Book Review: Introducing Freud

The featured book is an audio book – ‘Freud – A Very Short Introduction’ by Anthony Storr and narrated by Neville Jason. I find it much easier to learn from audiobooks than from reading books – somehow the narration seems to let me focus more on what’s being said instead of having to go through the extra step of converting the written text into something meaningful. Listening to a narrator feels slightly more natural and perhaps is best suited to books rather than short articles.

In this book, the narrator is Neville Jason who speaks clearly and with seemingly effortless expression bringing Freud and his ideas to life. The book runs at just under 4 hours. Storr himself interposes his own experience of psychotherapy and of course this work is his own interpretation of Freud as well as exposition. Since Freud’s wrote a vast number of books on his theory it is difficult and perhaps nigh on impossible to summarise them without doing some degree of interpretation and Freud’s views on certain matters changed through the course of his life. We learn firstly about his upbringing being quite gifted and hardworking academically both at school and medical school, that his experience in working with people with psychosis was quite limited and that his theories were derived from his work with a relatively restricted section of Viennese Society.

Storr takes us through Freud’s concepts explaining some of the logic of his psychoanalytic theory. Storr suggests that he may have been heavily influenced, even without realising it, by Nietzsche. His ideas about neurosis are discussed and take on new meaning when we learn that he considered that if he were to be classed with a neurosis, he thought it would be an obsessional neurosis and that if Jung, who’s character and qualities he admired, were to have a neurosis, it would be a hysterical neurosis. Thus Freud spared not even himself from the application of his own theory. We learn that Freud considers numerous conflicts within the psychological make-up – between the ego, the superego and id, between the drives of death and of eros and those described famously in the Oedipus conflict. There is also the influence of Darwin and Storr tells us how at one point, Freud’s concept of the instinctual drives differed from those of today in that he considered that this was a type of behaviour entirely influenced by genetics rather than the interplay of environment and genes.

We are taken on a tour of some of Freud’s works – covering each briefly – the Wolf Man, the Rat man, the Interpretation of Dreams and Storr is able to tell us how contemporary psychoanalytic theory has changed since Freud’s original exposition of his theory. This for me was the most fascinating part of the book. We learn for instance that Freud intended that psychoanalysis be continued on a daily basis with the therapist with the exception of Sundays and Bank Holidays and that even the interruption of Sundays would be sufficient to interfere with the transference process. Today, Storr writes, psychoanalysis in general is far removed from these intentions for practical purposes. We also learn that whereas Freud thought that sex was the primary drive, contemporary object relations theory emphasises the primary importance of establishing healthy relationships. We are able to see some of the disadvantages of Freud’s tendency to generalise from his sample population and indeed from individual cases, even where those individuals have themselves questioned the validity of his interpretations. On working through the book it became more evident, that in Storr’s interpretation, a significant impact of psychoanalysis came from the relationship that developed with the therapist through the transference process.

In turn, in my opinion Storr is influenced by Karl Popper and notes that Freud considered himself a scientist and one working by using his own emotions as the scientific instrument rather than the senses. Storr however points out that regardless of whether his theory is science or not, it has had a tremendous impact on almost every aspect of psychotherapy. This is a useful work for those with little background knowledge, wanting to learn more about Freud or else those wishing to refresh themselves on the essential elements of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.

Reference

Freud. A very short introduction. Anthony Storr. Naxos Audio Books. 2003.

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