Picks and Pans Review: Final Analysis: the Making and Unmaking of a Psychoanalyst

updated 01/14/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/14/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Masson became a psychoanalyst for several reasons. He wanted the material comforts that were the portion of folks who could charge $75—this was the early 1970s—a session. He was fascinated with the work of Sigmund Freud; he was curious about other people's lives and rather bored with his own—that of an assistant professor of Sanskrit in the department of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto.

What Masson did not bargain for, at least—how would Freud put this?—on a conscious level, was what would become his role as the enfant terrible of psychoanalysis, which he discusses in this diatribe masquerading as a memoir.

It was Masson who as project director at the Freud Archives published the explosive idea that Freud had abandoned the "seduction theory,' " a belief that some patients" neuroses stemmed from traumatic experiences with incest, not because of clinical evidence but because he feared the theory would hurt his career. Masson's career was certainly hurt: he was booted out of the Archives. And it was Masson who was the subject of a controversial New Yorker profile by Janet Malcolm; he sued her for libel, charging that she portrayed him as egotistical, irresponsible and sexually promiscuous.

From the time Masson was accepted for training at the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute, his experiences with analysis and the analytic were less than salutary. His training analyst (such is the name given to those who analyze aspiring analysts) was, according to Masson. an ill-tempered, foul-mouthed, opinionated narcissist who often spoke of his other analysands to Masson (so much for patient confidentiality), was frequently 45 minutes late for his sessions with Masson and on one such occasion accused Masson of keeping him waiting.

Masson fared no better with other aspects of his eight-year training. And he found work with patients unfulfilling, professional meetings tedious, the political alliances among analysts repugnant and analysts themselves self-serving, unethical and frequently incompetent.

One is perfectly prepared to believe that there exist analysts who sleep with their patients and who hit up wealthy patients for donations to various analytic causes. One is also prepared to believe the ugly tales of infighting, backbiting and buffoonery. But gadflies (Masson surely is a gadfly and rather a sanctimonious one at that) are not the most reliable witnesses.

Masson would be a more credible reporter had he succeeded at his own analysis and his own analytic practice, become disenchanted, then decided to get out and write about it. And one can only wonder at the psychology of a man who, feeling as he did about the profession and most of its practitioners, staved in it so long. "What kept me going through all this," he writes, "was the firm belief that the core of psychoanalysis was good." Analyst, analyze thyself. (Addison-Wesley, $18.95)

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