Freud and Psychology

Studies of mental functions, behaviors and the nervous system.

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Re: Freud and Psychology

#41  Postby Shrunk » Mar 30, 2010 10:48 am

I think this thread has given a somewhat mistaken impression of the current status of Freudian thought. I'm in no position to dispute the information that has been provided regarding the situation in psychology and other academic disciplines. However, I teach in a large psychiatry residency program, and here it remains a requirement that all trainees treat at least two patients in long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy, in addition to other modalities such as CBT, IPT, etc. This will not, of course, generally entail a strictly Freudian approach, and will also involve various post-Freudian or even anti-Freudian schools such as ego-psychology, object relations, self-psychology and the newer intersubjective approaches. However, an understanding of these approaches is at best difficult without some understanding of their Freudian background.

There is also a burgeoning field of research that provides evidence for the efficacy of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy, and again I'll just provide a Google Scholar hit list of some of these:

http://scholar.google.ca/scholar?hl=en& ... =&as_vis=0

I'll readily admit that this evidence falls short of being overwhelming and unequivocal. However, it does exist and indicates that the question of the efficacy of psychoanalytic treatment remains, at worst, a matter of continued debate.

In addition, my understanding is that in areas of the humanities, such as artistic and cultural criticism, Freudian approaches remain ascendant, albeit usually in the form of later elaborations such as those of Lacan. The more informed can correct me if I'm wrong here.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#42  Postby katja z » Mar 30, 2010 11:24 am

Shrunk wrote:In addition, my understanding is that in areas of the humanities, such as artistic and cultural criticism, Freudian approaches remain ascendant, albeit usually in the form of later elaborations such as those of Lacan. The more informed can correct me if I'm wrong here.

You're spot on. My background is literary studies and Lacan is an important reference there, mostly because his writings were very important in the elaboration of poststructuralist thought. Other scholars, such as Harold Bloom in his influential account of "the anxiety of (literary) influence", have drawn directly on Freud (more embarrassingly, so have numerous "interpretations" of writers/fictional characters such as Hamlet - Freud started this himself with his analysis of Oedipus the King). Lacan also remains an important reference in philosophy.

My problem is, what is the value of theories based on Freudian approaches if those aren't really valid? They can't somehow acquire validity just because they cross over to another discipline. :think: They can generate interesting new ways of looking at things, and that is all to the good, but appeals to their authority bother me.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#43  Postby Lazar » Mar 30, 2010 11:32 am

Shrunk wrote:I think this thread has given a somewhat mistaken impression of the current status of Freudian thought. I'm in no position to dispute the information that has been provided regarding the situation in psychology and other academic disciplines. However, I teach in the continent's large psychiatry residency program, and here it remains a requirement that all trainees treat at least two patients in long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy, in addition to other modalities such as CBT, IPT, etc. This will not, of course, generally entail a strictly Freudian approach, and will also involve various post-Freudian or even anti-Freudian schools such as ego-psychology, object relations, self-psychology and the newer intersubjective approaches. However, an understanding of these approaches is at best difficult without some understanding of their Freudian background.

There is also a burgeoning field of research that provides evidence for the efficacy of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy, and again I'll just provide a Google Scholar hit list of some of these:

http://scholar.google.ca/scholar?hl=en& ... =&as_vis=0

I'll readily admit that this evidence falls short of being overwhelming and unequivocal. However, it does exist and indicates that the question of the efficacy of psychoanalytic treatment remains, at worst, a matter of continued debate.

In addition, my understanding is that in areas of the humanities, such as artistic and cultural criticism, Freudian approaches remain ascendant, albeit usually in the form of later elaborations such as those of Lacan. The more informed can correct me if I'm wrong here.


I have always been interested in the continued use of Freudian concepts in psychiatry, given there general abandonment in psychology programs. In Germany it is a little different as the psychoanalytic movement is a powerful body but generally it is my experience that psychology has increasingly moved to CBT.

I would agree that there is now some convincing evidence for defence mechanisms, however, aspects of the general Freudian approach including the psycho-sexual stages, dreams, and the unconscious remain largely unproven and evidence such as the tendency for individuals to confabulate when recalling dreams clearly indicate central aspects of Freudian theory is wrong. In addition I think the central focus on the unconscious and early childhood is at the very least questionable.

