The Crisis of Psychoanalysis is a collection of nine brilliant essays. Although his work is deeply rooted in Freudian theory, Fromm further develops Freud's doctrines by including both social and ethical dimensions and applies his discoveries and insights to address the problems we face in society at large.
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About the Author
Erich Fromm (1900–1980) was a bestselling psychoanalyst and social philosopher whose views about alienation, love, and sanity in society—discussed in his books such as Escape from Freedom, The Art of Loving, The Sane Society, and To Have or To Be?—helped shape the landscape of psychology in the mid-twentieth century. Fromm was born in Frankfurt, Germany, to Jewish parents, and studied at the universities of Frankfurt, Heidelberg (where in 1922 he earned his doctorate in sociology), and Munich. In the 1930s he was one of the most influential figures at the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research. In 1934, as the Nazis rose to power, he moved to the United States. He practiced psychoanalysis in both New York and Mexico City before moving to Switzerland in 1974, where he continued his work until his death.
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The Crisis of Psychoanalysis
By Erich Fromm
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1970 Erich Fromm
All rights reserved.
The Crisis of Psychoanalysis
Contemporary Psychoanalysis is passing through a crisis which superficially manifests itself in a certain decrease in the number of students applying for training in psychoanalytic institutes, and also in the number of patients who seek help from psychoanalysts. Competing therapies have emerged in recent years which claim to have better therapeutic results and to require much less time and hence, of course, much less money. The psychoanalyst, who ten years ago was considered by the urban middle class to have the answer to its mental anguish, is now put on the defensive by his psychotherapeutic competitors and is losing his therapeutic monopoly.
In order to appreciate this crisis, it is useful to consider the history of psychoanalytic therapy. Over half a century ago psychoanalysis opened up a new field and, economically speaking, a new market. Until then one had to be insane—or to suffer from painful and socially handicapping symptoms—in order to qualify for a psychiatrist's help. Less extreme psychic troubles were supposed to be within the province of the minister or the family doctor, and, in most cases, one was expected to handle them oneself and to suffer, silently if need be.
When Freud started his therapeutic work he dealt with patients who were "sick" in the conventional sense of the word; they were suffering from aggravating symptoms like phobias, compulsions, and hysteria, even though they were not psychotic. Then analysis slowly began to extend its method to people who, traditionally, would not have been considered "sick." "Patients" came with complaints about their inability to enjoy life, about unhappy marriages, generalized anxiety, painful feelings of loneliness, difficulties in their capacity to work, etc. In contrast to past practice, these complaints were classified as "sickness" and a new type of "helper"—the psychoanalyst—was to take care of "difficulties in living," which until then had not been supposed to require professional help.
This development did not occur overnight but eventually it became a very important factor in the lives of the urban middle class, especially in the United States. Until not so long ago it was almost "normal" for a person of a certain urban subculture "to have his analyst"; a good deal of the time was spent "on the couch," just as people used to go to church or the temple.
The reasons for this boom of psychoanalysis are easy to recognize. This century, "the age of anxiety," has produced ever-increasing loneliness and isolation. The breakdown of religion, the seeming futility of politics, the emergence of the totally alienated "organization man" deprived the urban middle class of a frame of orientation and of a feeling of security in a meaningless world. Although a few seemed to find new frames of orientation in surrealism, radical politics, or Zen Buddhism, in general the disenchanted liberal was looking for a philosophy that he could subscribe to without any fundamental change in his outlook, i.e., without becoming "different" from his friends and colleagues.
Psychoanalysis offered the satisfaction of this need. Even when the symptom was not cured, it was a great relief to be able to talk to someone who listened patiently and more or less sympathetically. That the analyst was paid for his listening was only a minor drawback; maybe it was no drawback at all, because the very fact that one paid the analyst proved that this therapy was serious, respectable, and promising. Besides, its prestige was high because it was, economically, a luxury commodity.
The analyst offered a substitute for religion, politics, and philosophy. Freud had allegedly discovered all the secrets of life: the unconscious, the Oedipus complex, the repetition of childhood experience in the present; and once one understood these concepts, nothing remained mysterious or doubtful. One was a member of a somewhat esoteric sect, with the analyst as its priest, and one felt less puzzled as well as less lonely by marking time on the couch.
This holds especially true for those who were not suffering from circumscribed symptoms but from general malaise. The latter, in order to change in any meaningful way, would have had to have a vision of what a non-alienated person is like, of what it could mean to live a life centered around being rather than around having and using. Such a vision would have required a radical critique of their society, its overt and especially its hidden norms and principles; it would have required the courage to cut many comforting and protecting ties and to find oneself in a minority; it would have also required more psychoanalysts who themselves are not caught in the psychological and spiritual mess of a cybernated and industrialized life.
