A SAMPLING OF GESTALT PSYCHOLOGISTS' REMARKS ON PSYCHOANALYSIS

by Abraham S. Luchins and Edith H. Luchins


Part 1: Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler

WERTHEIMER and other Gestalt psychologists at times made critical remarks about psychoanalysis in seminars at the New School. These remarks may have led Abraham MASLOW, who attended the seminars, to form the opinion, which will be cited more fully later, that none of the Gestalt psychologists "had any use for psychoanalysis in any of its varieties." There follows a sampling of observations of WERTHEIMERs views and of remarks and related materials from the writings of KÖHLER, KOFFKA, LEWIN, and GOLDSTEIN on psychoanalysis and on FREUD.

Max WERTHEIMER

It has been said that WERTHEIMER was not open to psychoanalysis. Erika OPPENHEIMER FROMM of the University of Chicago, who had been WERTHEIMERs student at the University of Frankfurt, in 1973 dictated her recollections of him onto a tape that she sent to us. Included was the following account of how WERTHEIMER viewed psychoanalysis and its reliance on free association:

"He had an open mind and a lively interest in anything that was going on in the field of science. There was only one field where he was not open-minded and that was the field of psychoanalysis. To him psychoanalysis belonged to those parts of psychology which approached the human being in piecemeal fashion, not as a whole, and the reason for that was that psychoanalysis works on the basis of free association. Association theory was for him what the red cape is for the bull. He charged it. I mean he charged at it. He denounced it as piecemeal, as not getting at the essence of human life, and so on and so on. This is the more amazing as WERTHEIMER himself originally invented an association test, the same kind of association test that I think JUNG invented, and in the same year.... I often talked to WERTHEIMER about psychoanalysis, which as a younger student I was interested in too, but to no avail. He just wouldn't hear of it. Even when I tried to point out to him that there were really great parallels between Gestalt theory and psychoanalysis, he just would not hear of it." (Cited in LUCHINS and LUCHINS, 1986, p. 215).
WERTHEIMERs apparent negative attitude to psychoanalysis was shown in a seminar in which he participated at the New School together with psychoanalysts. Erwin LEVY, who had been WERTHEIMERs assistant at the University of Frankfurt, sent us an account of WERTHEIMERs teaching in Europe and in America, which included the following description:
"An innovation in N.Y. was a course he gave together with Karen HORNEY, and in which another psychoanalyst, [Bernard] GLÜCK, Sr., participated. This was not repeated, possibly because it turned out to be very difficult, because W's attitude to psychoanalysis, even in HORNEYs modification, was essentially negative. I recall one tour de force: he was going FREUD one better by giving his own interpretation of the Schreber case. (This was the one area in which, after his death, I had to part company; I do not feel that he was ever really open to psychoanalysis, and he lacked the practical experience with it which would have been necessary to really understand. His often passionate attacks were essentially based on methodological arguments and a strong reluctance to recognize the role of sexuality as FREUD had proclaimed it. In some way, I think, he would have been much more open to later developments in psychoanalytic ego psychology, but these had begun just a few years before he died, and I do not think that he was acquainted with this work.)" (LEVY, letter of May 31, 1969, cited in LUCHINS and LUCHINS, 1987, p.76)
Referring to M.J. LEICHTMAN (1979) and to our citations from LEVY and OPPENHEIMER FROMM, Anne HARRINGTON in Reenchanted Science (1996a, p. 250, note 130) wrote:
"When WERTHEIMER first arrived at the New School, he let himself be talked into offering a seminar on the relationship between Gestalt psychology and psychoanalysis, which he taught in collaboration with fellow immigrant Karen HORNEY and psychiatrist Bernard GLÜCK, Sr. This seminar was never repeated because WERTHEIMERs unremitting hostility towards the theory of psychoanalysis made all dialogue essentially fruitless. The fact that the clinical method of psychoanalysis was based on free association was most irritating."
It is our impression that most seminar members, including some who were psychoanalytically inclined, did not take offense at WERTHEIMERs criticisms, although a few might have done so. It was a "passionate" disagreement over foundational and methodological principles as well as over differences between psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology in their doctrines of man, doctrines of society, and the relationship between the two. (WERTHEIMER was concerned with such doctrines and their relationships in all his seminars on social psychology and on personality.) Some seminar members regretted that WERTHEIMER emphasized the differences and downplayed or ignored the similarities between Gestalt psychology and psychoanalysis.

Wolfgang KÖHLER

KÖHLERs Gestalt Psychology (1947) has the following footnote in the chapter on insight:

