Made up

Freud: The Making of an Illusion, Frederick Crews, Profile.

Anti-Freud campaigner Frederick Crews’ relentlessly negative but engrossing biography has been criticised as a character assassination, but there is much to dislike in Freud’s character. In Crews’ account, Freud was a charlatan. He had little regard for his patients’ welfare, yet drew out their therapies in order to make more money. He made friends in order to benefit from their support before stealing their ideas and turning on them.

He switched theories to explain his patients’ troubles, made up case histories and used dubious methods and medications. An atheist, he was never-the-less susceptible to numerology and the paranormal. His dream interpretation theories were so vague as to render any extrapolation plausible, and he made the circular argument that his patients’ refusal to accept his wild diagnoses simply proved they were in denial. (Crews is not much kinder to Freud’s disciples.)

Freud’s prescription of cocaine for his patients was problematic. While its dangers were not widely known, there was evidence from his own patients that it was not doing them any good and yet he continued to promote its use, often based on the assumption that it wasn’t doing himself any harm. (Eventually he came to regret its use.)

Of course he is more famous for grand theories than rigorous clinical practice. He was important for identifying what formulates us and how we contain a mix of competing conscious and subconscious desires. His identification of darker, subconscious forces mirrors Christian notions of original sin, but he was perhaps too quick to apply particular diagnoses to the population in general. His portrayal of religion as wish-fulfillment and the result of problems with one’s father ultimately says more about Freud’s own issues than that of humanity in general.

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