One Hundred Years of Disinformation


 by Max Scharnberg    6. January 2013


*I            A Letter to INFC

*II          Introduction to This Article

*III         Freud’s Deficient Knowledge of Human Nature

*IV        Criteria of the Truth of Psychoanalytic Interpretations

*V          A Fundamental Consequence of the Movement to the United States

*VI        The Silence About What Happens in the Consultation Room

*VII       Psychoanalysts‘ Claim of Not Influencing Their Patients

*VIII      The Psychoanalyst as „an Innocent Bystander“, and Kubie’s Real

*IX        Eissler’s Contrary Defence of Psychoanalysts‘ Influence

*X          „Every Psychoanalytic Interpretation is Based on an Immense Wealth of Observations“

*XI        Study of the Brain May Reveals Unconscious Memories

*XII       A Few Remarks on the Object Relation School

*XIII     The Principle of Similarity: the Most Fundamental Rule of
Psychoanalytic Methodology

*XIV     Supporting Psychoanalysis by Experiments

*XV       Some Philosophic Defences: „Psychoanalysis is Truly Experimental“

*XVI     Further Philosophic Defences of Psychoanalysis

*XVII    Hermeneutic Psychoanalysis

*XVIII  Some Brief Comments on Meta-Analysis

*XIX     Exit


*I. – A Letter to INFC

In September 2012 INFC’s caucus has been addressed by the Italian Pietro B. who “after having had a personal history of psychoanalysis some years ago, rejected such an experience as damaging” having read some “enlightening books and articles (of INFC’s authors) “on the subject. When confronting psychoanalytic followers”, he continued, “I often face the claim that psychoanalysis has dramatically changed since Freudian times and nowadays it has evolved into a scientific discipline. While some early achievements are allegedly still valid as cornerstones, „young“ analysts – so they claim – now rely on experimental studies and evidence-based tests. As far as the former point is concerned, I’ve often been addressed to neurobiologists‘ works that seem to validate psychoanalysis, such as Drew Westen’s synthesis „The scientific status of unconscious processes“. A modern assessment of the effectiveness of psychoanalysis is to be found in a very popular meta-analysis by Jonathan Shedler. I am still not sure that science should possibly go „backyards“ i.e. from early postulate to later demonstration. But I’m not aware, as long as I’m not a professional myself, of studies or articles or opinions which critically confront such new developments. Do they exist? Is really modern psychoanalysis becoming a science, both in its theoretical foundations and in its therapeutic praxis or effectiveness? Have you ever dealt with such later forms of counter-criticism?”


*II. – Introduction to This Article.


Pietro B.’s wish for information, in particular about the alleged change of psychoanalysis, is one of my two points of departure for the present article. The alleged change was supposed to establish that, whatever criticisms might have had some sense several generations ago, they are no longer valid. I shall instead try to show that exactly the same arguments have been used in defence of psychoanalysis since a very early stage.


My second point is that psychoanalysts almost from the very beginning have applied another standard strategy for defending their theory and treatment. Without any scruples they have denied what is in the most flagrant way postulated in the writings of both Freud and his followers. Innumerable examples can be found. In Gesammelte Werke, vol. XI, p. 469 Freud postulates that his treatment will not only cure the patients, but will provide them with a life-time guarantee against relapse into the same or any other psychological ailment. I cited this postulate in a book review. I was immediately gainsaid by the Swedish psychoanalyst Ludvig Igra[1]: „Life-time guarantee against relapse is a pledge I have never encountered in any psychoanalytic context. It must be a figment of imagination. If some psychoanalyst entertains this view, he is not representative.“ – When I pointed out the page in Freud’s writings, Igra[2] applied a new argument, viz. that Freud’s text merely means that IF the patient does not relapse THEN the patient does not relapse. It should be noted that when Igra wrote these lines, he was a member of a psychoanalytic team who prepared a new Swedish edition of Freud’s collected works. Hence it is not easy to believe that he did not recognise Freud’s own words.


Both as a theory and as a treatment psychoanalysis started around 1895. As a treatment it was for half a century claimed to be superior to all other psychological therapies. In 1917 Freud wrote that it is free from two defects of other treatments, viz. that only some but not all patients will be cured, and that some of the cured patients will later relapse. And, as I said above, it will provide the patients with a life-time guarantee against relapse.


During the next half century some analysts repeated the same postulations. Others claimed that psychoanalysis had never claimed to be able to cure anything. Still others made ambiguous statements that could mean both things. A further group would sometimes admit the lack of therapeutic effect in debates with competent external persons. But in the consultation room they would give their patients half or whole promises of a cure.


Half a century ago Harry Weinstock was the head of the fact-finding committee of The American Psychoanalytic Association. At a lecture at Maudsley Hospital in London around 1960 he stated in clear terms that his organisation does not claim that their treatment can remove neurotic symptoms. This statement of his is cited by Eysenck.[3] – Strangely, I have been unable to find any text written by Weinstock himself, in which he has made the same postulation. Is it honest to make such an important claim at a local lecture for a highly competent audience, while propagating a quite different view when no competent critic is present?


The persuasive effect of counter arguments may be worn out. But after small modifications the arguments can be presented as entirely new, and then the arguments may be effective for one or two further decades.


*III. – Freud’s Deficient Knowledge of Human Nature.


The following point I have found in an article of 1914 by Victor Haberman.[4] It is a fact that psychoanalysis to a large extent consists of sexual proposition. – However, already before 1914 analysts have denied this fact. Instead they have claimed that they were talking about so-called „psychosexuality“, a term that has little to do with sexuality. – But Haberman puts things right: what we find in their writings is sexuality in its most coarse forms.


Freud’s case-study of Dora was published in 1905, though written in 1901. She was 17-18 years old during the treatment in 1900. One of her symptoms was cough attacks that had the duration of 3-6 weeks. Freud reasoned in the following way. Coughing is rhythmic like sexual intercourse. It is also related to the mouth. Hence, Dora’s cough attacks proved that she wants to suck the penis of her father’s mistress’s husband.


