Tag Archives: Freud

Psychoanalytic and Spiritual Compatibility: A Friday Evening Spiritual Reading

Rainbow 2017As we roll through the revisions in our Theories text, we’re adding a short section in each chapter on spirituality. This seems important partly because spirituality is so meaningful to so many people and partly because counseling and psychotherapy is often viewed as at odds with or contrary to religious beliefs. Of course, this new integration might also be related to Rita’s ongoing blog titled, Short Visits with an Honest God. Check it out at: https://godcomesby.com/

In this sneak peek of the 3rd edition, we briefly (very briefly) discuss Freud, psychoanalytic approaches, and religion/spirituality. Our purpose isn’t to go into greata detail, but to offer students a taste of spiritual integration in counseling and psychotherapy.

As always, if you have any reactions, please feel free to share them using your preferred communication modality.

Spirituality and the Psychoanalytic Approach

Freud was no fan of religion. He often referred to himself as a “Godless Jew.” Gay (1978) wrote that Freud “advertised his unbelief every time he could find, or make, an opportunity” (p. 3). Freud (1918) viewed religious beliefs as irrational, projective, and regressive. In return, most religious people are no fans of Freud. Casey (1938) captured some of the disdain early psychoanalysts held toward religion, “Even in the higher religions with their impressive theological facades there is always . . . a myth, a rule of piety, a cult, which is rationalized but which neither begins nor ends with reason” (p. 445).

Despite this rather poor start, contemporary psychoanalytic theorists and practitioners have made strides in accepting religion and integrating spirituality into psychotherapy. A common psychoanalytic position is that religious and spiritual experiences are meaningful and therefore deserve the same level of analysis and respect as sexuality, family relationships, work, and other life domains (Rizzuto & Shafranske, 2013). This respectful stance toward religious experiences is relatively new and exciting territory for practitioners who want to integrate religion and spirituality into psychoanalytic approaches.

As one example, Rizzuto and Shafranske (2013) wrote that, “God representations always involve a representation of the self in relationship with the sacred” (p. 135). They view client disclosures about religion as opportunities to attain a deeper and more useful understanding of clients. God representations are not only respected, but also explored as multidimensional components of human experience that can exert both positive and negative influence on individual’s lives. They believe, “Religion and spirituality can serve as a foundation for the healthy appreciation of the self and for the resolution of psychic pain and trauma” (p. 142). Clearly, this perspective plays better with religious clients than beginning with an assumption, like Freud, that all religious views and experiences are immature and irrational.

Psychoanalytic Endings

JSF Travel

Psychoanalytic therapists have a penchant for drama. They speak of psychotherapy termination as metaphorical death; they see sexual objects everywhere. The rest of us are, rather disappointingly, seeing trees and rocks and designer boots, while the psychoanalysts get to see, well, you know what they get to see.

You say you dreamt of rocks? What sort of rocks? Might they have been egg-shaped? Or perhaps you saw the sandy bottom of a river covered with little fishes? Could it have been a salmon hatch? Perhaps all this represents your unconscious longing for fertility. But what if you don’t really wish for more children; instead you’re pining for the unmitigated proliferation of all your excellent ideas? Like maybe you’re fantasizing an NPR interview where you get to talk on and on about obstruction of justice. Or just a cameo where you get to comment on who’s really the grand-stander.

Or maybe, yesterday, you just gazed a little too much at the Stillwater River, and so you dreamt of rocks and little fish?

Better yet, maybe both are true.

But I digress.

Like all chapters in our theories textbook, the psychoanalytic chapter has to end. But it doesn’t want to. It wants to drone on and on because it has so many important points to make. One of those points involves closing the chapter with a few fascinating historical comments about Freud. But some people contend that having “Concluding Comments” and a “Chapter Summary” is redundant. But other people don’t think so. If you’ve gotten this far and are still with me, you be the judge. Are the following “Concluding Comments” worthwhile?

