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The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971

 

Sigmund Freud: Sexual revolutionist

 

How come, when many of his ideas are long deserted and disputed, Freud's work is still useful today?

 

Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar LicMT LHS LNCP LCPS

 

Sigmund Freud’s contribution to mankind stretches far beyond the field of psychoanalysis. As a matter of fact, none of us today in the modern western world can even imagine our life without Freud. If we are to consider Freud’s applications with regards to modern society, we should, first, have a look at the things that Freud has changed.

 

For many historians, the modern era began with replacing the static (medieval and pre-medieval) world with a dynamic one. Martin Luther broke the catholic monopoly on God, and made both religion and faith a matter of a living inner process. Once the objectivity of church was broken – it was never to totally recover again. Nicolaus Copernicus revised our way of looking at the Earth and Sun (in the 16th century) – the Earth is no longer static nor the centre of the universe. The heliocentric theory that Copernicus had published argued that Earth was just a planet, revolving around the Sun, nowhere near being the centre of the Universe. So did Charles Darwin – and a human being after the ‘the origin of species’ (1859) was not God’s peak of creation any more. Man was not the ruler of inferior beasts, but rather a link in an infinite chain of adjustments, an animal. All of the great men mentioned above did much more than presenting new ideas, new theories. They changed a point of view, they brought about a shift in paradigm, forcing all other fields of knowledge to adopt the new way. They have created a new path, which demanded a new language and different concepts. And this is exactly what Sigmund Freud has done.

 

The man before Freud was logical, basically good, and ever improving. Freud had changed that. He emphasised our animal instincts of violence and sex, our inability to be totally rational. He drew attention to the importance of development, of childhood. Freud created a systematic method for dealing with mental problems, his psychoanalysis. These were all processes – everything was changing. Freud inserted the concept of dynamics into the realm of human behaviour and human mind. All of these points are still relevant at present.

 

Today, not only are we forced to speak ‘Freudian’ when we constantly use Freud's concepts and improved theories, but we also think in ‘Freudian’ language. Sexuality in children wasn’t recognised until Freud; interpretation of dreams was never as methodical as Freud made it; Conscious, unconscious, ego, neurosis, drives (or instincts), anal, oral and phallic stages, Oedipus complex and many other terms are used in this fashion thanks to Freud.

 

There is an old Spanish saying: ‘when a stone hits a vessel - alas for the vessel, but when a vessel hits a stone – alas for the vessel’. Once changes were made, there was no return. Modern psychology is based on the model of thinking (paradigm) that Freud had given birth to, and in a way, we are all products of Freud's fertile work.

 

Freud paved a new road – and anyone who follows this path ought to refer to his work.

 

Freud's main contribution to humanity is that of changing the paradigm. Nonetheless, Freud’s work is still being used in practical and theoretical psychology. The methods of interpretation, analysis and the importance of transformation between patient and therapist (among them are transference and counter-transference) are of use in many therapies. Almost everything Freud talked about became a psychological hot issue.

 

Debating Freud’s concepts and even contradicting him was exactly what helped the study of human mind to evolve, and still does. A dynamic science will always have new questions and answers, and it will always change and calibrate itself.

 

Until a new revolutionist changes our whole image of mankind, until we are forced to replace our current point of view of the world with another – Freud will be useful. And in a way, even afterwards – because no matter what changes occur, by making the mind dynamic, by breaking the static paradigm of the human mind, Freud opened the sealed gate of interpretations. Any interpretation thereafter is his brainchild too.

 

 

Recommended reading

 

Bowlby J.1951, Child care and the growth of love.

Brown D. and Pedder J.1979, Introduction to Psychotherapy.

Brown J.A.C. 1964, Freud and the post-Freudians .

Darwin, C. 1859, The Origin of Species

Freudental, G. 1977, The Philosophy of Science.

Fromm, E. 1957, The Art of Loving.

Gay, D. 1995, The Freud reader

Honderich, T. 1995, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Kuhn).

Kuhn, T. 1962, The structure of scientific revolutions.

Pert, C B. 1997, Molecules of Emotion.

Stafford-Clark D.1992, What Freud really said.

Storr, A. 1996, Freud.

 

 

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