Psychotherapy reading list (or, Should I go into therapy?)
Against Therapy, Jeffrey Masson, Flamingo 1992
To my mind Masson is a genius. A timely critique of psychotherapy. He looks
at the historical roots of therapy and present day practice and finds
dishonesty everywhere. He doesn’t offer an alternative and those reading this
book who are ‘in’ therapy may feel he isn’t addressing them. It is not a selfhelp
book; though he does tentatively suggest that supportive groups of
people who have had similar experiences offering self-help is the best way to
provide support .
Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis, Richard
Webster, Fontana 1996
Quite a long book. In parts excellent. Webster carries out a detailed forensic
examination of the letters and texts of Freud and demonstrates his lying. The
book contains some shocking material about the ‘cocaine episode’ –
something not widely advertised by psychotherapy. Freud recommended a
cocaine treatment for a case of morphine addiction and when the patient
became addicted to cocaine as well did not admit this but rather claimed the
treatment a success. Even more shocking is the case of the botched surgery
he arranged for a young girl apparently based on some mistaken ideas about
the role of the nose in some neuroses. Webster argues that Freud had a
deep-seated psychological need to become famous and wealthy and
distorted his work repeatedly until he found a way to do this.
There is also a clear and convincing though theoretical exposition of the
dynamics at play between a psychoanalyst and their patient.
Really, this book can’t be praised enough. There are two matters I would take
issue with; having done irreparable damage to psychoanalysis Webster
concludes rather strangely that he isn’t against all psychotherapy and some is
quite good. Since most modern psychotherapy has its roots in Freudian
analysis this is odd. Secondly, he states that anyone who says that Freud has
some merit is making the mistake of still holding on to some ‘residual piety’ .
He doesn’t really demonstrate this; to show that Freud lied about matters, that
his theories tend to depend on a kind of circular logic where Freudian theories
are used to interpret material which is then used to prove the theories, to
show that his patients didn’t recover is all great. But it doesn’t totally demolish
all of Freud’s insights. I found myself reading the passages from Freud which
Webster quotes and often thinking that there were psychological insights here
of some value – while not accepting the system (or religion as Webster might
have) of the psychoanalytic church.
Webster ends with a call for a new kind of ‘holistic positivism’. While claiming
to be a positivist he does offer a correction – which allows what some might
call common-sense or intuition to guide empirical science. I haven’t done this
part of the book justice I am aware.
Despite its faults a devastating take-down of psychoanalysis.
Therapy Culture, Frank Furedi, Routledge 2004
An insightful work of force and scholarship. A profound critique of
contemporary culture. Furedi looks at how emotionalism and the values of
therapy are becomming pervasive. He argues that far from this being an
emotional liberation the tendency to ‘get it out into the open’ is in fact a way of
making emotions shallow. He argues that the professionalisation of emotional
handling (how often do we read of survivors of any disaster that they are
‘receiving counselling’?) is linked to a process of targeting informal relations.
All this contributes to a diminished sense of selfhood.
His critics from within the psychotherapy camp say that Furedi is being
‘nostalgic for the fifties’ but this slinging an emotional ‘diagnosis’ at him rather
than offering a rational criticism seems rather to support Furedi’s view of the
trivialisation inherent in ‘Therapy culture’.
This book is essential reading for anyone trying to understand where we are
H. J. Eysenck, Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire, 1985
Written from the point of view of a behaviourist. I was surprised by the
imagination and humanity of this work. Eysenck offers a very useful critique of
Freudian dream theory and a general overview of the unscientific nature of
psychoanalysis without sounding like he does not value the realm of literature
and art. In itself a sufficient take-down of psychoanalysis.
Jeffey Masson, The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the
Seduction Theory, Ballantine Books 2003
Freud’s initial theory of hysteria and neurosis was the somewhat astonishing
claim that these always resulted from childhood seduction – what we would
now call child sexual abuse. Subsequently he changed this theory; the
seductions his patients had described to him were in fact phantasies. The
theory finally emerged as the Oedipal theory; children phantasise about
sexual union with the parent of the opposite sex, development involves a
healthy repression of these feelings. Neurosis occurs when the repression
goes wrong in some way. Masson argues that the dropping of the seduction
theory marks a shift in Freud’s work from pioneer to fraud. The seduction
theory was unpopular and unlikely to bring him many friends. This is an
important work; psychoanalysis and in its soft-packaging variant of
psychotherapy continues to this day (despite appearances to the contrary) to
ignore the abuse suffered by patients and indeed often to perpetrate further
Masson again shows a deep understanding of what psychoanalysis is all
Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, (1887. Various editions. e.g. Oxford
World Classics, 1996)
In the third essay ‘What is the meaning of Ascetic Ideals’ Nietzsche offers a
critique of Christian priests. The underlying context is his theory of two
moralities; a morality of the noble, ascendant, people and a different morality
of the slaves, the downtrodden and humble. He describes the priest as the
guardian of the ascetic ideal, an ideal which ” is derived from the protective
and healing instincts of a degenerating life”. This essay is intended as a
criticism of the ascetic ideal and its embodiment in the person of the Christian
priest. Without any changes at all the criticism rings out too against
psychotherapy. The priest offers consolation, he “renders the sick to a certain
extentharmless” (Chp. 16, p107 in above edition), he uses an excess of
emotion to anaesthetize pain, he enjoins people to feel a Christian love of
their neighbour. This all comes from weakness and a degenerating life-force,
not strength. From Nietzsche’s point of view (were he to have lived to see the
rise of psychotherapy) psychotherapy can be seen perhaps as the last gasp
of Christian, ascetic, morality.
Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deluze and Félix Guattari, 1984 The Athlone Press
A difficult work which presumes some knowledge of psychoanalytic trends.
The essential critique seems to be that the productions of the unconscious
are first and foremost just that – the productions of ‘desiring machines’. The
authors eschew the interpretative approach which is used in their view to
castrate patients. The Oedipal theory is seen as a chain, hung round the neck
of the patient – something which he must conform too to get better. In fact
while the parents are important to the child they are not the sole points of
reference for the child’s developing libido, there is no three-point system in
reality. The child engages with all the world. The prevalence of the Oedipal
theory in psychoanalysis is linked to a de-historicisation in psychoanalysis.
It isn’t clear to me if the authors believe in psychoanalysis but are trying to
purge it of the Oedipal theory or whether they don’t accept psychoanalysis at
all. I will expand this review later.