One can often observe a "gentleman's agreement" between patient and analyst; neither of the two really wants to be shaken up by a fundamentally new experience; they are satisfied with small "improvements" and are unconsciously grateful to each other for not bringing into the open the unconscious "collusion" (to use R. D. Laing's term). As long as the patient comes, talks, and pays and the analyst listens and "interprets," the rules of the game are observed and the game is agreeable to both of them. Furthermore, the fact of having an analyst was frequently used to avoid a dreaded but unavoidable fact of life: that of having to make decisions and to take risks. When a difficulty—or even tragic—decision could not be avoided, the addict to psychoanalysis transformed the real conflict into a "neurotic" one which needed to be "analyzed further," sometimes until the situation that required a decision had disappeared. All too many patients were no challenge to the analyst, nor the analyst to them. Those who participated in the "gentleman's agreement" unconsciously did not even want to be a challenge, since nothing should rock the boat of their "peaceful" existence. In addition, because psychoanalysts became increasingly sure of a large supply of patients, many of them tended to become lazy and to believe the marketplace assumption that their "use value" must be high because their "market value" was high. Backed by the powerful and prestigious International Psychoanalytic Association, many believed they possessed the "truth" after passing through the ritual from admission to graduation. In a world where bigness and the power of the organization are guarantees of truth, they were only following the general practice.
Does this description imply that psychoanalysis did not bring about any essential changes in people? That it was an aim in itself rather than a means to an end? By no means; it refers to the misuse of analytic therapy by some of its practitioners and patients, not to the serious work done successfully by others. Indeed, the facile denial of the therapeutic success of psychoanalysis says more about the difficulty of some fashionable authors to grasp the complex data with which psychoanalysis deals than about psychoanalysis itself. Criticism by people with little or no experience in this field cannot stand up against the testimony of analysts who have observed a considerable number of people relieved of troubles they complained about. Many patients have experienced a new sense of vitality and capacity for joy, and no other method than psychoanalysis could have produced these changes. Of course, others were not helped at all, and there were those in whom real yet moderate changes occurred, but this is not the place to analyze the therapeutic success of psychoanalysis statistically.
It is not surprising that many people were attracted by the promise that there are faster and cheaper methods of "cure." Psychoanalysis had opened up the possibility that one's misery could be alleviated through professional help. With the change in style to greater "efficiency," rapidity, and "group activity" and with the spread of the need for "therapy" for people whose income did not suffice for prolonged daily sessions, the new therapies necessarily became very attractive and drew away a good many potential patients from psychoanalysis.
Thus far I have only touched upon the more obvious and superficial reasons for the present crisis of psychoanalysis: the wrong use of psychoanalysis by a large number of practitioners and patients. To solve the crisis, at least on this level, would only require making a stricter selection of analysts and patients.
It is, however, necessary to ask: How could this misuse occur? I have tried to give some very limited answers to this question, but it can be answered fully only if we turn from superficial manifestations to the deeper crisis in which psychoanalysis finds itself.
What are the reasons for this deeper crisis?
I believe that the main reason lies in the change of psychoanalysis from a radical to a conformist theory. Psychoanalysis was originally a radical, penetrating, liberating theory. It slowly lost this character and stagnated, failing to develop its theory in response to the changed human situation after the First World War; instead it retreated into conformism and the search for respectability.
The most creative and radical achievement of Freud's theory was the founding of a "science of the irrational"— i.e., the theory of the unconscious. As Freud himself observed, this was a continuation of the work of Copernicus and Darwin (I would add also, of Marx): they had attacked the illusions of man about this planet's place in the cosmos and his own place in nature and in society; Freud attacked the last fortress that had been left untouched—man's consciousness—as the ultimate datum of psychic experience. He showed that most of what we are conscious of is not real and that most of what is real is not in our consciousness. Philosophical idealism and traditional psychology were challenged head-on, and a further step was taken into the knowledge of what is truly real. (Theoretical physics took another decisive step in this direction by attacking another certainty, that concerning the nature of matter.)
Freud did not simply state the existence of unconscious processes in general (others had done that before him), but showed empirically how unconscious processes operate by demonstrating their operation in concrete and observable phenomena: neurotic symptoms, dreams, and the small acts of daily life.
