The method of psychoanalysis is most often confused with the various theories or doctrines or schools of psychoanalysis, a confusion that began with Freud himself. One of the reasons for the confusion is a tendency to overgeneralize empirical data of observation, converting them into universal theories of causation. The two best-known examples of such zealous generalizing as to cause of disorder were (1) Freud's theory of the sexual etiology of the neuroses and (2) his so-called seduction theory. Regarding the first, both adult and infantile sexuality are ubiquitous phenomena, and can act as a potential cause of mental disorder; but to qualify as an actual-both sufficient and efficient-cause, it has to be clinically demonstrated in a given case. The same goes for aggression or any other dynamic motivational factor. Viruses are everywhere, but they do not cause a manifest viral illness by their mere presence in us, and when they do, it must be clinically proven, other cofactors considered. Therefore, sexuality does play a decisive role in many cases, but not uniformly in all cases. Regarding seduction theory, in 1896 Freud discussed seduction and sexual trauma, i.e., the traumatic arousal of infantile sexuality by abusive manipulations, or seductions, of parents and others, as a ubiquitous cause of neurosis. In 1897 Freud realized, to his own dismay, he had overstated the causal role of childhood seduction as an actual remembered experience, since patients confessed to having fabricated such stories. In 1905 Freud still held infantile sexual trauma as fact, but added other factors to the equation of childhood sexual experiences: spontaneous sexual activity, e.g., masturbation and the associated guilt and shame, thus the compensatory fantasies of being seduced.
Freud never claimed that seduction does not exist. He entitled a chapter in Wolf Man (1918) "The seduction and its immediate consequences." Elsewhere (in a 1924 footnote to the 1896 paper and in his papers on female sexuality of 1931), Freud reaffirmed the reality of seduction. This sketchy account shows that Freud's error was to posit childhood seduction, i.e., childhood sexual trauma, as a universal cause of disorder, and he duly corrected this impression. It is thus amazing that analysts still maintain, erroneously, that the seduction theory is dead, that Freud's bad theory was replaced by a better theory, i.e., the sexual drive theory and the oedipus complex.
Freud never gave up the seduction theory (Lothane 1987), for there is no causal contradiction but a requisite complementarity between spontaneous childhood sexuality and the premature sexual arousal of children when used as incestuous sexual objects. It was never an either/or proposition between a memory of an actual event or a fabrication of one, but the subtle interplay of perception and fantasy, impression and impulse, fantasy and memory, which happens to us all and in all ages. This is what Freud-bashers fail to understand.Freud -Bashing
Freud critic J.M. Masson (1976) stated that Freud never abrogated the seduction theory. However, in 1981, The New York Times reported that Masson accused Freud of cowardliness and dishonesty for abandoning the seduction theory! Clearly, it was not Freud but Masson who changed his mind, and without offering a clear explanation. What got analysts even more incensed was a comment in Masson's "revelations": He accused psychoanalysis of being sterile, and that hurt. Understandably, analysts retaliated, and the resulting furor became grist for fascinating copy by Janet Malcolm in The New Yorker, creating a media circus.
Masson's accusations of Freud climaxed in his 1984 strident best-seller, The Assault on Truth. But it was Freud who was assaulted and truth lost out. Masson may have actually believed he was trying to heal psychoanalysis; what he succeeded in doing was to usher in an era of Freud-bashing. In an antipsychiatry book of 1988 Masson went so far as to issue a "battle cry" for the abolition of psychotherapy. He might as well have promoted the abolition of parenthood.
None of Freud's numerous theories were found thornier than his sexual theory of neurosis and sexuality and his prescription for sexual happiness in society, expounded in 1905 and 1908, respectively. They provoked bashing, defined as hurling hard verbal abuse at a person or group with a view to discredit and destroy, by prominent colleagues such as Aschaffenburg, Hoche and Krafft-Ebing. Ad hominem attacks on Freud, as well, ensued. In a 1992 book, E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., claimed that Freud's sexual theories had the malignant effect of destroying American sexual morality. Nevertheless, he also found some good things to say.
The strategy of the current crop of Freud-bashers is to assault as evil both Freud and his psychoanalytic method, relentlessly and implacably. The front-runner in this crusade is literature professor Frederick Crews, formerly a pro-Freudian, thus a variation on the theme of "the God that failed." Crews' Freud-bashing rhetoric, filled with emotionality, seizes upon Freud's occasional cognitive or ethical lapses, or mistakes in interpreting cases. Under the cover of Esterson's thin revisionist thesis that the seduction theory, as "the myth of the birth of psychoanalysis," became the "founding of psychoanalysis per se," Crews argues that both the "feminists and the defenders of children [who hold]...that those stories [of sexual abuse] were true have been drastically misled." Is Crews denying the reality of child abuse, which Freud clearly stated in his 1896 paper? The culprit is Freud himself, alleges Crews, "[who] laid down the outlines of the seduction plots, which he then fleshed out from the 'clues' supplied by his bewildered and frightened patients, whose signs of distress he took to be proof that his constructions were correct." Although "it may seem wonderful," mocks Crews, "that [Freud] was able to let go of his seduction theory at all," in truth Freud was so beset with a "severe problem with reality testing, dishonesty and cowardice" that, in desperation, he replaced the phony seduction theory with another phony theory, to wit: "in their fantasy life, [patients] and every other child who ever breathed had been the would-be seducers of their opposite-sex parents."
What is the moral of this story? Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis are here to stay. Moreover, the current either/or between biological and psychodynamic psychiatry, between dialogue and drugs, is another pseudoissue: there is a need for both, there will always be a dynamic psychiatry.