Psychoanalysis, Their Wierd Theories
Freud, Psychoanalysis, Repressed Memories
Repressed Memories, Memories, & False Memories
Freud's Sexual Molestation Theory
Neuroscience & Freud
Freud, Psychoanalysis, Repressed Memories
Why do we dream--Scientific American

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)


From The Skeptics Dictionary (available in print) and at

"By the 1950s and '60s, the master's warning had been drowned in a tumult of excited voices. Psychoanalysts and psychiatrists could cure even schizophrenia, the most feared mental disease of all, they claimed, and they could do it simply by talking with their patients" (Dolnick, 12).  Similar to religion with its gods and the putative special knowledge gained through revelation (including scripture), observations, and “rational” analysis (logic and theology), Freud’s psychoanalysis  (and psychoanalysis in general) claims revelations into the black box of the subconscious mind based on observations of patients and his theoretical constructs derived therefrom.  Like religion the product is an affront to the rational process.  Both have their practitioners who are beyond reason.--jk   

psychoanalytic theory

Psychoanalysis is the granddaddy of all pseudoscientific psychotherapies, second only to Scientology as the champion purveyor of false and misleading claims about the mind, mental health, and mental illness. For example, in psychoanalysis schizophrenia and depression are not brain disorders, but narcissistic disorders. Autism and other brain disorders are not brain problems but mothering problems. These illnesses do not require pharmacological or behavioral treatment. They require only "talk" therapy. Similar positions are taken for anorexia nervosa and Tourette's syndrome. (Hines 1990: 136) What is the scientific evidence for the psychoanalytic view of these mental illnesses and their proper treatment? There is none.

Freud thought he understood the nature of schizophrenia. It is not a brain disorder, but a disturbance in the unconscious caused by unresolved feelings of homosexuality. However, he maintained that psychoanalysis would not work with schizophrenics because such patients ignore their therapist's insights and are resistant to treatment (Dolnick 1998: 40). Later psychoanalysts would claim, with equal certainty and equal lack of scientific evidence, that schizophrenia is caused by smothering mothering. In 1948, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, for example, gave birth to the term "schizophrenogenic mother," the mother whose bad mothering causes her child to become schizophrenic (ibid. 94). Other analysts before her had supported the notion with anecdotes and intuitions, and over the next twenty years many more would follow her misguided lead.

Would you treat a broken leg or diabetes with "talk" therapy or by interpreting the patient's dreams? Of course not. Imagine the reaction if a diabetic were told that her illness was due to "masturbatory conflict" or "displaced eroticism." One might as well tell the patient she is possessed by demons, as give her a psychoanalytic explanation of her physical disease or disorder. Exorcism of demons by the shaman or priest, exorcism of childhood experiences by the psychoanalyst: what's the difference? So why would anyone still maintain that neurochemical or other physical disorders are caused by repressed or sublimated traumatic sexual childhood experiences? Probably for the same reason that theologians don't give up their elaborate systems of thought in the face of overwhelming evidence that their systems of belief are little more than vast metaphysical cobwebs. They get a lot of institutional reinforcement for their socially created roles and ideas, most of which are not capable of being subjected to empirical testing. If their notions can't be tested, they can't be disproved. What can't be disproved, and also has the backing of a powerful institution or establishment, can go on for centuries as being respectable and valid, regardless of its fundamental emptiness, falsity, or capacity for harm.

The most fundamental concept of psychoanalysis is the notion of the unconscious mind as a reservoir for repressed memories of traumatic events which continuously influence conscious thought and behavior. The scientific evidence for this notion of unconscious repression is lacking, though there is ample evidence that conscious thought and behavior are influenced by nonconscious memories and processes. 

Related to these questionable assumptions of psychoanalysis are two equally questionable methods of investigating the alleged memories hidden in the unconscious: free association and the interpretation of dreams. Neither method is capable of scientific formulation or empirical testing. Both are metaphysical blank checks to speculate at will without any check in reality.

