Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
FREUDIANISM AND SOCIAL WORK
E. Mansell Pattison, M. D.
From: JASA 15 (December 1963): 125
Raymond R. Herje's article merits comment on both some old bogies again resurrected and some vitally fresh issues which were alluded to without receiving the attention they deserve.
The major thrust Herje apparently wishes to make is that the profession of social work is liable to imminent collapse because of its theoretical heritage of Freudian psychodynamics. This conclusion must be seriously questioned on two counts:
(1) That a profession in our complex society is threatened by disintegration just because a portion of its theoretical orientation is threatened. We can argue that social roles are functionally defined and maintained regardless of the alleged theoretical basis for that given social role. For example, the minister may see himself theoretically as a heavenly messenger or social organizer, but in either instance he may function identically so far as his function is sociologically defined. It appears that Herje might be unduly worried lest social workers find themselves disenfranchised by their society.
(2) That the Freudian foundation is actually in such a state of disintegration, disrepute, and chaos as is represented. just why the author picks on Freudianism is not too clear since he comments several times that it is with "naturalistic scientism" where the basic conflict lies. Regardless of whether Herje's analysis of Freudian theory is correct or not, the basic problem would still face us, namely: How can we frame a program of social action which is true to Christian principles when the society operates in reference to the principles of naturalistic scientism? It is the solution to this problem which the author does not approach and which we need to examine carefully in many areas of social functioning.
The author alludes to the incursion of "secular ethics" into our educational system. The same may be said in regard to economics, political science (e.g., Harold Lasswell), criminology, etc. (See A Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences, B. F. Hoselitz, ed.) The vital issue which we really face is that of a Christian living and functioning in a non-Christian society. Can he professionally function in an arena where the operational values presuppose metaphysical values antithetical to his Christian ethos? Can a Christian attempt to change the metaphysical and operational values of his professional system, and if so, how?
Although the above corollaries are the most germane to the article's purpose, the author's discussion of Freudianism invites some comment. First of all, his discussion of Freudianism is irrelevant to the essential concem of his paper for the reasons discussed above. Secondly, the handling of sources and discussion thereof are not representative of the field for the following reasons:
1. "All human behavior . . . can be understood in terms of . . . instinctual needs" (p. 10). He then argues that this reduces all religion to illusion. Theoretically, he ignores the developments in ego psychology for the past 25 years. Practically, he ignores the con temporary discussion on values and religion. (e.g., Heinz Hartmann: Moral Values and Psychoanalysis, 1960).
2. In considering the scientific state of Freudianism he quotes extensively from S. Hook's symposium-one well known for its lopsided representation. Further, he misreads Rapoport and Kubie, both of whom plead for more rigorous development of mature methodology and do not mean to imply a denigration of their own scientific discipline!Nevertheless, all the old bogies of scientific status are here again. This not only plagues psychoanalytic
3. In the section on evaluation of psychotherapy Herje quotes all the notorious pessimists and nihilists of the last two decades. Many experimentalists do not argue that psychotherapy is "no good," but rather that our experimental procedures for specifying and measuring change are miserably inadequate to the complex organism we are studying (e.g., Some Guidelines for Evaluative Research by E. Herzog, 1959).
Overlooked is the fact that his evidence inveighs against not only Freudianism, but the totality of psychotherapeutic maneuvers, including social work. Optimistically, I think most of us feel that social workers and all psychotherapists are generally accomplishing something positive.
I do not think that the author has presented an adequate discussion of the whole field of psychodynamic theory. Rather, Freudianism has been the public whipping boy for a variety of ills, to which, as in this article, it is only tangentially related.
I appreciate the author's interest and attempt to explore an area which we all need to scrutinize more closely from our respective disciplines so that we can fruitfully collaborate in meaningful action.
Research Fellow, Dept. of Psychiatry University of Cincinnati, Ohio