Psychotherapy is an institution that has had an abundance of (usually self-interested) celebrants, but only a few serious detractors. Now its first abolitionist, Jeffrey Masson, argues that therapy is an edifice constructed in such a way that it endangers all who enter. In his new book, Against Therapy, he is a one-man wrecking crew of considerable energy and intelligence.
Masson arrived at his opposition to therapy via a long and rocky path. He started out as a Sanskrit scholar, getting a PhD from Harvard and tenure at the University of Toronto by the time he was 30. But almost as soon as he began to teach, he knew he would have to look elsewhere for intellectual inspiration. He found it in the elegance and depth of Sigmund Freud’s mind. In 1970 Masson began eight years of training at the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute. During that time his initial fascination with psychoanalysis was transformed from awe to cynicism and doubt. What never changed, however, was his almost religious respect for Freud’s intellect. After publishing a number of admired scholarly papers in leading journals of analysis, and earning the respect and friendship of the renowned and powerful analyst Kurt Eissler, Masson was given a cherished plum. In 1980 he was named projects director of the Sigmund Freud Archives, gaining privileged access to the private books and papers in Anna Freud’s house in London.
It was while holding this position that Masson generated the international controversy that still shadows him. After an extensive examination of Freud’s papers, Masson concluded that Freud had modified his own theories as a matter of professional convenience and out of a personal failure of courage.
Freud had been impressed at first by reports from his women patients that they had been sexually abused as children. But when, in 1896, he presented such findings to his colleagues, he was ostracized and ridiculed. A few years later, in what came to be regarded as a great intellectual breakthrough, Freud claimed that the women had been recalling not memories but fantasies. In effect, said Freud, they were making it all up. Masson argued that Freud had simply lost his nerve–with consequences that turned out to be disastrous for the world of psychoanalysis and therapy. By placing the sources of human suffering within the psyche and disbelieving his patients’ accounts of real trauma and injustice, Freud launched a long tradition of therapeutic blindness to the objective sources of human suffering.
Maintaining such views in private was one thing; expressing them in the New York Times quite another. Venom rained upon Masson from throughout the psychoanalytic world; analyst friends who had cultivated him were suddenly afraid to be seen in his presence; he was relieved of his position at the archives. A prominent German analyst (and former friend) stood up during one of Masson’s talks and suggested having him committed: only a paranoid, he contended, could believe that incest was so prevalent. And Janet Malcolm wrote a series of gossipy New Yorker articles that focused on Masson’s personality and seemed not to notice the very serious questions he had raised.
In 1984 Masson authored a carefully reasoned and scholarly book, The Assault on Truth, detailing his views; it met with silence and dismissal from the analytic community. But one articulate segment of academia came to Masson’s defense. Since the late 60s, such diverse feminist scholars as Judith Herman, Catharine MacKinnon, Alice Miller, and Diana Russell had been cataloging male blindness about–indeed justification of–violence against women. Unlike their male colleagues, they argued that Masson’s theory deserved serious consideration.
Masson followed with two other books: one a well-received translation of the Freud-Wilhelm Fliess letters, the other a not-so-well-received work, A Dark Science, consisting of translations, with commentary, of late-19th-century French and German psychiatric and gynecological articles. In reading hundreds of such articles, he could find none that struck him as sympathetic to women.
With Against Therapy, Masson’s critique has reached its fullest definition. Against Therapy contains, among other things, a distressing chapter on the early history of therapy; an incisive analysis of “Dora,” Freud’s most famous case history; an examination of leading Freud follower Sandor Ferenczi’s doubts about the viability of therapy; an account of Carl Jung’s collusion with the Nazis; a critique of influential psychotherapist Carl Rogers’s “benevolence”; and a discussion of sex and battering by therapists. Masson’s arguments derive not from any explicit social theory or ideology, but from his concrete observations of horror stories in the world of therapy.
I first got to know Jeffrey Masson when I recruited him to write an essay for Men Confronting Pornography, a forthcoming book in which men sympathetic to feminism address the thorny issue of pornography. Finding Masson a remarkably youthful 47, I grew to admire his spontaneous and alert mind and his willingness to pursue ideas wherever they might take him. I also found him to be a man of genuine humility.
