Why Psychoanalysis?

By Chessick, Richard D. | American Journal of Psychotherapy, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Why Psychoanalysis?


Chessick, Richard D., American Journal of Psychotherapy


ELISABETH ROUDINESCO: Why Psychoanalysis? translated by R. Bowlby. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002, 181 pp., $22.50, ISBN 0-231-12202-0.

Elisabeth Roudinesco is the author of a major biography of Jacques Lacan (1997) and now she has written a little gem of a book, first published in France in 1999, which, in my opinion, should be mandatory reading for all students and mental health professionals. Of course one of the reasons I feel this way is that I (Psychoanalytic Clinical Practice [2000] London, Free Press) have been proclaiming the same thesis over and over again, namely, as Roudinesco puts it in her preface, "Psychoanalysis testifies to an advance of civilization over barbarism." She elaborates on this in her chapter titled "Frankenstein's Brain" as follows:

This is why it was so successful for a century in countries marked by Western culture: in Europe, in the United States, in Latin America. Notwithstanding the attacks made on it, and notwithstanding the rigidity of its institutions, in these circumstances it ought once again today to be able to bring a humanist response to the gentle and death-dealing savagery of a depressive society tending to reduce human beings to machines without thought or feeling. (p. 55)

Her little book presents commentary and elaboration on this exceedingly important theme.

Roudinesco points out that psychoanalysis has been dislodged from its central position in the 20th century and been replaced by psychotropic medications and DSM-IV, with its emphasis on symptoms, syndromes, and diagnoses. She continues, "Confronted by the growth of psychopharmacology, psychiatry has let go of the nosographic model in favor of a classification of forms of behavior. As a result, it has reduced psychotherapy to a technique for eradicating symptoms" (p. 27).

She attacks the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama, who trumpeted the "disappearance" of psychoanalysis and the end of history, making way, says Roudinesco, "for the coming of a society based on natural science, one that has abolished humanity itself" (p. 47). Much of this was already pointed out in the writings of Franz Alexander (Chessick, 1996, Franz Alexander and the development of psychoanalysis in the United States. In Psychoanalysis Today and 70 Years Ago, ed. by H. Weiss and H. Lang. Tubingen, Germany: Edition Discord).

Roudinesco insists that the situation with respect to the replacement of psychoanalysis by standard behavioristic and biological aspects of medical thought is worse in the United States than it is in France. She contends that in France the explanatory models of the mind based on DSM IV, "or on new mythologies of the brain" (p. 71) were not as acceptable. Americans, on the other hand, have adopted an approach claiming faster therapeutic solutions to so called well-known "disorders." She directly attacks the work of the U.S. philosopher Grunbaum, who demands from psychoanalysis that it be assessed like a positivistic science and as such misses the whole point by, "taking experimentation to be the only proof of a subjective truth, without ever perceiving the difference between the natural sciences and the human sciences" (pp. …

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