The Myth of the Unconscious and the Exploitation of Today's Waking Worried
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“The psychodynamic theory of the mind and the treatment methods derived from it are the quackery the mental health profession is burdened with surviving,” according to this pull-no-punches assault on the current practice of psychotherapy. The prior collaboration of Watters, a freelance journalist who has written for the New York Times Magazine and elsewhere, and sociologist Ofshe (Univ. of Calif., Berkeley), Making Monsters: False Memory, Satanic Cult Abuse, and Sexual Hysteria (1994), indicted a specific area of psychotherapy; the present work is a broader attack, going to its very roots. Freud, they assert, was one of the century’s great myth makers and a “shameless self-promoter who committed scientific fraud” with his claim that a dynamic unconscious controls human behavior and that therapists can tap into its secrets by talking to patients. Drawing on the work of historians, medical researchers, and other scholars, they trace the influence of Freud’s ideas in 20th-century America, where by midcentury psychoanalysis had become the accepted treatment for mental illness. Citing cases to illustrate what they term the intellectual hubris of psychodynamic talk therapists, they present the fundamental errors they say these therapists share, and they analyze the process by which talk therapists and their patients unwittingly reinforce each others’ mistaken belief in the therapist’s wisdom and insight. While Freud is debunked and talk therapy denounced (even trounced), the real target of this sometimes strident attack is the mental health profession itself. The authors assert that because the profession fails to disseminate new scientific research or to reach consensus on acceptable standards of care, patients who could be helped by the biomedical approach will continue to be poorly served, even harmed, by an approach based on myth, not modern medicine. A forceful demand that the mental health profession reform itself—controversy is sure to follow.

Pub Date: April 9th, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-83584-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999


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