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Sigmund Fraud
I've only skimmed Frederick Crews' book, Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend, but I've long been convinced that people had far too glowing an appraisal of Freud and Freudian analysis: Okay, penis envy? (Just to name one.) I mean, I'm a fan of the part when it's attached to a man, and I've sometimes joked about having a set of snap-on balls, but come on!

In New York, I saw people in analysis for years, and they never seemed happier or less neurotic, only poorer. Personally, I've found that whining endlessly about problems never brought me any nearer to solving them. Of course, I was told over and over again (in particular, by a Freud "scholar" I used to see at a Starbucks up on Mulholland) what an intellectual lightweight I was for not following the worshipful Freudian herd.

Reading Freud made reading Albert Ellis (who just died at 94) an enormous relief. Ellis showed that people do not need years of analysis to solve their emotional problems. In fact, I've seen him correct somebody's irrational thinking in a matter of minutes.

What Ellis does is not dwell on the past, but look at current fucked up thinking and behavior, and then he helps people correct their irrational thinking so they can start behaving less self-defeatingly. In short, his thinking, influenced by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus' notion that it's not events that disturb us but the views we take of them, goes like this:

Change the way you think and you change the way you feel. You're disturbed because you're thinking irrationally.

Albert Ellis demystified therapy, and who can perform it. In fact, when we had lunch out here, I asked him if I should get an MFA and train at his institute, and he said, in his Ellis-ian cackle:

You know everything you need to know. It would be a waste of time.

Happiness researcher Martin Seligman, in Learned Optimism, notes that the technique Ellis founded with Aaron Beck -- cognitive behavioral therapy (although he called it Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) -- can be used on most disturbed people. (I can't find Seligman's book at the moment, but I think he excluded only people who are bipolar, manic-depressive, and schizophrenic, and probably not totally, but in terms of cognitive behavioral therapy being a last and only stop for them.)

And best of all, if you're a logical, and not too self-indulgent, you might even be able to fix your own irrational thoughts, and, in turn, your irrational behavior, and cheap! -- for $10.20 plus shipping -- the price of A Guide to Rational Living on

And finally, here's my Advice Goddess column I just posted, Things That Go Bump In The Nightie, on how Freud The Fraud continues to damage many people, and why a good deal of his work should be understood what it is: invention and quackery from a man who needed treatment for his massive coke addiction, not near-deification by the psychiatric establishment for over a century.

Posted by aalkon at October 11, 2007 11:15 AM


There are a number of reasons I have been less than impressed with the "field" of "psychoanalysis". I put those terms in quotes because they don't seem to mean the same thing to any two people. One is that I noticed long ago that the magazine "Psychology Today" seemed to change its opinion about something with every other issue. Another is the apparent willingness to treat people as if they had no choice about anything they do, something that your pal Mr. Ellis has noticed isn't true. Excuses offered to continue the same destructive behaviors just don't impress me.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 11, 2007 2:07 AM

Psychology today is now being edited by my journalist friend Kaja Perina, and it's heads and tails above what it was. Her husband and my friend Nando Pelusi, whom I met when Ellis was sick and Nando filled in at the Friday night workshop, writes a really good column for the magazine combining Ellis' REBT and evolutionary psych research to explain and guide behavior.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 2:13 AM

My father is a behavioral psychologist in NJ who actually studied under Albert Ellis. I remember when I got into pyschology courses in college and began to learn about the differences between Freud and what my father did. I admire the intellectual achievments of Frued more than the actual theories, which get pretty silly at times. I asked my dad what he thought of psychoanalysis and why he chose to do behavioral, he put it very simply. "Psychoanalysis has never been proven to actually do anything."

Posted by: Flighty at October 11, 2007 6:25 AM

What's amazing is how much Freud is like religion. He was very emphatic that his way was right, but never showed evidence, and, in fact, simply made a lot of stuff up.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 7:19 AM

When I took a first year undergrad psych course 20 years ago the textbook made it clear that Freud was pretty much wrong on any major topic he covered. When I gave my sister a hard time a couple of years ago about how unscientific her field of therapy was, she said, "At least we're not using Freud anymore." So, my conclusion is that it's common knowledge in the field that his theories don't hold water.

However, there are rich, irrational people and someone has to separate them from their money.

Posted by: Shawn at October 11, 2007 7:37 AM

"So, my conclusion is that it's common knowledge in the field that his theories don't hold water. However, there are rich, irrational people and someone has to separate them from their money."

