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Goodbye Sigmund Freud: The case for exorcising the ghost of Freud from the field of psychology



The argument put forth in this paper is that Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theories were pseudoscientific and philosophical rather than empirical. Several examples are given to support this conclusion. It is further argued that Freud and his theories should be completely expurgated from the field and not taught in universities.
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Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment
ISSN: 1091-1359 (Print) 1540-3556 (Online) Journal homepage:
Goodbye Sigmund Freud: The case for exorcising
the ghost of Freud from the field of psychology
Armando Simón
To cite this article: Armando Simón (2020) Goodbye Sigmund Freud: The case for exorcising the
ghost of Freud from the field of psychology, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment,
30:1, 85-92, DOI: 10.1080/10911359.2019.1673869
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Published online: 24 Jan 2020.
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Goodbye Sigmund Freud: The case for exorcising the ghost of
Freud from the eld of psychology
Armando Simón
Flying Phoenix, Live Oak, Texas, USA
The argument put forth in this paper is that Sigmund Freuds psycho-
analytic theories were pseudoscientic and philosophical rather than
empirical. Several examples are given to support this conclusion. It is
further argued that Freud and his theories should be completely
expurgated from the eld and not taught in universities.
Freud; psychoanalysis;
pseudoscience; psychology;
education; therapy
Among its many notable distinctions, the city of Vienna has had the dubious honor of having
produced some of the most inuential and famous pseudosciences of European history in the
past two centuries. That city gave us the charismatic Franz Anton Mesmer, who created
Mesmerism, said doctrine being grounded on a complex doctrine based on ctitious magnetic
properties (Mackay, 1980). Vienna also gave us Franz Joseph Gall, the proponent of phrenol-
ogy. And Vienna gave us Sigmund Freud, with his doctrine of psychoanalysis. This particular
doctrine was one of personality development and behaviors based on sexual perversions and
aggression as being the universal norm,as constantly manifested in a myriad of symbolic ways
that could supposedly be deciphered according to psychoanalytic principles. It should be
mentioned that, in all fairness, Mesmerism, phrenology and psychoanalysis were complex
pseudoscientic doctrines which were honestly believed in by their proponents and did not
constitute a conscious attempt at fraud, as was the case with the famous Fox sisters in the
1800s with their spiritualism (Hill & Williams, 1967).
Freudian doctrine and psychoanalysis really took obeginning in the 1920s as a popular
fad, even adapted into movies and theater (e.g., Eugene ONeillsMourning Becomes Electra):
Such was the Freudian gospel as it imbedded itself in the American mind after being ltered
through the successive minds of interpreters and popularizers and guileless readers and
people who had heard guileless readers talk about it. New words and phrases began to be
bandied about the cock-tail tray and the Mah Jong table inferiority complex, sadism,
masochism, Oedipus complex. Intellectual ladies went to Europe to be analyzed; analysts
plied their new trade in American cities (Allen, 1931/1959, p. 81).
By 1935, psychoanalysis in general was all the ragein London, as it was throughout most of
the world. Politicians were being psychoanalyzed by reporters in the daily newspapers, the
literary world was entranced with the possibilities the new science oered for individual
creativity, and critics in every eld were busy applying and misapplying its doctrines to many
disparate genres and disciplines (Bair, 2003, p. 414).
CONTACT Armando Simón Flying Phoenix, 7217 Rimwood, Live Oak, Texas 78233, USA
2020, VOL. 30, NO. 1, 8592
© 2020 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
Freud continues to sporadically crop up in popular culture in more recent times, as in The
Seven Percent Solution, Freud: The Secret Passion, and A Dangerous Method movies and an
episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The embracing of Freudian psychoanalysis by both psychologists and psychiatrists was,
and is, a classic example of Andersens tale of the emperor without clothes (Schaeer,
2017). The Freudian doctrine is a eld populated by fantasies having little basis in reality;
many present-day social scientists realize the shortcomings but are reluctant in voicing
their views; indeed, a classical response of neo-Freudians to the rejection of Freudian
principles is that the dissenter is actually repressing and suppressing his motivations for
criticism. In particular with newcomers to the eld lacking self-condence is that if they
use common sense in rejecting the Freudian house of cards they will reveal themselves to
be ignorantand unworthy to be a psychologist or psychiatrist. This is particularly so if
another colleague exclaims that he/she has seen his client exhibit glimpses of the Electra
complex, phallic stage, penis envy, etc.
