soon joined the circle of psychologists who gathered at Freud's home on Wednesday evenings for animated discussion, debate, and collaboration about emerging psychoanalytic theory. Buttressed by his loyal supporters, many of them insightful psychologists and original thinkers in their own right, Freud's movement grew as his seminal ideas gradually captured the imagination of intellectuals throughout Europe, England, and America. Adler was for a time the president of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association and the editor of its journal. Yet there had always been differences between Adler's views and Freud's, and over the years, these differences became increasingly apparent and problematic. First, A group of prominent psychologists at Clark University, Massachusetts, in 1909. In the front row are (left to right) Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, and Carl Jung. (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.) A group of prominent psychologists at Clark University, Massachusetts, in 1909. In the front row are (left to right) Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, and Carl Jung. (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.) Adler never accepted Freud's views about the overarching significance of infantile sexual trauma. Freud was typically intolerant of disagreement, though, and in a dramatic and politically charged break, Adler resigned his posts in 1911, leaving Freud's circle along with a group of eight colleagues to found his own school of psychology. He and Freud never met again.
Individual psychology Adler then took his ideas and his followers and began what he called individual psychology, which was based on the idea of the indivisibility of the personality. His most significant divergence from Freud's theory was his belief that the human being is a whole person, not a conglomeration of mechanisms, drives, or dynamic parts. And in contrast to most psychological thinking of the time, Adler believed that human beings are fundamentally self-determined. Central to his therapeutic approach, and in direct conflict with Freud's views, was his belief that people always have control over their lives; their choices are what shape them. "Individual Psychology breaks through the theory of determinism," Jung wrote. "No experience is a cause of success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the socalled trauma—but we make out of them just what suits our purposes. We are self-determined by the meaning we give to our experiences." Adler's emphasis on the wholeness of the person and the fact that our values inevitably shape our experience led to his conviction that, in the end, there is only one true meaning to human life: care and love for our fellow humans. "There have always been men who understood this fact; who knew that the meaning of life is to be interested in the whole of mankind and who tried to develop social interest and love. In all religions we find this concern for the salvation of man." For Adler, it is only this meaning, this interpretation of our experience as it pertains to the whole of humankind that leads to the genuine mental health and happiness of the individual.
Analytical psychology Carl Jung met Freud in 1907, after he sent Freud a report on some of his early research in the psychotherapeutic technique of word association, to which Freud responded with an invitation to meet him in Vienna. Jung lived in Zurich, where he was practicing psychiatry and teaching at Zurich University. At that first meeting in Freud's home, the two men talked "virtually without a pause for thirteen hours." Each was captivated by the other's genius and passionate interest in psychology, and they began a close correspondence in which they exchanged letters as often as three times a week. Jung quickly stepped into a leading role in the psychoanalytic movement, becoming a staunch defender and chief disseminator of Freud's ideas. Freud confided to Jung that he saw him as his "successor and crown prince," and Jung became, for all concerned, Freud's heir apparent. From the beginning, Jung found Freud's theories about repression and the unconsciousto be ingenious explanations of much of what he was finding in his work with his own patients. But, as Adler did, he struggled with Freud's insistence on the primacy of the sexual drive.
There was another significant tension between Freud and Jung, however. Jung had a burgeoning interest in world religions, mythology, and alchemy, interests with which Freud had little patience. In fact, Freud was by this time openly atheistic and viewed religion as inferior to science. In contrast, religious imagery and occultism had in fact been a recurring fascination for Jung, and he had had several "paranormal" experiences and encounters with psychic mediums during his youth.
A major turning point in Jung's intellectual career was his book Symbols of Transformation, researched and written between 1909 and 1912, while he was still Freud's champion spokesman and organizer. Jung immersed himself in a world of mythology, fantasy, and preverbal imagery. "The whole thing came upon me like a landslide that cannot be stopped," he wrote of his work during this period. "It was the explosion of all those psychic contents which could find no room, no breathing space, in the constricting atmosphere of Freudian psychology and its narrow outlook."
In 1914 Jung broke with Freud to develop his own school of psychology. His analytical psychology emphasized the interpretation of the psyche's symbols from a universal mythological perspective rather than a personal biographical one. Jung believed that the psyche has a collective ancestry that goes back millions of years. He argued that the psyche was made up of what he termed archetypes, which are primordial images inherited from our ancestors. As support for such a theory, he spoke of the immediate attachment infants have for their mother, the inevitable fear of the dark seen in young children, and how images such as the sun, moon, wise old man, angels, and evil all seem to be predominant themes throughout history. The aim of life, according to Jung, is to know oneself. He thought the best way to do that is to explore both the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. Other schools of thought
Freud and his theory of psychoanalysis were so pivotal in the establishment of modern psychology that a strong argument can be made that virtually every major psychological theory of the twentieth century was either a hybrid of or a reaction to psychoanalysis. Even staunch behaviorists such as John Watson, and later B. F. Skinner, used psychoanalysis as a reference point to develop radically different theories of the personality that had little or no resemblance to Freud's ideas.
