Saturday, August 29, 2009

Psychoanalysis in the US

I was very glad to see today's article in the New York Times on the rise of psychoanalysis in the US.In "Freud’s Adirondack Vacation," Leon Hoffman tells of Freud's visit to the US, the people he met, and the influence he exercised over the mental health profession in this country. In the past few decades, Freud's name has become something of an insult in American psychology. The pharmaceutical lobby is one of the strongest in the US. It is, of course, deeply opposed to a method that deals with mental issues sans medication. As everybody knows, Freud's "talking cure" arose specifically in response to the proliferation of barbaric methods of treating mental patients practised by psychiatrists in the XIXth century.

Today, our understanding of mental health revolves around the mindless popping of prescription pills at worst and the senseless quasi-scientific blabber offered by Dr. Phil. The latter, of course, often leads to the former. Folowing the cue of pharmaceutical companies, Dr. Phil's first pronouncement on most psychological problems is that the problem might be caused by an imbalance of something in the brain, which requires taking prescription medication.

In a country where it has become normal and acceptable to diagnose 2-year-olds with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (medication!), where schools label students as "hyperactive" (more medication!), where people often get prescribed 2 anti-depressants at once plus medication to deal with the side effects of the 2 anti-depressants, where psychotropic meds get peddled right from the TV screen, it would be a great idea to remember Dr. Freud and his American follower Dr. Putnam.

It's obvious that people have a vague desire for something different than prescription medication in the field of psychology. Dr. Phil's talk show originally gave some hope of presenting the "talking cure" in a more positive light. As we all know, the show soon degenerated into recommendation of prescription meds and a collection of unprofessional platitudes aimed at placating the bored suburban housewives who make up the bulk of Dr. Phil's audience.

Gradually, people begin to believe that medication and Dr. Phil's idiotic proclamations are all that psychology has to offer. As a  result, the popular trust for the fieldd at large becomes eroded even further.


BAYMAN said...

Though I was pleased to see what Phil McGraw says characterized as "blabber" and "idiotic proclamations" I can't entirely agree. I think his first response to any problem is to portray himself as the only person on the planet so gravely wise as to address the problem and, secondly and by implication, that only through purchase of his book(s) and by watching his television show are wisdom and practical solutions to problems to be found.

I think his arrogance can't be anything but damaging to the people he claims to help.

Even though I've watched his show for the briefest of periods, I can't say I've ever seen him advocate the immediate application of medication. What I have seen him do is propose the immediate relocation of those in his chairs to one facility or other and though they will undoubtedly be medicated there, I've not seen him mention it. In fact, he frames his offer so that those seeking help know if they refuse or question their imminent incarceration, everyone viewing will think them fools. Lastly, that Phil McGraw aims "unprofessional platitudes" at his audience I think entirely accurate, that the women watching him are bored, I don't think true. The problems are serious and they seem to me distressed.

Freud was, of course, the most effective proponent of talk as cure, but he's been left behind by the development of psychology in the ensuing decades. Carl Rogers, 1902-1987, found to be second only to Freud, among clinicians, changed the nature of clinical work, particularly as concerns women. Freud's characterizations of women as "hysterical" and his pronouncements have been used by the popular media, minsters, coctail party authorities and so on to the furtherance of and explication for misogyny. More, Freud was a product of his time. As Betty Friedan said in 1963: "Much of what Freud believed to be biological, instinctual, and changeless has been shown by modern research to be a result of specific cultural causes. Much of what Freud described as characteristic of universal human nature was merely characteristic of certain middle-class European men and women at the end of the nineteenth century." Freud's work has been understandably characterized as phallocentric. When asked if he shouldn't have included women's anatomy in his study, Freud said that "the vulva is a void while the phallus is a presence." Which for me makes Freud a prick.

Clarissa said...

I absolutely agree that in many respects Freud's thinking was otganized by patriarchal practices. The very concept of "penis envy" is laughable. Only a man could have come up with it. :-)

You are absolutely right when you say that many people have elaborated upon Freud's thinking and improved it. Still, he has to be given the credit for seeing non-invasive, non-medication-oriented ways of dealing with psychological problems.

As to Dr. Phil, I actually watch him a lot. I am always particularly upset by shows when mothers who have nothing else to do with their lives hover around their poor teenagers, going through their pockets, reading their diaries and e-mail, and even searching their beds. In those cases, Dr. Phil usually proclaims that these are great practices and if the children object to them, this means they have ADD or some other invented diagnosis. And the "cure" for this imaginary ADD, as we all know, is medication.

BAYMAN said...

A few years ago I asked my (male) therapist if he felt cheated because the clitoris has almost exactly twice as many nerve endings as the head of the penis. He declined to answer though he understood it was a friendly inquiry.

Even so, for any number of reasons, that Freud thought we envied him his penis makes me laugh out loud.

As for McGraw, it seems odd that nobody has sued that fatuous idiot publicly, with outrage and fury. It doesn't say much for American women.

I haven't seen shows with mothers parenting as you describe. That McGraw labels these children with a disorder (or so ADD is now seen) because they have an opinion about boundaries is not only laughable, it's outrageous and idiotic. It also compounds the injury for a parent to go on national television to let the children's peers know their privacy has been violated.

Why do you watch Dr Phil, if I may ask?

Clarissa said...

I have a favorite joke about penis envy. A little girl sees a naked little boy for the first time in her life and says: "Mommy, why don't I have a little thing like Billy?" The mother says: "Don't worry, sweetie, when you grow up, you'll have as many of those little things as you like." :-)

But in reality, when I remember a similar childhood experience, my first thought was that the little boy was somehow incomplete. "Where is the opening?" I thought. So I definitely don't buy this myth of penis envy. :-)

Clarissa said...

Forgot to answer regarding Dr. Phil. Strangely enough, he helps me write my articles. When I watch his show, I get into this polemical mood that allows me to produce good critical writing. Many things he says just make me so angry that I want to start writing and teaching a lot more vigorously. It's some very weird psychological phenomenon at work. :-)

BAYMAN said...

This is funny. Good for you.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think I agree with Baymen that the psycoanalysis crowd can be buttheads too. Though, they do win a lot of points in my book because in the 40's and 50's they opposed transorbital labotomies (also known as 'Ice Pick Labotomies'). They may screw up your mind, but at least they won't knock it out with an ice pick.

BTW, I hate Dr. Phil too. In no small part because he's massively homophobic and transphobic (he actually planned to air a show about 'curing' trans kids but it was not aired after extreme pressure from LGBT rights groups). He pretends like he's not, but he's a LGBT-hater, a prude, a sexist, and tends to push his religion at people.

Clarissa said...

Oh my God, I can't believe Dr. Phil was planning a show like that. This is too low even for him. Can anybody in this day and age seriously think you can "cure" trans people??

And he calls himself a psychologist. Unbelievable.

V said...

Technically speaking, his license to practice psychology was revoked years ago. Thus, his show is the only place where he can practice it.

BAYMAN said...

I've spent years trying to be compassionate and open minded about McGraw, but this does it for me. He has always reeked of ugly heterosexist misogynistic arrogance; I can almost smell it through the tv. He offends me as a woman, he offends me as a lesbian, but mostly he offends me because I'm an adult.