Sunday, May 14, 2006

Freudian pseudoscience

NY Times letter:
Freud and His Legacy (1 Letter)
Published: May 14, 2006
To the Editor:

In "The Inside Man" (Op-Ed, May 7), William H. Gass commemorates Sigmund Freud's 150th birthday and very properly marks the enormous impact that the psychoanalysis innovated by Freud has had on the intellectual and cultural life of our world for more than a century.

I take issue, however, with his unsupported statement that the world has scarcely noticed that "this therapy -- which took so long and cost so much -- wasn't curing anybody."

What would Mr. Gass assert to be the basis for this view? Certainly the perspective of the more than 10,000 members of the International Psychoanalytical Association, plus the thousands more other psychoanalytically based mental health practitioners, would give ample evidence to the contrary, as would so many of their patients.

For the more questioning, I can readily cite very substantial and ever growing documented formal research to support this statement.

Robert S. Wallerstein, M.D.
Belvedere, Calif., May 7, 2006
The writer is a former president of the American Psychoanalytic Association and the International Psychoanalytical Association.
Wallerstein's defense of Freud is so lame that it is comical. It is true that Freudian therapy does not cure anyone. Wallerstein's gripe is that the statement is "unsupported", but he fails to give any support to his contrary view. He merely says that he could cite research. So why doesn't he?

His letter doesn't have much space for argument, but he could certainly cite a published article or a web site. It means very little to just cite the existance of people trying to exploit deluded mental patients. It is about like citing Scientologists.

I did find where Wallerstein wrote an article surveying the history of empirical research on the effectiveness of Freudian therapy. You can read it yourself, but it sounds to me like he found that nothing works better than anything else. Here is one of the stronger findings:
The most striking finding of the Columbia studies was that across every patient category, measured therapeutic benefit always substantially exceeded measured evolved analytic process. However, as with the Boston study, the outcomes, in terms of both therapeutic benefit and analyzability, were only marginally predictable from initial evaluation.
This is just gibberish. If he really had good evidence, then he would spell it out.

Rolling Stone magazine says:
Scientology holds that the entire field of neurological and mental-health research -- from Freud to the study of brain chemistry -- is pseudoscience. In Scientology's overview text, What Is Scientology?, psychiatry is described as a "hodgepodge of unproven theories that have never produced any result -- except an ability to make the unmanageable and mutinous more docile and quiet, and turn the troubled into apathetic souls beyond the point of caring."
But Scientology has its own kooky Freudian beliefs:
Published in 1950, Dianetics maintained that the source of mental and physical illness could be traced back to psychic scars called "engrams" that were rooted in early, even prenatal, experiences, and remained locked in a person's subconscious, or "reactive mind." To rid oneself of the reactive mind, a process known as going "Clear," Dianetics, and later Scientology, preached a regressive-therapy technique called auditing, which involves re-experiencing incidents in one's past life in order to erase their engrams.
This is more pseudoscience. There is no scientific evidence that psychic scars are locked in a person's subconscious.

(BTW, this Robert Wallerstein is unrelated to the Judith Wallerstein whom I criticized on this blog previously, as far as I know. They just happen to be pseudoscientific quacks with the same last name.)

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