Psychotherapy reading list (or, Should I go into therapy?)

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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 .

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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.

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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
at.

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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.

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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
abuse.

Masson again shows a deep understanding of what psychoanalysis is all
about.

Buy on Amazon

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.

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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.

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Propaganda in the Telegraph

Just so that readers don’t think this paper only identifies propaganda in the Guardian here is a nice example of Western media propaganda in the Daily Telegraph. The story is about a new Russian tank – which the Russians are, admittedly, pretty pleased about.

The article drips with propaganda. Here are a few snippets:

There is growing alarm among military chiefs that a presidential victory for Donald Trump, who has criticised US funding of Nato, could leave the West badly exposed to Vladimir Putin’s aggression, especially in the vulnerable Baltic states

This is an excellent example of how worst case military planning is rapidly translated into the basis for action. Yes; Mr Trump could win the US Presidential election. And it is conceivable, just, that that would see some kind of decrease in US support for NATO. Theoretically. But all this is in reality highly unlikely. Then this unlikely scenario is matched to the faked narrative about “Vladimir Putin’s aggression”. No such ‘aggression’ exists. (Crimea might be cited but that was a rational action with a strong historical basis, validated by a referendum – whose results have been confirmed twice by Western polling organisations. More than 50% of the population of Crimea is ethnically Russian. [1] Crimea was part of Russia – not the USSR, but Russia – until it was transferred by Krushchev to Ukraine in 1954 as an administrative matter. Russia only annexed Crimea after a coup in Kiev swung Ukraine towards the EU and NATO; a move which disenfranchised the people in the East who are much less pro the EU than those in the West and centre of Ukraine. The West may not like it; but there is an abundance of rational reasons for Russia’s annexation of Crimea. And so, it doesn’t qualify as the kind of irrational aggression proposed by the narrative about “Russian aggression”). [2] Then we have the fiction about “vulnerable Baltic states”. As if Russia is about to suddenly invade Latvia. As Putin commented “only a madman in his dreams would attack NATO”. [3] What evidence is there that Russia is about to invade the Baltics? Yes; the USSR under Stalin did do this in 1940. But today? Even if Russia wanted to suddenly invade the Baltics as Putin notes it would be madness… “Vulnerable Baltic states” is a piece of fiction invented by the UK’s Defence sector, a fiction, which the lacklustre political class simply go along with. Notice how these narrative lines, about “Putin’s aggression” and “vulnerable Baltic states” are just cited as self-evident truths. This is how it works; rarely will you see in the Western media a serious analytic article explaining why or how “Putin” is “aggressive” or seriously assessing the likelihood of a Russian invasion of the Baltics. They just repeat these lines and hope that by the act of repetition they will be taken as true. In reality this is an exercise in self-hypnosis.

The line about “Putin’s aggression” is the characteristic attempt  to develop the idea that “Putin” is a dictator over-lording it over his tyrannised population who are, in fact, all Western liberals at heart. It is an attempt to deny the democratic reality. Putin is a popular President who has been elected because he (popular touch if you like) has managed to promote a vision which is acceptable, at least, to a lot of Russians.

Analysis for Western military leaders has suggested Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all Nato member states – would be overrun by Russian tanks within 60 hours of an invasion.

Quite possibly true. But, again, this is a case of worst case military planning being taken as imminent political reality.

The Ukrainian government estimates that Russian-backed separatists in their country have 700 tanks

Ukrainian government claims regarding the conflict in the East and Russian support for the militants should be treated with a degree of caution. The Western media usually takes all statements from Kiev as de facto true.

Lord West of Spithead, a former First Sea Lord, said he was “very concerned” about Russian rearmament. “At the moment, their economy is a war economy,” he said. “They have got the GDP of Italy and they are trying to spend the same on defence as America. What they are doing is unsupportable and when something is unsupportable, then anything could happen.

Lord Spitfire is simply wrong. The Russians are not “trying to spend the same on defence as America”. The US spends around 3.5% of its GDP on defence – a sum of around USD 570 billion. [4] Russia spends around 4.5% [5] (or 5.4%) [4] of its GDP. Out of a GDP of USD 1 – 2 trillion Russia spends perhaps USD 65 billion. [5] The figures for Russia are variable because of the current contraction in the economy and fall of the currency caused by sanctions and the collapse in oil prices. At any event it is not true, not even remotely true, that Russia is “trying to spend the same on defence as America”. For example; the US has 10 or 11 aircraft carriers. Russia has one; a small one.  The US has bases all around the world to maintain. Russia has hardly any bases outside of its own territory. The role of journalists should be to comment on obviously false claims, not repeat them. Furthermore; Russian state media currently report that the Russian defence budget is being cut. [6]

A typical piece of Western hyperbole. Based on quotes from delirious generals and repeating fictions about “Putin’s aggression”. Analysis is entirely absent.

Notes

1. Wikipedia article on Crimea with ethnicity figures sourced to Ukrainian census data

2. New Obs on Crimea.

3. RT. June 2015. Putin “only a madman in a dream would attack NATO”

4. Forbes magazine. Arms spending as percentage of GDP.

5. Wikipedia article on comparative defence spending as percentage of GDP.

6. Sputnik. February 2016.

 

Through the prism of moral depravity

This is an excellent article by Britain’s leading sociologist, Professor Frank Furedi, discussing the latest (at the time of writing) absurd spectacle in the retrospective search for child abusers. (Oh, gosh, we all believe them that they didn’t see them at the time). This is the smearing of dead Prime Minister Ted Heath.

Frank Furedi has his finger on the pulse with the authorities’ obsession with paedophilia. As he says in this piece:

But it’s important to understand that the attempt to demonise Heath is not an aberration from the general pattern, or an unusual, one-off case. The current cultural obsession with abuse, and its intersection with anxieties about a conspiracy of elite paedophiles, has acquired a powerful dynamic. It is fuelled by an imagination that continually sees the worst in human behaviour and which compulsively looks at relations between people, and between generations, through the prism of moral depravity.

Yes. “constantly sees the worst in human behaviour” and encourages people to see all relations between adults and young people “through the prism of moral depravity”.

This has several boons for the authorities:

  1. It legitimizes depravity. Convenient for those in authority with depraved minds.
  2. It destroys normal relations in the community between young people and adults. Any such relation is now suspect. This is politically useful. Such relations (as in youth work) are potentially critical and potentially revolutionary. By smearing such relations with the brush of potential paedophilia the authorities effectively shut them down. When they do take place they now take place in a space characterized by surveillance and caution. This space is much more suited to use to communicate pro-corporate messages rather than a freer environment in which democratic messages could be more easily communicated.
  3. This means that any youth work or education done outside of state regulated environments is now suspect and can be closed down on “Safeguarding” grounds. For example Ofsted uses concerns about “Safeguarding” to attempt to shut down non-regulated schools. [1] There was an attempt to use “Safeguarding” to shut down Home-schooling. [2] (In the 19th century when mass state schooling was getting under way the authorities used concerns about outside lavs as an excuse to close down schools outside their system). [3]
  4. Those with the most depraved minds can now cast aspersions on others, enjoy the taste of their own depraved imaginations, and claim to be moral crusaders all at the same time.