In relation to literature, Freudian approaches are popular. For instance I think a Freudian reading of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein is perhaps the dominate reading, likewise some feminists have used Freudian concepts to interpret aspects of movies like vagina dentata, Carrie, etc. I think however, this conflates the issue. If the question is, what is the position of Freud in psychology today I do not think readers would get an incorrect view from this thread.

In sum, aspects of Freudian theory have some preliminary support from research and a strong tradition in psychology, but for the most part there are serious questions relating to the data, method, and theoretical basis of many of Freud's ideas. For these reasons, Freudian theory is generally no longer considered a central area of psychological research.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#44  Postby Lazar » Mar 30, 2010 11:41 am

katja z wrote:
Shrunk wrote:In addition, my understanding is that in areas of the humanities, such as artistic and cultural criticism, Freudian approaches remain ascendant, albeit usually in the form of later elaborations such as those of Lacan. The more informed can correct me if I'm wrong here.

You're spot on. My background is literary studies and Lacan is an important reference there, mostly because his writings were very important in the elaboration of poststructuralist thought. Other scholars, such as Harold Bloom in his influential account of "the anxiety of (literary) influence", have drawn directly on Freud (more embarrassingly, so have numerous "interpretations" of writers/fictional characters such as Hamlet - Freud started this himself with his analysis of Oedipus the King). Lacan also remains an important reference in philosophy.

My problem is, what is the value of theories based on Freudian approaches if those aren't really valid? They can't somehow acquire validity just because they cross over to another discipline. :think: They can generate interesting new ways of looking at things, and that is all to the good, but appeals to their authority bother me.


I would be interested to read your views on the relationships between Lacan and Freud's and the work of Nietzsche. :ask:
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#45  Postby katja z » Mar 30, 2010 12:10 pm

Lazar wrote:
I would be interested to read your views on the relationships between Lacan and Freud's and the work of Nietzsche. :ask:

I'm afraid I've never had much to do with Nietzsche :( My subject area is postcolonial literatures and his work doesn't really figure there. I'll keep your question in mind though, in case I decide to read up on that :cheers:
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#46  Postby Shrunk » Mar 30, 2010 1:18 pm

katja z wrote: You're spot on. My background is literary studies and Lacan is an important reference there, mostly because his writings were very important in the elaboration of poststructuralist thought. Other scholars, such as Harold Bloom in his influential account of "the anxiety of (literary) influence", have drawn directly on Freud (more embarrassingly, so have numerous "interpretations" of writers/fictional characters such as Hamlet - Freud started this himself with his analysis of Oedipus the King). Lacan also remains an important reference in philosophy.

My problem is, what is the value of theories based on Freudian approaches if those aren't really valid? They can't somehow acquire validity just because they cross over to another discipline. :think: They can generate interesting new ways of looking at things, and that is all to the good, but appeals to their authority bother me.


You're quite right. That the ideas prove useful has little bearing on whether they are actually valid or correct.

To be clear where I am coming from, I'm a psychiatrist and also a psychoanalyst, with most of my latter training being in a classical Freudian approach. Nonetheless, I am in agreement with many of the comments in this thread that most of Freud's specific ideas don't stand up to scientific scrutiny. As you suggest, his chief importance is as the originator of a method of hermeneutics and, more specifically, the application of this hermeneutic method as a therpeutic intervention.

So to my mind, his most enduring contribution is the idea of interpretation as a therapeutic technique. IOW, the idea that a person's thoughts, emotions and actions can be interpreted and understood in the same way a work of art such as a play or novel can be, and that communicating this understanding to the person is therapeutically effective. This is a hypothesis that can, and has been, tested scientifically and found to have considerable evidence to support it. The confirmation of this hypothesis, however, says nothing about the validity of the interpretations themselves, nor of the philosophy underlying them. And in this regard, it is interesting to note that no one, to my knowledge, has been able to demonstrate any difference in results based on various different psychoanalytic schools of thought, despite the fact that these schools can vary greatly and even contradict each other.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#47  Postby Juliuseizure » Apr 02, 2010 8:13 am

Didn't Freud say that everybody is basically obsessed with sex, and isn't that correct? :dance:
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#48  Postby Juliuseizure » Apr 04, 2010 1:07 pm

I think Freud draws a lot of dismissive criticism because some interpretations of the Oedipus complex are so incorrect and offensive. If you say "Sigmund Freud" to the man on the street he immediately thinks "Oedipus complex" - and runs a mile away from psychology total.