Freud is obstinate in his assertion that Dora was in love with this man, Herr K. There is not the slightest evidence in favour of this interpretation, and much evidence against it. Freud’s strongest proof is that the duration of her coughing periods was 3-6 weeks, while Herr K.’s business trips also had the duration of 3-6 weeks. Freud claims that it seemed (no more than „seemed“) that throughout the years the business trips and the coughing periods had coincided at one single occasion.


When she was 13 (not 14, as Freud writes) Herr K., who was thrice her age, kissed her by violence while she struggled to make herself free. She eventually succeeded and ran away. Freud claims that any girl who did not enjoy and reciprocate a kiss given in such a situation proves by this behaviour that she is mentally ill.


When she was 15 (not 16, as Freud writes) Herr K. tried to seduce her. She slapped his face and left him. She also told her parents about the seduction attempts. – Freud comments: the fact that she told her parents proves that she was permeated by pathological craving for revenge. No normal girl of 15 would have told her parents about a seduction attempt.


It could not be controversial that these examples prove Freud’s lack of knowledge of human nature.[5] If we shall examine whether psychoanalysis has become better during recent years, it might be necessary to examine its nature during several stages throughout the 20th century.



*IV. – Criteria of the Truth of Psychoanalytic Interpretations


Pierre Janet was born three years later than Freud. He was one of the great French psychiatrists. Shortly before WWI Janet had stated that psychoanalytic interpretations are arbitrary, capricious, and can with the greatest ease be varied in infinity.


Ernest Jones[6] was already at that time one of the great psychoanalysts, though he would later be particularly known for his three-volume biography of Freud. In 1914 he refuted Janet’s criticism by the following words:


„The statements are quite worthless, for he simply does not know that the interpretations are the very reverse of this, being based on objective principles that have no reference to individual opinion, but only to the evidence of the facts themselves.“[my italics]


Let me give an example of an interpretation based on „objective principles“ that are derived from „the facts themselves“. Jones was familiar with this case because the patient was his wife. She was a morphine addict. Morphine relaxes the muscles. Therefore morphine addicts will often suffer from constipation. Various medical attempts had been used to activate the bowels of Mz. Jones, but all of them had failed.


Freud treated her and gave her the following interpretation. Unconsciously she wanted to bear a child with her father and give it to him. Unconsciously she also felt that emptying the bowels meant an abortion of this child. And this was the cause why the medical activation attempts had no effect.[7]


Jones was fully aware of his wife’s trouble. But he nevertheless based his professional career and economy on the idea that diseases (including morphine addiction) could be cured by means of this kind of interpretations.


In the case-study of Dora Freud explained how a psychoanalyst could know that an interpretation is true (GW-V:217f., 231/SE-VII:57, 69). He gave a clear explanation. If the analyst delivers an interpretation and the patient answers: „I don’t know“ or „I have not thought of that“, then these answers constitute proof that the interpretation is correct. Even more: these answers are the way by which the patient’s unconscious mind informs the analyst about the truth.


Freud adds a very important assertion: it is impossible to obtain any other kind of confirmation.


In 1937 Freud[8] extended the same ideas into a whole article: Trivial or irrelevant remarks by the patient are taken as proofs. The patient may deny the interpretation, but he may continue the same theme, or even expand it. The following example is constructed by myself, but it clearly illustrates Freud’s thought. The interpretation may be that the patient had sexual feelings for his sister. The patient may strongly deny this. But he may add that he is aware that sexual feelings between (really or supposedly) biological siblings are frequent in the literature: Francesca da Rimini in Dante’s commedia, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, Meyer’s Die Richterin, Heyse’s Die Weinhüter, and Ibsen’s Lille Eyolf.


Ordinary people may be perplexed by the rule that truth of the interpretation is proved if the patient continues at the same topic or expand it. Here I cannot abstain from a digression. David Rapaport describes an admittedly fictive event, where a man intended to say „Now things are becoming clear“ but actually said „Now things are becoming queer“. Rapaport devotes much space to the scrutiny of this slip, but I shall only focus on the following excerpt:


„Let us suppose that the subject’s associations not only corroborate that this unconscious force is an aggressive drive, but identify it as being of a jealous-suspicious variety.“[9]


In this excerpt a heavy propagandistic aim is concealed. Psychoanalysts have during generations claimed that interpretations can be verified by the patient’s subsequent associations. Rapaport is too skilled to repeat this claim in the present context. Instead he introduced it as a passing remark: let us, in a fictive case, suppose that the interpretation was proved by the subsequent associations. (And then a number of other aspects will emerge, which are in focus to Rapaport.) But he succeeds in communicating that it is a normal phenomenon in psychoanalytic treatment that interpretations will indeed be verified by subsequent associations.


In actual fact there is reason to doubt that any psychoanalyst would be capable of inventing even a fictive chain of words which, if said by a patient in response to an interpretation, would prove it.


*V. – A Fundamental Consequence of the Movement to the United States


Because of racial persecutions during the 1930s psychoanalysts had to leave Germany and Austria. The most influential among them moved to USA. There they met a new challenge. In USA there were many more different kinds of fortune-tellers, cranks and quacks than in Germany, and there was a serious risk that psychoanalysts would merely be considered a new variety of quackery. As a consequence analysts fought hard to be acknowledged as real scientists. In 1946 the so-called „neo-Freudian school“ emerged, which was at that time also called „the new ego psychology“. (Not until much later did the analysts substitute the more modest term „ego psychoanalysis“.) Outside psychoanalytic circles three theorists were particularly well-known: Heinz Hartmann, David Rapaport and Erik Erikson. And non-psychoanalytic psychologists admired Erik Erikson more than the others because he had contributed most to the invention of the new stages of childhood. – It was often claimed that „Ego psychology“ illustrated that psychoanalysis had dramatically changed since Freudian times, and that it nowadays had evolved into an almost scientific discipline.


The same trick has been repeated over and over again throughout the entire 20th century. The most recent variant has recurrently been presented as free from possible errors of previous schools.


I shall list a series of features in which ego analysis (really or apparently) differs from classical psychoanalysis.


Freud had constructed the theory of six psychosexual stages, which all human beings are supposed to go through. His suggestions of the precise ages were not precise, but this is hardly a flaw. We would not be far from his view by using a simple pattern.