Scientific research into how memory works does not support the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious mind as a reservoir of repressed sexual and traumatic memories of either childhood or adulthood. There is, however, ample evidence that there is a type of memory of which we are not consciously aware, yet which is remembered. Scientists refer to this type of memory as implicit memory. There is ample evidence that to have memories requires extensive development of the frontal lobes, which infants and young children lack. Also, memories must be encoded to be lasting. If encoding is absent, amnesia will follow, as in the case of many of our dreams. If encoding is weak, fragmented and implicit memories may be all that remain of the original experience. Thus, the likelihood of infant memories of abuse, or of anything else for that matter, is near zero. Implicit memories of abuse do occur, but not under the conditions which are assumed to be the basis for repression. Implicit memories of abuse occur when a person is rendered unconscious during the attack and cannot encode the experience very deeply. For example, a rape victim could not remember being raped. The attack took place on a brick pathway. The words 'brick' and 'path' kept popping into her mind, but she did not connect them to the rape. She became very upset when taken back to the scene of the rape, though she didn't remember what had happened there (Schacter: 232). It is unlikely that hypnosis, free association, or any other therapeutic method will help the victim remember what happened to her. She has no explicit memory because she was unable to deeply encode the trauma due to the viciousness of the attack which caused her to lose consciousness. The best a psychoanalyst or other repressed-memory therapist can do is to create a false memory in this victim, abusing her one more time.

Essentially connected to the psychoanalytic view of repression is the assumption that parental treatment of children, especially mothering, is the source of many, if not most, adult problems ranging from personality disorders to emotional problems to mental illnesses. There is little question that if children are treated cruelly throughout childhood, their lives as adults will be profoundly influenced by such treatment. It is a big conceptual leap from this fact to the notion that all sexual experiences in childhood will cause problems in later life, or that all problems in later life, including sexual problems, are due to childhood experiences. The scientific evidence for these notions is lacking.

In many ways, psychoanalytic therapy is based on a search for what probably does not exist (repressed childhood memories), an assumption that is probably false (that childhood experiences caused the patient's problem) and a therapeutic theory that has nearly no probability of being correct (that bringing repressed memories to consciousness is essential to the cure). Of course, this is just the foundation of an elaborate set of scientifically sounding concepts which pretend to explain the deep mysteries of consciousness and behavior. But if the foundation is illusory, what possibly could be the future of this illusion?

There are some good things, however, which have resulted from the method of psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud a century ago in Vienna. Freud should be considered one of our greatest benefactors if only because he pioneered the desire to understand those whose behavior and thoughts cross the boundaries of convention set by civilization and cultures. That it is no longer fashionable to condemn and ridicule those with behavioral or thought disorders is due in no small part to the tolerance promoted by psychoanalysis. Furthermore, whatever intolerance, ignorance, hypocrisy, and prudishness remains regarding the understanding of our sexual natures and behaviors cannot be blamed on Freud. Psychoanalysts do Freud no honor by blindly adhering to the doctrines of their master in this or any other area. Finally, as psychiatrist Anthony Storr put it: "Freud's technique of listening to distressed people over long periods rather than giving them orders or advice has formed the foundation of most modern forms of psychotherapy, with benefits to both patients and practitioners" (Storr 1996: 120).[i]

[i]   There are many problems with this statement, for like the Catholic religion, which replaced philosophy in Rome and precipitated the Dark Ages; psychoanalysis provided respectability to pseudoscientific approaches to behavioral analysis and treatment of behavioral problems.  The drive to understand behavior had other, better schools.  And as for the claim of benefit to “both patients and practitioners”, talk therapy has been shown in a number of properly constructed studies to be no better than no treatment at all—about 1/3rd of each group show marked improvement.  Sure, the practitioners benefit, for the treatment is long and repeated.--jk 


Central to Freud’s model of model of the mind is that of repressed memories which must be ferreted out by the therapist as an essential part of the talk therapy—jk


repressed memory

A repressed memory is the memory of a traumatic event unconsciously retained in the mind, where it is said to adversely affect conscious thought, desire, and action.

It is common to consciously repress unpleasant experiences. Many psychologists believe that unconscious repression of traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse or rape is a defense mechanism which backfires. The unpleasant experience is forgotten but not forgiven. It lurks beneath consciousness and allegedly causes a myriad of psychological and physical problems from bulimia to insomnia to suicide.


The theory of unconsciously repressing the memory of traumatic experiences is controversial. There is little scientific evidence to support either the notion that traumatic experiences are typically unconsciously repressed or that unconscious memories of traumatic events are significant causal factors in physical or mental illness. Most people do not forget traumatic experiences unless they are rendered unconscious at the time of the experience. No one has identified a single case where a specific traumatic experience in childhood was repressed and the repressed memory of the event, rather than the event itself, caused a specific psychiatric or physical disorder in adulthood.[i]

The strength of the scientific evidence for repression depends on exactly how the term is defined. When defined narrowly as intentional suppression of an experience, there is little reason to doubt that it exists. But when we talk about a repression mechanism that operates unconsciously and defensively to block out traumatic experiences, the picture becomes considerably murkier.