However, this present day tolerance for Freudian
pseudoscience is puzzling. American psychologists struggled long and hard to free them-
selves from the sterile addiction to the fact-free verbosity that is Philosophy. Indeed, if
today an individual were to actually submit to any psychology journal a treatise on
behavior, development, or even dreams, without any experimental facts whatsoever,
with no practical applications (McConnell, 1968), and with enormous non sequitur leaps
in logic based solely on self-faith and dreams, the editor of said journal would be
incredulous. Indeed, one of the characteristics of Freudian psychoanalysis is that it was
not based on any objective, empirical, veriable studies. The entire system of classical
psychoanalytic thought rests on nothing more substantial than Freuds word that it is true.
And that is why the late Nobel Prize winner in medicine Sir Peter Medawar famously
condemned that system as “’a stupendous intellectual condence trick’” (Crews, 1999;
p. xxiv). Although Ramón y Cajal (1916/1999, p. 1) did not have psychoanalysis in mind,
what he wrote almost a century ago is highly relevant:
The unique method of reection indulged in by the Pythagoreans and followers of Plato (and
pursued in modern times by Descartes, Fichte, Krause, Hegel, and more recently at least
partly by Bergson) involves exploring ones own mind or soul to discover universal laws and
solutions to the great secrets of life. Today this approach can only generate feelings of sorrow
and compassion the latter because of talent wasted in the pursuit of chimeras, and the
former because of all the time and work so pitifully squandered.
Much later in 1935, however, he did, indeed, have Freud on his mind when he wrote to
a friend, after exploring his own dreams, that (Ramón y Cajal, 1908, as quoted in Erlich, 2017),
Except in extremely rare cases it is impossible to verify the doctrine of the surly and some-
what egotistical Viennese author, who has always seemed more preoccupied with founding
a sensational theory than with the desire to austerely serve the cause of scientic theory.
Freudian philosophy (or theory) is a close-ended, nontestable proposition without any
eectiveness or application and with no basis in fact and, as such, is not scientic
(Kupfersmid, 1995; Stanovich, 2012). Popper (1962), in particular, objected to the inability
to test Freuds ideas. What constitutes a scientic theory is as well known throughout the
sciences as is the principle of Occams Razor: The word theoryis used in science to refer
to an embracing concept for which there are abundant experimental and observational
bases(Goldsmith, 1991, p. 12). And, A theory, in this sense, is a statement about nature
that has acquired secure underpinnings.(Goldsmith, 1991, p. 13) Freudian doctrine ts
the denition of a pseudoscience (Dawes, 2018). Logic would dictate, then, that we discard
the Freudian chimera. That psychologists have not forcefully done so by now does not
speak well for the eld.
In order that I may not appear too radical in classifying Sigmund Freud as a charlatan
(for which I have been accused numerous times) I will quote a typical passagethis one
from Civilization and its Discontents (Freud, 1961, p. 37)including his usual trick of
disarming objections beforehand by admitting that it may sound too fantastic:
Psycho-analytic material, incomplete as it is and not susceptible to clear interpretation, never-
theless admits of a conjecture a fantastic-sounding one about the origin of this human feat
[control over re]. It is as though primal man had the habit, when he came in contact with re, of
satisfying an infantile desire connected with it, by putting it out with a stream of urine. The
legends that we possess leave no doubt about the originally phallic view taken of tongues of ame
as they shoot upwards. Putting out re by micturating a theme to which modern giants, Gulliver
in Lilliput and RabelaisGargantua, still hark back was therefore a kind of sexual act with a male,
an enjoyment of sexual potency in a homosexual competition. The rst person to renounce this
desire and spare the re was able to carry it owith him and subdue itto his own use. By damping
down the re of his own sexual excitation, he had tamed the natural force of re. This great
cultural conquest was thus the reward for his renunciation of instinct. Further, it is as though
woman had been appointed guardian of the re which was held captive on the domestic hearth,
because her anatomy made it impossible for her to yield to the temptation of this desire. It is
remarkable, too, how regularly analytic experience testies to the connection between ambition,
re and urethral eroticism.
