Evil Deeds

A forensic psychologist on anger, madness and destructive behavior.

Refreshment from Freud's Faucet: A Birthday Salute to Siggie

Though much maligned, Sigmund Freud is the father of modern psychotherapy.

 

 

 While I consider myself theoretically and practically more of an existential (see my prior post) and Jungian (see my prior post)  than Freudian psychologist, Sigmund Freud's fascinating writings influenced me profoundly from a very young age. As a somewhat intellectually precocious child, I started reading Freud--whose birthday is tomorrow, May 6--around the age of twelve or possibly even earlier. It was Sigmund Freud's flowing, lucid prose and keenly penetrating insight that inspired me later to pursue a career as a psychotherapist, following brief flirtations with medicine, art, acupuncture, and more enduringly, music in my teens. While I had always been drawn to psychology and psychotherapy, it wasn't until my trek cross country to California as a young man seeking his destiny that I decided to seriously pursue my professional calling. By the time I turned twenty-six, I was an independently licensed mental health professional practicing in the San Francisco Bay Area, and well on my way to eventually becoming a clinical psychologist. 

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Two decades later, during my 40s, I was fortunate to be able to spend summers traveling around Europe, mostly sightseeing, but sometimes studying, teaching or lecturing there. In the summer of 1999, I was invited to speak about my then recently released book, Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic, at the Second World Congress for Psychotherapy in Vienna, Austria, Freud's hometown. (Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia, now the Czech Republic, in 1856, but his family moved to Vienna when he was only three.) The admittedly Freudian-sounding title of my talk was "Myths of the Unconscious." Vacationing, as was my luxurious habit then, in Kusnacht--the impossibly beautiful Swiss lakeside village where Freud's one-time close collaborator, C.G. Jung, lived and practiced and the quaint location of the C.G. Jung Institute   (see my review of the movie A Dangerous Method)-- I chose to take the scenic ten-hour-train-ride from Zurich to Vienna. (For anyone considering making this pilgrimage, I strongly recommend taking the train over flying, for there is so much gorgeous countryside to see separating the historic cities of Jung and Freud, and enough time to savor it.) 

Once settled in the romantic town of Vienna (also the home of psychological luminaries like Alfred Adler, Otto Rank and Viktor Frankl) prior to delivering my lecture, I set out to visit Freud's former residence and office on Berggasse 19 in Vienna‘s ninth district, now the Sigmund Freud Museum. It was mid-summer, with unusually high temperatures and humidity, even for that typically torrid time of year. I eagerly walked a considerable distance from my hotel to find Freud's apartment in the mid-day swelter, sweating profusely. Finally I arrived at the unassuming but architecturally ornate apartment building in which Freud and his family lived from 1891 through 1938 before forced to flee to London from the Nazis, and where he first analyzed recumbent patients on his now iconic couch in the formative days of "psychoanalysis."

By the time I wearily climbed the stairs and entered the impressive second-story apartment, I was completely parched and dehydrated by the heat. Stepping through Freud's restored waiting room for his patients and where members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Freud's famous "inner circle" met every Wednesday evening, I approached the minimal museum staff and asked whether it would be possible to purchase a bottle of water. They apologetically but politely informed me that the museum did not sell beverages, bottled or otherwise. During this brief and mundane conversation, we were standing just outside of Freud's original kitchen, which was totally off-limits to visitors. If I recall correctly, the museum was, at least at that time, not air-conditioned. Apparently taking pity on my overheated condition, to my surprise, a compassionate female staff member stepped into the kitchen and returned with an ordinary glass of tap water--the exact same water from the very same faucet from which Freud himself drank during the dawning days of the "talking cure," what we today, thanks in part to Otto Rank, more generically refer to as "psychotherapy" and, more specifically, as "psychodynamic" therapy. In fact, Sigmund Freud's "psychoanalysis" is the seminal fount from which all modern psychotherapy more or less springs. And, though Freud may have been mistaken about some things, including his preoccupation with sex, chauvinism, dogmatism, exclusion of spirituality, and his personal distrust of music (see my prior post), he was right about most. (See my prior post.) Indeed, though C.G. Jung eventually developed a significantly different, more modern (face-to-face rather than the Freudian couch, for example) approach in his Analytical Psychology, he never fully abandoned his Freudian foundations. And for good reason. Nor should contemporary psychotherapists. (It should be noted that, according to recent studies, psychodynamic psychotherapy is at least as effective as CBT, DBT and other forms of treatment, and that the beneficial effects tend to be more enduring over time. See, for example, Levy, R, Ablon, J, Kachele, H. (eds.) Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Research: Evidence-Based Practice and Practice-Based Evidence. Humana Press, 2012.)

This simple yet memorable act of kindness extended to me at Freud's home that simmering summer and its heady historical context felt profoundly meaningful to this once pubescent imbiber of Freud's prodigious intellectual probings into the vast and mysterious depths of the human psyche: the unconscious. (Hence, the term "depth psychology" or Tiefenpsychologie describes quite accurately the discoveries of both Freud and Jung.) Both as an inquisitive boy starving for knowldege three decades before, and many times thereafter, Herr Doktor Freud had once more furnished nourishment to this thirsty soul, perennial refreshment from Freud's faucet. 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Diamond, Ph.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist in LA and the author of Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity.

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