Charges of Fascism

Deleuze and Guattari, in their 1972 work "Anti-Œdipus", take the cases of Gérard Mendel, Bela Grunberger and Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, prominent members of the most respected associations (IPA), to show how traditionally psychoanalysis enthusiastically embraces a police state:

"As to those who refuse to be cooperated in one form or another, at one end or the other in the treatment, the psychoanalyst is there to call the asylum or the police for help. The police on our side!— never did psychoanalysis better display its taste for supporting the movement of social repression and for participating in it with enthusiasm. Notice of the dominant tone in the most respected associations: consider Dr. Mendel and the Drs Stéphane, the state of fury that is theirs and their literally police-like appeal at the thought that someone might try to escape the Oedipal dragnet. Oedipus is one of those things that becomes all the more dangerous the less people believe in it; then the cops are there to replace the high priests."

Dr. Bela Grunberger and Dr. Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel were two psychoanalysts from the Paris section of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA). In November 1968, disguising themselves under the pseudonym André Stéphane, they published L'univers Contestationnaire, in which they assumed that the left-wing rioters of May 68 were totalitarian stalinists and psychoanalyzed them saying that they were affected by a sordid infantilism caught up in an Oedipal revolt against the Father.

Noteably Lacan, mentioned this book with great disdain. While Grunberger and Chasseguet-Smirgel were still disguised under the pseudonym, Lacan remarked that for sure none of the authors belonged to his school, as none would abase themselves to such low drivel. The IPA analysts responded accusing the Lacan school of "intellectual terrorism". Gérard Mendel, had instead published La révolte contre le père (1968) and Pour décoloniser l'enfant (1971).

Scientific Criticism

Peter Medawar, a Nobel Prize winning immunolgist, said in 1975 that psychoanalysis is the "most stupendous intellectual confidence trick of the twentieth century". Early critics of psychoanalysis believed that its theories were based too little on quantitative and experimental research and too much on the clinical case study method. Some even accused Freud of fabrication, most famously in the case of Anna O. (Borch-Jacobsen 1996). An increasing amount of empirical research from academic psychologists and psychiatrists has begun to address this criticism. A survey of scientific research suggested that while personality traits corresponding to Freud's oral, anal, Oedipal and genital phases can be observed, they do not necessarily manifest as stages in the development of children. These studies also have not confirmed that such traits in adults result from childhood experiences (Fisher & Greenberg, 1977, p. 399). However, these stages should not be viewed as crucial to modern psychoanalysis. What is crucial to modern psychoanalytic theory and practice is the power of the unconscious and the transference phenomenon.

The idea of "unconscious" is contested because human behavior can be observed while human psychology has to be guessed at. However, the unconscious is now a popular topic of study in the fields of experimental and social psychology (e.g., implicit attitude measures, MRI and PET scans and other indirect tests). One would be hard pressed to find scientists who still think of the mind as a "black box". Currently, the field of psychology embraces the study of things outside one's awareness. Even strict behaviorists acknowledge that a vast amount of classical conditioning is at least subconscious and that this has profound effects on our emotional life. The idea of unconscious and the transference phenomenon, have been widely researched and, it is claimed, validated in the fields of cognitive psychology and social psychology (Westen & Gabbard 2002), though such claims are also contested. Recent developments in neuroscience have resulted in one side arguing that it has provided a biological basis for unconscious emotional processing in line with psychoanalytic theory, i.e., neuropsychoanalysis (Westen & Gabbard 2002), while the other side argues that such findings make psychoanalytic theory obsolete and irrelevant.

E. Fuller Torrey, writing in Witchdoctors and Psychiatrists (1986), stated that psychoanalytic theories have no more scientific basis than the theories of traditional native healers, "witchdoctors" or modern "cult" alternatives such as est. Some scientists regard psychoanalysis as a pseudoscience (Cioff, 1998). Among philosophers, Karl Popper argued that Freud's theory of the unconscious was not falsifiable and therefore not scientific. Popper did not object to the idea that some mental processes could be unconscious but to investigations of the mind that were not falsifiable. In other words, if it were possible to connect every conceivable experimental outcome with Freud's theory of the unconscious mind, then no experiment could refute the theory.

Some proponents of psychoanalysis suggest that its concepts and theories are more akin to those found in the humanities than those proper to the physical and biological/medical sciences, though Freud himself tried to base his clinical formulations on a hypothetical neurophysiology of energy transformations. For example, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur argued that psychoanalysis can be considered a type of textual interpretation or hermeneutics. Like cultural critics and literary scholars, Ricoeur contended, psychoanalysts spend their time interpreting the nuances of language—the language of their patients. Ricoeur claimed that psychoanalysis emphasizes the polygonal or many-voiced qualities of language, focusing on utterances that mean more than one thing. Ricoeur classified psychoanalysis as a hermeneutics of suspicion. By this he meant that psychoanalysis searches for deception in language and thereby destabilizes our usual reliance on clear, obvious meanings. Supporting criticism regarding the validity of psychoanalytic therapeutic technique, numerous outcome studies have shown that its efficacy is related to the quality of the therapist, rather than the psychoanalytic school or technique or training, while a French 2004 report from INSERM says instead, that psychoanalysis therapy is far less effective than other psychotherapies (among which Cognitive behavioral therapy).

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