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In his Secrets of the
Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis, Zaretsky chronicles
and interprets this history from its beginnings in what he calls the second
industrial revolution–roughly the era in which vertically integrated
corporations such as the Ford Motor Company began to emerge and dominate–to its
current near demise. In his narrative Zaretsky explores the interplay between
(1) changing family and cultural roles, values, and structures, (2) the social,
political, economic and cultural impact of industrial-corporate life, and (3)
the (positive and negative) influences of psychoanalytic ideas. His goal is
"to identify and affirm the emancipatory dimension of analytic thought
without denying the validity of the criticisms [of psychoanalysis] or the need
to rethink its legacy" (p. 3).
sees psychoanalysis as Janus-faced. Its positive aspect is its transforming
force for liberation and emancipation, for freeing individuals from familial
and societal shackles. Its negative aspect is dual. One undesirable set of
effects arises directly from psychoanalysis's positive transforming influence;
by freeing a person, by touting "authenticity" and individuality, it
not only liberates but also destroys beneficial external (familial, societal)
ties. According to Zaretsky,
"Freud's key contribution lay in theorizing that disjuncture [between the
individual psyche and culture]" (p. 6).
A second set of undesirable features arose because as psychoanalysis
evolved, "it was absorbed, transfigured, and ultimately consumed by the
sociology and culture of personal life to which it originally gave critical
expression" (p. 11). Thus transformed and degraded, psychoanalysis became
an agent also for repression, oppression, mystification, and consumerism.
It is obvious that a great deal of painstaking,
thorough, detailed documentation and hard work have gone into Secrets.
It also seems to be well received by critics and readers. Nevertheless, I find
that it has significant shortcomings. In numerous contexts the philosopher
Martin Heidegger (I will mention him again later) speaks about a belief's being
"correct but not true", meaning, roughly, that the belief is valid
within its framework of assumptions, but that since those assumptions are
suspect, in a larger sense it is untrue. That is how I would characterize
Let me begin by noting that Zaretsky treats
psychoanalysis as a church movement, often explicitly so, for
example when in describing its more recent decline he says "the great Freudian church had given
way to a new, desacralized, 'married' clergy" (p. 330), or when he
characterizes one reformer (Heinz Kohut) as "updating the church" (p.
314). In that context, and under that perspective, Zaretsky understands
psychoanalysis primarily as a politicized church of beliefs, theories, ideas,
and hypotheses. That is, he seems interested in psychoanalysis primarily for
its intellectual contents and insights and their history; for example, he says
explicitly that psychoanalysis is "not so much a mode of treatment as a
set of understandings that we need to protect [from extinction]..." (342).
In other words, Zaretsky's Secrets is primarily a political, social, and cultural history of
psychoanalysis as a cognitive/theoretical project, as a body of changing
dogmatic beliefs and systems.
Now, officially psychoanalysis has always
claimed to encompass three aspects. It understands itself as comprising a
theory, a therapeutic practice, and a research method. My sense is that
Zaretsky's knowledge of the latter two components is an academician's, a
limited book knowledge that lacks experiential depth and empathy. I do not see
indications that he has a "feel" for clinical matters. While at times
Zaretsky does refer to these latter two aspects of psychoanalysis, when he does
so it is as though he knows the words but not the music. Since he is not a
clinician but a historian he hardly can be faulted for these limitations, but
it does raise the question of whether Zaretsky's restricted views of
psychoanalysis affect the soundness of his historical arguments and
I think they do, in subtle ways. I first mention
a number of errors of commission and omission that probably have but little
relevance for Zaretsky's interpretation of the church and its history. I will
not elaborate on the particulars. What I see as his principal errors of commission
are misunderstandings first, of ego
psychology (compare, say, his comments on p. 312 with Busch 1995,
especially chapter 4; Busch 1999; Gray 1994; Goldberger 1996), and second, of
self-psychology and narcissism (compare his chapter 12 with Kohut 1984, Loewald
1980, chapter 20, or Goldberg 1995).
Important omissions are:
The neglect of seminal clinical contributions of leading analytic
figures such as Michael Balint, Donald Winnicott, or Hans Loewald; although
Zaretsky does mention the former two, he reports only on their political roles
in the "movement"and on
their theoretical contributions.
The failure to consider the major psychoanalytic contributions to the fields of
personality theory and projective tests.
The failure to mention that within psychoanalysis there are serious and
substantial alternatives to the familiar choices between reductive scientisms
and humanisms (compare Zaretsky's Epilogue with, for example, Symposium
1995, or Berger 2002, chapter 5).
The failure to acknowledge and consider the grave problems inherent in
supposedly scientifically-grounded (e.g., neurobiological), reductionist approaches (compare his remarks
on Grünbaum, p. 335, or on neuroscience and psychopharmacology, pp. 337-338,
with such critiques as Tallis 1999a, b; Olafson 1995, 2001; or Berger 1991,
The failure to even mention the vexing problems concerning the alleged
existence of direct logical ties between psychoanalytic theory and its practice
(see Berger 1978, 1985, 1991, 2002).
These errors may or may not affect the
sustainability of Zaretsky's narration and interpretations, but in my view
there are several other aspects of Secrets
that do. Two pertain to therapy
while the third concerns a philosophical matter. The first problem is this. As
I mentioned earlier, Zaretsky claims that psychoanalysis as a body of thought
is Janus-faced, that as a body of thought it has had important positive but
also negative influences on various aspects of modern life. Specifically, he
proposes that psychoanalysis was "[a]lmost instantly recognized as a great
force for human emancipation" (p.3).
