Saturday, April 21, 2012

History of Psychoanalysis

For good or ill, psychoanalysis was one of the most influential intellectual movements of the last century.. From its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, though, it has also been one of the most controversial and its future is in doubt. Many academic psychologists today reject psychoanalysis as a pseudoscience, and contemporary practicing psychiatrists generally rely more on other therapeutic approaches.

In Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis (2004), Eli Zaretsky argues that the origins of psychoanalytic thinking and its changes can be traced to a society being shaped by economic developments. He divides the book into three parts, intended to reflect the forms of the economy and their resulting social styles. The first part, “Charismatic Origins: The Crumbling of the Victorian Family System,” considers Sigmund Freud’s founding of psychoanalysis during the years 1890 to 1914.  Zaretksy argues that these were also the early years of “the second industrial revolution.” During the first industrial revolution, beginning a little over a century earlier, Western economies had moved from a basis in agriculture to a basis in factory production. The second industrial revolution involved the development of mass-produced goods and, later, a consumer culture.

The early years of the second industrial revolution began to dissolve the controls of family life over individuals, according to the author. Zaretsky describes late nineteenth and early twentieth century Vienna as a new center of cultural life focused on the private self.  The idea of the personal unconscious and a new fascination with individual sexuality emerged in response to concern with the private self. Freud’s theories expressed these concerns, and Freud became the charismatic founder of a new movement.  This part of Zaretsky’s argument reminded me of the quip of Karl Kraus that “psychoanalysis is the disease it purports to cure.” To my mind, this raises the question of whether psychoanalysis may be seen as a narcissistic self-obsession resulting from the disintegration of social institutions, much as Philip Rieff argued in The Triumph of the Therapeutic.

As a new movement , psychoanalysis faced the dilemma of whether it would become absorbed into the mainstream of medical practice, or remain on the margins of intellectual life as a sect following Freud. By 1910, with Freud’s split from Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, psychoanalysis was largely excluded from official acceptance and became chiefly a mostly Jewish sect, according to Zaretsky. As I read this, I was reminded that the breakaways from psychoanalysis have also been accused of setting up their own tribal sects, most notably by Richard Noll in his books on the Aryan cult of Carl Jung.

The second part, “Fordism, Freudianism, and the Threefold Promise of Modernity,” considers psychoanalysis from World War I to World War II. The cases of “shell shock” and battlefield neuroses of the first World War gave a push to the attempts to understand psychological problems. These cases also inspired Freud to adapt his theories by developing his ideas on the death drive or death instinct in human behavior. The spread of Freudian approaches, though, accompanied a new era in industrial history.

The term “Fordism” refers to Henry Ford, whose factories mass-produced automobiles, transforming these machines from luxury items for the wealthy to widely marketed goods for consumers in general. Ford-type mass production involved two, contradictory sides. On the one hand, it required standardization. People had to show up at jobs and function as efficient workers. On the other hand, the consumer economy encouraged individualism. Freudian analysis promised to meet both requirements, since it seemed to be a means of curing inconvenient forms of nonconformity through therapy, and it also catered to the self examination of individual patients. 

While Freudian psychoanalysis responded to the market economy, it also flirted with the major industrial competitor to the market system. Several of Freud’s associates were socialists, and for a time the psychoanalytic movement had loose ties to the Bolsheviks in Russia. Leon Trotsky, one of the major figures of the Russian Revolution who was forced into exile by Joseph Stalin in the late 1920's, was interested in psychoanalytic theory. Apparently, Freudian ideas appealed to Trotsky as a promising means of controlling human minds and  redesigning society. In 1918, during the brief period of Communist control in Hungary, the psychoanalysts held a congress in Budapest on the invitation of the ruthless Hungarian leader Bela Kun.

