Tuesday, 15 April 2008
Freud's theory of repression 'should be dropped'
Sigmund Freud in a 1921 file photo. Photo: AP
There is "no evidence" for Sigmund Freud's "theory of repression" - that the "burying" of traumatic memories by the unconscious mind causes psychiatric disorders - even though it has been a cornerstone of his psychoanalytic theory for a century, according to Prof. Yacov Rofé, head of Bar-Ilan University's interdisciplinary department of social sciences. Rofé conducted the "first" comprehensive study of 100 years of scientific literature related to this phenomenon and published his findings last month in Review of General Psychology. In a 23-page article that includes many hundreds of references, he wrote that there is "no empirical evidence to support repression's existence" - thereby invalidating what Freud himself described as the "foundation stone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rests." Thus, Rofé declared, it is time to "bury" Freudian repression, both as a cause and a factor in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.
By revealing the fundamental lack of scientific evidence for Freud's core tenet of repression, the study undermines long-held assumptions about the overall legitimacy of Freudian psychoanalytic theory. But by rejecting the Freudian worldview as a template for the understanding and treatment of psychopathology, Rofé's work opens up another, important question: How are we to understand mental illness?
"One would think that after such an extended discussion of the theory of repression by the psychoanalytic community, as well as clinicians and experts from other disciplines, there would be some solid evidence to support Freud's theory of repression," wrote Rofé. "Instead, I found none whatsoever."
Ever since Freud articulated his views, rival theories of psychopathology - based on behavioral, cognitive and biological models - "have challenged psychoanalysis in their characterization of clinical observations," he said. "But these schools of thought also suffer from fundamental empirical difficulties. We may need a new theory of psychopathology - perhaps a new concept of repression - that can provide insight into the underlying causes of psychiatric disorders." Complete article at: The Jerusalem Post