cover image Therapy's Delusions: The Myth of the Unconscious and the Exploitation of Today's Walking Worried

Therapy's Delusions: The Myth of the Unconscious and the Exploitation of Today's Walking Worried

Ethan Watters. Scribner Book Company, $25 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83584-6

Following Making Monsters, their much-discussed attack on recovered memory therapy, Watters and Ofshe offer a rigorous critique of talk therapy of the Freudian variety and its many offshoots. In a broadside as withering as those by anti-Freudian critic Frederick Crews (Memory Wars; Unauthorized Freud), the authors assail psychoanalysis as a convoluted system of assumptions and anachronistic beliefs. Using cases from the psychoanalytic literature, they find troubling evidence of analysts' arbitrary diagnoses, misogyny, hubris and pretense of scientific authority. Ofshe, a sociology professor (UC-Berkeley), and freelance journalist Watters observe that with the psychotherapy profession in defensive retreat from its claim to reveal the secrets of unconscious minds, talk therapists have increasingly allied themselves with social movements and cultural trends, spawning feminist therapy, body/mind therapy, care of the soul (e.g., Thomas Moore's books) and so forth. The authors reject these approaches as fundamentally flawed because, in their view, Freud's notion of a dynamic unconscious that influences our everyday lives is nothing more than a culturally supported myth. The ""biogenetic approach"" they favor--combining pharmacotherapy, research into brain dysfunction and rehabilitative behavioral/cognitive therapy--has already made progress in treating schizophrenia and mood disorders. Ultimately, however, their wholesale rejection of the existence of an unconscious, and of the roots of mental illness in developmental or childhood factors, seems an article of faith as debatable as the exaggerated claims of talk therapists. Nevertheless, their provocative analysis of what happens in therapy sessions--the patient internalizing the life story that he or she creates in tacit collusion with the therapist--will challenge patients and practitioners alike. An appendix dismantles the upbeat conclusions of an influential 1995 Consumer Reports survey, ""Does Therapy Help?"" Agent, Bonnie Nadell. (Apr.)