(a)    The oral sucking stage occurs around the age of 1 year and is associated with schizophrenia.

(b)   The oral biting stage occurs around the age of 2 and is associated with the mania-depressive syndrome and psychopathic criminals.

(c)    The anal expulsive stage, during which the child feels sexual pleasure by pressuring out the faeces, occurs around the age of 3 and is associated with paranoia.

(d)   The anal retaining stage, during which the child feel sexual pleasure by the internal pressure of faeces and may therefore suffer from constipation, occurs around the age of 4, and is associated with compulsive neurosis.

(e)    The phallic stage occurs around the age of 5. Both male and female children re males will conceive of the penis as an aggressive murder weapon, a knife to bore into a woman. This stage occurs around the age of 5, and is associated with hysteria.

(f)    The genital stage occurs around the age of 6 and is associated with a healthy mind.


As for the part of psychoanalytic literature that was concerned with the stages, and was written before 1950, most comments were devoted to the oral sucking stage and the anal retaining stage. Freud disliked infants who were „obstinate“ and refused to empty the bowels at the times decided by the parents. Such infants might develop into persons who liked to collect things, e.g. stamps.


The ego-analysts understood that much talk about faeces and other odd phenomena would be uncomfortable to many people. The objections could also be raised that even if the theory were true, how could anyone have discovered such strange things? And how could these things be proved to exist?


Therefore the ego-analysts substituted new stages, which preserved a large part of Freud’s ideas. Thus, during the (a)-stage the child will learn „basic trust“, while he during the (d)-stage will learn „independency“ if things go well, but „obstinacy“ if things do not go well.


*VI. – The Silence About What Happens in the Consultation Room


The ego analysts understood that if external people (inter alia general psychiatrists) learned how the ego analysts behave toward their patients, then it would be a tough (and maybe an impossible) job to convince them of the wealth of proof that supposedly will emerge in the consultation room. Hence, in the published writings by the ego analysts we shall find a conspicuous silence about the occurrences in this room.[10] By reading every writing by every ego analyst, no one could discover that this school was extremely fond of Freud’s case-studies, and foremost of the two cases of Dora and the Wolf Man.[11]


Freud had explained the Wolf Man’s neurosis as the result of one single event. When he was about 1½ years old he suffered from malaria. His bed was in his parent’s bedroom. At one occasion he woke up and saw his parents engaged in sexual intercourse. During half an hour they performed three acts of coitus, all of them in the dog’s position.


Freud goes on to say that the Wolf Man had until that time believed that adults performed intercourse in the anus, and that children were born through the anus. Now the infant realised for the first time that coitus is not performed in the anus, and that females have no penis. He concluded that his mother’s penis had been cut off. In turn he came to fear that his father might cut off the child’s penis.


Many important objections can be raised against this pattern of interpretations.


(a)    The Wolf Man belonged to a Russian aristocratic family. It is impossible that a child would sleep in his parents‘ bedroom. He would sleep in the child nurse’s room.

(b)   It is against everything we know about malaria that a child could lay for half an hour with strained attention without giving any sign that he was not sleeping.

(c)    At two different pages in the case-study Freud presents two different ages at which the child had malaria: 1½ year, and 4 years.

(d)   The dog’s position is the one that is most conducive for the idea that coitus is performed in the anus. Unless the child was lying between the legs of his parents, it would exceed the capacity of the most skilled pornographic photographer to reveal those things the child supposedly had observed.

(e)    It is not an ordinary human behaviour to perform three acts of coitus during half an hour.


The ego analysts generalised Freud’s interpretation about the wolf man into nearly all patients. Almost all psychological ailments were explained as the result of such waking up, mostly around the age of one year, and of watching the parents‘ coitus. To this situation Freud had given the bizarre name „the primal scene“. A psychoanalyst belonging to another school than ego analysis wrote in 1973:


„Mania, depression, paranoia, hebephrenia, phobia, hysteria, compulsive neurosis, character disorder, learning disturbance, asthma, headache, delinquency – all have been explained as reaction to single or multiple exposure to the primal scene. One is moved to wonder whether we are here confronted by one of those situations in which a theory, by explaining everything, succeeds in explaining nothing.“ (My italics)[12]

*VII. – Psychoanalysts‘ Claim of Not Influencing Their Patients.


There was never anything sophisticated about Freud’s own techniques. He simply hammered his interpretations. In his letter 3rd January 1897 to his friend Wilhelm Fliess[13] Freud described an adult female patient (G. de B.) who suffered from eczema around her mouth. On the basis of no more than this fact Freud concluded that her father had practiced fellatio in her mouth when she was lying in the cradle, and he produced a firm conviction in her.


But also in this case he revealed his deficient knowledge of human nature. He had never expected that the patient would tell this interpretation to her father. Her father strongly denied having done such things. So she returned to Freud and said that she believed her father. Freud immediately threatened to throw her out if she would not believe in his interpretations.


At the same time Freud always postulated in his writings that he and all his followers were very careful in not influencing their patients. This postulation was made in almost the same words in 1895, 1896 and 1937, that is, during a period of 42 years.[14] I shall quote the last excerpt (my italics):


The danger of our leading a patient astray by suggestion, by persuading him to accept things which we ourselves believe but which he ought not to, has certainly been enormously exaggerated. An analyst would have had to behave very incorrectly before such a misfortune could overtake him; above all, he would have to blame himself with not allowing his patients to have their say. I can assert without boasting that such an abuse of ’suggestion‘ has never occurred in my practice.”


In this respect many but not all later psychoanalysts have become more sophisticated, whichever school they belonged to. Their techniques for persuading the patients to believe the interpretations, or for producing violent attacks of impotent rage, have become much less discernible, and many external observers may not even perceive them.


Strictly speaking it would be a tough job to exceed Freud’s own claim of not influencing the patient. But Kubie[15] was much more skilled in formulating this claim in words that would sound scientific to many non-psychoanalysts. He admitted that total absence of influence is an ideal that cannot be fully achieved in practice. But he claimed that psychoanalysts approached this ideal as far as it was possible.


