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Rethinking Freud

Interest in the guru of psychoanalysis rises generations after his death.

By Alice Burdick Schweiger/Special to the Jewish News

Sigmund Freud: “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” (From a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, Oct. 15, 1897)

It may be 72 years since Sigmund Freud’s death, but the “father of psychoanalysis” still fascinates popular culture.

This fall alone, Metro Detroiters are being reintroduced to Freud — the man who popularized such concepts as the unconscious, defense mechanisms, transference, Freudian slips and dream symbolism — through a new play, a new movie and several new books.

Freud’s Last Session, about an imagined meeting between Freud and author C.S. Lewis, is playing at Detroit’s Century Theatre through Oct. 30. A Dangerous Method, a look at how the intense relationship between Freud and fellow psychiatrist Carl Jung gave birth to psychoanalysis, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before opening wide later this year. Authors Howard Markel (Anatomy of Addiction) and Joseph Skibell (A Curable Romantic), both with books with Freud at their center, appear at this year’s Jewish Book Fair.

Mark St. Germain, author and playwright of Freud’s Last Session, which has played more than 500 performances Off Broadway and recently moved to a larger venue, says he was “totally shocked” at audience response to the play and the interest in Freud.

Freud's famous couch in his London clinic

“People representing all generations have been coming to see it, and it has sparked many private conversations and public discussions,” he says.

Marc Rosen, Ph.D., a Southfield-based psychologist, is chair of public information for the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute and Society (MPI), with offices in Farmington Hills and Ann Arbor. He agrees that people seem to have a real curiosity about Freud and his psychoanalytic principles.

“I don’t know if the new movie and play indicate there is a renewed interest in Freud, but his concepts and central idea of looking deeply into how the mind works have never died,” he says.

There is indeed a mystique about Freud and his ideas about the human mind.

Sigmund Freud was born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in 1856 to Jewish parents in the small town of Freiberg, now part of the Czech Republic. His father, Jacob, was a wool merchant, and his mother, Amalie, was Jacob’s second wife. Sigmund was their first child of eight (Jacob had two children by a previous marriage), and the family eventually settled in Vienna.

Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17 and became a physician, training as a neurologist.

He never renounced his Judaism during a time and place when anti-Semitism was rampant. He maintained a Jewish identity throughout his life, although he was not a practicing Jew and felt being religious had a neurotic quality.

He managed to escape the Nazis in 1938 — fleeing to England before his death to cancer in 1939 — but four of his sisters died in concentration camps.

“Freud consistently said he didn’t give up his Jewish identify or culture — he belonged to B’nai B’rith — and it’s a big part of his legacy,” says Melvin Bornstein, M.D., a Birmingham psychiatrist, professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University and training analyst at MPI.

“But from a rational and scientific perspective, Freud thought religion was an illusion and the concept of God had no usefulness.”
The Talking Cure

Dr. Marc Rosen

It was in the late 1880s that Freud developed his “talking cure.”

Patients were to recline on a psychoanalytic couch with the analyst out of view and talk openly and freely, saying anything that came to mind. Freud felt free association encouraged individuals to recall events, emotions and fantasies forgotten to the conscious mind.

Through that process, current emotions and behaviors could be traced back to very early experiences in childhood, uncovering repressed roots of the patient’s problems. During treatment, as unconscious wishes and conflicts are brought into consciousness, they are resolved, Freud believed.

Dr. Deanna Holtzman

Opposed to other psychotherapies, psychoanalysis is a long-term therapy, often taking many years to help the patient develop insight into problems. Today, many mental health professionals question whether Freud’s theories are still relevant.

However, according to Rosen, “Freud is the giant on whose shoulders most clinicians stand. His ideas have been the basis for the many schools of thought in psychotherapy.”

Today, mental health professionals use a variety of effective therapies. Cognitive therapy is short term and attempts to change thought processes; behavioral therapy assumes all problem behavior is learned and can be corrected; psychodynamic therapy is similar to analysis but less intensive, focusing on particular problems; psychopharmacology — a big component in symptom relief — uses drugs to treat mental disorders.

Dr. Lawrence Periman

Within the psychoanalytic community, there is a sense that analysis is the most thorough therapy, the gold standard.

“People want a quick fix, but I see many individuals who have tried other forms of treatment without lasting success or relief,” says Deanna Holtzman, Ph.D., a Bloomfield Hills psychologist and training and supervising analyst at MPI.

But in today’s economy and with busy schedules, not everyone has the time or financial resources for a drawn-out process.

According to Lawrence Perlman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Ann Arbor, not all patients are candidates for analysis.

“The process is not only time consuming, it doesn’t always produce good results,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily work for certain problems like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and depression.

“Yes, if people are looking for self-knowledge, an historical exploration, it’s fine; but it’s not always the best symptomatic treatment. There was a time when analysis was the epitome, but I find it on the decline. It has always been an elitist form of treatment, but nowadays not many people can afford it.”

Still, Holtzman says she doesn’t see a drop in analytic patients.