Object relations Freud used the word "object" to refer to any person, object, or activity that can satisfy an instinctive desire. In his view, the first object in an infant's life that can gratify such a desire is the mother's breast. As the child grows, other people become desire-gratifying objects in a variety of different ways.
Object relations theory owes its roots to Freud but diverged on a different path. Its core principles focus on interpersonal relationships with these objects, whereas Freud emphasized the instinctual drives themselves with little attention given to a child's actual relationship to the object. Object relations theorists see the social and environmental influences on personality, particularly between the mother and child, as crucial to the development of personality and the child's sense of self or ego. Object relations is closely aligned with what is also known in professional circles as ego psychology. Two well-known pioneers in object relations theory are Melanie Klein and Heinz Kohut. Klein's early career overlapped Freud's later years, and Kohut's began around the time of Freud's death.
Karen Horney Karen Horney was trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst in Berlin and is considered one of the first modern feminists. From 1914 to 1918 she underwent psychoanalytic training at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute and later became a faculty member there. Though initially devoted to Freud's systematic paradigm of psychoanalysis, she eventually disputed several of his key concepts. In particular she took issue with his view on unchanging biological forces as the determining factors for personality development. She denied the high status of sexual factors in his theory, including the Oedipal complex, the concepts of libido, and the three-part structure of the personality (id, ego, and superego). In fact, she left Freud's psychoanalytic circle over his views that women have poorly developed superegos and inferiority feelings about their bodies because they lack a penis. She countered Freud's view by saying that men have "womb envy," an unconscious desire for a womb. Other criticisms of Freud and psychoanalysis
As more has been learned about child development since Freud's theories were first launched, there has been an increasing lack of support for some of his assumptions about the human personality. Perhaps none of his ideas have met with as much criticism as his psychosexual stages of development. While many modern-day clinicians still find aspects of his stages helpful, most do not adhere to the presupposition of sexual conflict being the central task of developmental maturity. Thus, concepts like Oedipal and Electra complexes are held by a very small minority of professionals overall.
Another criticism of Freud concerns his training as a physician and his extensive reliance on a medical model to develop his theory of psychoanalysis. His strong emphasis on pathology causes him to label behavior as "problematic" or "inappropriate" that most in contemporary times would classify as normative or common to the human condition. In other words, he is accused by some of "creating" psychopathology when it may not be anything out of the ordinary human experience.
Example: Data collection and report Freud's methods of collecting data from his patients have also drawn much criticism by scholars. The following represent some of the most prominent concerns:
Freud did not make verbatim transcripts of his conversations with patients. If he made notes at all it was typically hours after the interaction. Critics claim that important data would inevitably be lost because recall of specific details would fade the longer the interval between analysis and recording. This opened up the possibility that there were important omissions and distortions of the original data.
Because a central component of Freud's theory involved interpretation of a patient's disclosures, some critics claim that Freud could have easily recalled and recorded only what he wanted to hear or selectively chosen those aspects that would support his assumptions.
Freud claimed that a high percentage of his female clients had experienced sexual abuse as children, often by their fathers. Some have suggested that Freud used suggestive or even coercive procedures to elicit or plant memories of child sexual abuse in his patients. Freud himself later acknowledged that some recollections by his patients may have been fantasies they imagined. He even left the door open to the possibility, though he did not explicitly state it as fact, that he may have influenced their recollection in a coercive way.
Researchers have found discrepancies between Freud's notes and those cases histories on which those notes were supposedly based. This is a difficult problem to trace because Freud destroyed most of his patient files. Freud only published six case histories, and none are considered to be compelling evidence for the soundness of psychoanalysis. One of the cases he published was not even one of his patient, but that of another physician.
Even if Freud's recollections of events discussed in therapy were completely accurate, the reports given to him by patients may not have matched reality. Freud is known to have spent little time verifying accounts about patient's childhood experiences, especially those accusing family members of sexual abuse. Critics argue that he should have questioned family members to determine the accuracy of patient reports.
Critics have also pointed out that Freud's theories are based upon a very small homogenous sample group made up almost exclusively of upper-class Austrian women. Not only is it limited in gender and geographical location, but it is also influenced by a late nineteenth century society that was Victorian in manner, which manifested as sexually repressed. Such a sample, many contend, made Freud's focus on sex simply a reflection of the time period more than a determinant of personality.
Example: Is psychoanalysis science? Some psychologists claim that psychoanalysis is good science, others that it is bad science, and still others that it is not science at all. Those who believe psychoanalysis is good science are no doubt the minority based on findings in the latter half of the twentieth century. Surprisingly, not all psychoanalysts fall into this group. Rather, a fair number of psychoanalysts are willing to concede that psychoanalysis is not science and that it was never meant to be science. Instead, they claim that it is more like a worldview that helps people see connections that they otherwise would miss.
It is questionable whether Freud himself thought of his theory of psychoanalysis as science. Despite the growing popularity of psychoanalysis for therapy during his lifetime and beyond, Freud admittedly had little personal interest in the potential treatment value of his system. His primary concern was not to cure his patients but rather to explain the dynamics of human behavior. Though he thought of himself as a scientist more than a therapist, he did not apply scientific methods to how he gathered or analyzed the work upon which his theory was built.