Ooh - nicely put, Shawn.

I like the following rather tart line from Ian McKewan's latest novel "On Chesil Beach" - the book is set very, very firmly in 1962 Britain: "While one heard of wealthier people going in for psychoanalysis, it was not yet customary to regard oneself in everyday terms as an enigma, as an exercise in narrative history, or as a problem waiting to be solved."

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 11, 2007 7:57 AM

People still hold Freud in high regard - the average person who doesn't question things. That's why, I think, the girl in the column I wrote felt so guilty about her dreams.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 7:59 AM

Freud was helpful because he got people thinking about psychological issues in a new way. But he was staggeringly wrongheaded about how people work. Are there really still therapists who use Freudian analysis? It's somewhat ironic for me to ask this, since I have a psych Ph.D., but I've only done experimental cognitive work and in grad school we tended not to hang with the clinical types much. But I don't recall anyone being a Freudian.

Posted by: justin case at October 11, 2007 8:35 AM

Because I'm a chatty broad, I meet shrinks, and yes, people are still using Freud. It's shocking.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 8:37 AM

I have to agree with justin case & Shawn - when I took Psychology courses, none of my professors endorsed Freud. They endorsed some of his thoughts about researching, but none of his actual therapies or "id, ego, superego" type thing. I think it's mostly the artsy types who go in for Freud more than anyone else. The idea of everything having an underlying (mostly sexual) meaning appealed greatly to my Literature teachers.

Posted by: CornerDemon at October 11, 2007 8:46 AM

You're fashion-mongering... It's like harshing Newton for not acknowledging the importance of sub-atomic particles, or like mocking Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley for not shopping at Kitson like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan do. It's embarrasing.

First, it's easy fruit. Yes, of course we know about these things than we did a century or a century and a half ago. Millions of brilliant people from dozens of cultures have been chipping away at those problems with logic's best tools, and with good budgets to boot. Of course we're farther along, and of course Freud's presumptions --both personal and ambient-- are being factored out of their consideration. The guy's been dead and wormy since before your mother was born... Had he been coming into the office to open his mail every day, who knows what he might have come up with? It's possible that you know more about human liberty than Lincoln did, but we're not going to put you on a penny, OK?

Secondly, Paglia, 1991-

"American feminism's nosedive began when Kate Millett declared Freud a sexist. Trying to build a sex theory without studying Freud, women have made nothing but mud pies. Freud is one of the major thinkers in world history. One reads him not for his conclusions, which were always tentative and in process, but for the bold play of his speculative intelligence. He shows you how to conceptualize, how to frame long, overarching arguments, how to verbalize ambiguous, nonverbal psychic phenomena. Reading him, you feel new tracks being cut in your brain. Cheap gibes about Freud, epidemic in women's studies, are symptoms of emotional juvenility. American feminists, sniveling about Freud without reading him, have sentenced themselves and their work to mediocrity and irrelevance."

Posted by: Crid at October 11, 2007 9:39 AM

But, I'm not whining that Freud was sexist. In my lifetime Freudian therapy is and has been seen as reasonable, and Freud's quack theories, and the fact that they haven't been discredited or discredited enough, are a source of misery for a lot of people.

I'm grateful to feminists who fought for equal rights, but I likewise find a great deal of "modern" feminism ridiculous and damaging.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 9:46 AM

Seriously, I think you've lost your way.

Posted by: Crid at October 11, 2007 9:50 AM

Why don't you critique Pasteur for not recommending the full 21st-century regimen of autoclaving and sterilization procedures from a modern operating theater?

It's profoundly silly.

The Model T had no seat belts! No That Henry Ford was a rat bastard, I tell ya. The Pierce Arrow had no airbags, and I'm just sick about it.

Posted by: Crid at October 11, 2007 9:54 AM

I knew I shouldn't have clicked. God, that was funny, Crid!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at October 11, 2007 9:54 AM

That was very funny.

As for the Pasteur/autoclaving comparison, people understand that sterilization is needed. Again, Freud is still not discredited or discredited enough for his quackery.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 10:39 AM

Frogwash. He's the first thing people read for a reason.

> people understand that
> sterilization is needed

They do now, don't they? And now, people understand that their are forces at work in their minds of which they're not consciously aware. Thanks, Sigster!