Tim Beneke: Throughout Against Therapy you repeatedly point to violations of human dignity committed in the name of therapy; that is, the therapist’s defining or interpreting or explaining the client’s private reality in some way that disrespects his or her humanity. In admitting that people often believe that therapy helps them, yet seriously questioning whether it really does help them, to the point of wanting to abolish therapy, might you be guilty of the same thing? Why not simply believe people when they say therapy helps them?
Jeffrey Masson: I’ve learned in talking to people who felt helped by therapy to take what they say at face value. You’re quite right. If I discount what they say or interpret it away, then I fall into the trap of abusing them in the way that therapists, at their worst, abuse their clients.
I believe that people have been helped by therapy. There are therapists who are kind and humane and compassionate and good listeners and trying to help. What I object to is the professionalization of these good qualities. After all, if a friend listens well and sympathetically to you, and from time to time has useful advice or insightful comments, we don’t regard this as extraordinary. Yet when a therapist behaves this way people are often overwhelmed with gratitude.
And you never know whether your therapist will have these qualities. When you invest time, energy, and money, you don’t want to be taken as a fool. People often tend to bend over backwards to believe in their therapists.
TB: And if a client expresses anger or frustration toward the therapist, a lot of therapists will not treat it as legitimate, serious criticism of them. They may encourage the client to examine and explore the sources of their anger–the assumption being that it’s not just. And clients have an investment in taking very seriously the directives and observations of therapists.
JM: I would argue that the fact that therapy helps some people does not mean the institution is, on balance, a good thing. It’s so difficult to have any kind of objective measurement of what goes on in therapy or to know what helps. The studies being done now to videotape therapy and measure the physiological responses of therapist and client strike me as absurd and impossible. And the people doing the investigation have a stake in the results. One can’t expect them to give a fair assessment.
Almost everybody whom I’ve spoken to thinks I’ve gone too far in calling for the abolition of therapy. For me, a lot of the issues revolve around the notion of informed consent. What exactly is informed consent when someone goes into therapy? How are people to know the dangers of what they’re getting into?
Consider: If you walk into a good bookstore and go to the psychology section, you’ll find virtually hundreds of books glorifying one or another form of therapy. You won’t find one book opposed to therapy; the consumer is given a very elaborate hard sell on therapy’s benefits. It’s not as if for every 50 books written there’s even one book that says, “Be careful, be cautious, dear user beware.”
People like [Thomas] Szasz and [R.D.] Laing have criticized concepts of mental illness, or mainstream psychiatry, but they remain therapists. My book is the first one challenging the very idea of psychotherapy.
Informed consent is largely nonexistent for clients. How many clients know that in anonymous surveys 10 percent of male therapists admit to having had some kind of sexual contact with women clients? The real figure is undoubtedly higher. How many people are really informed of the potential negative effects of psychiatric drugs or electroshock? Or, to place it on a more mundane level, how many people are informed that they may spend a great deal of money and not be helped? Or worse, find the experience so painful that they must end it?
The world of psychoanalysis, which provides the intellectual and theoretical basis for most talking therapy, is a very closed world, rife with secrecy. I went into the Fenichel Archives in the Library of Congress. Otto Fenichel, one of Freud’s leading followers, had been a hero of mine. He was a member of the Communist party and very aware of social injustice. I found a distressing paper he wrote about training committees. He argued that what analysts say about other analysts must never be made public. He reasoned that if people knew what a low opinion was held of analysts it would be impossible for clients to form positive transferences toward them–i.e., to view analysts in the extremely positive light that one once viewed ones parents in. Fenichel was arguing for the inbuilt, necessary nature of secrecy.
TB: Let me suggest one theory of why therapy helps. I’ve heard it articulated in different ways by both therapists and clients:
The client openly reveals his or her inner self in a way he or she never would to a friend, because with friends we have too much to protect. The therapist listens attentively and sensitively and with such empathy that the client feels that the therapist understands, much in the way the client understands him or herself.
And on top of this the client does not feel judged. The client feels accepted, warts and all. This creates a context by which a kind of self-healing can take place. The client is more relaxed and self-accepting; insights come more easily, as the client feels freer to examine the self.