Concluding Comments

Anyone whose collected works fill 24 volumes is likely to have—as we psychoanalytically informed mental health professionals like to say—“achievement issues.” Dr. Freud might even accept this interpretation. He sort of said it himself, “A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success” (E. E. Jones, 1953, p. 5).

Judging him based on his own theoretical perspective, Freud suffered from some Oedipus conflicts, and these were, in part, manifest in his intense striving for recognition. It may have been his penchant for stature that caused him to invent and then recant his seduction theory.

In 1937, 2 years before Janet’s death, Edouard Pichon, Pierre Janet’s son-in-law, wrote to Freud, asking him to visit with Janet. Freud responded:

No, I will not see Janet. I could not refrain from reproaching him with having behaved unfairly to psychoanalysis and also to me personally and never having corrected it. He was stupid enough to say that the idea of sexual aetiology for the neuroses could only arise in the atmosphere of a town like Vienna. Then when the libel was spread by French writers that I had listened to his lectures and stolen his ideas he could with a word have put an end to such talk, since actually I never saw him or heard his name in the Charcot time: he has never spoken this word. You can get an idea of his scientific level from his utterance that the unconscious is une facon de parler. No I will not see him. I thought at first of sparing him the impoliteness by the excuse that I am not well or that I can no longer talk French and he certainly can’t understand a word of German. But I have decided against that. There is no reason for making any sacrifice for him. Honesty the only possible thing; rudeness quite in order. (Jones, 1961, pp. 633–634)

There was no special reconciliation for Freud. Toward the end of his life he suffered from many medical and psychological problems. His addiction to tobacco led to cancer and jaw surgery and considerable physical pain. In September 1939, he asked a fellow physician and friend, Max Schur, to assist in his suicide. Freud asked, “Schur, you remember our ‘contract’ not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense” (Gay, 2006, p. 651). After Schur responded, Freud replied, “I thank you” and followed this with, “Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it’s right, then make an end of it” (p. 651). Although Anna was initially against the plan, Schur argued otherwise and on 2 consecutive September days, he administered enough morphine to finally result in Freud’s death on September 23, 1939.

Freud’s legacy is often linked to negativity or pessimism. There are good reasons for this; Freud focused on issues like the death instinct and primitive instinctual impulses, impulses that we have little awareness of or control over. But he was sometimes hopeful. One of his more optimistic statements is carved in a memorial to him in Vienna which reads,

The voice of reason is small, but very persistent.


Let me know your vote. I’m sure, just like the vote for who’s the real grand-stander, it won’t be particularly close.

Happy New Year (or Not) from Me and my Buddy Sigmund


On November 10, 2016, I decided to read Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. I was suddenly interested in how and why individuals and society develop an urge toward the death instinct. It’s light reading. I mean, the book is light, and it’s short. So there’s that.

Some people are unhappy that I’ve chosen to read something by Freud. He wasn’t known for his progressive feminist views. He didn’t even make it into the first wave. Maybe I should have read Adler or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But Freud was on my bookshelf. Besides, the person who doesn’t think I should be reading Freud is the very same person who gave me this particular copy of Civilization and Its Discontents.

Having an impulse to read about the death instinct is ironic. Or maybe it’s funny. But if there’s one thing that’s not especially funny, it’s Freud. I know he has a book on Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, but I’m betting right now—without even looking at it—that it doesn’t make people laugh.  If Civilization and Its Discontents is any indication, Freud may have written about jokes, but he was no joker.

Here’s a little glimpse of his optimistic discourse.

Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution. Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience. We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body, which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain and anxiety as warning signals; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to [others]. The suffering which comes from this last source is perhaps more painful to us than any other. (1930/1961, pp. 23-24)

Okay. So maybe when Freud wrote this he was a little short on serotonin at his pre-synaptic cleft [as if I believe that neurochemical imbalance nonsense]. Seriously, what Freud needed was some regular aerobic exercise . . . and maybe yoga combined with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy so he could embrace nonjudgmental acceptance. I think Freud would have gotten into mindfulness because it would have allowed him to bask in nonjudgmental acceptance of all things except for people who didn’t practice mindfulness. Or maybe he would have been better served using individual emotion focused therapy with Leslie Greenberg; that way he could talk to a chair and emote. And if you read Freud, it’s easy to conclude he needed to do some emoting because his self-analysis was sort of like late 19th century self-injurious behavior. . . VERY PAINFUL.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud starts by confessing that he feels troubled over his apparent inability to have religious experiences. He seems to long for an “oceanic” experience of being one with the universe that might be attributable to God or religion. Although he seems rather reluctant to openly admit that. Later, he trudges through an analysis of “Love thy neighbor.” Unfortunately (at least for his neighbor), Freud ends up making more of a case for hating the neighbor. His logic is flawless, at least from his perspective. In the end, Freud embraces the likelihood of a death instinct which, in his time, was probably related to Hitler’s rise to power.

But what was Freud’s solution to the death instinct and Hitler’s ascension?

He had no solution. Or at least he had no solution in which he had much confidence. His last two sentences mark the battle lines. He admits to an incontrovertible aggressive and destructive impulse in individuals and in society. That’s much less fun than riding in a convertible. But more to the point, will hate, aggression, and destruction dominate? Freud seems to say—paraphrasing here, “Maybe so, maybe not.” The future, according to Freud, is in the hands of Eros.

With regard to the final outcome, Freud implies, “We shall see.”

This is like when your television show ends with the phrase, “To be continued.” Only now with internet streaming, rarely do we have to wait a whole week for the stunning conclusion. Sadly, Freud died before he reached the stunning conclusion.

But here’s where things get interesting.

Freud died on 23 September 1939 and John Lennon was born on 9 October 1940.

According to Buddhist philosophy, the soul can be reincarnated somewhere between 49 days to 2 years following death.

This leaves open the possibility—or even likelihood—that Freud was reincarnated as John Lennon and eventually, in 1967, wrote and sang, along with his Beatle friends, “All You Need is Love.” The point that Freud, reincarnated as John Lennon, was trying to make is that we all need to be liberally spreading Eros around as a Death Instinct antagonist.

There’s much more to say about this, but for now, I think the obvious take-home message is for us to all practice loving our neighbors even though we might be able to make a better intellectual case for hating them. We should probably love our enemies too. And I’m adding a twist to this for 2017: sometimes this isn’t going to be fluffy gooey love. It’s going to be some bad-ass, in-your-face tough love.

This is my New Year’s resolution—to be a practitioner of good-old Freudian in-your-face tough Eros.

Although I’m ending this with a wish for you all to have a Happy New Year, I’m also recognizing that the pursuit of happiness is aptly phrased because just when you think you’ve got it, it goes and flits off to somewhere else and you have to keep chasing it.

Good luck with the chase and good luck with that Eros thing.

Theories Highlights II: The Story of Freud’s Seduction Hypothesis

Let’s put it this way: When it comes to the history of counseling and psychotherapy, there’s plenty of conflict and drama. In the following excerpt from Chapter 2 of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice, you’ll get to read about Freud and his formulation and then recanting of the seduction hypothesis. Is it all true and factual? Probably not. Is it fascinating? As Freud would have likely said, “Hell yes!”

Historical Context

As suggested toward the end of Chapter 1, psychological theories are partly a product of the prevailing Zeitgeist and Ortgeist. Bankart (1997) stated:

To fathom Freud’s near-obsession with the sexual foundations of emotional distress is also to come to a fuller awareness of the sexual repression and hypocrisy in the lives of the Austrian middle class at the turn of the…[nineteenth] century and the effect of this repression on the mental health of adolescents and young adults during the time when Freud derived his theories. (p. 8)

A good illustration of psychoanalytic historical context and of Freud’s dominant persuasive powers is the dramatic story of Freud’s development and subsequent recanting of the seduction hypothesis. This story captures his psychoanalytic thinking along with the social dynamics of his time. Interestingly, there’s conflict over the truth of this story—which further illustrates the divisive nature of Freud and his legacy. As you read through the drama of the seduction hypothesis, keep in mind that certain points have been contested…but the unfolding of a spectacular drama around sexuality, sexual fantasy, and sexual abuse in a sexually repressed society is likely accurate.

