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Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science, And Psychoanalysis Paperback – September 16, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a formidable critique of Freud's theories and modern psychoanalytic practice, English journalist Webster argues that Freud's mentor, French neurologist Jean Charcot, misdiagnosed as traumatic hysteria what were actually cases of injury-related brain damage and epilepsy. Misled by this error, Freud, in Webster's opinion, himself misdiagnosed many of his early cases, seeking to explain physical ailments or illnesses with recourse to patients' childhood emotional traumas. To Webster, psychoanalysis, for all its rationalism and professed secularism, is a "crypto-theological system," a modernized reworking of traditional Judeo-Christian morality, sexual realism and restraint. He portrays Freud as the founder of a messianic movement that placed at its core a confessional ritual: the therapy session. Freud's hero-worship of crackpot Berlin physician Wilhelm Fliess, his demonizing of dissidents such as Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, his inflating of successful therapeutic results and his overbearing, aggressive, even prosecutorial attitude toward his patients come under scrutiny. Yet, though Webster calls psychoanalysis a pseudoscience, he contends that it nevertheless has yielded productive insights about human nature and society because of its internal logic, sophistication and emotional nuance.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Journalist Webster explores the thesis that Freud misdiagnosed his early hysteria patients?essentially founding psychoanalysis on a false premise. Moreover, he likens the psychoanalytic movement to a religious cult, with Freud, the messianic figure, rigidly controlling its development. And, using Freud as examplar, Webster reveals what he considers to be a cryptic Judeo-Christian ethos embedded in the foundations of the scientific world view. The author doesn't address an essential point, however: at its inception, psychoanalysis did add a critical dimension to a growing theory of human behavior and spirituality, which included Darwin's work and continued with Jung's. Still, Webster's readable book presents an effective argument, rivaling Henri Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious (Basic Bks., 1970). Recommended for larger collections.?Dennis G. Twiggs, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (September 16, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465091288
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465091287
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,962,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A. H. Esterson on November 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Among Webster's many scholarly achievements in this meticulous and devastating examination of Freud's life and work, he exposes the extraordinary number of myths about Freud which abounded in the twentieth century. A minor one is that Einstein was a great admirer of Freud. This is erroneous. In a letter to one of his sons in the early 1930s Einstein wrote that he was unconverted by Freud's writings and believed his methods dubious - even fraudulent (cited in *The Private Lives of Albert Einstein*, by Roger Highfield and Paul Carter, p. 233).
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36 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Feri Kovács Clinical neuropsychologist on February 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
Richard Webster has done a marvellous job to show how fraudulent Freud really was. More revealing is that all ideas about the human psyche are to be questioned hereafter: the existence of defense mechanisms, existence of the death wish, the existence of the Ego, Superconscience and Id. If you ask me: nothing of these speculative concepts are really true. Webster shows quite convincingly the case against the 'diagnosis' conversion-hysteria. Still accepted in modern psychiatry but a complete misnomer: intrapsychic energy to be converted in physical pain/disorders, how? The whole Freudian thinking is still present in movies, television soaps and more frightening in forensic psychiatry, the military, national intelligence agencies, police departments. Obviously the 'dark side of mankind' has an extremely attractive side to it. What is frightening and disturbing is the fact that this whole conceptual pseudo-thinking about the human psyche (originated with Freud) really is a religionlike belief system. Very difficult to replace and really hindering better therapies for people who are suffering emotionally. Richard Webster's book should be thé textbook in psychology en psychiatry courses to show two things: 1. how our ideas about the human psyche and emotional system is largely based on a pseudo-theory and therefore a better alternative model of emotions and cognitions should be sought (for example in scientifically driven cognitive behaviour therapy).
2. how science really should work and should not work.
The strange thing is that Webster's book, to my knowledge, is nowhere in the world, really a textbook in psychology or psychiatry courses. Freud is still taught as if he has done some marvellous things and if some of his ideas are still correct. This is the most unbelievable thing of it all. And really frightening.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kurt J. Acker on April 17, 2009
Format: Paperback
Richard Webster exposes Sigmund Freud as a charlatan, the inventor of a pseudo-science that falsely claims to explain the human psyche and restore it to health. Freud's theories are not derived from empirical data, or even from Freud's clinical experience. Nor are they original with Freud, but are instead lifted, without attribution, from the general cultural ambiance, or from crackpots like Wilhelm Fleiss, who "cured" mental illness by cauterizing spots inside the nose. Webster builds on the writings of Frederick Crews ("Skeptical Engagements"), Adolf Grunbaum ("The Foundations of Psychoanalysis") and many others - to produce this devastating portrait of a man of titanic ambition and few scruples. At the height of his undeserved fame, Freud boasted that he was another Copernicus; but history is more likely to remember him as another L. Ron Hubbard.

Freud's theory of repression - "the very cornerstone of psychoanalysis" - is typically ill-founded and fanciful: Neurotic symptoms, says Freud, are generated by repressed memories of a "traumatic" sexual experience. Therapy locates the trauma and makes it conscious. Pent-up emotion is released. Presto!! - the symptoms disappear! So much for the hype. In reality, Freud doesn't derive his theory from the "confessions" of his patients, but from a clinical method that is self-confirming. Traumatic experiences are assumed and patients browbeaten until they agree with the therapist's assumptions. As for the alleged remedial powers of the Freudian method: Beginning with Anna O., whose case launched Freud's career as a faith-healer, cures have been claimed but never proven. After therapy, Anna wound up in a hospital displaying all the same symptoms she had to begin with.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By David Walters on May 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
Well over six hundred pages long, and boasting an extensive bibliography, Why Freud Was Wrong is a book that might look impressive at first glance. Webster undoubtedly put much effort into researching it, and his list of sources at least is helpful. It is dreadful, however, and it's only because of minor redeeming aspects such as its usefulness as a guide to other recent criticisms of Freud that I give it two stars rather than only one.

Much of Why Freud Was Wrong is given over to a preposterous and unscholarly argument that pretends to show that Freud is a "Judaeo-Christian" thinker, and that psychoanalysis is really a disguised version of "Judaeo-Christian" belief; it would be a wasted effort to show why his interpretation is mistaken, and the less said about it the better. It's more interesting, for what it reveals about Webster's style of argument, to examine his attempt to discredit Freud's concept of the unconscious. Strangely enough, one of his key sources here is Gilbert Ryle, a philosopher who, as he does not tell us, happened to have a rather positive view of Freud and psychoanalysis. Webster thinks highly of Ryle's The Concept of Mind, but glosses over the fact that it calls Freud "psychology's one man of genius" and seems to endorse the concept of the unconscious.

Webster seems to consider his own work the next best thing after Ryle, but he appears to have used Ryle mainly as a model for his prose style; all too obviously he put more effort into trying to write like Ryle than he did into thinking through the problems involved with "the unconscious" as a concept.
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