I think the Oedipus complex is best explained in terms of a generalised attraction toward the parent of the opposite sex caused by behavioural characteristics that make up "the happy home" like the parts of a jigsaw puzzle. So people look for characteristics in potential partners which their opposite sex parent had. They feel no erotic desire for the parent (that wouldn't make sense given the negative consequences of incest) and don't actually want to have sex with them, however. Castration anxiety doesn't really make sense either - what right minded father would want to newter his son and so what son would fear that? Freud presented these things poorely it seems and yet that is not commonly accepted for some reason. Probably because of those "strict Freudians" who dogmatically believe every word he wrote. The wonderful tales of Freud :doh:in the hospital.

I don't think it's possibel to bin the term "Oedipus complex" because it rings true in some ways - it's tied in with reproduction but nothing hot and heavy or erotic - people are attracted to people like their parent of the opposite sex though. The Oedipus complex doesn't even mean the Oedipus complex in common lingo perhaps. Meh, maybe the Oedipus complex is so wrong we'd all be better off if it were in the bin. Beats me.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#49  Postby Shrunk » Apr 04, 2010 3:47 pm

As one of my teachers said, "The most common mistake people make with Freud is to think that, to him, 'sex' meant fucking."
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#50  Postby katja z » Apr 04, 2010 6:18 pm

Shrunk wrote:As one of my teachers said, "The most common mistake people make with Freud is to think that, to him, 'sex' meant fucking."

He certainly contributed to that himself, even if he didn't "mean" it. Look at his writings about Oedipus complex (since Juliuseizure has already gone that way). He got the name (and probably the idea) from interpreting Sophocles' Oedipus the King where one of the two key problems is that Oedipus actually married and had sex with his mother - I think Freud even references Jokasta's remark to the effect that "every man has dreamt of sleeping with his mother", something like that. Same thing with Electra's story.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#51  Postby Mr.Samsa » Apr 05, 2010 1:01 am

Out of interest, can anyone think of any of Freud's ideas that were fairly accurate? So far there have been some mumblings of defence mechanisms gaining some support in a revised form, his linking of hysteria to traumatic childhood experiences (although he retracted that), and... anything else?

(I'm interested in ideas that were his, rather than well established ideas in his time - such as 'unconscious' processes controlling a lot of behavior etc).
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#52  Postby katja z » Apr 05, 2010 8:36 am

Mr.Samsa wrote:Out of interest, can anyone think of any of Freud's ideas that were fairly accurate? So far there have been some mumblings of defence mechanisms gaining some support in a revised form, his linking of hysteria to traumatic childhood experiences (although he retracted that), and... anything else?

(I'm interested in ideas that were his, rather than well established ideas in his time - such as 'unconscious' processes controlling a lot of behavior etc).

No answers here but two questions that boil down to "wow really?" I mean, did he really retract the link of hysteria to traumatic childhood experiences and even more, was the unconscious really an established idea at his time? That's not how his contribution was presented to me at school :bat:

Any reading suggestions on the history of the notion of unconscious processes? It would be interesting to compare that to developments in 19th century and early 20th century literature, especially psychological realism to early modernism. :think:
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#53  Postby VanYoungman » Apr 05, 2010 5:24 pm

The world would be a much better place if all things "Freud" would simply disappear from our universe.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#54  Postby Shrunk » Apr 05, 2010 5:56 pm

katja z wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:I mean, did he really retract the link of hysteria to traumatic childhood experiences.


Yes. That was one of the crucial turning points in his thinking on childhood sexuality, when he abandoned the "seduction theory" in favour of the idea that many of what patients reported where actually fantasies. Although, to be completely accurate, he never fully abandoned the idea and continued to consider actual sexual trauma as factors in some of his later case histories.

The abandonment of the seduction theory is the source of one of the more frequent criticisms leveled against Freud, such as this.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#55  Postby endless psych » Apr 06, 2010 12:17 am

VanYoungman wrote:The world would be a much better place if all things "Freud" would simply disappear from our universe.


In relation to the modern science based practice of psychiatrty and the science of psychology I concur fully.