“In my practice, I am fortunate to work with the same number of adult male and female analytic patients I have for years,” she says. As for the long process, “it takes time to develop a trusting relationship in a safe environment where someone can allow himself/herself to confide personal, conflictual issues.”

For sure, psychoanalysis has changed over the years.

When Freud first began practicing psychoanalysis, his patients only reclined on the couch for a few months; but over time, the process has evolved into an indeterminate length, a characteristic made fun of in the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper.

After Allen’s character has been cryogenically frozen for 200 years, he says upon awakening that if only he had been up the entire time, he could be finished with his analysis.

The stereotype of the silent, rigid analyst, leaning back in his chair, pipe in mouth, also is long gone.

“Freud was preoccupied with making psychoanalysis a science,” says Bornstein, who is being honored by MPI in November. “But old-school thinking has been altered considerably. Today, there is greater warmth and interaction between the patient and analyst and a more caring emphasis on the person who is suffering.”

What is the future of psychoanalysis?

Holtzman believes psychoanalysis will continue to evolve.

“As the only model of the mind that encompasses a way for us to understand and make sense of human mental complexity, we can be assured that both as a theory and as a method of treatment, psychoanalysis is here to stay.”

Dr. Howard Markel speaks at the Jewish Book Fair about An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted and the Miracle Drug Cocaine 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, at the JCC in West Bloomfield (see Book Fair/Nonfiction on page 48). He’ll also appear 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, at the Jewish Book Festival at the JCC of Greater Ann Arbor (see page 47). Joseph Skibell presents his novel A Curable Romantic to Jewish Book Fair audiences 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, at the JCC in West Bloomfield (see Book Fair/Fiction on page 48).

Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute
MPI educates, provides services to local communities.

With offices in Farmington Hills and Ann Arbor, the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute and Society, founded in 1957, provides training to qualified individuals to become psychoanalysts.

The institute currently has some 120 members. Dr. Melvin Bornstein, a Jewish Birmingham-based psychiatrist, professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University School of Medicine and training analyst at MPI, estimates that about 40 percent of MPI’s member analysts are Jewish.

Dr. Melvin Bornstein

Bornstein will be honored, along with another Jewish psychiatrist, Dr. Ronald Benson of Ann Arbor, who is the longest-serving active member of the Psychiatry Department at the University Of Michigan Medical School, for contributions to psychoanalysis at the 27th annual Michigan Psychoanalytic Foundation Benefit.

The foundation was established in 1987 to provide financial support for the educational, clinical and research programs of MPI. The benefit, with cocktails, dinner and entertainment, will take place Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Inn at St. Johns, 40445 Five Mile Road, in Plymouth. Tickets are $175/$75 students.

Dr. Ronald Benson

MPI offers the following outreach programs and services to the community:

  • Low-fee treatment clinics in Farmington Hills and Ann Arbor
  • Walnut Lake Nursery — open to 3-5-year-olds whose emotional, behavioral or developmental challenges interfere with success in regular preschool or daycare
  • Scientific papers and lectures presented to the community on a variety of topics
  • Reel Deal film series, with speakers and panel discussions and an online blog, offering psychoanalytic and philosophical opportunities to re-experience and re-evaluate the meaning of the movies you see
  • SOFAR (Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists), which helps support and counsel families of military men and women deployed abroad
  • Courses in psychotherapy for professionals

For more information on psychoanalysis and the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute, or to purchase tickets to the Psychoanalytic Foundation Benefit on Nov. 5, call (248) 851-3380 (Farmington Hills) or (734) 213-3399 (Ann Arbor), or go to

Guide To Licensed Mental Health Professionals

At the minimum, psychiatrists have an M.D. or D.O. degree (four years of medical school) and have completed a four-year residency that includes inpatient and outpatient psychiatry. Some psychiatrists have additional training in child and adolescent psychiatry. Psychiatrists may be board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. As medical doctors, they can prescribe medication.

Fully licensed psychologists’ credentials include a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., supervised clinical work, an internship and research. In Michigan (unlike some other states), a person can practice as a psychologist with a master’s degree, but only under the supervision of a fully licensed psychologist.

Social Workers
To be licensed as a social worker, practitioners require a bachelor of social work (B.S.W.) or master of social work (M.S.W.), 4,000 hours of paid work or volunteer time in no less than two years after graduation and 100 hours of supervision by a licensed M.S.W. They also must pass an exam.

Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists have a master’s degree, Ph.D. or post-graduate clinical training in marriage and family therapy. They come from a variety of educational backgrounds, including psychiatry, psychology, social work, nursing, pastoral counseling and education.

Psychoanalysts may have training as psychiatrists (M.D. or D.O.), psychologists (Ph.D. or M.A.) or social workers (M.S.W.), or they may have a master’s degree in counseling. Analysts go through personal psychoanalysis, four years of seminars and weekly supervision of candidates’ first psychoanalytic cases, and they must receive accreditation from a psychoanalytic institute.

—       Alice Schweiger









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