What’s striking about all this is how much it sounds like confession without penance. One confesses a whole internal life with which one feels uncomfortable, and the therapist says it’s fine.
JM: It is quite similar to confession, only in confession you are explicitly being judged and given a way to remedy your sins.
But it’s just not true that any therapist listens to you without judging you, any more than anyone else can listen to you without judgment. They don’t express the judgment, but that’s not the same as not having one.
This gets tricky. The therapist listens to you and you tell them something horrendous. I remember a case we discussed in a seminar; a man admitted in analysis that he abused animals. He put nails in cats’ ears. It’s not possible for most of us to listen to this without judgment. I would’ve turned him in had he been my client. This reaches its reductio ad absurdum if we imagine the therapist of Hitler: “Doctor, I’ve just killed six million Jews.” “That’s very interesting. Say more about that. Let’s get to the bottom of this.”
TB: But most of us aren’t Hiders or animal abusers. Most of us are affected by a long Christian tradition that, in matters of moral import, equates thoughts with deeds; on some level we feel that to think something “bad” is equivalent to doing something bad. So we carry needless psychic baggage in the form of shame and guilt about ourselves. Why can’t the “confessional” aspect of therapy be a corrective to this?
JM: To repeat, therapists aren’t any less judgmental than the rest of us. They learn to present a very good facade; at $60 an hour [a typical fee in Masson’s hometown of Berkeley, California] you can learn to appear very accepting. Second, they have their own hang-ups and interests. To the extent yours mesh with your therapist’s, that’s fine. But that’s no better than a friend.
Now it is true that the more you listen to people the less shocked you are by the kinds of things that go on. One of the attractions of a good novel is in imagining other people’s lives. A friend of mine said that the more he does psychotherapy, the less he’s interested in novels, because listening to people talk about their lives is much more interesting than any novel. I believe that. And it’s true that what one client finds tremendously shocking you may be hearing for the hundredth time.
TB: But now you seem to be saying that therapists do become more accepting.
JM: In theory you become more accepting, but what I found was that in actual fact people weren’t more accepting. They still stayed within their own prejudices. Psychoanalysts simply didn’t grow as people from all this exposure to disparate human experience.
I initially idealized psychoanalysts to the hilt. I thought that leading psychoanalysts would be broadened by their vast experience, like great scholars who have read so much. It simply turned out not to be true.
I give an example in my book of a woman who was active against pornography. Her analyst blurted out to her that he liked to read Playboy. Listening to women free-associate had not made him more aware; all of his prejudices remained.
The accepting, nonjudging posture of the therapist is an act. I knew analysts in Toronto who were getting $150 an hour. Some of these guys, after consultations, and doing groups and assessments, were making nearly half a million dollars a year. When you make that much money you love the people who are giving it to you. The classical analyst sits behind the couch and doesn’t say very much; you’re not being seen, so you don’t have to have that intense, burning look in your eyes. You can be glazed over, sound asleep, dozing. It can be quite horrible.
But let’s be fair. Most therapists do sit face-to-face. There’s a way of developing a certain intense look of caring and concern and compassion, furrowing the brow and intensely concentrating. And these same people, in any other situation, are the normal boors that they are in everyday life. It is an act, something they learn to do. You learn a certain number of phrases; you learn a certain kind of interpretation. You learn a whole persona and role that is immensely profitable to you.
TB: This raises some interesting questions. There are plenty of situations in life that are structurally ambiguous, where it is very difficult to know one’s feelings and motives. Take a middle manager in a corporation who believes in being kind and ethical to employees and also knows he can get more work out of them by being that way. Or a corporation that gives money to public television knowing that this will net it publicity. In both situations, people have trouble knowing, arguably can’t know their own feelings and motives.
Take therapists who make $60 an hour. How do they know whether they’re being kind and accepting because they want the money, or because they feel that way? Ambiguous structures constrain self-knowledge.
JM: That’s absolutely correct. And it’s difficult to know these things in everyday life as well. Whenever there’s a one-down relationship, or when there’s not complete equality, this ambiguity arises. We wonder, why am I being overly nice? How many wives know whether they’re being nice to their husbands out of affection, or because they need companionship?
If we can’t know in intimate relationships, how can we know with a total stranger? Remember: a therapist is always a stranger to a client, no matter how well the client claims to know the therapist.