Posted by: Crid at October 11, 2007 10:49 AM

He should have stopped there. Read the column, the part about Dora at the end.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 11:02 AM

Three the-r's in that sentence, I only bungled one.

One last bicker: This guy was one of three revolutionary thinkers of those decades (four counting Mendel) who taught us stunning things about our own nature. If you want to get fussy over someone's faults, go after Marx. It was great to learn that man is essentially an economic animal, but all the sidecar stuff to that insight was hideous. From Each According to His Ability, to Each According to His Needs has done infinitely more damage to this planet than Tell Me About Your Mother.

I think you're slumming.

Posted by: Crid at October 11, 2007 11:24 AM

And I think you are, too, but I'll still respect you in the morning.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 11:30 AM

P.S. I do attack commie-think, of course.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 11:30 AM

Personal experience:

I went to a counselor who applied the Freud method. I went to see her for several months every week. She solved 0 of my problems.

Two years later (still having the same problems) I went to a psychiatrist who did not apply the Freud. She solved 50% of my problems in one session.

People wash their hands because they know about bacteria. Let's say people still washed their hands but they washed them because Pasteur said little elves and fairies lived in their shit, and they only way to kill them was by applying soap and water. What if my doctor applied this?

Posted by: PurplePen at October 11, 2007 11:40 AM

Thanks, Purple...precisely why it's important, still, to talk about what was wrong with Freud.

It's like talking about what's wrong with feminism, actually. I'm grateful to the women who fought for equal rights, but a few of these ladies really let things get out of hand. I think it's important to bring their idiocy and distortions to light.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 11:45 AM

P.S. Because of what I do, I'm a very good patient. I mostly solve my problems myself, but I was having an issue with my writing, and two years ago, in March, I flew to New York to see a therapist. (My friend Sue Shapiro wrote about him in her books, and because of that, I could see that he was wise -- and a therapist I find wise is hard to find.) It took about 20 minutes for him to set me straight. And then, I kept seeing him once a month via iChat just to make sure I was on target.

There are many people who are very invested in keeping the solving of psychological problems a big mystery, because it keeps the cash flowing their way. Solve somebody's problem, and then what? (Well, maybe they send you their friends?)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 11, 2007 11:48 AM

I think its a catch 22 for many. My experience is that by the time many people actually seek therapy, they are already way fucked up. Their rationality is messed up such that they can't/won't/don't consider the concept that there might be various types of help. There is the idea that there is just "therapy" and who knows what magic tricks are used to make it work. I'm not sure people actually attribute those tricks to Freud, Maslow or Santa Claus. So anything that helps the masses recognize there are different types of "magic" is good. (The lack of magic can be explained once they're rational.)

Only slightly on topic, but I was at the dentist today and despite my continued efforts (over years) to tell myself there is no danger and being able to avoid running from the chair screaming like a madwoman, my hands still shake, my temperature goes up and my sense of humor vanishes. Did Albert Ellis perhaps acknowledge some special rule about rational thought and dentists, or is it just me??

Posted by: moreta at October 11, 2007 12:27 PM

> There are many people who are
> very invested in keeping the
> solving of psychological
> problems a big mystery

So let's not be high-falutin' about it. Life is grim and frosty. My favorite passage from showbizness is from Bill Mahar: "Life is a swirling, sucking eddy of despair... The only illumination in our ever-blackening Universe is from fleeting glimpses of false hope."

There are a thousand workaday circumstances to soulcraft where we're compelled to say: 'You oughta get therapy for that.'

It's not that therapy is likely to help, it's just that Well fuck, I don't have any ideas that are likely to help this guy, do you? No. So, shit... Maybe he should talk to somebody or something....

Yes, psychotherapy is full of hucksters who couldn't pay attention beyond the first chapter (Freud!) of their textbooks. But that's half the battle of therapy, isn't it? If you're going to commit to it --which is not something I'm inclined to recommend-- it's incumbent upon you to find a person to give your money to who's an interpersonally-gifted, warm-hearted soul (with a knack for the latest booklearnin' besides).

Sure, there are a lot of people in the business who aren't so righteous. What do you want me, Joe Taxpayer, to do about it? ('Many invested in the mystery....') To the guy on the street, all that psychocheese sounds like horseshit anyway.

The problem isn't policy. (I think I'm going to have that engraved on my business card.)

Posted by: Crid at October 11, 2007 6:53 PM

One last time: "Washington owned slaves, man!"

