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The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science

By Peter Medawar | Go to book overview

11
Further comments on psychoanalysis

In my Romanes Lecture on science and literature I implied that a psychoanalytical explanation-structure answered pretty closely to Lévi-Strauss's description of a myth. By this I meant that a psychoanalytical interpretation weaves around the patient a welltailored personal myth within the plot of which the subject's thoughts and behaviour seem only natural, and, indeed, only what is to be expected.

I must begin by making it clear that my criticism of psychoanalysis is not to be construed as a criticism of psychiatry or psychological medicine as a whole. People nowadays tend to use 'psychoanalysis' to stand for all forms of psychotherapy, much as 'Hoover' is used as a generic name for all vacuum cleaners and 'Vaseline' for all ointments of a similar kind. By psychoanalysis I understand that special pedigree of psychological doctrine and treatment which can be traced back, directly or indirectly, to the writings and work of Sigmund Freud. The position of psychological medicine today is in some ways analogous to that of physical or conventional medicine in the middle of the nineteenth century. The physician of a hundred and thirty years ago was confronted by all manner of medical distress. He studied and tried to cure his patients with great human sympathy and understanding and with highly developed clinical skills, by which I mean that he had developed to a specially high degree that form of heightened sensibility which made it possible for him to read a meaning into tiny clinical signals which a layman or a beginner would have passed over or misunderstood. The physician's relationship to his

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