A Jewish woman I was very close to had spent her childhood in the Warsaw ghetto when Hitler was in power. It was very important to her that her analyst be Jewish. He refused to tell her. The man she saw had a Jewish-sounding name; it turned out not to be Jewish but German. He had no historical grasp of the terrible objective realities she had had to grapple with as a young Jewish girl. He insisted that her memories were distorted by paranoia and “internal aggression.”
TB: Your point is that therapists need to have a very broad and deep grasp of the objective sources of human suffering in political and social injustice.
JM: And they don’t! And moreover a lot of them simply aren’t interested. They think they can take the psyche and isolate it from history and society. You can’t.
Take a white middle-class therapist who sees a black guy from the ghetto. Why would we suppose such a therapist could understand him? It took me a long time to admit there are lots of people I can’t understand. I can be sympathetic, friendly, etc, but I can’t really understand his experience. I can’t set myself up as someone who can help him deal with his experience. How can I help him deal with it? I don’t know what “it” is. It’s pure arrogance.
TB: And the arrogance lies in arrogating a kind of knowledge or authority about human suffering that you don’t really have.
JM: And can’t have. I’ve made this argument to older analysts and gotten the following reply: “You don’t have to have a heart attack to be a good cardiologist.” But the human body is always more or less the same. Human experience is vastly different. A black man’s body and my body are more or less identical. Therapy is about experience, which is not identical.
We all do not have the same emotions and experiences. And just having some abstract knowledge about it isn’t enough.
TB: You have, in Against Therapy, an interesting discussion of the concept of “moral insanity.” It was used in the late 19th century to hospitalize people who were just eccentric or rebelled against oppression. Clearly you see this as a purer example of what still goes on.
JM: It’s easy to say that no one today would use words like that. But remember it wasn’t too many years ago that therapists thought women shouldn’t go into the workplace. Analysts will still call women’s attempts to make it in the world “penis envy.”
I had a horrendous experience with my own analyst. My wife at the time was extremely successful as a television producer and extremely smart. This seemed to enrage him; he finally told me that she had a brain for a penis. He claimed that she had turned this organ, her brain, into her penis and thrust with it and penetrated things with it. Her brain capacity was a manifestation of her need for a penis.
I was so taken with him as my analyst that I actually took such ideas seriously. I was as taken with that world as anyone else. I completely distorted my analyst’s merits.
TB: This brings us to a key issue: transference. Transference is the tendency, almost inevitable among clients, to project strong feelings from the past, usually feelings they had toward their parents, on to the therapist. Often the client wildly glorifies and idealizes the therapist in a regressive way, becomes a child looking up in awe at Mommy or Daddy. In Classical analysis, much of the therapy consists in examining the transference as it develops.
JM: The analyst, in theory, perceives the client’s idealizing of him as illusory and is supposed to help the client overcome the illusion. But what often happens is that the analyst gets emotional sustenance from the transference and doesn’t want to let go of it. And the experience, over a period of years, of having so many clients idealize them, tends to inflate their egos. Lots of analysts believe they are second only to Freud.
TB: Freud claimed that there was something essentially tragic about the unconscious: it only really manifests itself in retrospect. If that’s true, why wouldn’t therapists act out unconsciously on their clients?
JM: They do. Much has been made of countertransference, but no one has acknowledged what Sandor Ferenczi claimed in a secret diary. Ferenczi, who was regarded by many as the finest clinician of his generation, argued that the countertransference is every bit as strong as the transference and what’s needed is mutual analysis–which would destroy the economic basis of psychoanalysis. If analysts wanted to see people three times a week and, in turn, be seen by them three times a week out of love, that would interest me.
TB: What about love? What about a nurturing, loving person who easily feels compassion and is committed to alleviating suffering and has reasonable fees and a broadly sliding scale?
JM: Why would such a loving person want to do therapy? I admit that such therapists exist, but they’re rare. A lot of them get drummed out of the profession because the profession itself does not flourish when there are too many of those kinds of people. They undermine the status and prestige elements of therapy. Such people are often marginalized; it happens to many women.