However some of Freuds ideas, on humour for instance, have some degree of merit even if only on a philosophical level. Babys and bathwater innit.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#56  Postby Mr.Samsa » Apr 06, 2010 12:53 am

katja z wrote:
No answers here but two questions that boil down to "wow really?" I mean, did he really retract the link of hysteria to traumatic childhood experiences and even more, was the unconscious really an established idea at his time? That's not how his contribution was presented to me at school :bat:

Any reading suggestions on the history of the notion of unconscious processes? It would be interesting to compare that to developments in 19th century and early 20th century literature, especially psychological realism to early modernism. :think:


With the sexual abuse stuff, Shrunk has already mentioned Freud's Seduction Theory. Pretty much all the details of his idea, and the proposed mechanisms for how these events cause mental disorders were completely wrong, but as far as I know he was one of the first to posit sexual abuse as a cause of mental disorders.

As for the "unconscious" affecting our functioning, there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind before looking at some writings at the time of Freud. The first being that most will not refer to their concept as the "unconscious", but they refer to the same thing. And secondly, Freud's ideas of the "unconscious" were more extravagant and more incorrect than his contemporaries.

So, the most obvious research we can look to for discussions on unconscious processes affecting behavior is that of the biologists, for example Darwin's evolutionary ideas had some important implications for behavior (which were later developed by the sociobiologists/evo psychs). Perhaps the most clear example of this is physiologist Ivan Pavlov's work with classical conditioning, which is an "unconscious" process.

But looking closer at psychology, we have a prime example in Wilhelm Wundt who set up the field of experimental psychology. He often included unconscious processes into his theories of perception (as did Helmholtz) - more information here. William James focused mostly on consciousness (whenever you refer to "a stream of consciousness", you are referencing his thoughts), and he is sometimes credited with the initial development of the idea of the unconscious (explained briefly here).

And perhaps the most damning evidence of all, even wikipedia acknowledges that Freud did 'discover' the unconscious. ;)

(This is also ignoring the claims of Freud's plagiarism which means that, if true, not only was he not the first person to investigate the concept, it wasn't even his unoriginal idea).

endless psych wrote:
However some of Freuds ideas, on humour for instance, have some degree of merit even if only on a philosophical level. Babys and bathwater innit.


I never liked his ideas on humour, but maybe that's just me.. :dunno:
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#57  Postby katja z » Apr 06, 2010 8:18 am

Thanks Shrunk and Mr. Samsa! :cheers: So would it be correct to say that Freud's innovation was mostly the content he theorized for the unconscious?

As for his contemporaries, it sounds like William James is the one I'm after. This sheds some interesting light on Henry James's literary experiments :think:

Oh, Freud and humour: his ideas on "witz" have some merit (but then they aren't exactly rocket science ...) but he didn't really deal with more interesting and complex kinds of humour. However, to be fair, I haven't liked any "explanations" of humour I've come across. Oh well, another of those things science can't deal with :grin: :hide:
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#58  Postby palindnilap » Apr 06, 2010 10:07 am

katja z wrote:Thanks Shrunk and Mr. Samsa! :cheers: So would it be correct to say that Freud's innovation was mostly the content he theorized for the unconscious?


That is only loosely related to the unconscious, but in a previous RDF thread I tried to argue (but with little success) that the "id vs ego" dichotomy was mapping rather well to the modern "limbic system vs cortex" separation. Lazar explained that Freud got that idea from wooish recapitulation theory, which means that if he had a good idea it was for the wrong reasons (the right reasons being of course evolutionary).

Oh, Freud and humour: his ideas on "witz" have some merit (but then they aren't exactly rocket science ...) but he didn't really deal with more interesting and complex kinds of humour.


I also thought there was a little something in Freud's theory of humour.

However, to be fair, I haven't liked any "explanations" of humour I've come across. Oh well, another of those things science can't deal with :grin: :hide:


Let me rephrase that for you. Another of those fascinating fields of inquiry for 21st-century science. ;)
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#59  Postby Lazar » Apr 06, 2010 11:01 am

palindnilap wrote:

That is only loosely related to the unconscious, but in a previous RDF thread I tried to argue (but with little success) that the "id vs ego" dichotomy was mapping rather well to the modern "limbic system vs cortex" separation. Lazar explained that Freud got that idea from wooish recapitulation theory, which means that if he had a good idea it was for the wrong reasons (the right reasons being of course evolutionary).


The recapitulation stuff is largely relevant to Freud's stages theories. In relation to theory of mind, it seems Freud has borrowed more heavily from Nietzsche (as he seemed to do whenever anything he said made sense). From wiki:

Freud once openly admitted to avoiding the work of Nietzsche, "whose guesses and intuitions often agree in the most astonishing way with the laborious findings of psychoanalysis".


