LETTER TO THE
On August 18th, 2002, the Board of Directors of Division 39 voted unanimously to write to the editors and the readership of all of the major psychoanalytic journals, and to publish this letter in our own newsletter and in the newsletters of our local chapters.
Our purpose is to share with you our grave concerns about some of the materials found on the website of the Freud Museum in London. During the past several months, very many of our members, along with other psychoanalytic colleagues, have called to our attention the disturbing nature of some of these web pages.
After learning of these concerns we undertook a careful study of the Museum web pages. We then wrote to the Director, Research Director and Director of Education (the person responsible for these particular web pages), expressing the substance of our concerns. The replies we received were wholly unsatisfactory. Although minor changes were made in some areas, additional offensive and problematic material was added at the same time, and all three individuals justified the material on these pages in the context of freedom of expression and of making Freud relevant in today’s times.
We want to use this letter to invite our members to view the Freud Museum website and evaluate for yourselves the nature of the problem. The stated mission of the Freud Museum is to “celebrate the life and work of Sigmund and Anna Freud.” But the web pages in the section entitled “Freud Today” are not in any substantive way related to the work of Sigmund and Anna Freud. Nor, for that matter, are they a presentation of the current status of psychoanalytic thinking, theory and practice, which, as we know, is a field that is filled with vibrant discussion, exploration, and the kind of exciting controversy that keeps a discipline alive. None of this is reflected in “Freud Today.”
Instead, there are many pages written by the Educational Director (who has only recently added a note that the views expressed are his own) which purport to comment psychoanalytically on events of the day. The topics covered are a conglomeration of issues, the most problematic of which have to do with commentaries about the Middle East conflict. The writing, which we urge you to view for yourselves, consists of putative, tendentious, convoluted “psychoanalytic interpretations” as if these might be the views of Freud were he examining these issues today. As you will note, the connection to anything Freud might have actually said about even a remotely related topic seventy or eighty years ago is far-fetched at the very best, and represents a trivialization of psychoanalytic ideas and ways of examining evidence.
However, what our Board has found most troublesome is the use of the imprimatur of the Freud Museum to covertly advance a particular political agenda, in a very sad and complex conflict, using the guise of Freud’s work and the rubric of psychoanalytic interpretation and insight. We believe your readers will agree with us that this is a cavalier misuse of psychoanalytic interpretive discipline and of Freud’s deep and thoughtful contribution on many subjects. The manner and content of these web pages discredits our field and makes a mockery of the careful, painstaking work done by generations of psychoanalytic thinkers and clinicians who are especially cautious about making sweeping interpretations that may be misunderstood in a public context.
Surely, if the Freud Museum is to truly celebrate the work of Sigmund and Anna Freud, and to illustrate the contemporary relevance and excitement of psychoanalysis, then it should not be in a position of even appearing to covertly advance a political agenda about which there is much legitimate difference of opinion. Nor should its materials suggest to the public that psychoanalytic ideas can be formulated in such a seemingly simplistic manner.
The professional staff of the Freud Museum have justified these web pages on the basis of freedom of expression. For our members, the issue is not freedom of expression. There are many web forums on which individual points of view can be posted. Rather, our concern is the way a psychoanalytic institution explicitly and implicitly provides materials to the public which discredits our field and our founding thinkers.
Thank you for your attention.
Jonathan H. Slavin, Ph.D.
Jonathan H. Slavin, Ph.D.,
Relevant web urls: