These are just a few of the things one hears about Freud and psychoanalysis these days. To many people psychoanalysis is no longer valid, either as a system of thought or a form of psychotherapy.
As a licensed psychoanalyst, I often find myself having to justify using psychoanalytic theory or therapy, and I gladly do so, for I think both are indeed still valid. I say, Lets not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Freud made many monumental discoveries that continue to be important and valid. He discovered the unconscious mind and, by implication, nonverbal communication. He discovered the unconscious defense mechanisms such as repression, projection, denial, and compensation, which are now part of our everyday speech. He discovered the Oedipus complex and all its ramifications. He discovered transference and resistance and he was a pioneer in the study of narcissism, both in individuals and groups.
In addition, many of the criticisms of Freud are based on emotional reactions to things he said that were truths they wanted to keep buried in their unconscious. Arguments dismissing him because he was a Victorian, for example, are ad hominem refutations–that is, attacks on his character rather than calm reasoning about his research and conclusions. These ad hominem dismissals of his work have taken on a life of their own over the years and have come to be seen as indisputable fact.
Not that Freud was completely right. Psychoanalysts today have made many modifications both in theory and in how we do therapy. I think the therapy, in particular, is still quite valid and underpins most kinds of talk therapy. We no longer see patients 6 days a week, as Freud did. I currently see many patients twice a week, once in individual therapy and once in group therapy. Nor do we use psychoanalysis for every patient. Each patient dictates his or her own interventions. Cognitive or behavioral therapy is more successful with some.
In Freuds day, patients came for a year, six days a week, and then were pronounced cured. Today patients continue in treatment for years, and there is no finite end to the therapy. Patients terminate therapy not because they are cured, but because they decide, along with the therapist, that they have found enough balance and inner strength to function successfully in their personal and professional lives.
The most valid thing, and the thing that makes psychoanalytic therapy stand out from other therapies, is the therapy relationship. In psychoanalytic therapy, the therapy relationship is seen as the key to progress.
A patient can talk about whats going on in his life, but that is second hand. When he talks about his thoughts and feelings about the therapist, he is being more direct. Often, the biggest turning points come when the patient acts out the transference. For example, he unconsciously sees his therapist as a demanding parent who is trying to control him. He starts threatening to quit the therapy, making up excuses about not having money. The therapist bides his time. One day the patient angrily says he is quitting. The therapist says that will be fine.
So youre not even going try to talk me out of it!
The patient suddenly becomes incensed. Youre just like my father. He didnt care about me and you dont either! The therapist waits. The patient suddenly looks away thoughtfully. Right then, at that moment, the patient finally becomes clear about something.
The anger that Ive been feeling toward you is really meant for my father, the patient finally admits. And he is able to make an important distinction, in therapy, and then out of therapy. It is through the psychoanalytic relationship that change occurs.