Anyway, Kubie was probably the one who most strongly, and also in a most skilled way, propagated that the psychoanalytic consultation room is markedly similar to experimental laboratories used by other psychologists. To simplify things: in order to study the effect of some variables, experimental psychologists carefully prevent irrelevant variables from influencing the setting. – Kubie eloquently asserted that psychoanalysts are equally careful in preventing irrelevant circumstances from influencing the setting. Hence, the consultation room is closely related to the experimental laboratory.


Kubie proceeded to claim that psychoanalysts including Freud himself have always been so.


As a consequence of the non-influence of the psychoanalyst he can know with certainty that all the patient’s reactions originate within the patient himself. The patient will eventually believe in an interpretation solely because his inner mind informs him that this interpretation is indeed true.


*VIII. – The Psychoanalyst as „an Innocent Bystander“, and Kubie’s Real Behaviour


In Kubie’s mouth the habitual words constitute double dishonesty, because Kubie was particularly prone to lock up people in mental institutions without any sound reason for confinement. The teenage son of one of Kubie’s patients was without due reason (albeit with the father’s consent) locked up in the Menninger Clinic during four years, where he was given the choice between the ice water torture and „voluntary“ psychoanalysis“.[16] One result was that the son hated his father for the rest of his life. Another result was that he later became a lawyer who specialised in cases where minors were wrongly confined in mental hospitals.


It is general knowledge that patients will now and then have violent attacks of impotent rage directed toward the psychoanalyst. No one has better than Jay Haley[17] explained how psychoanalysts provoke and produce these attacks. But psychoanalysts have always asserted that they have carefully abstained from any behaviour that could make a normal person angry or annoyed. They go on to postulate that these emotions can only have originated within the patient himself. There is a standard explanation: all such feelings are what the patient unconsciously feels for his parents; but he has „projected“ them upon „an innocent bystander“, viz. the psychoanalyst.


Edmund Bergler was a classic Freudian. He was the assistant director of the Freud Clinic in Vienna. Later he became a lecturer at the Psychoanalytic Institution in New York. He could not have had these and other high positions, if he entertained a view widely at variance with that of his colleagues.


He also presents himself as „an innocent bystander“. But at the same time he provides examples of his own „non-aggressive“ statements to a male patient:


(a)    „You have the mind of a blackmailer“.

(b)   „Aren’t you a phoney through and through?“

(c)    „Here you are, caught in your own dirty little scheme.“

(d)   „That girl stuff again?“[18]


It is obvious that Bergler is highly aggressive toward his patients. But in actual fact the ego analysts were significantly more brutal. They might evoke impotent rage by giving a long series of answers without rhyme and reason. They might also confuse the patient by giving series of interpretations that were so silly that the patient would understand that the analyst did not believe in them, and that the purpose was neither that the patient should believe them.


The examples above clearly reveal that neither Freud nor his followers were careful to avoid influencing their patients.


*IX. – Eissler’s Contrary Defence of Psychoanalytic Influence


Around the same time another prominent psychoanalyst applied the opposite argument for defending the scientific nature of this theory. Kurt Eissler admits that psychoanalysts will indeed influence their patients. But he adds that no science can avoid influencing their object of study, because studying any object will necessarily lead to change of the object:


„In most scientific inquiries, to be sure, the object of examination is changed by the very act of examination itself. In putting a thermometer into a liquid in order to measure its temperature, we change this temperature, even if only to a minimal and short-lived extent. […] The gradual recession of symptoms in the process of psychoanalysis is the equivalent of temperature change in the course of temperature measurement. The symptom per se is equivalent to a resistance; it blocks the way to full understanding. When symptoms fall aside in the course of an analysis, this may be correlated with the removal of resistances and the subsequent emergence of understanding of what lay concealed behind and in the symptom.“[19]


Note carefully that Eissler implies that psychoanalytic treatment will indeed remove symptoms. But in the first chapter I cited Harry Weinstock’s statement that psychoanalysts do not claim that they can remove neurotic symptoms. Weinstock’s claim was made at least five years before Eissler’s book was published, and it is unbelievable that Eissler was unaware of it.


I do not think that many non-psychoanalysts will accept Eissler’s analogy of the thermometer change and symptom removal. Kubie’s rhetoric seems to be much more effective. But the excerpt by Eissler as well as his entire book of 592 pages may strengthen the conviction of many psychoanalysts that criticisms levelled by external opponents are misplaced.



*X. – „Every Psychoanalytic Interpretation is Based on an Immense Wealth of Observations“


In 1959 Heinz Hartmann, the father of ego psychoanalysis, wrote the following excerpt:


„As to the data, it is hard to give, outside the analytic process itself an impression of the wealth of observational data collected in even one single ‘case’. One frequently refers to the comparatively small number of cases studied in analysis and tends to forget the very great number of actual observations on which we base, in every individual case, the interpretations of an aspect of a person’s character, symptoms and so on.“ (my layout)


On the INFC site I have extensively analysed this and related topics in my article Tales From the Vienna Woods. I have done the same thing in my book The Non-Authentic Nature of Freud’s Observations.[20] The truth is that no feature is more prominent in psychoanalytic literature, than the pattern of deriving every interpretation from a minimal number of observations, usually about 1 to 4. Take a look at Freud’s above interpretations about Dora, or his interpretation of the constipation of Ernest Jones’s wife, or of the cause of the Wolf Man’s neurosis. In this respect there is no difference between psychoanalysts belonging to different generations or different schools.


Hartmann asserts one more thing, viz. that psychoanalysis can produce predictions that are superior to those produced by any other theories. He also asserts that such predictions can be verified in a scientific way. The best example Hartmann could find during 60 years of psychoanalytic publications is those predictions also described in my Tales From the Vienna Woods, an essay published on the present site. Marie Bonaparte, princess of Greece and Denmark, was Freud’s patient in 1926 when she was 42 years old. Freud claimed that the princess, before she was two years old but not after that age, had watched her uncle and her wet nurse practicing fellatio in full daylight. According to both Hartmann[21] and Bonaparte[22] this interpretation had been verified in a scientific way.