Additionally, some of the concepts and practices traditionally attributed to Freud were in
reality put forth by predecessors who have been eclipsed by the Freudian mythos. Those
concepts were part were part of the cultural tradition of Europe, viz., the ego-id-superego
triad is a centuries-old European concept voiced in various ways, e.g., the Nietzschean/
Greek concept of the Dionysian/Apollonian conict, Robert Louis StevensonsDr. Jekyll
vs. Mr. Hyde, and others. An example of this mental set is a paper by Morewedge and
Norton (2009). In looking at several theories on dreams, they persistently referred to the
theory of dreams containing hidden messages as the Freudian theory (although why not
Jungian or Adlerian?), in spite of the fact that such an outlook is almost universal in
cultures employing oneiromancers. Indeed, in Europe itself, prior to Freud, dreams were
routinely interpreted for hidden meanings as far back as the Roman Empire (Tacitus 98/
1989). In many cultures throughout the world that have not been contaminated by the
Freudian doctrine, the interpretation of dreams still continues and their symbolic mean-
ings are devoid of Freudian symbolism (someone once remarked that Freudian patients
have Freudian dreams and Jungian patients have Jungian dreams).
As is well known, the original Freudian psychoanalysis spawned a subsequent number of
similar sects, such as those of Adler, Reich, Ferenczy, Sullivan, Horney and Fromm (cf. Adler,
1964,1969; Reich, 1976; Sullivan, 1970). Each one, with the exception of Jung and Horney,
took one small event, or emotion, out of the whole range of human experience and over
gloried it, building their own psychoanalytic edices based mostly on that single, specic,
issue with which he/she had personally become obsessed. And it is rather revealing that they
were viewed as heresies by the original followers of The Master
but were seen decades later by
other psychoanalysts as buttressing the psychoanalytical eld in much in the same way that
additional epicycles were added onto the Ptolemaic system of astronomy in order to account
for inconsistencies (i.e., reality). As Tolman (1989) pointed out, neither of the competing
theories nullify the others; choosing one is a matter of preference (which begs the question:
how can they be deemed to be scientic?).
Nevertheless, psychoanalysis remains associated with Freuds dogmatic doctrines. What
is embarrassing is that Freudian personality doctrine is still occasionally being seriously
taught within psychology, even though some (most?) teachers of the eld, and the writers
of American textbooks, know or suspect the falsity of Freud.
Furthermore, some writers
of textbooks themselves oftentimes appear to have serious doubts about psychoanalytic
philosophy. This was evident when, many years ago, I took a random sample of (15)
general psychology textbooks in American universities and analyzed the contents. Most of
them, after presenting the bulk of the Freudian doctrines, were somewhat critical of them.
Yet, not only did they nevertheless include the topic in the textbooks anyway but, for the
most part, were positively timid in their criticism while the others limited themselves to
a neutral, uncommitted presentation of the dogma. Only one author of those surveyed
(Pronko, 1973) omitted the Freudians altogether.
But whereas textbooks of general
psychology may shy away to some degree from Freud, in the subspecialties of develop-
mental psychology and personality psychology, he is embraced (e.g., Papalia & Martorell,
2015; Papalia & Olds, 1986). It must be remembered throughout that Freud never cured
a single patient.
Indeed, this pseudoscience should not even be mentioned in psychology textbooks. Do
geologists and astronomers give equal, serious, consideration to the Flat Earth concept?
Do biologists reserve a chapter in their textbooks to present the Creationist point of view?
Why, then, do we have to continue to pretend to respect and take seriously these bizarre
precepts (just one example: while Freud claimed that the urge by children to commit
incest was universal, he also considered the urge in women to experience oral sex as a
loathsome sexual perversion(Freud, 1964, p. 36)).