During the years following the first World War, psychoanalysis also became tied to another movement for social change, the women’s movement. By 1930, women had become many of the most dominant figures in psychoanalysis, originally an almost exclusively male activity. Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund, became a leading light and her father’s most obvious successor. Karen Horney, a psychoanalyst who became a feminist critic of Freud, developed ideas about women’s sexuality and the psychological development of women. Melanie Klein, who was to become Anna Freud’s great rival, emphasized the role of the mother in the lives of children, a sharp contrast to Sigmund Freud’s emphasis on the influence of the father. This rise of women in the psychoanalytic movement, in Zaretsky’s view, was another consequence of the evolving economy of the second industrial revolution. During and after World War I, women began to participate more actively in employment outside the household and in public life. The family became a place where goods were consumed, rather than produced, and women were central figures in the new, consumption-oriented family. The turn toward the mother in psychoanalysis, then, mirrored events in the surrounding culture.

World War II marked the end of Zaretsky’s second period. With the rise of Naziism and Fascism, psychoanalysis was driven out of its Central European birthplace. In united Germany and Austria, a distorted “non-Jewish” version of psychoanalysis rose under the leadership of a Matthias Göring, a cousin of Nazi leader Hermann Göring. The exile of Freud and his disciples encouraged the spread of psychoanalysis throughout the world, and the movement put down especially important roots in England and America. While Sigmund Freud tried to keep his theories separate from politics, many of the exiled psychoanalysts, as opponents of Naziism, drew closer to left-wing politics. These included the Austrian Wilhelm Reich and members of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany, such as Erich Fromm, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno.

Zaretsky identifies the period after World War II as the third development in the history of psychoanalysis. This era, particularly from the late 1940s through the 1970s, was the time of the welfare state in Britain, the United States, and Western Europe. The role of the mother became even greater in this post-war welfare psychoanalysis. In the United States, psychoanalysis became institutionalized as a technique for social control, but some theorists also began to discover radical possibilities in psychoanalytic teachings.  The tumultuous 1960s mad echarismatic, radical Freudians such as Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse prominent figures for the utopian New Left.  The society of mass consumption also encouraged the proliferation of therapies, and psychoanalysis began to break down into many approaches to therapy and to merge with other theories and philosophies. In France, Jacques Lacan became something of a cult figure by linking psychoanalysis to structuralism and fashionable ideas about the nature of language.

While psychoanalytic theories addressed many of the concerns of the new second half of the twentieth century, the psychoanalysts themselves had begun to become outdated. The culture of the 1960s seemed narcissistic, over concerned with the self, and the new therapies that had arisen out of psychoanalysis began to replace it. In the 1960s, fewer individuals applied for membership in the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the average age of members rose rapidly.

By the 1970s, psychoanalysis had broken down into two main projects that had little in common with each other. It was a medical technique that aimed at providing therapy for mental and emotional disorders. It was also, though, a humanistic theory for the study of culture. Both of these projects faced challenges as the twentieth century ended. Neuroscience and  psychopharmacology began to replace psychoanalysis as medical approaches. Many mainstream psychology departments in universities ignored Freudian ideas completely. Humanistic psychoanalysis came under assault from cultural studies, feminist theory, and other new trends in academic interpretation. There were indications of renewed interest in psychoanalysis, but there were also many who proclaimed that the movement had been an intellectual dead end.

Secrets of the Soul is an ambitious effort to look at the psychoanalytic movement as a reflection of its historical setting.  Zaretsky’s argument does raise a number of questions, though.  It is not clear exactly what connection Zaretsky believes has existed between psychoanalysis and a culture resulting from modern mass production. It may be that there is a personal unconscious and that sexuality does play the role in human psychology that Freud described. If so, the second industrial revolution may have simply created the conditions for discovering these vital truths about human nature. Another possibility, though, is that psychoanalysis has been simply a series of illusions produced by modern consumer culture.

Some readers may also raise against Zaretsky the same criticism that philosopher Karl Popper raised against Freud.  Popper objected to psychoanalysis as a scientific theory because he claimed that there was no way to prove whether it was true or false.  Similarly, it may be interesting to think about psychoanalytic theory and practice as somehow reflecting cultural and economic trends, but even if we knew exactly what connection Zaretsky believes has existed between psychoanalysis and the second industrial revolution, the connection might be very difficult to prove or disprove.

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