Evidence concerning memory for real-life traumas in children and adults indicates that these events--such as the Chowchilla kidnappings, the sniper killing at an elementary school, or the collapse of skywalks at a Kansas City hotel--are generally well remembered....complete amnesia for these terrifying episodes is virtually nonexistent (Schacter 1996, 256).


Psychologist Lenore Terr, a defender of repressed memory therapy, argues that repression occurs for repeated or multiple traumas, such as a repeatedly abused child. Schacter notes that "hundreds of studies have shown that repetition of information leads to improved memory, not loss of memory, for that information." He also notes that people who have experienced repeated traumas in war, even children, generally remember their experiences. A person who suffers a great trauma often finds that she cannot get the event out of her mind or dreams. Terr's theory is that the child becomes practiced at repression to banish the awful events from awareness, and forgetting might aid in the child's survival. Her dissociative theory, however, is based on speculation rather than scientific evidence.

Most psychologists accept as fact that it is quite common to consciously repress unpleasant experiences, even sexual abuse, and to spontaneously remember such events long afterward. Most of the controversy centers around recovered memories during repressed memory therapy (RMT). Critics of RMT maintain that many therapists are not helping patients recover repressed memories, but are suggesting and planting false memories of alien abduction, sexual abuse, and satanic rituals.


See related entries on dianetics, hypnosis, false memory, mind, multiple personality disorder, repressed memory, repressed memory therapy, and the unconscious.


further reading

Ashcraft, Mark H. Human Memory and Cognition (Addison-Wesley Pub Co., 1994).

Baddeley, Alan D. Human Memory: Theory and Practice (Allyn & Bacon, 1998).

Baker, Robert A. Hidden Memories: Voices and Visions From Within (Buffalo, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 1992).

Hallinan, Joseph T. "Money for repressed memories repressed," Sacramento Bee, Jan. 12, 1997, Forum.

Loftus, Elizabeth. The Myth of Repressed Memory (New York: St. Martin's, 1994).

Schacter, Daniel L., editor, Memory Distortion: How Minds, Brains, and Societies Reconstruct the Past (Harvard University Press, 1997).

Schacter, Daniel L. Searching for Memory - the brain, the mind, and the past (New York: Basic Books, 1996).

Schacter, Daniel L. The Seven Sins of Memory : How the Mind Forgets and Remembers (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001).



new therapies

Without sound science, there is a fertile bed for new theories and therapies.  The process which produced Jung, Adler, and others goes on today.  Among the recent progeny are:

Leonard Orr developed energy breathing and rebirthing theory. According to Orr, if you learn how to breathe energy well, you can breathe away diseases and physical or emotional pain.

Marguerite Sechehaye and John Rosen practice the theory of regression and reparenting.  The therapist becomes the patient’s  surrogate parent to make up for the terrible job her real parents did.

Jacqui Shiff's theory is that the patient must wear diapers, suck his thumb and drink from a baby bottle to be cured.

Sondra Ray and Bob Mandel believe that your problems are due to the way you were born. They will help "rebirth" you, properly this time.

John Fuller, Bruce Goldberg, Brian Weiss, Edith Fiore, Richard Boylan, David Jacobs, Budd Hopkins and  John Mack use hypnosis to discover the patient’s past or future lives as an alien abductee, in an effort to "help" them.

John Bradshaw's theory is that you have an "inner child" you must nurture and be good to, if you are to be healthy.

Arthur Janov practices Primal Therapy. According to Janov, the patient must rid herself of Primal Pain which can be eradicated only by learning the Proper Way to Scream and Capitalize.

Daniel Casriel's New Identity Process (NIP) involves screaming which allegedly unblocks what's blocked. Casriel’s scream is apparently a better kind of scream than Janov's.

Nolan Saltzman practices  Bio Scream Psychotherapy. His screaming is apparently better than both Casriel's and Janov's because it has more Love in it.


[i]  The failure to provide independent, solid collaboration of such events, which in numerous cases if real would have witnesses, entails that such events must be extremely rare and the search for them as a common cause is misplaced.  

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