But Hartmann wisely conceals the nature of the „scientific“ verification procedure. However, it can be found elsewhere. After the princess had become convinced by Freud’s influence, she went to her uncle, who was now 82 years old, and hammered on him for months until he confessed.


*XI. – Study of the Brain May Reveal Unconscious Memories


Among Kubie’s many attempts to support psychoanalysis he also invoked brain physiology. During the 1940s Wilder Penfield made a study of epileptic patients. By stimulating certain brain areas in several thousands of epileptic patients, a tiny minority of some 40 experienced a kind of dream that had a much stronger character of reality than ordinary dreams. Let us, for want of a better term, call them E-dreams, though they may have no genuine relation to epilepsy. – Some patients could clearly state that their E-dreams could not have been memories. One patient recognised the street in which she, according to her E-dream, had lived. But she also knew that in reality she had never lived in this street.


However, Kubie had a psychoanalytic conference arranged, where it was discussed if this was an indisputable proof of the existence of unconscious psychoanalytic memories.


*XII. – A Few Remarks on the ObjectRelationSchool


Throughout many decades this was a local British school. In the 1990s it spread to numerous other countries? Why? The ego psychoanalysis had been presented as a highly innovative theory that was not basically different from acknowledged scientific disciplines. But after a few decades this disinformation had lost its persuasive effect. By contrast, the object relation school was still an untilled and unspent alternative. Hence, the standard praise of previous varieties of psychoanalysis could be re-cycled and applied to the next variant.


A quotation from one of the greatest theorists may portray that this school is as arbitrary and divorced from reality as its companions. Winnicott writes in The Child, the Family, and the Outside World (1975):


„As you know, a baby sometimes cries when he is dirty. This might mean that the baby does not like being dirty (and, of course, if he remains dirty long enough his skin will become chafed and hurt him), but usually it means nothing of the kind – it means that he fears the disturbance he has learned to expect. Experience has shown him that the next few minutes will bring about a failure of all reassurances, that is to say he will be uncovered, and moved, and he will lose heat.“


This is a silly application of Pavlov’s theory of conditioned reflexes. More often than not there will be too long a temporal interval between defecation and taking up the child, that no conditioned reflexes could be established.


Moreover, those of us who have children have instead noticed that children will stop crying when we take them up. It is certainly not a frightening experience to have their dirty cloths removed.


Object Relation Therapy of Physical and Sexual Trauma by Scharff & Scharff was published as late as 1994. A section of their book is about a female patient called „Freda“, who was treated for 15 years by both the mates. As for her ailments when the treatment started we are only told that she, who had experienced two Caesarean operations, felt pain during intercourse. As for benefits at the end of the treatment we are told nothing at all. However, after some years of psychoanalysis Freda had to be admitted to a hospital where she was given heavy doses of anti-depressive medicine. Scharff & Scharff consider this a normal effect of the treatment.


It should be noted that by describing such a case Scharff & Scharff do not expect to be compromised in the eyes of their colleagues. (More about this case can be found at this site in my article Injuries from Psychoanalytic Treatment – Accidents at Work or Intentional Effects?)



*XIII. – The Principle of Similarity: the Most Fundamental Rule of Psychoanalytic Methodology


It may be helpful to know how psychoanalysts arrive at their interpretations. This is one of the most stable constituents of their methodological procedures. It is equally prominent in every school, and has been so during every temporal period. This constituent is the principle of similarity, and it postulates that the cause is similar to the effect. As a consequence one can find the cause of a neurotic symptom (or of some other behaviour) by finding or inventing an event that is similar to the symptom.


The principle of similarity is prominent in all the above examples, e.g. the idea that Dora’s cough attacks were caused by her wish to practice fellatio upon a particular man.


Scharff & Scharff applied this rule to their patient pain felt by Freda during intercourse. The hypothesis did not occur to the Scharff couple that the surgical operations could be responsible for the pain. Instead they concluded that her pain derived from sexual abuse by her parents during her childhood.


The principle of similarity was by no means a radically new theory or procedure created by Freud. It is a natural constituent of traditional superstition, and it is a matter of routine to trace it at least 2000 years back in history. In Anatomy of Melancholy, written 1620 by Robert Burton we can read that a child got a hare-lip because the mother had been scared by a hare while she was pregnant. In Psychische Heilkunde (1817) by Albert Matthias Vering we can read about a mother who had born a child without arms because she had been scared by a beggar without arms.



*XIV. – Supporting Psychoanalysis by Experiments


In the 1960s and 1970s a number of other attempts were applied with the aim of proving the scientific nature of psychoanalysis. One of them was to perform experiments. They were invariably constructed in accordance with two principles:


(1)   They must be so designed that the prediction will have an equal chance of being confirmed, regardless of whether psychoanalytic theory is true or false.

(2)   They must be so presented that it appears that the prediction has a very small chance of being confirmed, unless psychoanalytic theory is true.


In 1972 Paul Kline investigated a large number of such experiments and claimed to have found 18 experiments which had a considerable evidential power. One year later Eysenck & Wilson published „The Experimental Study of Freudian Theories“. They quoted in toto the original papers describing these 18 experiments, and carefully examined the papers and the experiments.


Since psychoanalysts have done much to liberate themselves from talk about faeces, it is a little surprising that Kline found evidence for the theory that asthma has a close relation to the anal stage. Freud’s essential proof was that asthmatic attacks are often produced by bad smells, and that a fart is an instance of a bad smell (one more instance of the principle of similarity).


Kline (or rather his source) classifies all odours three categories: oral, anal and genital. The smell of food is oral, and the smell of perfume is genital. Kline and his source give no clear explanation of what smells are anal. Nevertheless, their idea is clear. Two and only two categories are anal: the smell of dirt, and the smell of chemicals for removing dirt.


Kline’s source found that asthmatic attacks are more often produced by „anal“ smells than by oral or genital smells. – In other words, asthmatic attacks are more often triggered off by smells that are likewise unpleasant (sometimes highly unpleasant) to normal people. It is no bold hypothesis that avoiding contact with rotten fish and hydrochloride acid has had a survival value for mankind.


