Jettisoning Freud’s Spurious Contributions

Peter Barglow

Freud, the Making of an Illusion, by American literary critic and UC Berkeley emeritus professor Frederick Crews, offers spellbinding writing and musters compelling evidence and scientific reasoning. His verdict in his latest book on Freud is devastatingly negative: Freudian psychoanalysis offers us neither a tenable theory of mind nor a proven psychotherapy. Crews considers Freud’s Dora case study to be “the product of a mind that conjoined illogical and bizarre ideas with misogyny, prurience, and cruelty” (613). Dora was an eighteen-year-old girl with voice loss who Freud “analyzed” for eleven weeks during the year 1900. About a quarter of the book offers outcome data (often newly available) describing most of the other patients Freud treated in the later nineteenth century, during which he announced his most important discoveries. Crews concludes that Freud failed to achieve any corroborated cures of patients and that he falsified clinical observations to justify specious theories. He claims that Freud’s daughter Anna and his official biographer, the English neurologist Ernest Jones (in his hagiographic The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud published in the mid-1950s), concealed the negative outcome of Freud’s analytic treatments.

The author quotes extensively from a treasure trove of recently released private letters Freud wrote to his fiancée, Martha Bernays. These indicate that his cocaine dependence was more severe and far longer-lasting than previously known. It significantly affected his writing, marriage, moods, and treatment assessments. And his mistaken conviction that cocaine was an antagonist of opioids led to the almost fatal mistreatment of an addicted colleague and friend, Ernst Fleischl.

Vigorous opposition to Freud began during the first half of his long lifetime (1856–1939). Such antagonism could not be discounted as rampant anti-Semitism, dislike of his atheism, or puritanical discomfort with his finding of sexuality in all psychopathology. The counterattack that his many critics suffered from “resistance” and “unconscious counter-transference” was never open to disproof.

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