Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Book Reviews -- from Freud's Consulting Room: The Unconscious in a Scientific Age by Judith M. Hughes

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Book Reviews -- from Freud's Consulting Room: The Unconscious in a Scientific Age by Judith M. Hughes

Article excerpt

JUDITH M. HUGHES: From Freud's Consulting Room: The Unconscious in a Scientific Age. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1994, 235 pp., $27.95.

This book is largely a history of the intellectual development of Sigmund Freud. It is also a useful and fascinating compendium of the history of psychoanalysis and the evolution of psychoanalytic theory, as it incrementally emerged from Freud's couch, that is, from the analysis of his patients.

The author begins with an acknowledgement that, incontestably, Freud's most distinctive and far-reaching contribution to psychology was his discovery of an unconscious domain that richly explains human thought and behavior. Freud initially mentioned the unconscious in print in 1895 and went on to amplify and refine this concept throughout the remainder of his professional career, writing in 1938, only one year before his death, that "psychoanalysis has seized upon this concept, has taken it seriously and has given it fresh content."

Hughes points out that on the basis of his earlier collaboration with Breuer as well as through certain insights derived from his own work with "hysterical" cases, Freud developed his theory of conversion symptoms which explained how traumatic memories, especially those associated with a conflict between a patient's intention and an antithetic idea, somehow transformed themselves into somatic symptoms. Yet, as Hughes notes, as early as 1909, Freud conceded that the conversion of mental processes into somatic symptoms could "never be fully comprehensible." And by 1926, he entirely retracted this theory by stating that the incomprehensibility of this relationship--between psyche and soma--was "a good reason for quitting such an unproductive field without delay."

Most of Freud's major conceptual discoveries are enumerated and provided appropriate historical context by the author who skillfully links them to specific case studies. For example, Freud's theories dealing with the Oedipus complex, transference, childhood sexuality, projection, paranoia, masturbation, narcissism, and dreams are all explicated with impressive clarity and insight.

This reviewer was, however, disappointed by the woodenly neutral quality of much of the writing. Perhaps historical studies such as this one require a high degree of moral and emotional neutrality on the part of their authors, but the stoicism and abstinence with which Hughes writes about so many of Freud's heterodox (for their time), controversial (for all time, it would seem) theories lends the text, in my view, an arid and uninspired quality. …

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