The reason why we do this is
embarrassingly simple: conformity and timidity.
Furthermore, there is no need to waste time and eort in trying to disprove the various
aspects of the dogma, like the phallic stage, Thanatos, the dream symbolism, etc. Consider,
for example, Wilhelm Fliess, Sigmund Freuds fellow Viennese, whom Freud greatly
admired for many years (Gardner, 1984; Masson, 1985). Who would, today, actually
waste his/her time disproving the theory put forth in his On the Causal Connection
Between the Nose and the Sexual Organ? Simply because a pseudoscience is complex
does not mean that it is necessarily true nor that one must dedicate an inordinate amount
of time disproving it. One can simply walk away and leave it behind.
If it is any consolation, this is not the rst time that an otherwise respectable eld of
study has embraced an erroneous doctrine, or even an out and out hoax. For centuries,
respectable architecture sought only to copy existing Greek and Roman architecture, and
a building simply could not be built without cornices, peristyles or Ionic columns. It was
dicult to convince architects otherwise. In anthropology, scientists were taken in by the
Piltdown hoax. For centuriesuntil last century, in factthe mandatory learning of Greek
and Latin was an ironclad requirement in order to obtain a college degree in any eld of
study, the supposed rationale being that the study of Greek and Latin trained the mind to
be logical and rational; Thorndike found it hard to convince academicians otherwise
(Sprinthall & Sprinthall, 1977). Huxley (1964) detailed the tedious agony that students
had to endure in studying the classical languages. Within psychology itself, comparative
psychology wasted decades studying the learning behavior of the ersatz laboratory white
rat, exclusively, to the neglect of all other species and of all other behaviors, while
stubbornly pretending that European ethology did not exist (Beach, 1950; Simón, 2017).
Likewise, a lot of time and eort was wasted by Hull and his coworkers (Chaplin &
Krawiec, 1968) in trying to formulate a universal mathematical equation of motivation
and learning, again based on the white rat. And in modern times, the scores obtained in
the Graduate Record Examination are systematically used to reject applicantsentry into
American graduate schools, even though there is convincing evidence that the GRE scores
are irrelevant to performance in graduate school (Kaczmarek & Franco, 1986; Kaiser,
1986; Oldeld, 1998).
Yet, although the above cul de sacs in psychology were corrected with the exception of
the use of the G.R.E. Freudian pseudoscience, in spite of its obvious aws, has persisted
within the eld for over a century. This is puzzling when, unlike with the other mistakes,
psychoanalytic philosophy was sterile in so far as scientic research or even therapeutic
outcome right from the very beginning (Eysenck & Wilson, 1973; Kline, 1972). In some
countries, such as Indonesia and Argentina, Freudian psychoanalysis to this day has had
a crippling stranglehold on the mental health eld so that for the better part of the 20th
century, non-Freudian psychologists were excluded from clinical work (Saforcada, 2008).
But, to this day there is a very intense dislike among many individuals against being harsh
toward Freud (e.g., Boxer, 1997); the primary and consistent reason for rejecting this
paper when submitted to previous journals has been that the author was too harsh in his
assessment of Freud. Perhaps the harshness is necessary in order to jolt these reluctant
individuals out of their conformity.
In summary, the Freudian philosophy has stunted North American psychology for
a century. It has also resulted in real harm; based on his decree that schizophrenia was
brought on by latent homosexuality based, as usual, on absolutely no evidence whatso-
ever schizophrenics in hospitals were diagnosed with suering from homosexual panic
and mothers were seen as being culpable (Nasar, 1998). There were other psychological
disturbances that were also blamed on mothers (Vicedo, 2010).
Although the general public has had no qualms in rejecting this pseudoscience
(Anonymous, 1979), many Western psychologists have timidly gone along because of
both conformity and timidity. Interestingly, it is the fate of many pseudosciences to
nevertheless linger on as a glimmer of their former vitalities (as witness the Flat Earth
Society) and so we can expect the Freudian doctrines to persist for many more years.