The Seduction Hypothesis

In 1885, Freud went to France to study under the famous neurologist Jean Charcot. According to Jeffrey Masson, former projects director of the Freud Archives, it’s likely that Freud visited the Paris Morgue, observing autopsies of young children who had been brutally physically and sexually abused (Masson, 1984). Masson speculated that Freud’s exposure to the grisly reality of child abuse combined with stories of abuse he heard from his patients, led him to believe that hysteria was caused by child sexual abuse.

Later, Freud presented a paper titled “The Aetiology of Hysteria” at the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna (Freud, 1896). In this paper, he outlined a controversial hypothesis:

I therefore put forward the thesis that at the bottom of every case of hysteria there are one or more occurrences of premature sexual experience, occurrences which belong to the earliest years of childhood, but which can be reproduced through the work of psychoanalysis in spite of the intervening decades. (Freud, 1896, cited in Masson, 1984, p. 263)

Note that Freud stated, “. . . at the bottom of every case of hysteria.” He was emphasizing a clear causal connection between childhood sexual abuse and hysteria. This presentation was based on 18 cases (12 women and 6 men), all of which included childhood sexual abuse. At least three key points are important in this presentation:

  1. Freud’s idea about the connection between childhood sexual abuse and subsequent psychopathology may represent an early formulation of the contemporary diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and/or Dissociative Identity Disorder.
  2. Critics contend that in Freud’s paper, “the ‘facts’ of specific case histories are never provided” (Wilcocks, 1994).
  3. Freud may have been constructing sexual memories both through a direct pressure technique and by distorting what he heard to fit with his pre-existing ideas (Esterson, 2001).

Despite a lack of supporting detail in his presentation and the possibility that he was building evidence to support his theory, Freud goes on to suggest that hysterical symptoms don’t arise immediately, but instead develop later:

Our view then is that infantile sexual experiences…create the hysterical symptoms, but…they do not do so immediately, but . . . only exercise a pathogenic action later, when they have been aroused after puberty in the form of unconscious memories. (Freud, 1896, cited in Masson, 1984, p. 272)

It appears that Freud continued to believe his clients’ sexual abuse stories (or perhaps he believed his own constructed version of his client’s sexual abuse stories) until the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Recanting the Seduction Hypothesis

Imagine yourself alone with a great and horrible insight. In Masson’s version of the seduction hypothesis story, this was Freud’s situation. Masson (1984) describes the reception Freud received after presenting his hypothesis (and this part of the seduction hypothesis story is not disputed):

The paper…met with total silence. Afterwards, he was urged never to publish it, lest his reputation be damaged beyond repair. The silence around him deepened, as did the loneliness. But he defied his colleagues and published “The Aietology of Hysteria.” (pp. xviii–xix)

Five days after presenting his paper, Freud wrote about the experience to his friend and otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat physician) Wilhelm Fliess. Freud’s anger is obvious:

[My] lecture on the aetiology of hysteria at the Psychiatric Society met with an icy reception from the asses, and from Kraft-Ebing [the distinguished professor and head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vienna] the strange comment: “It sounds like a scientific fairy tale.” And this after one has demonstrated to them a solution to a more than thousand-year-old problem, a “source of the Nile!” They can all go to hell. (Schur, 1972, p. 104)

Although it’s clear that Freud’s lecture received “an icy reception” it’s less clear why the audience was unimpressed. According to Masson, the reception is icy because Freud is bringing up sex and sexual abuse and that psychiatry (and most professionals and citizens at the time) were uncomfortable with facts linked to high sexual abuse rates. Alternatively, others have suggested that Freud’s style, perhaps a combination of arrogance along with an absence of scientific rigor or detail, moved the audience to rebuke him. For example, Wilcocks (1994) wrote:

