Review: Kathleen Duffy’s “Freud’s Early Psychoanalysis, Witch Trials and the Inquisitorial Method: The Harsh Therapy”

By Dr. Gottfried M. Heuer

Kathleen Duffy: Freud’s Early Psychoanalysis,
Witch Trials and the Inquisitorial Method: The Harsh Therapy.

London & New York: Routledge, 2020, 177 pp.,
ISBN: 978-0-367-36924-8 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-0-367-36925-5 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-0-429-35193-8 (ebk)

‘The past is not dead. – Actually, it’s not even past.’ – As psychodynamic/systemic/family-constellation-therapists, often painfully familiar in our practices with intergenerational traumas, not just personally, but also collectively/professionally, we are all-too-often aware of how poignant the American writer William Faulkner’s observation is indeed. In our daily clinical work, the ‘sins of the fathers’ – yes, mostly men at the time we’re looking at, but let’s not forget the ‘mothers’ too, albeit very few only, is certainly ever-present: history is in the room with us, whether we want to, or are aware of it, or not.

      The book under review is the most exciting – and thought-provoking – book in the field of Psychotherapy I have read for many years: Kathleen Duffy draws our awareness to the initially almost completely unbelievable and shocking claim that Freud, in creating psychoanalysis, took considerable inspiration from the inquisitorial methods of the witch-trials – the worst sustained excesses of violence against women in Western history – in developing his method of psychoanalysis: in the mid-eighteen-eighties, Freud studied in Paris with the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, who was, at the time, engaged, among other things, with both examining and even re-publishing autobiographical accounts of the judges who had presided over witch-trials and –possessions of the 16th and 17th centuries, trials, to be clear, set up to basically establish non-existing facts and to punish its victims, in the great majority women, accordingly.  Duffy underpins her claims considering these possibly darkest roots of our work with a wealth of solidly researched historical evidence. Considering that all forms of psychotherapy initially are derived and/or influenced by Freud’s work, Duffy’s controversial work not only challenges conventional academic perspectives on psychoanalysis and its origins, but also urges clinicians of all modalities to seriously re-think the way we view and interact with the people we work with – and with our colleagues. So, this work is not some dusty, historical research irrelevant, but for a very few of initiated, but it has an absolute, immediate leading-edge relevance for all of us practitioners today in the sense of Edmund Jacobitti’s History as Contemporary politics (2000). All of us, I might say, urgently need to be aware how this hidden legacy affects our daily clinical work (see, for example, also Heuer, 2017). With the currently increasing awareness of the abuse, especially of women in all areas of patriarchal society, the publication of this book could not possibly be timelier.

Heuer, B. (2017). The words we work with that work on us. Clinical paradigm and cumulative   
      relational trauma, The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 62 (5): 720 – 31.

Jacobitti, E.E. (2000). The role of the past in contemporary political life, Composing Useful
       Pasts. History as Contemporary Politics, Albany: University of New York: 1 – 51.

                                                                                        Dr. Gottfried M. Heuer,
                                                                                        Association of Jungian Analysts, London.

In this carefully researched and well written book, Kathleen Duffy lays out a deeply convincing and very disturbing argument that Freud’s study of the witch trials and their  underlying assumptions affected his thinking about women and hysteria in a profound way. First, it caused him to develop a more skeptical attitude towards the memories of his female patients, and second, it undergirded his shift from his original theory of hysteria — that it was caused by child sexual abuse — to his later theory that it was the consequence of his patients’ fantasy or “wish fulfillment.” The early history of psychoanalysis still affects our clinical thinking and this book makes an important contribution to clarifying many central assumptions. It is a vital contribution to our work with female patients in contemporary psychoanalytic settings.

                                                                   Polly Young-Eisendraht, PhD. Jungian Psychoanalytic
                                                                  Association. Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry,
                                                                  University of Vermont. Past President Vermont
                                                                  Association for Psychoanalytic Studies, USA; author,
                                                                  “Love Between Equals” and “Women and Desire”.

Whereas Jung looked for historical analogies in Renaissance alchemy, Freud found his parallels in witchcraft trials. So persuasively argues this stunning book by Kathleen Duffy. Deftly written, deeply researched and provocatively argued, The Harsh Therapy reveals a contradictory and gendered history of sexuality, demonology and the imagination. Were Freud’s early hysteria patients the victims of child abuse or of their fantasies? Were witches devil worshippers and enthusiasts for orgiastic rituals or dupes their own erotic longings? The Harsh Therapy is Freud’s term for the inquisitorial method of examining suspected witches; one he both overtly and covertly adopted. This important work of psychosexual history is a must for all therapists, historians of medicine, gender theorists, theologians, psychoanalysts, clinicians and student. Duffy’s meticulous and daring scholarship is essential reading for all those who care about how power is both stimulated and repressed within human desire.

                                                                        Susan Rowland, Phd., Founding Chair of the
                                                                        International Association for Jungian Studies;
                                                                        Co-chair of the MA Engaged Humanities and the
                                                                        Creative Life faculty on the Jungian and Archetypal
                                                                        Studies PhD programs at Pacifica Graduate
                                                                        Institute.

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