Fears about Freud Exhibition. Letter in The Daily Telegraph (13 December 1995)

Fears about Freud Exhibition

Anthony Stadlen

Copyright © Anthony Stadlen 1995, 2020
[Letter to Daily Telegraph, published 13 December 1995
A couple of editorial mistakes have been corrected.]

SIR: John Casey’s article on Freud (Dec. 7) was a good example of why some of us signed a letter about the proposed Library of Congress Exhibition on Freud. He is mistaken in thinking the issue for scholars was whether the exhibition would be ‘anti-Freud’ enough. My own concern was for attaining minimal standards of accuracy and scholarship.

I am a psychotherapist and former Research Fellow of the Freud Museum in London. The organisers of the exhibition had already approached me for material from my research on Freuds case histories. I signed the letter because it expressed all too justified concern lest the exhibition perpetuate inaccuracies about Freud.

Dr Casey repeats a number of common myths. It is a nice story that Freud added I can recommend the Gestapo to anyone to the form the Gestapo required him to sign. But the signed form has been discovered. No such sentence appears on it.

Dr Casey also repeats the story that patients came to [Freud] describing all sorts of sexual assaults and seductions by their parents and other relatives’ which he at first believed but then decided that these stories were all fantasies.

Both parts of this are misleading. Freud's seduction theory was that 100 per cent of his hysterical patients had been sexually abused in childhood. But he said they had no knowledge of the childhood assaults before the application of his avant-garde method, psychoanalysis, which he was naming for the first time in his seduction theory papers.

Only under the compelling force of the treatment could they be induced to reproduce these scenes. And even then they denied that these were memories. This denial, wrote Freud at the time, was the most decisive proof that these were memories!

Freud later tried to blame his own generalisation on what he claimed were the fantasies of some of his patients. He never claimed all his patients reports of being abused were fantasies. Had he done so, this would rightly be held against him.

Freud was a giant. But his rhetoric, both in his seduction theory and in his retraction of it, has led to great confusion on the subject of childhood sexual abuse and its relation to adult emotional problems.

Exhibitions on Freud, and writers such as Dr Casey, ought to clarify the confusion, not compound it.

 London NW5

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