One hundred years of Freud in America.
Freud’s ideas would grow into a kind of orthodoxy in America, becoming a staple of medical training in psychiatry and permeating the larger culture. By the 1950s Freudian therapy was almost commonplace for those who could afford it, and its basic doctrines were familiar even to those who had never reclined on an analyst’s couch. For literary critics, the encounter with Freud was practically “transference” at first sight; classics such as “Moby-Dick” were subjected to psychoanalytic review, and psychobiography became a trendy approach to writing lives. Popular culture was perhaps more ambivalent, offering layman’s explanations in paperback but mocking Freud and his ilk in films such as Billy Wilder’s “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) and in songs such as the Chad Mitchell Trio’s “Ballad of Sigmund Freud.”
Since that high-water mark, Freud’s ideas have gradually receded from American culture. In the humanities, rival theories—including feminism, structuralism, postcolonialism—have seized the attention of scholars and critics. More important, Freud’s methods and ideas, not to mention the mythology that surrounded him, have come under assault from such skeptics as Adolph Grünbaum, Frank Sulloway and Frederick Crews.
These attacks have been fueled by decades of clinical and scholarly research. There is scant evidence, for example, that repressed impulses produce tell-tale symptoms, as Freud insisted. There is considerable evidence, though, that Freud claimed success for treatments that failed. In the famous case of “Dora,” he accused a young girl of lusting for her own molester—and, incidentally, of wanting a kiss from her therapist. In the case of the admiring Horace Frink, in whom Freud instantly and erroneously diagnosed latent homosexual tendencies, Freud aggressively intervened to blow up two marriages. Freud’s clinical record is riddled with dangerous meddling, ludicrous interpretations tailored to fit his theories and skewed accounts fashioned to justify himself and his ideas. In the judgment of the psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer, writing in “Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind” (2006), Freud “was more devious and less original than he made himself out to be, and where he pioneered, he was often wrong. Freud displayed bad character in the service of bad science.”
More at the WSJ.