Indeed, I am surprised that where Freud gets ample airplay in psych101 Nietzsche seems never to get mentioned at all. Reads though 'Human, all to Human' for instance and tell me who you think made a more decisive and long term contribution to psychology (rhetorical question not aimed at anyone :D ). Indeed, the seeds of quite modern theories such as coping theory seem to be expressed so well it that book (it is around the 100s somewhere and discusses palliative action verses direct action to resolve a problem).

EDIT: I have not read this article beyond the abstract here but it also makes the claim that Freud 'borrowed' heavily from Nietzsche.
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Re: Freud and Psychology

#60  Postby Shrunk » Apr 21, 2010 10:45 am

If it's not too late to bump this thread, in the course of another thread I came across this interview with psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge on the topic of neuroplasticity, where he had this to say about Freud:

Natasha Mitchell: Norman Doidge, let's come to your therapeutic setting, you're a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. What would Freud have thoughtof all this, this idea that the brain is a profoundly plastic organ?

Norman Doidge: Well it's funny you should say that because in this certain sense Freud did think of all of this. In the 1880s he was one of thevery first people to propose that when we think and learn we change the connections between nerve cells. He was very, very prescient on this point and modern day neuroplasticians, which is a term I have for people who have helped further our understanding of neuroplasticity, often talk about a basic law of plasticity that states neurons that fire together, wire together and neurons that fire apart wire apart. This is a very monumentaldiscovery. This is how connections are formed in the brain. Sometimes they attributed that to a Canadian, a Canadian, Donald Hebb, and called it Hebbian plasticity. But in fact Freud proposed that idea in the 1880s and 90s and he called it the law of association by simultaneity—it's beautifully named and it just meant that when you put two things together in consciousness they get associated in the neuronal connections in the brain.

And if you hear the word 'association' with respect to Freud you think of free association and you know saying everything that comes to mind and Freud's emphasis that you could find important links and in fact it was related to his work as a neurologist. You know he was never a psychiatrist, he was a neuroscience researcher before he turned to treating patients. Psychoanalysis grew out of these neuroplastic insights, and many of the other therapies that have grown out of psychoanalysis bear that heritage. And one of the most exciting and important things about this work is people have often thought that real treatments are always biological and involve drugs etc, and that talk therapy is just that—just talk, mere talk. But we now have really important work of psychoanalytic therapies, cognitive behaviour therapy, inter-personal therapy which kind of grows out of psychoanalytic therapy which shows that patients come in with brains in certain states of wiring and after these interventions their brains are rewired.

So psychotherapy is every bit as biological as the use of medicines and I would say in a certain respect more precise at times. Now look I use medications from time to time, I never give medication without giving psychotherapy. The Canadian health care system allows me to do that but I think that's really, really important because medications basically bathe every cell in your brain at once. And in that sense, on that level they're a blunt instrument. Now there are times when they have very, very important results, I'm not saying that anyone should go off their medication and all that kind of thing, the reductionist approach... but one of the things we've learnt is that if you look at the letter A and then you close your eyes and think of the letter A, many of the same circuits are activated. And if you're hurting and talking with your therapist about that, those circuits are activated at that point and that provides a point of entry. And when therapy is working it's like a microsurgical intervention on precisely the circuits that have to be changed.


Natasha Mitchell: You've provocatively called psychoanalysis the new neuroplastic therapy. That's quite a claim given that I guess today psychoanalysis is a bit on the nose in neuroscience circles.

Norman Doidge: Well actually at the heights of neuroscience it's actually treated with great respect. Eric Kandel who won the Nobel Prize in the year 2000 and is a great neuroplastician for actually showing how learning changes, turns on genes and changes structures, has written a whole book on psychoanalysis and neurobiology.

Natasha Mitchell: And his key field is of course memory which is the great example of plasticity.

Norman Doidge: He went into it actually, he was a Viennese person who went into psychiatry to become and analyst and wanted to understand more about how learning works because learning is essential to psychotherapy. Gerald Edelman who won the Nobel Prize was interested in it, Antonio Damasio is. At the highest levels I think there is a tremendous amount of respect for the integrative work that Freud did, not for every little detail of what he did. No one is making that claim, he was always revising his work, but on this particular point about neuroplasticity, psychoanalysis gave us a much more plastic understanding of how memory works, a much more plastic understanding of how emotion works, and that change was possible later in life.


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