3 Analysts and Therapists

In turn of the century Vienna a quite different kind of analysis was being born. Sigmund Freud having trained as a medical doctor under Charcot -an hysteria specialist - developed the science of psychoanalysis. The departure in Freud's work was that for the first time an arena of psychic reality was isolated as a proper subject for investigation in its own right, taking the treatment of first hysteria and later other psychic illnesses out of the realm of physiognomy altogether. Freud replaced Charcot's questionable hypnotic method with one of association through analysis.

Freud's methods were immediately wreathed in controversy as the ambiguity of a 'psychic realm' opened itself up to all kinds of eccentricities. First Freud had to break links with Wilhelm Fliess, whose cocaine cure and crank association with the nose and the psyche was throwing the whole project in doubt. Later Freud had to distance himself from Karl Jung, whose theories of 'race memory' took psychoanalysis to the giddier heights of German romanticism. The tendency to schism persisted with breaches between Freud and Melanie Klein and Karen Horney .

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the psychoanalytic orthodoxy that Freud worked at through the International Psychoanalytic Association, though, comes with the overwhelming success of the 'talking cure', and the explosion of therapy and therapists. Whilst the structures Freud established carefully annexed psychoanalysis to medical science, making a psychoanalytic training an arduous process, but equally one that kept the quality control of the professions as a model, the growth of new therapeutic methods on the model of Freud's talking cure were not subject to the same rigour.

In particular Carl Rogers' humanistic psychology involved therapy but overturned some of the key safeguards that Freud's professionalism had built into the analyst-analysand relationship. Rogers called his approach 'client-centred' ostensibly reversing the dominant relation of the analyst. This approach had been proposed many years before by one of Freud's early associates, Sandor Ferenczi. It was of course a disaster in the making as the authority of the analyst was the precondition for establishing analysis as a cure, as a movement from a state of psychic illness to 'ordinary unhappiness' in Freud's words. Without an explicit relation of authority, the objectivity of the cure was lost. In truth Rogerian analysts were the dominant partners in the treatment, only they chose to obscure that fact.

The implication of the growth of therapy was quite the opposite of Freud's original concept. For Freud, psychic illnesses were the exception - consequences of an imperfect formation of the personality. But with therapy becoming widespread the distinction between ill-health and ordinary unhappiness was being lost. The implication of the 'client-centred' approach, and other attempts to challenge the authority of the analyst was to lose the distinction between delusion and rational beliefs.


In France feminist followers of the radical analyst Lacan short-circuited Freud's clarification of a realm of psychic reality distinct from physical reality by insisting that the hysterics perception was, in its own terms rational. Who is mad? challenged Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray, the hysterical woman who finds her life under male oppression intolerable, or the psychiatrists who aim to reconcile her with that life. Raising the slogan 'we are all hysterics', the feminists created a mirror image of the traditional view of women. Also they lost the distinction on which Freud's psychoanalysis was based, the distinction between physical and psychic reality.

Infant seduction

In 1980 Jeffrey Masson was made director of projects of the Freud archives. Having retrained as a psychoanalyst he impressed Anna Freud so much that he shot to the height of the Freudian world. But Masson nursed an oedipal desire to overthrow the master. His exposure of the Freud-Breuer letters, with their scandalous exposure of Freud's quackery with cocaine, led to an irretrievable breakdown between Anna Freud and the archives and Masson. But Masson was not finished. He felt that he had evidence of a bigger scandal. Early in his career Freud was surprised by the number of patients who reported that they had been seduced as infants. Freud reported this finding to shocked colleagues. According to Masson's version, Freud suppressed his own discovery of widespread child-abuse under pressure from his peers. Masson's exposure The Assault on Truth rocked the psychoanalytic world.

In fact Freud's reversal of his original findings on infant seduction were in keeping with his distinction between psychic reality and physical. He judged that the patients were reporting real psychic events, but that these did not correspond precisely to real physical events. Rather the episodes reflected the infantile fantasies of seduction. Such an interpretation, though, was unlikely to survive the growing belief that 'children don't tell lies'. Freud of course would agree, only that he would distinguish between the truths children told about themselves and real world events. None the less, Freud's psychic reality has fallen victim to a growing confusion between illusion and reality, a distinction that many now argue is false.

Structuralists and functionalists