Freud in Academe: Another View

What follows is another opinion on the recent New York Times article about Freud as taught in academe. The post from a colleague on a professional listserv. Thanks to Dr. Rhinewine for allowing me to quote it.

Post from a guest:
In my opinion: the handling of psychoanalysis is just short of preposterous in many psych departments. I think there’s a fundamental mismatch between the current empirical zeitgeist and psychoanalysis, and it’s not going to change swiftly. Psychoanalysis will not, however, “die” as many academics blithely declare. (Note: people say that about radical behaviorism as well, and it’s also totally false. Radical behaviorism as well as psychoanalysis are both alive and well, thankfully).

Further, countless empirical studies have–to varying degrees of directness–tested and supported concepts that originated in psychoanalysis (for example a great deal of research in social psychology relates to defense mechanisms). There’s also much, much, MUCH more empirical research completed from an explicitly psychoanalytic perspective than most academics are aware of, or care to admit. The recent Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual makes reference to a number of such studies, and indeed includes several in its considerable appendices.

This is a stupid, exasperating, needless culture war within psychology. There is no contradiction between empiricism and psychoanalysis. There is, however, a discrepancy in the level of interest in completing empirical research between cognitive-behavioral folks and psychoanalytic folks, with the latter coming up far short. There’s also the matter of the difficulty of testing phenomena that take a long time to transpire, and the problems of observing phenomena that are delicate and develop best when not under scrutiny.

There is also a general under-appreciation of the value of heuristic work in research. Someone has to generate hypotheses, in addition to people testing hypotheses. Some hypothesis-generation needs to be quite broad-brushstroke, in order to create new, divergent lines of research. For example, would attachment research, now with a large behavioral as well biological evidence base, have been launched without psychoanalysis? I think otherwise. I have tried to make these points clear to my students as I’ve taught psychopathology this semester. It’s amazing what a simplistic and unhelpful view of psychoanalysis most of them had been taught to this point — and no wonder, given the handling of the topic in many psychology textbooks.

A final note — I wonder how much of the dogmatism and unscientific orientation of early and zealous advocates of psychoanalysis (including Freud himself), helped create this legacy of confusion regarding this rich and powerful tradition. Many of the disparagingly snooty attitudes toward psychoanalysis seem more relevant to a distant past of the history of psychoanalysis that bears little resemblance to what I have been exposed to in the current time.


Joseph Rhinewine, PhD, LLC
Licensed Psychologist
522 SW Fifth Avenue, Ste. 725
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 222-2361


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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