Posted by: Crid at October 11, 2007 7:03 PM

Euclid, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, Faraday, the list of brilliant scientists whose work is still valid is long. Paglia makes Freud sound useful for philosophers and artists, but that doesn't make him a scientist.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at October 11, 2007 8:02 PM

Yeah, Freud's theories are mostly crap, but you have to, well, I guess you don't HAVE to, but I personally feel you should give him quite a bit of credit for the idea that there's a subconscious aspect to our thinking. It seems obvious now, but it was really quite a leap at the time. But, yeah, he should have quit while he was ahead.

As for the point of dreams, I agree with your friend- you spend what, like a third of your life asleep? Your mind needs something to do for all that time. Also, you need to hash out stuff you've dealt with that day that you maybe were too distracted or weren't ready to deal with consciously. I teach psychology at a local j.c., and we just did a dream analysis project- using theories from of course Freud and also Carl Jung, who was a student of Freud and a detractor, so was more content-related with his interpretations. Anyway, as for the dreams the students reported, my favorite was an 18 year old girl who dreamed that she was at a hotel with her boyfriend, who was represented by a big, sloppy dog, and all her exes- represented by a row of suitcases. I don't know about you, but I don't need Freud to tell me the meaning of that one.

Posted by: Allison at October 11, 2007 9:38 PM

Civilization would be so much better if only the people who forged it could be nice!

Posted by: Crid at October 11, 2007 10:04 PM

my favorite was an 18 year old girl who dreamed that she was at a hotel with her boyfriend, who was represented by a big, sloppy dog, and all her exes- represented by a row of suitcases

Interesting. I dreamt that I was in hotel with my ex-girlfriend who was attempting to skin me to make a suitcase.

I'm still trying to decipher that one.

Posted by: Gog_Magog_Carpet_Reclaimers at October 13, 2007 12:50 PM

Aaron Beck's daughter, Dr. Judith Beck, applied CBT to weight loss. She wrote an excellent book titled, "Think Like a Thin Person." It isn't a diet, it's brain-retraining, and it's amazing. After reading that, I bought Ellis's Guide to Rational Living--this stuff's the real deal.

Amy's spot-on with her advocacy of Albert Ellis--CBT beats the shit out of Freudian therapy.

Posted by: Kristen at October 16, 2007 7:26 AM

"Psychology today is now being edited by my journalist friend Kaja Perina, and it's heads and tails above what it was. Her husband and my friend Nando Pelusi, whom I met when Ellis was sick and Nando filled in at the Friday night workshop, writes a really good column for the magazine combining Ellis' REBT and evolutionary psych research to explain and guide behavior. "

Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for that. I actually got into an internet squabble with her because I complained on a psychoanalysis list what superficial junk "Psychology Today" has deteriorated into.

I think I'll post a quiz on elementary Freud on this blog, if you don't mind. I'll eat my hat if anyone can answer even half.

As for Crews, the guy is mentally ill and a liar to boot. The reason nobody realizes he is a liar is that everybody takes his book as gospel,but nobody reads Freud. Nobody likes poor old Freud anymore. He didn't flatter us enough. However, if Freud was alive he could sue, blue and tattoo Crews.

Posted by: larry at October 21, 2007 10:57 PM

Freudian therapy helps people how? Cures people of what? Except, of course, having bank accounts full of cash.

The fact that you're on a "psychoanalysis list" says it all. Do you also drive a horse and buggy?

Well, perhaps that's not fair. Those things actually got you places, just more slowly.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 22, 2007 12:20 AM

And, for the record, like most of the people I become friends with, Kaja became my friend because I respect her mind and judgment, and she later became editor of the magazine. I met her at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society Conference years back.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 22, 2007 12:24 AM

Yes, it's true. I am a bit old fashion. I still believe Copernicus was right, as well as Darwin. I'll tell you how regressive I am: I still believe a lot of things Ptolemy had to say.

I'm willing to listen, though, in spite of the fact that your arguments, like those of Crews, tend to get personal. After all, this is your website and I'm a guest. What's more, I will answer your question as to how Freudian theory has helped people:

Ninty percent of all modern psychotherapy is derived from Freud's model. CBT is blatant about this. Aaron Beck admits it up front.

Freud is still required reading for psychiatry residents in American medical schools and all over the world. Jung is optional.

Freud's work on aphasia is a classic that is still required reading for neurology residents all over the world.

Freud's insistence that homosexuality is neither a perversion or an illness has finally become mainstream after decades of resistance by the American Psychological Association.