"At this point a remark about psychoanalysis seems indicated. According to the analysts, people often do not know at all why they behave in one way or another. Their actual motivations may be quite different from those which, they believe, are operating. Now, we can admit that some such instances occur in normal life, and there may be many more under pathological conditions. I doubt, however, whether observations of this kind justify the general pessimism which is so often derived from them.... We ought to distinguish between two things: in some cases the Freudians may be right, while in others people merely fail to recognize their inner states. I am inclined to believe that many observations which the Freudians interpret in their fashion are actually instances in which recognition does not occur. Recognition, which operates with perfect ease in perceptions, is surprisingly sluggish in the case of inner processes. Incidentally, this is true whether or not the inner facts in question deserve to remain unrecognized." (p. 335n)
In "Obsessions of Normal People," a paper KÖHLER read at the inauguration of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Brandeis University in 1959 (reprinted in 1971), he said the following:
"I now turn to psychoanalysis, the source of more, and of darker, Smog than any other doctrine has produced. It takes some courage to speak of analysis in such terms, for nobody likes to be regarded as a reactionary, and at the present time acceptance of the tenets of psychoanalysis is taken for granted among those who must, under all circumstances, have so-called advanced views. One also hesitates to criticize psychoanalysis for better reasons. In the first place, FREUD did reform psychology by placing motivation, which was then badly neglected, into its very center.... What, then, is to be criticized in psychoanalysis? The original thesis that sex lurks behind all our actions and thoughts can no longer disturb us seriously. It has been repeated too often and now begins to sound stale.... But we have a far more serious reason: according to the analysts, we seldom know why we act as we do, because our real motives are hidden in the unconscious. Psychoanalysis and certain forms of Marxism have two things in common: first, the thesis that one motive alone is of paramount importance - although the two views differ as to what this motive is; and, secondly, the claim that, over and over again, we are utterly unaware of the fact that this one power is at work - whichever it may actually be. How is a person to feel responsible for his actions once he has accepted such statements? ....The voice of conscience, we are told, is only that of the censor, and the censor is a mere coward. He always insists on behavior of which the Joneses approve. But, then, what other guide are we to follow? There is only one left. We have to go to the analyst.... The main point is that, in this fashion, the right way of living becomes a matter of which a specialist has to take care for us....
The Smog produces a curious symptom. Soon, those who are strongly affected become unable to distinguish clearly between one intellectual food and another - provided the food fulfills this main condition: it must taste bad. In fact, the affected people fairly search the markets for food that would be rejected by others. After a while, sex in a less attractive form no longer fully satisfied their appetite, and so they added the death instinct to their program. In the twenties, they even discovered that actually other motives may be more important than sex.... analysis now offered a new fruit, which also had a bitter taste, namely anxiety [which] fulfilled the necessary condition that man be shown to be a pathetic figure. Thus, according to some, it was the wish to succeed in society which makes man run. We are all climbers; and, since we cannot all climb as high as we wish, we constantly try to invent excuses for our failures, to avoid further tests so that we do not fail again, and to find substitutes for our real goals. What, after all, is greatness in the arts? ....we discover to our satisfaction that greatness correlates with a neurotic condition.
By now, all this has filtered into millions of minds by way of innumerable channels. I regret to say that it has also affected the minds of quite a few psychologists. If it is not anxiety about which these people write, then it is frustration; and, when it is neither, then it is likely to be aggression. Death instinct, anxiety, inferiority complex, frustration, aggression - what a vocabulary! ....Never will they mention cheer, joy, happiness, hope, or fortitude. It is as though, among the chemists of our time, there were a fashion to talk endlessly about sulphur and arsenic, but never about iron and nickel, silver and gold.... Quite recently, I read in an essay that artists are distinguished from other people by being able to shape the pain from which we all suffer. Is there nothing else they might occasionally be tempted to shape?
" (1971, pp. 401-404)

References:

OPPENHEIMER FROMM, Erika (1973): Recollections of Max Wertheimer, personal communication taped.
HARRINGTON, A. (1996a): Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
KÖHLER, W. (1947/1929): Gestalt Psychology. New York: Liveright.
KÖHLER, W. (1959/1971): "Obsessions of Normal People," paper read at Inauguration of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1959. Reprinted in Selected Papers of Wolfgang Köhler, Mary HENLE, Ed., Liveright, New York, 1971, S. 398-412.
LEICHTMAN, M.J. (1979): "Gestalt Theory and the Revolt Against Positivism," in Allan BUSS, Ed., Psychology in Social Context. New York: Irvington.
LEVY, E. (1969): "Max Wertheimer in Europe and America," personal communication, May 31, 1969.
LUCHINS, A. S. & LUCHINS, E. H. (1986): "Wertheimer in Frankfurt: 1929-1933," Gestalt Theory, 8 (3), September 1986, S. 204-224.
LUCHINS, A. S. & LUCHINS, E. H. (1987): "Max Wertheimer in America: 1933-1943," Part I, Gestalt Theory, 9 (2). June 1987, S. 70-101.
LUCHINS, A. S. & LUCHINS, E. H. (1988): "Max Wertheimer in America: 1933-1943," Part II, Gestalt Theory, 10 (2), June 1988, S. 134-160.
MASLOW, A. (1968, 1969): unpublished memoirs, 1969, "Comments on J.& G. Mandler's The Diaspora of Experimental Psychology: The Gestaltists and Others," Perspectives in American History, 2, 1968, pp. 371-419, in the Archives of Psychology, Akron, Ohio.

2nd Part: Kurt KOFFKA, Kurt LEWIN
3rd Part: Kurt GOLDSTEIN, Concluding Remarks


Copyright © 1997 , A.S. Luchins, E.H. Luchins. All Rights Reserved.
This paper was prepared in the context of the 10th Scientific Convention of the international Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications (GTA), March 1997 in Vienna/Austria, and was first published in
GESTALT THEORY - An International Multidisciplinary Journal, Vol. 19, No 2, June 1997, pp128-139.


Back to the main index of Gestalt Archive

Home GTA International
GESTALT INFOSPACE - Gestalt Resources | GESTALT ARCHIVE | Journal GESTALT THEORY
Gestalt People | Gestalt Publications | Gestalt Conferences | Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy
About Gestalt Theory and the GTA
GTA Home page Deutsch |GTA Home page Italiano |GTA Home page Français