To the editors:
I am not a psychotherapist (but a sociologist) and have no vested interest in psychotherapy; in fact, I think many people would probably be wiser to spend their money on Bears' season tickets or Caribbean vacations than on therapy. But I am put off by the cavalier treatment of both theory and facts shown by Jeffrey Masson and his interviewer Timothy Beneke (December 2). A few examples follow:
Item: Masson asserts his disdain for theory, but what really comes through in the interview is an ignorance of key ideas in psychoanalysis. A theory of the unconscious is at the heart of psychoanalysis; this theory is based on the idea that all people (N.B., black and white, as well as Jew and German) have an unconscious that "contains" residues of repressed infantile sexual longings. The therapist is primarily concerned with the structure of the unconscious, not with the experiences that impinged upon it, just as an orthopedic surgeon has to be more informed on the nature of kneecaps than on the details of activities (ballet, football, etc.) that affected them. Masson is perfectly free to argue that this is a nonsensical theory, but at least he should be clear on what it states.
Item: It is very irresponsible of the interviewer to assert that one in four girls is the victim of incest and for Masson to assent to this remark by implying that one woman in three or four is indeed the victim of sexual abuse by her father or other male relative. You owe your readers the intellectual courtesy of some type of evidence, otherwise this comment is nothing more than sensationalism of the worst sort. To cite these figures without evidence is perilously close to legitimating the acts as "normal."
Item: It is quite sloppy to blame Freud or psychoanalysis in general for the (indeed inexcusable) link between Jung and the Nazis, or for lobotomies, or for the mistreatment of psychiatric patients. Certainly Masson should know better than to permit the interviewer to slur over the boundaries between analytically based therapies and the questionable practices used by some psychiatrists in situations in which the patients are involuntarily confined and powerless; classical therapy has always insisted on a voluntary relationship with an informed patient who realizes that there are no miracle cures, only increased insight.
Masson could have made a good (though hardly original!) case that psychotherapy ignores social and political realities; too bad that he resorted to such a careless and un-nuanced exposition of his ideas.
Timothy Beneke replies:
The very rigorous survey research of 930 women conducted by sociologist Diana Russell suggests that roughly one American girl in six is sexually abused by a male relative. Russell believes the true figure to be higher. If we include sexual abuse by any adult, her finding was 38 percent--about two in five. This is not sensationalism but reality, and a reality that Jeffrey Masson and I strongly and clearly deplore. (See The Secret Trauma by Diana E.H. Russell.)
Jeffrey Masson points out that the boundary between analysis and psychiatric abuse is shadowy indeed. With very few exceptions analysts are psychiatrists, virtually none of whom have taken public stands against electroshock, lobotomy, forced incarceration, or the other abuses of psychiatry. Psychoanalysts and psychiatrists have hardly been in the forefront in the struggle for social justice.