Bash Freud At Your Own Peril!


I remember the first lecture, the first psychiatry “grand rounds” when a friend of mine became the “Chief resident” in my final year of residency training.  He had gotten a speaker on national tour who was a “Freud-basher.”  This speaker launched into an allegedly scholarly criticism of Sigmund Freud.

In the question and answer period that followed, I destroyed this man. I could not stand this man putting down Freud and trying to build a career on that.  Taking someone who had built a field where there had not been one before, and destroying his legacy, was a cheap and inappropriate way to be an academic. This speaker defended himself.

Me, I had just read the complete works of Freud translated into English — the A.A. Brill edition that Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, had used as the basis for American Advertising. The speaker, unbeknownst to me, told my friend later he had some bizarre kind of crush on me and would give anything to take me on a lecture tour because I had generated such controversy.

Psychiatry had been born in controversy.  Sigmund Freud’s father was a merchant who had his business suffer because of Viennese anti-semitism. Sigmund Freud and his buddies were marginalized by the Vienna medical society for the same reason. He knew there was a great gap in knowledge of the brain, and knew well that his psychiatry was neurology we didn’t know yet. Me, I would not fault him for his shortcoming.  Rather, pick up his theoretical constructs, and see what has happened and what has not.

The field deserves to be bashed, for it has fallen short of the quality of science that has been produced in other fields, like chemistry and physics.  The power is in the magic of the human — of being human, and studying yourself. Because we cannot biopsy a living, functioning human brain and because our empathy with the animal kingdom is so great people hesitate to use animals for experiments, and because this is a “spiritual science,”  it incorporates too often fanciful hypotheses into drug development and has become dominated by some strange pharmacological models.

I do not know how we course-correct a field this large.  While individual human stories generate tear-jerking anecdotes from concerned professionals without scientific respite,  lavish statistical studies show the biological psychiatry model has simply not lived up to its grandiose presumptions. We need to look humbly at everything from social causes to nutrition, and build all-inclusive illness models.  We need to look at everything from nutritional basics to environmental toxins.  We need to have those trained for social assessments incorporating them into the picture. We should not use price as a way of choosing or assessing practitioners. We should not be as drowned as we are at this stage of the game.  We need the straightest possible line to stopping the psychic pain of a mentally hurting world. Read more of my opinions on my Facebook and Twitter pages.

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