NYT: Freud Absent from Psychology Departments

The New York Times has run an article on the absence of psychoanalysis from the offerings of modern psychology departments in the United States (in order to read the article online, you will need to register, but that is quick and free). The article is based on a report by the American Psychoanalytic Association, and is to be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. According to the article, psychoanalytic thought “is alive and well in literature, film, history and just about every other subject in the humanities,” but that “psychology departments and textbooks treat it as ‘desiccated and dead,’ a historical artifact.” The report surveyed course descriptions at 150 colleges and found that “of the 1,175 courses that referenced psychoanalysis, more than 86 percent were offered outside psychology departments.”

For a response from psychology, the New York Times interviewed Alice Eagly, the chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University, who noted that the combination of the new emphasis on empirical testing and validation in clinical psychology, along with the recent beakthoughs in neuroscience and related fields have left psychoanalysis behind. Along similar lines, Scott Lilienfeld of Emory Unviersity is quoted as saying, “I don’t think psychoanalysis is going to survive unless there is more of an appreciation for empirical rigor and testing.”

Such issues seem not to provoke much concern among humanists who draw on Freudian thought. According to Mark Edmundson, an English professor at University of Virginia, “Freud to me is a writer comparable to Montaigne and Samuel Johnson and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, writers who take on the really big questions of love, justice, good government and death.”

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.