Final Analysis: The Making and Unmaking of a Psychoanalyst by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson



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He was the rising star of psychoanalysis, an intimate associate of Anna Freud and Kurt Eissler, a member of the Freudian “inner circle” with unrestricted access to the Freud Archives. And then Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson threw it all away because he dared to break the psychoanalytic community’s deepest taboo: he told the truth in public. As he unmasks the pretensions and abuses of this elite profession, Masson invites us to eavesdrop on the shockingly unorthodox analysis he was subjected to in the course of his analytic training. But the more prestige Masson attained, the more he came to doubt not only the integrity of his colleagues, but the validity of their method. In the end, he blew the whistle–fully aware of the personal and professional consequences.

With wit, wonder, and unflinching candor, Masson brilliantly exposes the cult of psychoanalysis and recounts his own self-propelled fall from grace. A sensation when it first appeared, Final Analysis is even more provocative and engrossing today. Written with passion and humor, this is the book that revealed a revered profession for what it was–and launched Masson on his true career.

Excerpt:

In 1971, more than anything else I wanted to become a psychoanalyst. For the next seven years, in analysis and analytic training, I talked, read, and breathed psychoanalysis.

Final Analysis is the story of my psychoanalytic training; of my friendships with Anna Freud, Kurt Eissler and others, and of why I eventually left that world. If this were just my personal story, I doubt it would be worth telling. But the injustices and corruption I encountered as a psychoanalytic candidate were built into the very training process; the implications, I believe, reach out to every analysis and beyond that to psychotherapy in general. I was not the only person to notice these abuses, but by the time training was over, few of us had escaped the acculturation that made them, from the safe distance of graduation, seem necessary or even normal.

No book has yet told what it is like to undergo training as an orthodox Freudian psychoanalyst. Nor does any book tell what it is like to leave that profitable and prestigious profession—those who have been part of the inner circle of psychoanalysis either do not leave, or have left in discreet silence. Thus, until now it has been almost impossible to get an internal view of the workings of this “men’s club” with its initiation rites; expectations of membership loyalty over truth; pressures to accept concepts handed down by the leader, no matter how irrational; xenophobic banding together against outsiders; and the punishment of anyone who poses questions or finally wants out. It is worth asking why no book like this has appeared before, since people have written accounts of leaving almost every other cult. Why has psychoanalysis cast such an impervious net around those who become attracted to it and then train in it?

I cannot say that I undertook this book without reluctance. I hesitated for three reasons. First, there was my personal pain in reviewing events that were hurtful to me when they happened. It is sometimes alarming for me to look back at my own ignorance, naiveté, or sheer blindness. I have winced many times in recollecting things I said and did during this period. George Orwell once said that nobody could ever write a truthful autobiography because the truth would always be too unbearably humiliating. Much of what I have remembered and written about here wounds my sense of who I would like to be.

My second reason for hesitating was that while I might be able to justify exposing myself to the ridicule, contempt, or mere head shaking of an anonymous public, I was not certain that I had the right to expose others who were close to me. Yet there seemed no way for me to write truthfully without doing so. All of the people I have in mind (for example, my mother, my father, my ex-wife) have read the book in manuscript, and while they were not in each instance delighted to find themselves in print in this manner, nobody objected or asked to have passages deleted.

Finally, I was daunted by the problem of accuracy. As an academic I had learned to rely on documents, and felt secure in their use. But now I was forced to fall back on my own memory. How accurate was it? Who can recall, exactly, conversations that took place years in the past? Fortunately, for some of the conversations in this book, including sessions with my analyst, I have notes made immediately afterward. But where I have had to rely on my memory and reconstruct conversations, I have tried to ensure that the words I ascribe to others are authentic by searching out original articles written by those I quote. In a few cases, I used published articles by the people cited to provide quoted text with ideas similar to those expressed at the time. While I am convinced that the dialogues are as true to the spirit of the actual conversations as memory permits, I cannot suggest that they should be regarded as verbatim.

I am entirely opposed to fictitious elements in historical accounts. Nobody in this book was invented, in whole or in part, and nobody represents some aspect of another person. There are no composite characters here. But of course the names of my patients were changed, as were those of people whose names did not seem to me to add anything significant to the reader’s understanding of my story or my thesis. I have alerted the reader to all fictitious names used by placing an asterisk after the name when it first appears.

Although this book stands by itself intellectually, it can be seen as the last volume of a trilogy that began in 1984 with the publication of The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory, and continued in 1988 with Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing. The Assault was concerned with a specific problem in the history of psychoanalysis, but the question of covering up the truth led me to much broader questions. At the time I wrote it, I was still considering psychotherapy as a profession. If my criticisms of psychoanalysis were correct, I had to reconsider the ethical validity of practicing psychoanalysis. But was any other form of therapy more ethical? My next book, published in 1986, A Dark Science: Women, Sexuality and Psychiatry in the Nineteenth Century, made clear that the corruption I had observed in psychoanalysis was endemic to psychiatry’s roots in Germany and France. Was modern psychotherapy, in any form, any better? Had it truly broken with its violent past? These questions led me to Against Therapy, with its historically grounded objections to the very idea of psychotherapy. While I had met kind and humane people who called themselves psychotherapists, none of them attributed their skill in helping people to their professional training; it was almost as if they were benign in spite of their training, and not as a result of it.

These books all resulted from reflecting on documents I had come across during my brief tenure as project director at the Sigmund Freud Archives. But in none of these publications (nor in my edition and translation of the Freud/Fliess letters) did I give any of the personal background and details that led me to take the positions I did.

Throughout this book I acknowledge that Freud’s preoccupations, with dreams, with memory, with the primacy of the emotions, with the importance of childhood and especially with human misery, are now our preoccupations, for the better. I am convinced that throughout history they have always been the preoccupation of men and women concerned with the betterment of their lives and those of their fellow creatures. We need to acknowledge Freud’s achievements; we do not need to revere his errors. Freud was an extraordinary human being with all the failings of a man; turning him into an idol is a disservice to what must remain a continual search for truth. He taught us much; there is still much to learn.

But while I admire much of what Freud taught us, I do not admire the fact that he turned astute observations about human nature into elements of a vast and profitable profession with all the trappings of a jealously protected guild. The price for joining this fraternity is silence about its membership policy. Corruption is incorporated, not exposed; prejudice and bias have been accepted, even embraced. It is a high price to pay for membership. This book examines that fraternity and that price, and in the end describes a pathway to freedom.


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