Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Psychoanalysis as Pseudo-religion

How does psychoanalysis become a pseudo-religion?

I have long opined on this topic. Recently, I discovered a paper by an analyst named Melitta Schmideberg—aka the daughter of Melanie Klein—published in 1938. (Via, Jacques van Rillaer in Mediapart.) In it Schmideberg offers some salient comparisons between psychoanalysis and religious experience. I only regret that I did not know of it when I wrote my book The Last Psychoanalyst:

In his over-evaluation of analysis the patient often repeats his attitude to religion: he makes the same desperate efforts to believe in it and the same excessive demands from it. The analyst can convince him only if he makes symptoms disappear the way that Christ performed miracles of healing. In return for this he is prepared to believe only a thorough analysis can save him from the agonies of mental suffering and bring eternal happiness, just as the true believer will be saved from hell and enjoy eternal bliss in the life after death. But one must believe implicitly – ‘be free from resistances’. Such religious ideas about analysis are often accompanied by a religious self-righteousness, and intolerance at its worst for the slightest deviation from what the patient conceives to be the accepted analytic doctrine or any possible doubt or criticism of it. He betrays an over estimation of the ‘correct’ analytic terms and rituals similar to that of the liturgy of the church. He holds that interpretations, like prayers, must be given in the right order and form, and he demands that every child be analyzed at an early age, as others insist he shall be baptized. He sets out to convert others, sometimes the most unsuitable persons under the most absurd circumstances, much as the evangelists went out to preach the Bible.


James said...

I think there is a lot of similarities between establishment science and religion. Both deal in fields that once "all is known at the moment" is arrived at, all they have left is faith. Also they are very much alike in their intra and inter mural spats. You get two groups of scientists fighting and it sounds just like a bunch of theologians going at it.
I don't know about Psychoanalysis being a pseudo-religion, I don't have that kind of expertise, but I will say it's a field that's ripe for abuse of almost every type. But that does not in my eyes disqualify it from being legitimate science.

Ares Olympus said...

I imagine what we know of the placebo effect now, that religious faith can hold healing effects even when nothing else has changed. It makes sense that any system of knowledge also offers a similar faith. The hard sciences can work with numbers to prove their cause and effects, while everyone else is left with anecdotal evidence to assert their "secret truths".

And Carl Jung would surely also express a connection between religion and psychology.
The Jungian interpretation of religion, pioneered by Carl Jung and advanced by his followers, is an attempt to interpret religion in the light of Jungian psychology. Unlike Sigmund Freud and his followers, Jungians tend to treat religious beliefs and behaviors in a positive light, while offering psychological referents to traditional religious terms such as "soul", "evil", "transcendence", "the sacred", and "God".

Yesterday I listened to a discussion between Canadian Psychologist Jordan Peterson and New Atheist Sam Harris, with Peterson defending a religious perspective.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31Ud7-EkZEI Conversation between Sam Harris & Jordan Peterson - Waking Up Podcast #67

An interesting point was where Harris offered his made up interpretation of a cooking recipe in symbolic language of religion, and used it as an example on how easy it is for people to delude themselves with fancy language that sounds good on the surface but could be replaced by an infinite number of other equally good fancy stories. Peterson agreed that is is easy for all of us to deceive ourselves and others, and the only standard that can be applied is "Does it make a difference to the people who try to live it?" and that it is a reason we shouldn't discount old traditions, but instead our tasks as humans is to rework "dead myths" into a form that can be useful to people now. He even called them "living truths".

Harris acknowledged this point perhaps, but his preference is that "religious wisdom" should be selected for its usefulness, and the obviously false stuff should be discarded.

But in any case, it seems when discussing religions or pseudo-religions, the problem is they can't be "universally understood" even if they often contain universal language. So we westerns can call Islam a "death cult" and yet we can't necessarily defend ourselves from the same charge in a different direction, where we've reduced everything to a commodity that can be bought and sold, and if something doesn't have a price, it has no value.

And perhaps whatever practical truths that exist in psychotherapy are lost the moment that it becomes an occupation with promises of results, and demands for payment. Religious leaders also bestow feedback to human misery, and also need money to live, but the two are not directly connected, even if there's always a risk of making them connected by things like a "prosperity gospel".

I was also recently reading Gandhi's 7 sins, and the 6th is "Religion without sacrifice"

Connection religion to sacifice is interesting, both in the literal sense, and figurative sense. The original religions were all about offering good sacrifices to God or gods to show us favor. And so crazily if God commands you murder your own child. If a father said that today, we'd lock him up, but that's what the biblical stories tell us we once had to do, to proof our faith.

It does seem like an interesting question in all cases "What are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want?" And some people will sign a contact for their eternal soul with the devil himself, if they want something badly enough. But as a thought experiment, it'll tell you what your idols are.