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Medical Is psychoanalysis pseudoscience ?

  1. Jun 22, 2012 #1
    I have heard that kind of comments about psychoanalysis, but I am not a expert on the subject. So, can anyone explain to me what is true about this opinion or why many people say this about psychoanalysis? I repeat, I am not an expert on the subject, so if I am wrong in my hypothesis let me know.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2012 #2
    It's a complex issue. Freud had some success with it, but most of his followers seemed not to understand how to apply it, so it never developed into an effective therapeutic tool. People would spend years in analysis and get no better.

    The current view is that uncovering the root cause of a psychological problem turns out not to automatically constitute a cure. Analysis can, in fact, lead to a good understanding of what started the problem, but fixing it ends up having to be accomplished by separate means.

    Cognitive Therapy is considered one of the best tools for actually fixing things, and it doesn't require even knowing how the problem started.
  4. Jun 22, 2012 #3
    Psychoanalysis is a bit of vague term. Freud and his work were largely (and rightly) dismissed as pseudoscience by the scientific community from the beginning, but a few characteristics of his theories have been assimilated into modern practice. Cognitive-behavioural therapy has largely supplanted most earlier approaches to psychotherapy.
  5. Jun 22, 2012 #4
    Right. I forgot to address this. The charge of pseudoscience arises from the fact it's based on so many assertions that can't be tested. Freud, himself, understood the validity of these criticisms and incorporated them into his writings, warning the reader that what followed was not scientifically testable.

    It should be understood, though, that the same is true of all therapeutic schools. The proponents of Cognitive Therapy try very hard to support their assertions with whatever data seems supportive, but it remains, at very best, a "soft" science, if that. What it has to recommend it is its success rate compared to other therapies.
  6. Jun 22, 2012 #5


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    Though there's plenty of skepticism about CBT for many mental illnesses. CBT is mostly only shown to be effective for anxiety disorders. And the CBT is a treatment that the patient must practice for the rest of their life, not a cure.

    [14] Driessen E, Hollon SD (September 2010). "Cognitive behavioral therapy for mood disorders: efficacy, moderators and mediators". Psychiatr. Clin. North Am. 33 (3): 537–55. DOI:10.1016/j.psc.2010.04.005. PMC 2933381. PMID 20599132.

    [47] Lynch D, Laws KR, McKenna PJ (January 2010). "Cognitive behavioural therapy for major psychiatric disorder: does it really work? A meta-analytical review of well-controlled trials". Psychol Med 40 (1): 9–24. DOI:10.1017/S003329170900590X. PMID 19476688.

    [48] Gloaguen V, Cottraux J, Cucherat M, Blackburn IM (April 1998). "A meta-analysis of the effects of cognitive therapy in depressed patients". J Affect Disord 49 (1): 59–72. DOI:10.1016/S0165-0327(97)00199-7. PMID 9574861.
  7. Jun 22, 2012 #6
    I have never seen proponents claim it was effective for anything but depression. (Not that I've read anything but two popular books and a couple of studies.)

    True. "Fix" is an unfortunate word choice on my part.
  8. Jun 22, 2012 #7
    If Freud were positing his theories for the first time in this day and age, he'd be banned from this forum for posting overly speculative personal theories. That alone indicates that it might be pseudoscience.

    Are it's hypotheses falsifiable by experiment? If not, it's on par with Mesmerism and Astrology.
  9. Jun 22, 2012 #8
    Are the tenets of any school of psychology falsifiable by experiment? I can't think of any off the top of my head.

    Anyone remember Transactional Analysis?:


    Then there was "Gestalt Therapy", which got a lot of play.

    No school of psychology I am familiar with falls into the category of Hard Science. At the same time, though, it's abundantly clear that psychological dynamics exist and are always in play when people interact. The same cannot be said of Astrology.
  10. Jun 22, 2012 #9
    "Schools" of psychology went out of fashion decades ago, except perhaps in the clinical realm. I do research alongside cognitive psychologists all the time, and their predictions are entirely falsifiable, though I'll agree in general that most fields of psychology tend to be infuriatingly soft.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2012
  11. Jun 22, 2012 #10
    Astrologers would disagree. But I'll concede it.
    But you have to concede Mesmerism.
  12. Jun 23, 2012 #11
    I can't concede that. I'm brimming with animal magnetism.
  13. Jun 23, 2012 #12
    That's essentially correct. CBT is commonly used but there are plenty of other therapies too.
  14. Jun 23, 2012 #13
    I would class TA as '1960s observations', useful for reading but not really used in therapy.