However, one of Freud's earliest clinical
discoveries, one that has been validated over and over in a century's worth of
therapeutic practice and experience, was that merely supplying intellectual
knowledge about psychoanalytic matters to patients is not therapeutic. For such
information to be truly therapeutic, it must be presented knowledgeably in the
context of an ongoing therapy. If that is not done, then at best the
information will be ineffective and simply be fended off; at worst (and most
often), though, it will be distorted and placed in the service of pathological
defenses and needs even if superficially the information seems to have
beneficial consequences. It often takes a sophisticated clinical understanding
to see that the effects are actually noxious.
In view of these considerations I suggest that
likewise, the apparently "liberational" influences of psychoanalytic
thought on the culture in general to which Zaretsky refers actually harbor
noxious, pathological features. I propose that giving the general culture
intellectual information about psychoanalysis (say, about the unconscious,
dreams, the Oedipus complex, sexuality, or autonomy) is much like providing
information inappropriately in what I previously (Berger 1991) called
"not-good-enough"therapy. In other words, I submit that ultimately, both
the obviously noxious as well as the supposedly liberational influences of
psychoanalytic thought on the public at large are, at bottom, negative. The premise that psychoanalysis exerts
liberational and beneficial influences on the general public is a substantial
element in Zaretsky's historical interpretations. If that premise becomes
suspect, so do his theses.
A second, related, clinical issue concerns the
supposedly undesirable side effects of psychoanalytic therapy. I previously
mentioned the "disjuncture" that Zaretsky claims is an undesirable
side effect of psychoanalysis. He says that unlike previous
"therapies" such as a priest's exorcism, or a French king's cure of
scrofula by touch (p. 6), both of which retained the "cured" person's
communal ties, the psychoanalytic project was "formulated... as a personal
and provisional hermeneutic of self-discovery" that made it impossible to
reintegrate an individual into a "preexisting whole" (pp. 6-7;
compare this claim with clinically informed explorations, e.g., Loewald 1980).
In other words, Zaretsky sees analytic therapy with its emphasis on individual
autonomy, its supposedly "affirmative attitude toward narcissism" (p.
314) and so on, as innately alienating, necessarily severing ex-patients from
their familial, social and cultural ties.
My objection is this. Zaretsky quite properly
identifies psychoanalytic therapy with the goal of "defamilialization,
the freeing of individuals from unconscious images of authority originally
rooted in the family" (p. 5), but then takes an unwarranted step when he
goes on to equate that defamilialization with alienation. Now, unfortunately it
is quite true that too often, an ex-analytic patient is self-absorbed,
self-centered, narcissistically flawed, sexually exploitive, but I submit that
this is not a necessary consequence of psychoanalysis. When such outcomes do
occur it is because the patient and/or the analyst were
"not-good-enough"or, as I put it more recently, because the therapy
was a "technotherapy" rather than a "praxially-based"
treatment (Berger 2002); analytic therapy is not necessarily alienating. Thus,
once again the issue on which I fault Zaretsky is clinical–in this case, his
seeming inability to discriminate adequately between good and poor clinical
practices and outcomes.
My third criticism is, as I intimated,
philosophical. We have seen that the two principal and basic conceptual
ingredients in Zaretsky's history and analyses are first, the
socio-political-cultural milieu of the second industrial revolution, and
second, psychoanalysis. He places these two frameworks on a more or less equal
footing, and explores how they mutually affect one another. However, according
to Heidegger the industrial revolution–indeed, the entire period of Western
technology–can be seen in a different way: as a symptom of
"rational-calculative thinking", a "mind-set that underlies the
rise of technology and that permeates our daily habits of speech and thought...
a way of objectifying our world and our experience" (Pattison 2000, 2).
Heidegger claims that this mind-set arose already within early Greek thought;
it just became more visible with the rise of the sciences in the seventeenth
Heidegger discussed this complex claim at
length, and it has generated a large secondary literature (see, for example,
Bernstein 1992, chapter 4; Lovitt and Lovitt, 1995; Pylkkö 1998, chapter 2). I
will not attempt to describe it further. What matters here is that one can make
a case that psychoanalysis, too, is but another symptomatic manifestation of
the same underlying "rational-calculative",
"technological"dynamic. The possibility of seeing both the
second industrial revolution and psychoanalysis as expressions of a
common pathological root rather than as two separate but interacting causal
agents raises further questions about Zaretsky's socio-political and cultural
I have two final thoughts. First, Zaretsky's Secrets
can serve as a source of much factual historical information about the rise and
fall of the psychoanalytic church, but one does need to keep in mind the
limitations to which I have pointed. Second, I believe that probably quite
unintentionally, Zaretsky has done psychoanalysis a disservice by analyzing it
only, or at least primarily, in terms of its (admittedly severely flawed)
church-like aspects. That restricted focus is likely to leave the unwary reader
with the impression that this is all there is to psychoanalysis. In my view,
that is much as though one were to write about Christianity by chronicling the
shoddy history of its church, implicitly inviting the conclusion that the
church is Christianity; Secrets similarly invites an unwarranted
deprecation and disparagement of psychoanalysis which obscures its valuable and
fragile elements, rendering these virtually invisible and supporting its
currently ubiquitous, fashionable but poorly justified wholesale
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Perspective. (Volumes I and II) Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.
F. 1995. What is a Human Being? A Heideggerian View. New York: Cambridge
2001. Naturalism and the Human Condition: Against Scientism. New York:
G. 2000. The Later Heidegger. New York: Routledge.
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© 2004 Louis S. Berger
Berger's career has straddled clinical psychology, engineering and applied
physics, and music. His major interest is in clinical psychoanalysis and
related philosophical issues. Dr. Berger's publications include 3 books (Introductory
Statistics, 1981; Psychoanalytic
Theory and Clinical Relevance, 1985; Substance
Abuse as Symptom, 1991) and several dozen journal articles and book
reviews. His book Psychotherapy As Praxis was reviewed in Metapsychology in January 2003.