However, the ocial inclusion of this pseudoscience within the textbooks of Western
psychology for students to learn is an embarrassment and tarnishes the eld. This practice
should stop. In spite of great advances in respectability, the public still harbors occasional
suspicion as to psychologys validity and this suspicion may be due to the fact that we still
embrace Sigmund Freud as one of our own. This situation is not helped by the occasional
whitewash of The Master (Barglow, 2017).
In closing, as a parallel, I would like to cite a 16th century scientist, William Gilbert,
who exhaustively studied magnetism in a scientic manner and who railed against the
charlatans of his own time. It is unfortunate that the argument that he made centuries ago
must still be reiterated four centuries later rather than simply having become axiomatic
(Gilbert, 1952, p. 27):
Many modern authors have written about amber and jet as attracting chaand about other
facts unknown to the generality, or have copied from other writers: with the results of their
labors booksellersshops are crammed full. Our generation has produced many volumes
about recondite, abstruse, and occult causes and wonders, and in all of them amber and jet
are represented as attracting cha; but never a poof of experiments, never a demonstration do
you nd in them. The writers deal only in words that involve in thicker darkness subject-
matter; they treat the subject esoterically, miracle-mongeringly, abstrusely, recondite, mysti-
cally. Hence such philosophy bears no fruit; for it rests simply of a few Greek or unusual
terms just as our barbers toss oa few Latin words in the hearing of the ignorant rabble in
token of their learning, and thus win reputation bears no fruit, because few of the
philosophers themselves are investigators, or have any rst-hand acquaintance with things;
most of them are indolent and untrained, add nothing to knowledge by their writings, and are
blind to the things that might throw a light upon their reasonings.
1. This paper is frankly polemical in nature, an accusationthat has been labeled as such by
various readers. But this criticism, or if you will accusation,of Freud is hardly the rst, see
Crews (1999) for a compilation of exceedingly harsh critics of Freud, psychoanalysis, and the
cult of sycophants that Freud created.
2. I must admit to having experienced these self-doubts, in direct proportion to the self-
condence of the various narrators, many decades ago during my graduate school days.
Trying to follow the train of logic in Freuds writings, which were devoid of crucial details,
and abounded in non sequiturs was extremely perplexing. I could not understand how he could
have come to the conclusions that he did; the hard data was not presented and the evidence that
was presented was ambiguous at best. And what was the goal of psychoanalysis? Simply to have
the patient admit to the Oedipus Complex? Ultimately, I decided that the crucial information,
the basis, the key, must lie somewhere else, known only to the experts and I simply had not
encountered it and had not had sucient training. After all, Freud was considered a giant in the
eld of science; many books said so; many professors said so; many clinicians said so; many
lms said so. But in the end I realized that he was just a charlatan.
3. As Freud was referred to by some of his Jewish sycophants and there were many; Freud insisted on
groveling subservience from his followers inside the cult (cf. MacDonald (1996), Bair (2003)).
4. Indeed, the present author remembers instructors who, forced to teach Freud, attempted to
attenuate the doctrines of The Master by appealing to his zeitgeist, to his ethnic subculture, to
his personal life history, to his addiction to cocaine, to the small sample of clients, to his thirst
for fame, and even to his attractive appearance in supposedly sparking osexual fantasies in his
female patients.
5. One editor wrote to me: Many undergraduates taking psychology classes are disappointed to
not be learning more about Freud; those we send over to the English department to revel in
(gak!) Freudian analyses of literature.
6. It is also important to remember that Freud not only was a cocaine addict, and was a promoter
of cocaine addiction, but he tended to urinate in his trousers while in public, and fainted
anytime that Jung said something that he particularly objected to (Bair, 2003). Quite the
standard bearer for normality!.
