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Chapter 10: The Dawn and Rise of the New Dynamic Psychiatry (The Discovery of the Unconscious)

Psychoanalysis had many followers and many detractors. One of these detractors was Dr. Max Kesserling, a specialist in nervous diseases in Zurich.

He accused Freud of being convinced of the truth of his teachings, and when attending one of Freud’s lectures, he noticed that while Freud encouraged questions, his answers were vague and unconvincing.

Kesselring gave a historical survey of psychoanalysis, and declared himself opposed to it. He read quotes from Freud and caused laughter from the audience.  

Letters were published that pointed out the flaws of psychotherapy. Someone who called himself “F.M” quoted examples of sexual symbolism from Freud. For example, if one dreams of a landscape one is sure he has visited before, the scene is symbolic of his mother’s genitals, because that is the only place man can be sure he has been before. He also quoted psychoanalytic work by Johann Michelsen that described Christ as a symbol of the sex act, the ox in the stable as a symbol of castration, and other similar ideas.

“F.M” concluded by pointing out the danger of the psychoanalyst believing he has an infallible secret, and that those who suffer from sexual distress cannot be helped by psychoanalysis because the cause of their problem is often economic and social, and in other cases, the cure would demand a rejection of moral concepts.

Around a week later, Jung issued a letter, saying that “the concept of sexuality used by Freud and myself has a much wider meaning than the vulgar one…. This can be read in Freud’s and my own writings…. ” and also said that it was unfair to give such importance to Michelson’s work.

The second letter was “F.M’s” reply to Jung. He said that Freud theoretically had a wide concept of sexuality, but in practice he used the word in a narrow way. And he contended that one did not need to be a psychoanalyst to speak of the dangers of psychoanalysis, a pseudoscience that has more fanatical followers in Zurich than anywhere else and had unleashed a psychic epidemic.

The criticism of psychoanalysis was also extended to the psychoanalysts themselves, who were accused of being unable to handle criticism. And although Freud had interesting observations on neuroses, his method was faulty and unscientific. The psychoanalysts did not only analyze the living but the dead, the spiritual life of mankind, art, religion, and literature. They cannot accept criticism from laymen, but they have no problem dabbling in fields where they are laymen themselves.

F.M continued his attack on psychoanalysis, calling it a positively dangerous method. And even in the best case, that is when practiced by a competent physician, it reduced the individual to a sexual formula and pretends to cure him on that basis. What child would not suffer despair if he was told he had incestuous wishes towards his mother? As for the adult, if his neurosis came from repressed sexual wishes, what would the cure be?

F.M mentioned the case of a friend who was an eminent nerve specialist. Despite F.M’s warnings, his friend went to a psychoanalyst. He could not follow the advice he received so he disappeared and was never heard from again. If psychoanalysis was dangerous in the hands of competent professionals, then what disasters would result from those who are less competent?

A reply by Forel to these attacks acknowledged the problematic nature of Freud’s infant sexuality, and its theological interpretations, and that it was Freud and Jung who involved laymen in these matters. But there were kernels of truth contained in the Breuer-Freud research.

Today, people think that the resistance to Freud’s ideas were on the basis of ‘Victorian’ prejudices, but this is not true.

The way in which the psychoanalytic ideas were presented to the public was bound to produce two opposite kinds of reactions: one group was shocked and found these ideas dangerous, while the other group would enthusiastically accept them as revelations.

Clashes between these two groups were inevitable and took the form of a conflict of generations.

Between these two extremes, were lucid men who tried to think for themselves, and select what was scientific from these ideas. These men include Oppenheim, Friedlander, Isserlin.

Another issue was that psychoanalysis was received in two different ways. In Vienna, people like Krafft-Ebing conditioned people to accept Freud’s sexual theories. But in Zurich, people were persuaded to accept psychoanalysis as a key to religious and educational problems, and to understanding myths and psychosis. These diverging perspectives would inevitably cause conflict.

The philosophical context of the time matters too – psychoanalysis was identified with materialistic philosophy and Monism. But psychoanalysis could equally be used as an argument against atheism as an argument for it. The opposition to psychoanalysis was part of a growing opposition to Monism.

The most important reason for the antagonism towards psychoanalysis was the way in which it was promoted. Young disciples proclaimed their findings without backing them up with proofs or statistics. They left the burden of proof to their adversaries and despised any criticism. They also used ad hominem arguments, saying that their detractors were neurotic, for example.

The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic PsychiatryChapter 10: The Dawn and Rise of the New Dynamic Psychiatry (The Discovery of the Unconscious) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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