The theory of the unconscious is one of the most decisive steps in our knowledge of man and in our capacity to distinguish appearance from reality in human behavior. As a consequence, it opened up a new dimension of honesty and thereby created a new basis for critical thinking. Before Freud it was considered sufficient to know a man's conscious intentions in order to judge his sincerity. After Freud this was no longer enough; in fact, it was very little. Behind consciousness lurked the hidden reality, the unconscious, which was the key to man's real intentions. By analyzing a person (or using the analytic point of view in examining his behavior), the conventional view of bourgeois (or any other) "respectability," with its hypocrisy and dishonesty, was, in principle, shaken in its foundations. It was no longer enough for a man to justify his actions by his good intentions. These good intentions, even if subjectively perfectly sincere, were subject to further scrutiny; the question was addressed to everyone: "What is behind it?" or better, "Who are you behind yourself?" In fact, Freud made it possible to approach the question "Who are you, and who am I?" in a spirit of new realism.
Freud's theoretical system, however, is beset by a deep dichotomy. The Freud who opened the way to the understanding of "false consciousness" and human self-deception was a radical thinker (although not a revolutionary one) who transcended the limits of his society to a certain extent. He was to some degree a critic of society, especially in The Future of an Illusion. But he was also deeply rooted in the prejudices and philosophy of his historical period and class. The Freudian unconscious was mainly the seat of repressed sexuality, "honesty" referred mainly to the vicissitudes of the libido in childhood, and his critique of society was restricted to its sexual repression. Freud was a bold and radical thinker in his great discoveries, but in their application he was impeded by an unquestioning belief that his society, although by no means satisfactory, was the ultimate form of human progress and could not be improved in any essential feature.
Because of this inherent contradiction within Freud and his theory, the question was: which of the two aspects would be developed by his disciples? Would they follow the Freud who continued the work of Copernicus, Darwin, and Marx, or would they be content with the Freud whose thought and feelings were restricted to the categories of bourgeois ideology and experience? Would they develop Freud's special theory of the unconscious, which was related to sexuality, into a general theory that would take as its object the whole range of repressed psychic experiences? Would they develop Freud's special form of sexual liberation into a general form of liberation through the widening of consciousness? To put it in another and more general way: would they develop Freud's most potent and revolutionary ideas, or would they emphasize those theories that could most easily be co-opted by the consumer society?
Freud could have been followed in both directions. However, his orthodox disciples followed the reformer, not the radical. They failed to develop the theory by liberating its basic findings from their time-bound narrowness into a wider and more radical framework. They were still trading on the aura of radicalism that psychoanalysis had before the First World War, when it was daring and revolutionary to expose sexual hypocrisy.
The ascendancy of the conformist disciples was partly due to a particular trait in Freud's personality. He was not only a scientist and a therapist, but also a "reformer" who believed in his mission to found a movement for the rational and ethical reform of man. He was a scientist, but despite his concern for theory, he never lost sight of the "movement" and its politics. Most of those whom he made leaders of the movement were men without any capacity for radical criticism. Freud himself cannot have failed to know this, but he chose them because they had one outstanding quality: unquestionable loyalty to him and the movement; in fact, many of them possessed characteristics of bureaucrats of any political movement. Since the movement controlled both theory and therapeutic practice, such a choice of leaders was to have considerable influence on the development of psychoanalysis.
Other disciples defected: Jung, among other reasons because he was a conservative romantic; and Adler, because he was a more superficial, though very gifted, rationalist. Rank developed original views, but was driven away, perhaps less by the dogmatic attitude of Freud than by the jealousy of his competitors. Ferenczi, perhaps the most lovable and imaginative of Freud's disciples, with neither the ambition to be a "leader" nor the courage to break with Freud, was nevertheless harshly rejected when he deviated in some important points toward the end of his life. Wilhelm Reich was removed from the organization although—or rather because—he had developed Freud's theory of sex to its ultimate consequences; he is a particularly interesting example of the fear of the psychoanalytic bureaucracy (and in this case also of Freud) to move from reform to a radical position in the very sphere that Freud had made the center of his system.
The victors in the fighting within Freud's court maintained a tight control, although there were many jealousies and rivalries among them. The most drastic manifestation of this inner fight among the members of the group is to be seen in Ernest Jones's "court biography," in which the author branded two of his chief late rivals, Ferenczi and Rank, as having been insane at the time of their defection.
Excerpted from The Crisis of Psychoanalysis by Erich Fromm. Copyright © 1970 Erich Fromm. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
II. The Crisis of Psychoanalysis,
III. Freud's Model of Man and Its Social Determinants,
IV. Marx's Contribution to the Knowledge of Man,
V. Humanistic Planning,
VI. The Oedipus Complex: Comments on the Case of Little Plans,
VII. The Significance of the Theory of Mother Right for Today,
VIII. The Theory of Mother Right and Its Relevance for Social Psychology,
IX. The Method and Function of an Analytic Social Psychology,
X. Psychoanalytic Characterology and Its Relevance for Social Psychology,