Sunday, April 20, 2008

Towards a Structural Definition of the Psyche - Freud


Not alone is Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) the founder of psychoanalysis but also one can legitimately claim that he is the father of modern psychotherapy per se.  However, I am at one with Mitchell and Black that we must disabuse the minds, not alone of neophytes but of the public in general, of the myth that psychoanalysis is largely the work of one man, namely Freud. (See Freud And Beyond, xvi).

However, let us remind ourselves that Freud was firstly a medical practitioner, and hence it is nearer the truth to claim that he is most essentially a pioneer in psychological medicine.  In keeping with his medical training practically everything in his own practice and even in current Freudian psychotherapy  "bears the unmistakable imprint of the physician's consulting room - a fact that is evident not only in its terminology but also its framework of theory." (C.G. Jung, quoted Soul Medicine: Restoring The Spirit to Healing, Helen Graham, Newleaf, 2001, 142)  Needless to say the analyst's couch is originally the doctor's couch.

Freud and Science

Freud was very much a man of his times and the nineteenth century was essentially the century of the ascendency of science.  As I have outlined in previous posts he was influenced greatly by many eminent physicians and researchers who all had a scientific and methodic approach to their subject (humankind and its illnesses - physical and mental) like Ernst Brucke, Jean-Martin Charcot and Josef Breuer.  Freud deeply believed that his own creation - namely psychoanalysis - was completely scientific.  He saw himself in relation to psychiatry or more properly psychoanalysis like Newton in relation to the field of Physics or like Darwin in relation to Biology or the theory of evolution.  Here I would like to quote Dr. Helen Graham again as her words are a marvellous summary of the Freudian approach to science:

Freud wished to establish psychotherapy as a scientific discipline fully consistent with the thinking of the time.  So he used the basic concepts of nineteenth-century physics in his descriptions of psychological phenomena and subsequently made unjustified and mistaken claims to have established psychology on foundations of any other science, such as physics."  In so doing Freud fooled himself and many of his followers, but in the process he developed  "a model of consciousness which dispensed with spiritual aspirations and made them disreputable."  The emergence of a soulless psychology can therefore be attributed in good measure to his influence." (Op. cit., 143)

I return here briefly to one of my favourite writers on psychiatry and psychoanalysis namely Dr Anthony Storr who states succinctly that despite Freud's high scientific claims for psychoanalysis that it is not and could never be a science in the sense in which physics or chemistry are sciences quite simply because "its hypotheses are retrospective and cannot be used for prediction and most are insusceptible of final proof." (Storr, Freud: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2001, 16)

However, while psychology (psychoanalysis, or indeed psychiatry per se, I think) can never be a natural science like Chemistry or Physics, it is a human or social (or personal) science.  Freud, after all was a trained medical doctor who had a considerable amount of clinical experience.  He was a good clinician and a marvellously good observer of human nature.  His theories and practices did use the findings of the sciences, and in this secondary sense one could allow for their being scientific.  The present writer is at one with Storr in contending that psychoanalysis is a Weltanschauung (that is, a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint; a world-view or outlook) and a Hermaneutic System. (an investigative or interpretative system of human behaviour, institutions, speech etc)


Above I have uploaded yet another picture of one of Rodin's marvellous creations - the Rodin Museum, Paris.

1 comment:

Donovan said...

Thank you for this post. I'm still trying to ascertain the basis for the still point.