I’ve often said that, by and large, women make better therapists than men. Before I was totally opposed to therapy, when people would ask me for advice, I’d say find an older woman who’s not charging you a lot of money, who does not have a PhD after her name, who’s not part of a larger organization, and who seems to be doing this out of some overflow of kindness. It should also be someone who’s not very theoretical. You’re safest with such people, but they’re rare.
Most therapists are very dependent upon referrals for clients and are going to be kissing ass of colleagues they would normally despise. They may not even know they’re doing it. I used to have lunch with a different analyst every week; I couldn’t have enjoyed them all. It was a way to get referrals, to develop a reputation, to be on good terms with people in power.
TB: Let’s shift ground. You generated a large controversy when, as director of the Freud Archives, you uncovered evidence that Freud had, in effect, covered up the sexual abuse his women clients reported. Several years after seeing these clients he decided it was all fantasy. How is it possible that no one questioned his turnabout for 75 years?
JM: Good question. Freud saw these women patients in 1895. We’re supposed to believe that in 1903, eight years later, he decided that the abuse never happened. It simply doesn’t make sense, and yet the psychoanalytic establishment glorified it as a great discovery.
TB: Can you explain how it is possible that, in 1975, a textbook of psychiatry still in use in medical schools claimed that one girl in a million was likely to be a victim of incest, when the truth is closer to one in four?
JM: It would require a book to do the research to give an answer. Among the reasons is that Freud had said, in effect, “Women fantasize this stuff; it rarely happens.” So it became a kind of dogma, a tenet of the church: How do we know? Because Freud said so. If you ask analysts whether that matches their experience, they say yes. I have had so many analysts tell me, “All my female clients invent fantasies of sexual seduction as children.” Well, how do they know these women are inventing? Because Freud said they did. Freud’s claim had extraordinary staying power.
I think it’s also true that men, as a class, have a vested interest in our not believing that women are sexually abused. Think of Freud in 1895 presenting what was to him a great discovery to his male colleagues. There is no reason to suppose that perpetrators of sexual abuse weren’t sitting in his audience. If one girl in three or four is being seduced by fathers or male relatives, then one father or relative in three or four is a perpetrator.
So psychiatrists had a vested interest in denying its existence–either because they were perpetrators, or because they were followers of Freud’s dogma, or perhaps because they had daughters and didn’t want to think about it, or because it would force them to ask fundamental questions about male sexuality that they didn’t want to ask. Recent feminist work has forced people to ask difficult questions about male sexuality. People don’t like that.
TB: Psychoanalysts I’ve spoken to claim that as of 1988 they are aware of the widespread sexual abuse of women.
JM: You’re right, and it’s somewhat alarming, because the American Psychoanalytic and the American Psychiatric associations now sponsor seminars on sexual abuse. They have a good reason to do this. There’s money in it.
They do not say: We as psychiatrists have been in the forefront of denying the magnitude of the problem of sexual abuse; we have never acknowledged it; we are responsible for a cover-up; we are deeply apologetic and we want to learn about it. Instead they say: We are the experts on it. Sexual abuse? Of course. Freud wrote about this in 1896. What’s new?
TB: As I understand it, Freud, Ferenczi, Fliess, and you are all psychoanalysts who claimed that the profession was ignoring the prevalence of sexual abuse. You all got bashed for saying it.
JM: We are four very different personalities. So the attack on me had nothing to do with my personality and everything to do with the issue I was raising. They liked me well enough the day before; suddenly, when I say certain things, they don’t like me. I haven’t changed overnight.
We can ask the question, why don’t psychoanalysts respond to Diana Russell, who wrote an excellent book detailing and discussing incest in women’s lives? Because they don’t know she exists. But they couldn’t ignore me, because I was director of the archives and getting a lot of publicity. So they tried to discredit me personally.
TB: Analysts have said that they don’t really care whether a trauma happened in reality or in fantasy–what matters is how the fantasy got worked into the psyche. To know the effect on a person’s subjective experience we need not know whether it happened in the real world.
JM: This is, in a way, the cornerstone of psychoanalytic theory. It sounds good theoretically.
TB: Yes, but even theoretically, isn’t the subjective experience and effect of being raped different from the subjective experience of fantasizing being raped? Don’t you need to know what really happened?
