BEN Well, you said you were fighting. He slapped you around because you were rebelling against his authority. There may have been some unresolved Oedipal conflict.
VITTI English! English!
BEN Oedipus was a Greek king who killed his father and married his mother.
VITTI Fuckin’ Greeks.
BEN It’s an instinctual developmental drive. The young boy wants to replace his father so he can totally possess his mother.
VITTI What are you saying? That I wanted to fuck my mother?
BEN It’s a primal fantasy…..
VITTI Have you ever seen my mother? Are you out of your fucking mind?
BEN It’s Freud.
VITTI Well, then Freud’s a sick fuck, and you are too for bringing it up.
From the film Analyse This.
This week I listened to the BBC programme Case Study about the one of Sigmund Freud’s most famous cases, Little Hans. For those of you who are not familiar with this case, Little Hans was a boy who had a horse phobia. When he was younger, he had seen a horse die in the street. A logical conclusion would have been that this had traumatised the young boy. But of course that was far too easy for Freud. The horse was in fact incidental. According to Freud, Hans feared horses because horses move. And movement in the unconscious represents copulation. When Hans thought about horses moving, he was really thinking about his whole set of Oedipal desires and castration fears, and that’s why he developed his phobia.
While these days Freud’s ideas have little scientific credibility, they have become an insidious presence in our society. We can see this in a number of ways. There is all that meaningless psychobabble that has become part of our language – issues, baggage, dysfunctional, closure, empowerment and low self-esteem.
Another worrying phenomenon is that of victimhood. There seems to be no area of human behaviour that cannot be blamed on some form of addiction – Internet, consumer debt, sex, and junk food. Personally, I like former psychologist Tana Dineen’s rather cynical formula:
PERSON = VICTIM = USER/PATIENT = PROFIT
But it’s not just the counsellors who are jumping on the bandwagon. Politicians and compensation lawyers are also there. They seem to be saying that humans are powerless to make decisions. At least with religion when people sin, they do penance. Now they get sympathy and therapy because they are not the ones to blame. It’s society or the fast food restaurant the credit card company.
We must also consider some of the damaging effects caused by the application of some very half-baked ideas over the last century or so. A number of areas spring to mind. The case of mothers with autistic children who were said to have caused this disorder by being too cold. Or what about the idea proclaimed in the fifties and sixties that psychoanalysis couldcure even schizophrenia simply by talking? Finally we have what known as repressed memory therapy (RMT). This is a type of psychotherapy which assumes that problems such as bulimia, depression, insomnia and excessive anxiety are due to unconsciously repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. For its adherents a healthy psychological state can only be restored by retrieving and ultimately confronting these repressed memories of sexual abuse. These ideas have proved influential in Hollywood but in the real world parents have been sent to prison for allegedly abusing their children. I think you will also be a bit sceptical when you hear that these dubious techniques have also proved to be very effective in getting patients to “remember” alien abductions and satanic rituals, which these patients had been unaware of before going to therapy.
I know life is complicated and there are many people who are genuinely suffering from mental distress. But I really feel that that this kind of nonsense adds absolutely nothing to our welfare and the sooner we jettison them the better off we will be.