Freud is dead (Well... except in english departments)

i-f95080e26d8d5fba5b090688a8bb5ce8-freud.gifWhenever I meet someone new and I tell them I'm studying psychology I inevitably get asked the ever annoying question "Are you analyzing me right now?" which of course always leads to the same response from me, "I'm as qualified to analyze or give therapy as an engineering student." Which is not at all.

I'm thinking of changing that response to "English majors are more qualified to do that than any psychology student." After all, the humanities and other social sciences seem to be paying much more attention to the classic analysis of old, namely psychoanalysis than any self-respecting psychology department.

It's not just the experimental psychologists who are ignoring Freud (I've never even taken a course on therapy or mental disorders. I study cognition and vision, why bother?) it seems that even the clinical psychologists are ignoring him. In a recent article in the New York Times, Patricia Cohen reports that psychoanalysis is dead in psychology departments and mostly only being taught in english, history, and art departments.

...a computer-based analysis of course descriptions at 150 public and private institutions that are highly ranked in U.S. News and World Report's college survey. It found that of the 1,175 courses that referenced psychoanalysis, more than 86 percent were offered outside psychology departments.

I'm completely happy with this statistic and am actually pretty surprised that the rate of classes about psychoanalysis is as high as 14% being taught in psychology departments. At the University of Illinois (one of the best clinical programs in the U.S.) I've been told that psychoanalysis is only covered as a small unit as part of a larger therapy course.

While Freud brought much attention to psychology it isn't clear to me (or anyone since the research is sparse on the positive benefits of psychoanalysis) that anything besides a historical perspective should be taught - in any department. Of course there are many people who disagree with my sentiments, especially the professional schools of psychoanalysis and the confused new aged people that pay money to learn woo at these institutions.

At the end of the NYTimes article there is a pretty silly argument on why psychoanalysis won't die,

Neither the split between the humanities and science, nor the warnings of the demise of psychoanalysis are as serious as they are often made out to be, said Jonathan Lear, a trained psychoanalyst and a philosopher who works on integrating the two fields at the University of Chicago.

Wanting to measure the effectiveness of psychoanalysis is natural, he said, but figuring out how to do so is not simple.

"Some of the most important things in human life are just not measurable," he said, like happiness or genuine religious feeling. Freud, though, is particularly useful for gaining insights into questions of human existence. "There will be the discovery of problems that the standard ways don't address," he said, and then "there will be a swing back to Freud."

Lear is blatantly wrong, I don't think either Martin Seligman (ex president of the APA) or Ed Diener would agree that happiness is not measurable. While Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience have a difficult time answering questions about the human condition I don't think Psychoanalysis offers any more insight to the truth and if anything is a crutch psychology and society have leaned on way too long.

HT: Mind Hacks


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You're absolutely right. Freud (plus Jung and Lacan) are taught as insightful contemporary thinkers on courses on Cultural Theory (aka Media Studies) and English Literature.

"Oedipus Complex" is current, but for some reason "Electra Complex" isn't. "Penis Envy" is taught as fact, though "Sexual Inversion" isn't.

I had to sit through this stuff - plus bits of incomprehensible Hegel, decontextualised Plato and ludicrously misrepresented Marx - to get a couple of Humanities degrees, which have since turned out to be nearly worthless.

Freud is dead in psychology but alive in English departments and various "studies" programs, like Marx's nonexistence in economics but lingering presence in the humanities.

Colugo: Not correct about Marx.

Much of mainstream economics - real economics as opposed to neocon fantasies - is Marxist, albeit disguised with different terminology, or repackaged and slightly modified as Sraffism, the Robinson School etc,

The 14% of psychoanalysis courses in psych departments sounds about right to me. It's 14% of the courses are in psychology depts and not 14% of psych courses are on psychoanalysis. That means there are 165 courses taught at 150 surveyed schools. Psychotherapy is undeniably a major part of the history of psychology and it seems appropriate to devote at least one course to this aspect of history (and I'm assuming that isn't usually a required course either).

And K, anyone who says mainstream economics is Marxist either doesn't under stand Marx or modern economics. A subset may have socialist leanings, but definitely not Marxist.


You've got to be kidding me. Some of Marx's ideas survive, but the labor theory of value's been dead for a long time, he was completely wrong about industrialization making skilled labor less important vs unskilled, wrong about the business cycle, he didn't provide a solution for the "socialist calculation" problem which has lead to the abandonment of most central planning schemes, etc. Most of his fans, like Sraffa, that have made a stamp on economics did it within the neoclassical or Keynesian frameworks, rather than Marx's.

Of course, based on your "neocon fantasies" comment (which is odd, since neoconservativism doesn't have a distinctive economic stance - it's primarily about unilateralist foreign policy and a utilitarian defense of traditionalism), I doubt you're thinking above the knee-jerk level.


Please quit repeating the cliche and provide a bit of evidence for Freud being widely cited as an authority on the human psyche in English or "studies" programs.

Because, to my knowledge--and I studied in a theoretically advanced English Dept. back in the 1990s--he isn't. In fact, feminists despise him. And every single time Freud came up in a graduate course I took, it was as an example of some ideological tendency or other, not as a provider of insight into the human psyche.

If his name appears, or if "psychoanalysis" appears, it may just be because they DID actually exist, and it is natural that courses covering the history of the twentieth century would talk about them.

This study, in short, is stupid. Notice for instance, that the defender of Freud cited IS NOT from an English or history department.

Does Freud have a future? I have no idea. I wonder how much this blogger has actually read of him though. Is Civilization and its Discontents a crutch psychology?


My only exposure to Freud as an undergraduate or graduate in psychology has been through the English department. It was in a course explicitly focused on the human condition in literature, and he WAS cited as an authority. It was a BS class to be sure, but it wasn't a Psych class.

Also, yes, the once defender of Freud cited in this post is from a Psychology department. Statistics don't lie though, and so I wonder how you can explain the 86% of Freud-related material being taught outside of Psychology.

I also wonder if you can do so without impugning the reputation of the blogger, since that doesn't really do much to help your point. I don't have to read Mein Kampf to know that Hitler was a piece of shit, and I don't have to read all of Freud to know that his ideas were formed well before we knew anything about brains.

Correction: John Lear is NOT from the Psych department, but from the Philosophy department. Goodbye cognitive dissonance, I hardly knew ye.

I'm not sure Freud is dead in psychology, and even neuroscience.

The latest issue of 'cortex' had numerous forum articles on the field of 'neuropsychoanalysis' (which has its own journal).

By melatonin (not verified) on 28 Nov 2007 #permalink

I think you're overestimating how dead freud is. i'm an applied psychologist and when it comes to classic psychoanalysis.. it def still occurs. Although there has been a huge shift to cognitive behavioral therapy and short term empirically validated treatments (mostly for the sake of insurance companies), I have found that many psychologists (even in medical settings) use psychoanalytic and psychodynamic core beliefs to conceptualize their clients.

Yes, many of his theories are, well, unprovable and downright silly... but folks shouldn't be so quick to throw the baby out with the bath water. Ask most hardcore scientists about Freud and they will immediately make the association with concepts like penis envy and reject everything that has to do with Freud. However, ask people if they believe in an unconscious mind, ask about the concepts of free association, transference, and repression.. these concepts are power and linger. And I mean, seriously.. you study cognition.. how can you not like THE guy who started the notion of the unconscious.

The genuine study of consciousness is NOT related to "The Unconscious." It's the equivalent of comparing Astronomy and Astrology. Both deal with stars, but one one deals with science.