The inferential support offered—without detail, of course—is that in eighteen cases out of eighteen, Freud has “discovered” the same etiological factors. But since neither we nor his audience are/were privy to the circumstances of any of his cases, this claim—whatever it’s other inferential mistakes—is simply useless. (p. 129)

It may never be clear whether Freud’s motives in presenting the seduction hypothesis were noble or manipulative. However, regardless of motive, the ensuing years following his “Aetiology of Hysteria” lecture were difficult. Reportedly, his private practice was in decline and his professional life in shambles. It was at this time that Freud began what has been described as “his lonely and painful self-analysis” (Prochaska & Norcross, 2003, p. 29). His 2-year self-analysis included uncovering memories of yearning for his mother and equally powerful feelings of resentment toward his father (Bankart, 1997).

Eventually, Freud discarded his seduction hypothesis in favor of the Oedipus complex (where the child holds unconscious wishes to have sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex). Some suggest this was because he began noticing seductive patterns in so many parent-child interactions that it was unrealistic to assume that child sexual abuse occurred at such a ubiquitous rate. Others believe Freud was ahead of his time in discovering child sexual abuse, but buckled under the social and psychological pressure, abandoning the truths his patients shared with him. Still others contend that while Freud was constructing his theoretical principles, he was projecting and mixing his own fantasies into his clients’ stories. The following statement illustrates the highly personalized nature of some of Freud’s theorizing:

I found in myself a constant love for my mother, and jealousy of my father. I now consider this to be a universal event in childhood. (R. A. Paul, 1991)

Eventually, in 1925, long after he recanted the seduction hypothesis, he reflected on his struggle:

I believed these stories, and consequently supposed that I had discovered the roots of the subsequent neurosis in these experiences of sexual seduction in childhood.… If the reader feels inclined to shake his head at my credulity, I cannot altogether blame him.… I was at last obliged to recognize that these scenes of seduction had never taken place, and that they were only fantasies which my patients had made up. (Freud, 1925, cited in Masson, 1984, p. 11)

In the creation and recanting of the seduction hypothesis, it’s difficult to sort out fact from fantasy. Perhaps this is as it should be, as it illustrates at least one formidable lesson about psychology. That is, when diving headlong into the deep psychological processes of humans, it’s possible to elicit confused and confusing storylines and to knowingly or unknowingly (unconsciously) mix (or project) our own personal issues into the plot. In the end, it may be that we create Kraft-Ebing’s “Scientific fairy tale” or, alternatively, something with lasting and meaningful significance. More likely, we create a combination of the two. (See Table 2.1 for three possible conclusions about Freud and the seduction hypothesis.)

Table 2.1: Freud’s Seduction Hypothesis: Three Conclusions

The official Freudian storyline goes something like this: Sigmund Freud was an astute observer who had to discard his earlier views about child seduction and sexual abuse to discover the more basic truth of the power of internal fantasy and of spontaneous childhood sexuality.

Although he initially believed his clients’ sexual abuse reports, he later discovered that it was not actual abuse, but imagined sexualized relationships (fantasies) between children and caretakers—aka: the Oedipus complex—that caused psychopathology.

Masson’s (1984) version, subsequently labeled “a new fable based on old myths” (Esterson, 1998), suggests that Freud was ahead of his time in recognizing child sexual abuse. These abuses were real and it was correct of Freud to identify them and to develop his seduction hypothesis. However—and unfortunately—Freud abandoned his sexually abused clients by recanting the seduction theory. He abandoned them because of pressure from medical and scientific colleagues and because society was not ready to face the reality of rampant child sexual abuse. Freudian critics suggest that Freud was an exceptionally bright, persuasive, and powerful speaker and writer, but he was practicing bad science. He was more interested in building his theory than psychological reality. Consequently, he twisted his clients’ stories, mixing them with his own issues and fantasies, and created an elaborate theory initially around sexual abuse and later around sexual fantasy. His theories, although fascinating and capturing much about the projective potential in human thinking, are more about Freud than they are about his clients.