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on 27 January 2009
This is a great book, really gripping and interesting and, for anyone with any knowledge of Freudian history, absolutely full of insight. Frequently I have found myself nodding at his analysis of a flaw in Freud's thinking that had entirely escaped me. Freud was a master of appearing to provide new and complete answers and it takes a very sharp thinker to accurately pinpoint the gaps and inconsistencies. Richard Webster has achieved that in this book. Highly recommended.
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on 5 September 2015
In this book, Richard Webster (no relation) does a great job of totally destroying Freud’s ideas. Some people claim that although Freud got a lot wrong we should not “throw out the baby with the bathwater” by rejecting Freud’s ideas entirely. But Webster shows that once we have thrown out the Freudian dirty bathwater, we can see that there was actually no baby in there at all.

Most of Freud’s ideas are so ridiculous that you can’t help laughing at them. For example, Webster points out that Freud claimed that in dreams staircases were “unquestionably symbols of copulation”, and that women’s hats “can very often be interpreted with certainty as a genital organ (usually a man’s)...”

But it is not funny that Freud’s ideas have led so many people astray, often with tragic consequences. For example, Stephen Jay Gould (in his essay on “Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples”) showed that millions of women suffered frustration and misery because they were persuaded to accept Freud’s claim that their sexuality was dysfunctional if they did not achieve a “vaginal orgasm” as opposed to a supposedly “infantile” clitoral orgasm.

Underlying all the specific things wrong with Freudianism is the fundamental problem that it is totally unscientific. Darwinism is a scientific theory because it can be tested against the real world. There is evidence to support it. This does not apply to Freud’s ideas, which are basically untestable assertions – sometimes plausible but more often bizarre.

Freud was an expert at imposing his own preconceived ideas onto vulnerable, suggestible and gullible patients, and thousands of psychotherapists (whether well-intentioned or downright fraudulent) have followed in his footsteps.

Where I disagree with Richard Webster is when he says that Marxism is as unscientific as Freudianism. In fact, Marxist theories can be tested against the real world, and there is enough evidence around us to show that Marx gave us the foundations for understanding society, just as Darwin gave us the foundations for understanding nature. (I am talking here about genuine Marxism, not the Stalinism of the bureaucratic state capitalist tyrannies which have tainted the words “communism” and “Marxism”.)

We live in a capitalist society which screws up people’s minds as well as their lives. But Freudian (or post-Freudian) pseudoscience does not help us to understand this process.

Phil Webster.
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VINE VOICEon 21 April 2010
Freud, according to this 1995 book, dispensed psychoanalysis as if it was a science, when it seems more akin to a faith or a cult, with Freud as a modern `Messiah'. It is an explanation of the human condition firmly rooted in Darwinian evolutionary theories. That Freud was able to do so may well be down to the 20th century spiritual vacuum, the failure of the churches post world war, and with little, if any, moral authority. It is in this respect that Freudian psychoanalysis bears comparison with Darwinian evolution. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical "couch" theory remains a popular psychiatric approach. Its use, however, has been chiefly in the United States. Thus New York, with nine million inhabitants (1980) had almost a thousand psychoanalysts, whereas Tokyo, with eleven million people, had but three!
Dr. Eysenck of the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, wrote in the Medical Tribune of April 4, 1973, that the results "claimed for different methods of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis were almost exactly that found for a spontaneous remission." In other words, persons receiving psychiatric help had about the same recovery rate as those receiving no psychoanalytic therapy at all!
Freud wanted, above all, to be recognised as a scientist, and famously resented friendly critics such as Havelock Ellis who suggested that psychoanalysis was more of an art than science. The scientific method, as verified by Dr Karl Popper, examines the process whereby a hypothesis becomes a theory, only by observable phenomena, demonstrable by experiment, capable of replication in time and place.
Since psychoanalysis is not observable, not demonstrable by experiment, and supported only by dogmatic assertions, it cannot be verifiable by the scientific method. Dr Karl Popper is highly respected, and based on the scientific method he also found evolution wanting as a bona fide scientific theory. Rather, he found it to be, not science, but suitable for metaphysical research.
Psychoanalysis may legitimately be shown to likewise fail the criteria. A hypothesis that is NOT subject, at least in principle, to the possibility of empirical [experimental] falsification does not belong in the realm of science.
Even when psychoanalysis has been shown to be utterly misconceived-as the basis of a treatment, as a theory of human nature, as a means of thinking about society and the world-it is difficult to shake off a sneaking suspicion that it must have some kind of special validity, if only because it has always been there, with its all-purpose explanations, since one first came to reflective consciousness. One may imagine from the tone of the foregoing that there is no value whatever in psychoanalysis. This is not entirely true, as it is instructive to see what went wrong, and why. There are many thousands of psychotherapists and counsellors who do so with genuine sensitivity and understanding. But just as one malpractice case can bring down a physician, so can a misguided, outmoded technique, sully the reputation of an entire profession. The book should encourage both pro and anti-Freudians to re-examine their own conception of human nature and above all, see exactly why Psychoanalysis is fundamentally flawed.
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on 18 July 2009
Excellent summary of all that's wrong with pseudo science in general and psychanalysis in particular. Covers a great deal and is well written to boot.
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