When I began my therapeutic journey more than forty years ago, Freud was in vogue. My first therapy experience was psychoanalysis once a week, lying on an honest-to-God couch and free associating.
Freudian psychology was something of a cult. Freud had some peculiar ideas which he worked up into a theory of psychiatric illness and healing. These ideas were mostly incapable of being tested. Freud was trying to imagine what went on in the unconscious, with no way to confirm his notions.
Mostly it was unverifiable bullshit. Still, my first therapeutic experience was helpful – I began to improve markedly. The therapy helped, but perhaps not for the reasons the psychoanalysts thought.
The problem with Freud’s theories is that everything you said or did had hidden motives, and it was always pathological. If you said “good morning,” you were likely to be told that you wanted to murder your father and marry your mother. That might be slightly exaggerated, but not by much.
If you questioned anything, that was your “resistance” to therapy. You had to “work through” your resistance, which mostly meant you had to eventually agree with the psychiatrist. Nothing could be taken at face value; everything had a hidden, and usually a sinister and sexual meaning.
That sort of thing could drive you nuts. I had two years of psychoanalysis, and it left me unsure about anything I thought. At the time I bought into the whole theory, so I would spent hours wondering what I “really” meant when I said or did something; or when anyone else did. It took me years to get over that.
So, while the psychoanalysis did help me – it probably saved me from becoming psychotic – it also cost me many years of serious confusion and self-doubt. The healing didn’t come cheap.