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Counselling and psychotherapy

What did Freud get right?

Guest Editors Bernice Andrews and Chris R. Brewin introduce a special issue on Freudian theory in the light of modern research.

18 December 2000

The last quarter of the 20th century has seen growing academic criticism of, and public scepticism about, Freudian theory and practice. With very few exceptions (e.g. Eysenck, 1986) it is notable that the fiercest and best-cited critics are non-psychologists (e.g. Crews, 1997; Grünbaum, 1993, Masson, 1984; Sulloway, 1992). Indeed, although cognisant of the pitfalls in investigating and evaluating Freudian theory, psychologists have often been remarkably even-handed in their reviews, paying as much attention to what Freud may have got right as to evidence refuting his notions (Fisher & Greenberg, 1996; Kline, 1984). To set the scene for the more specific articles that follow, our aim in this introduction is to give a brief chronicle of the development of some of Freud’s best-known ideas and to summarise the most prominent criticisms of his work. We lay no claim to specialist expertise in this area; rather, we have had personal ‘brushes’ with Freudian theory in the course of our own research, sometimes finding evidence contrary to, at other times in partial support of, his ideas. Our intention in this special issue is simply to accompany the reader on a voyage of discovery concerning the status of some significant aspects of Freudian theory in the light of the most recent scientific knowledge.