On the INFC site other examples of pseudo-experiments can be found, not least in Scharnberg’s article A Strange Survival Niche of Psychoanalysis… Not all sections of this article are highly relevant in the present context, but the chapters *XX to *XXIV illustrate how easily evidence can be fabricated out of thin air.


Any desired number of analogous pseudo-experiments could be listed and exposed. But few non-psychoanalytic experimental psychologists were capable of exposing the flaws. Hence experimentation helped to keep up the prestige of psychoanalysis for some time. But in the long run this approach was not sufficiently effective.



*XV. – Some Philosophic Defences: „Psychoanalysis is Truly Experimental“


In 1972 R. Harré & P. E. Secord published The Explanation of Social Behaviour. It is odd that such a book could be issued by an esteemed editor such as Basil Blackwell, and be used over a great area of the Western world in courses for behavioural candidates for a doctorate. Scharnberg (1984) proved that all non-trivial statements in this book were false. In addition it could be proved that the writers were deliberately dishonest.


Here I shall only discuss a few ideas. They claim that that chemistry is not an experimental science; during the entire 19th century the entire population of chemists performed no more than one single experiment. These assertions are no isolated mistakes but constitute the foundation of one of their three most central so-called results.


Another of their three most central results is that psychoanalysis is an experimental science. They do not have in mind the kind of studies exemplified in the preceding chapter, but what happens in the consultation room. An experiment is said to consist of three constituents: (1) hypothesis; (2) test of the hypothesis; (3) outcome of the test.


The analyst may present an interpretation to the patient. The interpretation is the hypothesis. The patient may deny the interpretation. In that case something will take place which Harré & Secord call „negotiation“ between the two parts, and negotiation will continue until they agree on the same version. This is the test of the hypothesis. If the „negotiation“ ends with the analyst accepting the patient’s version, then the analyst has almost certainly made a mistake. The satisfactory outcome is that the patient will accept the analyst’s version. And when the patient has accepted the analyst’s interpretation, then this is the outcome of the test, and the agreement of both parts proves that the interpretation is true.


Earlier in the book Harré & Secord had fabricated the empirical generalisation that psychological experiments in the normal sense will invariably lead to one and the same non-valid result, viz. that the experimenter will have his preconceived view confirmed. By contrast, psychoanalytic treatment performed according to the just described pattern will be free from the flaw that the analyst will merely have his preconceived view confirmed.


What took place between Freud and Dora when she refused to believe in his interpretations does not have any similarity with „negotiation“. The same is true of all other cases included in my present article and, indeed, of the behaviour of any psychoanalyst belonging to any school and any period.

*XVI. – Further Philosophic Defences of Psychoanalysis


During the entire 20th century a few philosophical books have been published, which in various ways try to establish that psychoanalysis is either fully or nearly fully scientific. But around the 1960s and 1970s one argument came to the fore in many such writings, viz. that psychoanalysis shares a number of features with the best theories within natural science and, as a consequence, that its scientific quality is not basically different from, say, Newton’s theory of gravitation.


One extensive example is The Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis by Michael Sherwood (1969), in which the similarity of psychoanalysis to natural science is illustrated by the fact that both psychoanalysis and the best theories within natural science yield explanations of various kinds:


(1)   Explanation in terms of origin.

(2)   Explanation in terms of genesis. (This second category differs from the first by not only unearthing the original cause and the final effect, but also disclosing the intervening stages.)

(3)   Explanation in terms of prediction.

(4)   Explanation in terms of function (that is, foremost, in terms of aim and goal).

(5)   Explanation in terms of significance (meaning).


Let us focus on prediction. It is sufficiently well-known that there are a large number of theories that are unanimously deemed to be pseudo-scientific – but these theories will yield predictions. In particular Martin Gardner[23] has devoted much labour and space to refute them.


I shall first reject a terminological objection, viz. that it is an unfortunate formulation that one could „predict the past“, and that it would be more adequate to invent the new word „post-diction“.


I completely agree with Auguste Comte that science may legitimate predict a future event. But science may also predict our future knowledge of an event that in itself may be past, present or future. If Comte’s extended definition is not accepted, astronomy, geology, archaeology, some linguistic and some history will have to change their terminology. I also reject the idea that the primary criterion why a discipline or a theory is pseudo-scientific, is that its truth-value cannot be tested. When I was 11 years old an astrologist calculated my horoscope, and found that my first wife would be at least 20 years older than me. It is difficult to imagine a prediction whose truth-value is more easy to disclose.


One of the many pseudo-philosophical books that is typical of the 1960s and 1970s is The Logic of Explanation in Psychoanalysis by Michael Sherwood (1969). This writer examines the case-study of the rat man and claims to have come to the following result:


„Freud does not argue that because his general theory is correct, then its application to this particular individual must likewise be correct.“ [instead] „we are asked first to evaluate his explanation of that particular individual alone.“

[…] The argument is from the explanation of the individual’s behaviour to the general theory.“ (p. 189f.)


Nowhere in his book has Sherwood presented any instance of such progression from the individual case to the general theory. By contrast, he has quoted several indisputable quotations of the argument from the theory to the individual patient:


We know that incipient love is often perceived as hatred, and that love, if it is denied satisfaction, may easily be partly converted into hatred.“ (p. 106, italics added)


[The patient] „dreamt that he saw my daughter in front of him; she had two patches of dung instead of eyes. No one who understands the language of dreams will find much difficulty in translation this one: it declared that he was marrying my daughter not for her ‚beaux yeux‘ [beautiful eyes] but for her money.“ (p. 200, italics both added and deleted)


„In fact such a protracted survival of two opposites [love and hatred] is only possible under quite peculiar psychological conditions and with the co-operation of the state of affairs in the unconscious. The love has not succeeded in extinguishing the hatred but only in driving it down into the unconscious; and in the unconscious the hatred, safe from the danger of being destroyed by the operations of consciousness, is able to persist and even to grow. In such circumstances the conscious love attains as a rule, by way of reaction, an especially high degree of intensity, so as to be strong enough for the perpetual task of keeping its opponent under repression.“ (p. 109, italics added)


When there is a mésalliance […] between as affect and its ideational content (in this instance, between the intensity of the self-approach and the occasion for it), a layman will say that the affect [the guilt] is too great for the occasion. […] On the contrary the [analytic] physician says: ‚No. The affect is justified. […] But it belongs to some other content, which is unknown (unconscious) […] Moreover, this fact of there being a false conviction is the only way of accounting for the powerlessness of logical processes to combat the tormenting idea.“ (p. 114, italics added)


I have elsewhere provided numerous analogous examples of the same kind, many of them in other books and some of them on the INFC site. I do not think it is my obligation to repeat all of them here.