    For some modern pop psychology, The Power of Now by Tolle.

    Its more about resolving neuroses/internal anxiety,
  15. Jun 23, 2012 #14
    unfortunately, psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience.
    severest illusion of psychiatric community to treat psychiatric disorders in past.
    again unfortunately, psychoanalyis is not illegal and psychoanalytical talk therapies continue still today.
    CBT is more legitemate but only effective for mild psychiatric disorders.
    modern psychiatry is a neuroscience, and psychiatric disorders are considered to be organic brain disorders.
    medications and ECT are golden standards of modern psychiatric treatments.
  16. Jun 23, 2012 #15
    Thank all of you for the information, just another two questions. Which is the reason why psychoanalysis is still being practiced? Even more, it seems that a huge amount of people, specially from the physichologist community, they still believing in it as a "cure" for mental disorders. Another one is a recommendation of a reading on this subject, I am looking for a book that can give me a general picture about what is going on in the world of neuroscience and psychology.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2012
  17. Jun 23, 2012 #16
    Give me an example of the sort of thing that's falsifiable. I only ever read studies casually here and there and haven't happened to encounter, not have I gone looking for, "hard" psychology. I'd be interested in seeing how that plays out.
  18. Jun 23, 2012 #17
    Ah...you've put me on the spot now. I not only have to find something falsifiable, I have to find something elegant (I can't have your first exposure to my favourite branches of psychology be some trashy, hillbilly research). I shall return with papers.
  19. Jun 24, 2012 #18
    I got impatient and googled. Wikipedia reports that Cognitive Psychology is unique among psychologies in its "acceptance" of the scientific method:

    However, from the rest of the article we see it is extremely limited in scope compared to all the other psychologies:
    (They contrast Cognitive Psychology to Freudian in that the CS "accepts" the scientific method, as if Freud rejected it, which he didn't. He realized, as I said earlier, that most of what he proposed couldn't be scientifically tested, and warned potential students that this was the case. Acceptance or rejection of his ideas was a matter of them making sense to you or not.)
  20. Jun 24, 2012 #19
    Is it? Talk therapy certainly still exists, but I'd be surprised to find out there were any Freudian Psychoanalysts still out there.
  21. Jun 24, 2012 #20
    Comparing cognitive to Freudian psychology is a bit misleading. Early "schools" of psychology (Freudian, behaviourism etc.) were defined largely by their particular views about the nature of consciousness and behaviour; they were, essentially, theories or models (often, poor ones). Cognitive psychology is a discipline; it's a branch of psychology that studies cognitive processes. Comparing the two is a bit like comparing the standard model of particle physics (psychoanalysis) to fluid dynamics (cognitive psychology); one is a model, the other is a field.

    Cognitive psychology, today, is probably one of the most diverse and successful of the behavioural sciences. Wiki's description of mental "information processing" is a bit unusual here; cognitive psychology has been extremely heavily influenced by cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology (my personal interests lie in computational neuroscience, and most of the professors I've known who work in cog psych base their work carefully around developments in neuroscience), and it has adopted into itself the notion that any proposed cognitive process has to be implemented by the brain by some mechanism. Since many of the major processes that interest cognitive psychologists (learning and memory, for instance) have been extensive researched by neuropsychologists using brain damaged patients, who have demonstrated that many characteristics of these processes can be very selectively and independently knocked out*, a lot of the work in cog psych assumes that the way the brain is implementing these processes is modular, to some extent.

    * One of the most dramatic examples (though not really the most informative from a cog psych standpoint) is the fact that I can, very reliably, damage your brain in such a way that your vision will remain fully intact, you will completely retain the ability to write, and yet you will lose the ability to read. Aphasias in general provide some very nice examples of the modular arrangement of mental processes.

    Very few. There are a few Freudian/Jungian practitioners out there, but their generally regarding as being somewhat...er...off by everyone else. I'd be very surprised and disappointed if any accredited programs in clinical psychology still taught Freudian psychoanalysis.
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