JM: Right. But theory aside, I don’t think there’s any evidence for this. Does anybody really believe fantasizing about being in Auschwitz is as bad as actually being in Auschwitz? I use this extreme example to show how absurd the idea is.
I have no reason to believe women imagine they’ve been sexually assaulted when they have not. And if by chance that should occur, I don’t think it would traumatize someone. The idea that lots of women are caught up in fantasies of sexual traumas that never happened to them and are suffering horribly from it seems to be totally wild.
TB: Analysts claim that you are distorting and even parodying their position, that they have not been insensitive to sexual traumas.
JM: Since when? I know that in my training from 1970 to ’78 I didn’t hear a word about it. But you don’t have to believe me. If analysts have been aware of it, where are the articles in analytic journals discussing the reality of incest and rape? They don’t exist. Where are the articles about the seduction theory?
TB: Jung comes across in your book as, at best, a moral coward who was quite willing to collaborate with the Nazis. At worst he was an anti-Semite. You quote some particularly disturbing comments Jung made in 1938 about Hitler: “There is no question but that Hitler belongs of the category of the truly mystic medicine man. As somebody commented about him at the last Nuremberg party congress, since the time of Mohammed nothing like it has been seen in this world. This markedly mystic characteristic of Hitler’s is what makes him do things which seem to us illogical, inexplicable, curious and unreasonable. . . . So you see, Hitler is a medicine man, a form of spiritual vessel, a demi-deity, or even better, a myth . . . ”
My own view is that, no matter how such a passage can be interpreted, it is absolutely appalling. But let me try to frame it as some Jungians might. Could someone argue that Jung is just being descriptive, using the very ornate, mythic language that he uses to comprehend everything? Could one argue that words like “mystic,” “medicine man,” “spiritual vessel,” “demi-deity,” “and “myth” are for Jung neutral terms that he’s using to interpret Hitler’s power? Again I don’t believe it for a minute. It seems to me that Jung has to be appealing to the worst in Hitler’s followers, but can Jung be defended or redeemed?
JM: Not if we have any grasp of the historical context. Let’s go back. By 1933, all kinds of rights and freedoms were being taken away from Jews, and everyone knew it. A general proclamation was made that all groups, whether scientific, or artistic, or whatever, had to conform to Nazi ideology. In ’33 Jung became editor of the main psychotherapy journal in Germany. Mathias Goering, the cousin of the Prussian prime minister, Hermann Goering, became president of the German psychotherapy society. In December of 1933 an issue of the journal appeared announcing the appointments and proclaiming two striking things. Goering proclaimed that all members of the German psychotherapy society who wrote articles for the journal would be expected to read “with great scientific care the pathbreaking book by Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, and will recognize it as essential.” And Jung said in an editorial that the differences that exist between Germanic and Jewish psychology could no longer be glossed over.
Jungians have tried to tell me that all Jung was doing was acknowledging that Jews are perhaps psychologically different from Germans, so what’s so strange about that? But to say this in 1933, in a journal in which the cousin of Hermann Goering is saying that, from now on, every psychotherapist in Germany must read Mein Kampf–you cannot claim that Jung is innocent. He would have to be unbelievably naive, and his naivete would just have happened to have worked to his benefit. There’s no doubt that Jung was being, at the least, opportunistic, and in a way that was extremely dangerous for Jews. You just have to read the journal he edited in subsequent years, as I did, to see repeated uses by analysts of Jung’s intellectual authority to justify anti-Semitism.
Jung claimed that he didn’t know Goering’s reference to Mein Kampf would appear in the issue in 1933. Maybe so. But there were four more references to Mein Kampf in subsequent issues. Jung was the editor–he had to know about it. Jung was quite willing to rub shoulders with the Nazis; he went to their conferences; he was pals with them. It was to his advantage to do so.
And after the war, he said, “Didn’t I warn you about Hitler?” He was a total hypocrite who never apologized. He claimed that some of his best friends were Jews. Why didn’t he speak out about what was happening to his friends? Why was he such a complete collaborator?
TB: But Jung did have students and colleagues and clients who were Jewish. He apparently got along fine with them.
JM: I don’t believe that Jung was personally anti-Semitic. He was, above all, a narcissist and an opportunist who wanted to get ahead. And if in trying to get ahead he jeopardized people’s lives, he couldn’t have cared less. That’s to me worse than anti-Semitism.