*XVII. – Hermeneutic Psychoanalysis.


In the long run neither experimentation nor comparison with well-supported physical theories were effective. It also became more apparent that experimental results more often than not run counter to psychoanalysis. Some psychoanalysts therefore tried a new trick, viz. to make psychoanalysis immune to falsification. In this way hermeneutic psychoanalysis emerged. It must be said that many discrepant approaches, views, and sets of procedures.


It is obvious that all Freud’s interpretations are causal statements: symptom S is caused by event E. The same is true of the interpretations made by his followers throughout the entire 20th century, and still today.


Almost all weapons applied by psychoanalysts to defend their theory were present almost from the start. Hermeneutic psychoanalysis is the only example of an innovation. It must be stressed, however, that hermeneutics was exclusively intended as a weapon in external debates. It was not intended to have any consequences for what happens in the seclusion of the consultation room.


According to what I had asserted, the Swedish psychoanalyst Ludvig Igra had stated that the interpretations are not true. Instead they will give the patient „relief and intellectual pleasure“. In turn Igra argued that I had distorted what he had really stated: not the interpretations but the explanations will give the present „relief and intellectual pleasure“. – This is a typical analytic device, and its central flaw is that it does not clarify what is the difference between an interpretation and an explanation. For instance, when Freud declares that Dora’s cough attacks were caused by her unconscious wish to practice fellatio on Herr K., is this an interpretation that is not an explanation? Or is it an explanation that is not an interpretation? Evidently, all Freud’s interpretations are explanations, and all his explanations are interpretations.


The primary idea of the hermeneutics is that the interpretations are said to be meaningful relations instead of causal relations. This view was thoroughly scrutinised by Adolf Grünbaum in Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984). As a result hermeneutic psychoanalysis has almost completely disappeared. This is the only example known to me in which one single critical book had such a large effect.


In the most extreme variant of hermeneutic psychoanalysis interpretations are presented as a specific kind of consolation lies.


In first glance this view may seem more rational than the views of all other schools. Obviously it would be inappropriate to request empirical support for a statement that is claimed not to be true but merely a consolation lie.


But the first glance deceives. From a consolation lie one can justly demand that it consoles.


Let us apply this to the case of Dora. There is some sense in the view that it may be very painful for Dora to admit that she has sexual feelings for the husband of her father’s mistress. Nevertheless, there is no escape, because only by believing this can her cough attacks be cured. In such a situation it could also be argued that Freud did right in doing his best to force her to believe in this interpretation.


By contrast, it could hardly be more flagrant from the case-study that Freud’s interpretations did not in the least console Dora. They added more discomfort to her. We may also ask what right a therapist has to press a certain belief upon a patient, which will only increase the patient’s suffering without providing any positive result.



*XVIII. – Some Brief Comments on Meta-Analysis


I think that the first widely known paper on psychoanalysis and meta-analysis was The Benefits of Psychotherapy by Mary Lee Smith & Gene V. Glass (1980), although the same authors had three years earlier published an article on the same topic.


But I do not think it is my obligation to devote much labour every time a new book on meta-analysis is published. Meta-analysis is an approach that is easy to abuse for propagandistic aim. There are some flaws that are so frequent that they must be presented. The problem is the same if the efficacy of two methods or many methods are compared.


Suppose we want to compare the outcome of the alpha-method and the beta-method. We hope to reach a result formulated in something like these words: the alpha-method is so much better than the beta-method. Now it may happen that the alpha-method can be used for treating 20 different syndromes, while the beta-method can only be used for treating 3 out of them. It goes without saying that this is clear evidence for the superiority of the alpha-method.


But a psychoanalytically oriented meta-analyst would instead conclude that for those 17 syndromes that cannot be treated by both methods there cannot be any comparison. The rational conclusion would instead be that the alpha-method is conspicuously superior.


The second flaw is to disregard the quality of the studies. Twenty poor studies in which methodological flaws were responsible for an apparent therapeutic effect, which may well be fictive, will count more than two well-designed studies.


Suppose that two females suffer from the same degree of snake phobia. A different therapy is applied to each. After 20 therapeutic hours spaced over one month one of the women will play with snakes and let them move around her neck and whole body without feeling any discomfort. By contrast, after 20 months the snake phobia of the other female will not have diminished, but she will make verbal statements such as „I know that I am afraid of snakes because they are penis symbols.“


If we intend to prove that both methods are equally effective, we should avoid study the behavioural outcome (viz. how the two women actually behave in relation to snakes). We should give the patients a limited possibility of stating their one view. Instead we should in the first place ask the therapists if their patients have improved.


In their book mentioned above Smith & Glass has included a study about how psychoanalysis can be applied to teach children to read and write. For obvious reason this study should not have been included.


A further fact is that the strange selection of studies by Smith & Glass. They have (deliberately?) concealed a large number of well-designed studies that showed an impressive positive effect of behaviour therapy.

*XIX. – Exit


In 1993 Frederick Crews wrote an essay in New York Review of Books in which he reviewed four excellent books which all were critical of psychoanalysis. Here I shall not refer to his assessment of these. But a large number of psychoanalysts and proponents of psychoanalysts wrote rejoinders, sometimes rather extensive, and Crews wrote final comments. The entire debate was published in a book that bears the title The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute. It could be argued that the objections constitute the most important part of that book. It could also be argued that the writers of these objections claim that patients could with confidence turn to psychoanalysts because of two reasons. On the one hand, present-day psychoanalysts have realised that Freud was wrong and have therefore abandoned his theories. On the other hand, present-day psychoanalysts have realised that Freud was right, and will therefore apply his theories.