Freud's insistence that there is no difference between the intellectual capacity of men and women has finally become mainstream after decades of resistance by academic neurology.

I'll list some more if you wish, but the main point I want to make is that scorn is cheap. You are a clever woman, and your ad-hominems are a delight, but you are going to end up outsmarting yourself. Unless, of course, you actually are smarter than Camille Paglia. I would pay tickets to see a debate between you and her.

Posted by: Larry at October 23, 2007 11:05 AM

Incidentally; I'm going to do you a favor so you don't embarrass yourself anymore. "Sigmund Fraud" is not too original. It is, in fact, an ancient cliche. Everybody says that to me. They smile and smirk and think they are being oh-so-clever. Little do they know.

Posted by: larry at October 23, 2007 11:24 AM

Dude, it's blog item I wrote in five minutes; I'm not getting a book advance for it. But, feel free to contribute $100 to my Paypal or Amazon, and I'll spend more time thinking up the headline to the next one.

At the moment, I'm on deadline. I'll deal with your crapthink above later.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 23, 2007 1:03 PM

Cool. I don't think anyone would want to buy tickets for that though. I'm an amateur. I mow lawns for a living. You can't win. If you outfox me it will be a wasted effort. If I cream you, though, it will be a total humiliation.

Posted by: Larry at October 23, 2007 1:21 PM

And one more validation of Freud to add to your list:

Scientists sneered and scoffed at Freud for insisting that inherent brain functions could be changed, and even passed down through generations, by psychological events. Lamarckian evolution! Haw haw haw!

It looks like Freud has been validated in another way too. One day he got pissed off and called the juvenile self-inflated tools who laughed at him jackasses.

Posted by: larry at October 24, 2007 9:31 PM

Hey! Look what they say about you in Wikipedia:

"In her daily life, and in her online blog, Alkon campaigns against SUVs, calling them a compensation for a tiny penis."

You sure as hell don't reject everything Freud had to say do you. When Freudian theory is unflattering to other people it's OK. Right?

Posted by: larry at October 24, 2007 10:37 PM

Larry, it's a joke. I realize you have to grasp for anything you can.

Ninty percent of all modern psychotherapy is derived from Freud's model.

Oh, please. Not even going to bother disputing the 90 percent number. I realize you're kind of a Freudian buttlick, but the argument that something is good because lots of people do it is just too lame to even worry about.

But, I do have to ask: Which model, the one where he makes shit up about patients, probably based on his own sexual problems, and convinces them they're sick?

Don't you have a lawn to mow?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 24, 2007 11:26 PM

I'm not mowing lawns today. The air quality in California is unhealthy because of the fires.

As for the the ninty percent; that is conservative. I was awarding ten percent to ECT and hypnosis. Zero percent goes to medication.

As for your childlike understanding of penis envy; did you ever consider that men who accuse you might be joking too? Or perhaps those men are as incredibly ignorant of the subject as you are? I don't even know where to begin.

Ummmm, OK: Among small children there is a universal theory that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who possess sex organs and those who don't. Both boys and girls believe girls had theirs cut off because they were bad. Little girls fervently believe that if they are really, really good--sugar and spice,etc. they will get their sex organs back when they grow up.

GROWN WOMEN DO NOT HAVE PENIS ENVY. That shit goes away at the end of the phallic phase. Grown women are proud of their genitals. I love women who like to display these.

There may be a residue of penis envy in dreams and neurotic symptoms, but that's it.

By the way; if you had any sense you would be licking Freud's ass instead of your own. He was the one who was the most responsible for the liberation of women. Before he came along it was widely believed that the only women who had libido were "nymphomaniacs." And no women had brains.

Posted by: Larry at October 25, 2007 9:38 AM

Incidentally; do you really believe this?

"But, I do have to ask: Which model, the one where he makes shit up about patients, probably based on his own sexual problems, and convinces them they're sick? "

That is pitiful. It reminds me of an ignorant aborigine's perception of a cigarette lighter. Ooga booga! That rude Freudian scholar who you met at Starbucks was flattering you. At least he used the term "intellectual."

Do you know that Freud was the one who said everybody has neurotic symptoms. It's the admission fee to civilization. The cutoff between mental health and mental illness is this: If your symptoms interfere with your ability to work or love, you need help. Otherwise you don't.

Posted by: Larry at October 25, 2007 10:07 AM

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