Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, made exaggerated claims of cures, drew conclusions with little evidence and generally ignored basic principles of scientific research.
Those are the conclusions of experts who have re-examined the fundamental theories and work of Freud and now believe the Austrian physician may have been more slick salesman than scientist. Their studies were prepared for presentation Monday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science."The kind of evidence we have now is extremely critical of Freud," said Frank J. Sulloway, a professor of science history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
One of Freud's major works is an accounting of how he treated six patients. The work, said Sulloway, is considered a pillar of the whole concept of psychoanalysis, the so-called "talking cure" for the mentally ill or anxious.
Yet, of the six case histories, said Sulloway, recent research has shown "one involved a patient who fled therapy in disgust, two actually were not treated by Freud and another involved no real therapy."
Freud claimed to have cured two of the patients, yet when one was interviewed at length in later years the cure was found to be "a complete misrepresentation of the facts," said Sulloway.
The case histories, he said, "are rampant with censorship, distortions, highly dubious reconstructions and exaggerated clinical claims."
Freud lived from 1856 to 1939, and after his death some of his patients were interviewed. From this and other research, flaws and faults in Freud's work became known.
Much of Freud's theories, said Sulloway, are based on "outmoded assumptions from the 19th century." Studies by a number of experts have shown that "Freud's logical inferences and conclusions about his research and empirical evidence are simply not justified," he said.
Sulloway said Freud failed to follow basic science principles of openness that permit other scientists to evaluate research and results.
Of Freudian psychoanalysis Sulloway said: "It's not a science. It's like a religion."