I do not think it is my obligation to devote immense labour for refutation every time some psychoanalyst publishes a new book in defence of his favourite theory. One of the striking facts is the very small proportion of new arguments. Almost all arguments during the entire 20th century were present already before WWI.


Psychoanalysts have also suffered the fate that close family members have preferred truth to doctrine. The two pioneers of child psychoanalysis were Anna Freud and Melanie Klein. Klein’s daughter Melitta Schmiedeberg has exposed many cases of people who went through psychoanalytic treatment for 10, 20, or 30 years without any improvement.


Freud’s own granddaughter Sophie Freud wrote an essay about false prophets. She included her own grandfather among them.


[1] Ludvig Igra (1996): Freuds observationer banbrytande. Svenska Dagbladet, 961205.

[2] Ludvig Igra (1996): Livtidsgaranti ges inte mot återfall. Svenska Dagbladet, 961222.

[3] Hans Jürgen Eysenck (1960): Behaviour Therapy and the Neuroses. Oxford: Pergamon. p. 4.

[4] J. Victor Haberman (1914): A criticism of psychoanalysis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 9:265-280.

[5] Unfortunately, proponents of psychoanalysis do deny Freud’s flaw. In 1986 I applied for a grant for the publication of a manus in which these examples were included. The Council of Research made the mistake of selecting a proponent of psychoanalysis to evaluate my manus, viz. professor Lars Gunnar Lundh. He took the chance of stopping the manus. I shall quote verbatim his comment to the examples above: „Here Scharnberg’s knowledge of human nature is set up against that of Freud’s, and the examples provided by Scharnberg do not make me take it as self-evident that Scharnberg’s knowledge is superior to Freud’s.“ Several proponents of psychoanalysis have succeeded in stopping my book in seven (7) years. Lundh was the second in a row of hostile experts. – But when the book was finally published in 1993 it was well received in three continents.

It is relevant that Lundh did not expect to be compromised in the eyes of his colleagues when he wrote the excerpt just quoted.

[6] Ernest Jones (1914): Professor Janet on psychoanalysis: a rejoinder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, IX: 400-410.

[7] Eva Weissweiler (2006): Die Freuds, Biographie einer Familie. Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch,  pp. 204f.

[8] Konstruktionen in der Psychoanalyse (GW-XVI:43-56). Constructions in Analysis. (SE-XXIII:255-270).

[9] David Rapaport (1965): The Structure of Psychoanalytic Theory. in: Koch, S. (ed.): Psychology: A Study of a Science, vol. III. New York: McGraw-Hill, pp. 116ff.

[10] In 1963 Donald Ford & Hugh Urban published Systems of Psychotherapy, in which they described ten different approaches: [1] Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. [2] Modifications in psychoanalysis: the Ego-Analysts. [3] The learning theory psychotherapy of Dollard and Miller. [4] The reciprocal inhibition psychotherapy of Joseph Wolpe. [5] Alfred Adler’s subjectivistic system of individual psychology. [6] The will therapy of Otto Rank. [7] The „client-centered“ psychotherapy of Carl Rogers. [8] Existential analysis or Daseinsanalyse. [9] Karen Horney’s character analysis. [10] Harry Stack Sullivan’s theory of interpersonal relations. – They applied almost the same (around 25) headings for all systems in order to facilitate comparison. Two examples of headings: „Patient behavior that must occur in therapy“, „Condition necessary to elicit appropriate patient behaviors“. They stated that they had not found any information in the writings by the ego-psychoanalysts about any difference of therapy. They therefore concluded that the ego-analysts used the same kind of therapy as the classical Freudians. The innovation of this school was that they had supplemented Freud’s theory of pathological development with a theory of normal development. Ford & Urban also meant that ego analysis was superior to all the other systems. This alleged superiority did not prevent them from saying that when patients had improved, ego analysts had wondered if this were a result of the treatment, or of external circumstances, e.g. that the patient had got new friends and a new surrounding.

[11] Much of the information presented here is borrowed from Patrick Mahony (1984): Cries of the Wolf Man. New York: International Universities Press.

[12] Aaron Esman (1973): The primal scene: a review and a reconsideration. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 28:49-81. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[13] Quoted in Jeffrey Masson (1985): The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1904. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard; – p. 220f.

[14] See GW‑I:300, 441; GW‑XVI:48f./SE‑II:295, SE‑III:205, SE‑XXIII:262.

[15] Lawrence S. Kubie (1959): Psychoanalysis and scientific method. in: Hook, S. (ed.): Psychoanalysis, Scientific Method and Philosophy. New York: New York University Press. / L. S. Kubie (1960): Psychoanalysis and scientific method. Journal of Nervous and Mental disease, 131:495-512.

[16] Stephen Farber & Marc Green (1993): Hollywood on the Couch. New York: William Morrow, pp. 77ff.

[17] Jay Haley (1963): Strategies of Psychotherapy. New York: Grune & Stratton. – Note carefully that in some translated editions the last and most important chapter („The Art of Psychoanalysis„) has been removed.

[18] Edmund Bergler (1971): Homosexuality – Disease or Way of Life? New York: Collier Books, pp. 226-228.

[19] Kurt R. Eissler (1965): Medical Orthodoxy and the Future of Psychoanalysis. New York: International Universities Press; p. 82.

[20] Max Scharnberg (1993): The Non-Authentic Nature of Freud’s Observations. Uppsala: Uppsala Studies in Education no. 47-48. vol. I: The Seduction Theory. vol. II: Felix Gattel’s Early Freudian Cases, and the Astrological Origin of the Anal Theory.

[21] Heinz Hartmann (1959): Psychoanalysis as a scientific theory. in: Sidney Hook (ed.): Psychoanalysis, Scientific Method and Philosophy. New York: New York University Press.

[22] Marie Bonaparte (1945): Notes on the analytic discovery of a primal scene. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, I:119-125.

[23] Among others, Martin Gardner (1957): Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. New York: Dover. / (1983): Science – Good, Bad and Bogus. Oxford: Oxford University Press. / (1984): Order and Surprise. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leave a Reply