As more has been learned about child development since Freud's theories were first launched, there has been an increasing lack of support for some of his assumptions about the human personality. Perhaps none of his ideas have met with as much criticism as his psychosexual stages of development. While many modern-day clinicians still find aspects of his stages helpful, most do not adhere to the presupposition of sexual conflict being the central task of developmental maturity. Thus, concepts like Oedipal and Electra complexes are held by a very small minority of professionals overall.
Another criticism of Freud concerns his training as a physician and his extensive reliance on a medical model to develop his theory of psychoanalysis. His strong emphasis on pathology causes him to label behavior as "problematic" or "inappropriate" that most in contemporary times would classify as normative or common to the human condition. In other words, he is accused by some of "creating" psychopathology when it may not be anything out of the ordinary human experience.
Example: Data collection and report Freud's methods of collecting data from his patients have also drawn much criticism by scholars. The following represent some of the most prominent concerns:
Freud did not make verbatim transcripts of his conversations with patients. If he made notes at all it was typically hours after the interaction. Critics claim that important data would inevitably be lost because recall of specific details would fade the longer the interval between analysis and recording. This opened up the possibility that there were important omissions and distortions of the original data.
Because a central component of Freud's theory involved interpretation of a patient's disclosures, some critics claim that Freud could have easily recalled and recorded only what he wanted to hear or selectively chosen those aspects that would support his assumptions.
Freud claimed that a high percentage of his female clients had experienced sexual abuse as children, often by their fathers. Some have suggested that Freud used suggestive or even coercive procedures to elicit or plant memories of child sexual abuse in his patients. Freud himself later acknowledged that some recollections by his patients may have been fantasies they imagined. He even left the door open to the possibility, though he did not explicitly state it as fact, that he may have influenced their recollection in a coercive way.
Researchers have found discrepancies between Freud's notes and those cases histories on which those notes were supposedly based. This is a difficult problem to trace because Freud destroyed most of his patient files. Freud only published six case histories, and none are considered to be compelling evidence for the soundness of psychoanalysis. One of the cases he published was not even one of his patient, but that of another physician.
Even if Freud's recollections of events discussed in therapy were completely accurate, the reports given to him by patients may not have matched reality. Freud is known to have spent little time verifying accounts about patient's childhood experiences, especially those accusing family members of sexual abuse. Critics argue that he should have questioned family members to determine the accuracy of patient reports.
Critics have also pointed out that Freud's theories are based upon a very small homogenous sample group made up almost exclusively of upper-class Austrian women. Not only is it limited in gender and geographical location, but it is also influenced by a late nineteenth century society that was Victorian in manner, which manifested as sexually repressed. Such a sample, many contend, made Freud's focus on sex simply a reflection of the time period more than a determinant of personality.
Example: Is psychoanalysis science? Some psychologists claim that psychoanalysis is good science, others that it is bad science, and still others that it is not science at all. Those who believe psychoanalysis is good science are no doubt the minority based on findings in the latter half of the twentieth century. Surprisingly, not all psychoanalysts fall into this group. Rather, a fair number of psychoanalysts are willing to concede that psychoanalysis is not science and that it was never meant to be science. Instead, they claim that it is more like a worldview that helps people see connections that they otherwise would miss.
It is questionable whether Freud himself thought of his theory of psychoanalysis as science. Despite the growing popularity of psychoanalysis for therapy during his lifetime and beyond, Freud admittedly had little personal interest in the potential treatment value of his system. His primary concern was not to cure his patients but rather to explain the dynamics of human behavior. Though he thought of himself as a scientist more than a therapist, he did not apply scientific methods to how he gathered or analyzed the work upon which his theory was built.
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