7. At this point, I must interrupt the ow of the narrative to seemingly contradict myself, but in
fairness it must be pointed out: Lastly, and very importantly, Sigmund Freud is one of those
very rare individuals in the history of scientic thought who, although a charlatan, paradoxi-
cally did contribute something to science. This may appear confusing and to completely
contradict the thesis of this paper, but one must remember Mesmers contribution to hypnosis
and Lamarcks other contributions to biology. Likewise, in the 19th century, a paleontologist by
the name of Albert Koch created hoaxes, even though he also made legitimate paleontological
discoveries (Mayor, 2012). Freud did contribute two original, demonstrable and innovative
concepts to psychology, that of the various defense mechanismsand the so-called Freudian
slips,as put forth in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Freud, 1970). Arguably, his essay
on humor (Freud, 1971) could also be considered innovative. And here, again, lies yet another
reason for the ambivalence of many psychologists toward Freud, since if one part is true and
evident, it is natural to think that the whole must be true.
Declaration of interest
There is no conict of interest, nor of funding by any institution. The question of ethical treatment
of persons or animals is irrelevant in this mss.
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... He is the father of psychoanalysis, a subject of theories and therapeutic techniques that aims to treat mental disorder through the unconscious mind (Wallerstein, 1988). On the other hand, Freud and psychoanalysis are highly controversial in the modern era and have resulted in many debates and criticisms; some went as far as arguing that Freud and his theories set back the advancement of psychology and psychiatry by at least 50 years (Eysenck, 1991), and should be totally rejected by the field and not taught in universities (Simón, 2020). Psychoanalysis did suffer from an apparent decline in psychiatry in the United States in the mid-1980s, attributable to the accumulation of little empirical support (Hale Jr, 1995;Crews, 1996). ...
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Sigmund Freud is occasionally perceived as outdated and his work no longer relevant to academia. The citing papers (CPs) that cited Freud works were collected from Web of Science and analyzed. The 10 most common research areas of the CPs were noted, and the overall volume of the respective bodies of literature were retrieved. I computed the annual percentage of the respective bodies of literature that cited Freud. On a separate note, I computed the annual percentage of citations coming from psychology and psychiatry. Results based on 42,571 CPs found that psychology accounted for over half of the citations to Freud. The percentage of psychology papers citing Freud declined gradually from around 3% in the late 1950s to around 1% in the 2010s, in an extent of −0.02% per year over the entire survey period spanning across 65 years from 1956 till 2020 ( P < 0.001). In psychiatry, a similar decline was observed, from around 4–4.5% in the late 1950s to just below 0.5% in the 2010s, in an extent of −0.1% per year ( P < 0.001). However, a reverse trend was observed for psychoanalysis literature, which generally increased from 10–20% before the 1980s to 25–30% since the 2000s, in an extent of +0.2% per year ( P < 0.001). Meanwhile, the annual percentage of CPs coming from psychology and psychiatry was decreasing by 0.4% per year ( P < 0.001). Bibliometric data supported the notion that Freud's influence was on a decline in psychology and psychiatry fields.
The main goal of this paper is to analyze the (pseudo)scientific status of psychoanalysis and identifying methodological problems of testing psychoanalytic hypotheses. After considering the scientific and hermeneutic reception of psychoanalysis, we see the future of psychoanalysis in methodological pluralism as a research method that bridges the gap between the two mentioned traditions.
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Many philosophers have come to believe there is no single criterion by which one can distinguish between a science and a pseudoscience. But it need not follow that no distinction can be made: a multifactorial account of what constitutes a pseudoscience remains possible. On this view, knowledge-seeking activities fall on a spectrum, with the clearly scientific at one end and the clearly non-scientific at the other. When proponents claim a clearly non-scientific activity to be scientific, it can be described as a pseudoscience. One feature of a scientific theory is that it forms part of a research tradition being actively pursued by a scientific community. If a theory lacks this form of epistemic warrant, this is a pro tanto reason to regard it as pseudoscientific.
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Several previous scholars have noted the decline in the field of comparative psychology in so far as fewer students are obtaining an advanced degree in the field and fewer courses are being offered in universities. However, the real cause for the decline occurred decades prior and although the problem was acknowledged at the time, no significant corrections were made and those same scholars have skirted the issue. Presently, it is bureaucratic obstacles that impede a resurgence of the discipline.
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