TB: You make the claim that Jung’s psychology, which was blind to issues of social justice and historical reality, was partly motivated out of a desire to cover up his own past. Yet Jung was 55 and had already well established his ideas when Hitler came to power. Maybe what came first was his interest in self and dreams and symbols, and that kept him indifferent to historical reality.
JM: I think you’re right. His concern with myths and symbols made it possible for him to ignore objective reality. But of course not everyone concerned with symbols is insensitive to social justice. Jung suffered from a character problem. That’s how I feel about Joseph Campbell as well. We met once and hated each other on sight.
TB: Jung and Campbell both seem to legitimize and secularize certain religious impulses that can no longer fit old religious forms of faith and belief for many intellectual people. Some people find involvement in myths and symbols uplifting, deepening, even enchanting. People claim that it brings a touch of wonder and magic into their lives. What’s wrong with it?
JM: I have so many objections to it. For starters what I hate about it is the lack of scholarship, and by scholarship I don’t mean something pedantic and petty. I mean the real, in depth, understanding of another culture.
When I met Campbell at a public gathering he was quoting Sanskrit verses. He had no clue as to what he was talking about; he had the most superficial knowledge of India. But he could use it for his own aggrandizement. I remember thinking: this man is corrupt. I knew that he was simply lying about his understanding of India and Sanskrit. When I tried to point this out to him politely, he said, “When you’re on the path and a bird shits on your head, you wipe it off and continue on your path.” I was the bird shitting on his head. The audience went wild with applause.
You can use myths and symbols to avoid facing your life and the world and seriously thinking about it. Take Jung’s comment about Hitler. It is so non-specific. “Hitler is a medicine man, a demi-deity.” Why not say: “Hitler is now enacting laws against the Jews. Here’s what that means.” Jung would say, “I’m only interested in the mythic aspects of this.”
Jung and Campbell both lack the curiosity or will to really attempt to come to grips with the world. Jung wrote a very superficial essay called “The Dream World of India.” India is full of people dying of poverty and every possible disease, and Jung went through India and didn’t see any of that. It’s this appropriation of other cultures for one’s private use, romanticizing and sanitizing and mythifying them, without having the tools to understand them, that I object to.
TB: Let’s go back to therapy. You believe that even a very good person who becomes a therapist will be drawn toward the abuse of power.
JM: Let’s say there’s a pull in that direction. There’s an economic and professional pull, and unresolved power needs can be evoked by the role of being a therapist. Every therapeutic interaction involves an imbalance of power. It has to. Therapists try to deny this, but how can there not be? One person is in need, in pain, and the other person is apparently healthy and being paid, supposedly wise and knowing. Therapists have to keep that image up. When people get power like that they’re bound to misuse it, and they do. Therapy happens in private. No one looks over the therapist’s shoulder.
TB: You make it clear that you have nothing to replace therapy with. There’s an assumption running through your book that anyone who’s hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, or given psychiatric drugs, is necessarily being done a disservice. But therapists are faced with some very difficult dilemmas that seem to be getting worse. For instance, a recent survey of 11,000 13- to 16-year-olds found that two in five girls and one in four boys had “seriously thought” about suicide. One girl in five and one boy in ten had attempted suicide. Human misery seems epidemic and growing.
If you had a daughter who was very suicidal and had attempted it once, and a psychiatrist said, “Look, we can give her drugs that will space her out, but they will most likely keep her from wanting to kill herself,” what would you do?
JM: It’s a very difficult question. What I’ve done, in thinking about this, is taken over the points of view of the antipsychiatry liberation movement. I’ve found that they know so much more about it than I do. What I would say is that I’d prefer that she be given psychiatric drugs than that she commit suicide, obviously. My problem is that once you get into a psychiatric institution you can be there for a long time.
Remember that lobotomies are not far behind us. I can imagine a lobotomist saying, “Do you want your daughter dead or lobotomized?” People have to live with it if someone close to them commits suicide, and psychiatry plays on those fears and profits from them.
Situations are so rarely simple. I don’t know what to do. I don’t have answers. What I have is a sustained opposition to what exists.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Peter DaSilva.