Don't deny reality of mental illness

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Lucretia Packham’s letter (October SR) replying to my article on Freud contains some rather obscure statements.

She agrees with me that it’s important to differentiate the baby from the bathwater in Freud’s work and claims that my attempt to do this is unsuccessful. But she does not offer her own view of the baby/bathwater separation in Freud.

My argument about the German and Russian revolutions was simply that psychoanalysis has a contribution to make in helping us to understand those events. I would never claim that psychoanalysis on its own can deal with this issue.

Lucretia charges me with making a sweeping statement in attributing the origins of psychoanalysis to 19th century psychology without clarifying what she believes are its important sources.

Perhaps my statement was incomplete in that I should have added medical science, and neurology in particular, as additional important roots of Freudian theory and practice.

She questions my claim that “infantile sexuality” was a key factor in Freud’s development of the notion of “psychic reality”. Again she offers no alternative view of the roots of Freud’s development of this notion.

Lucretia is right to bemoan the diminishing availability of psychotherapy on the NHS and the enormous expense of private treatment. However, she goes on to deny or minimise the reality of mental illness. Would she adopt a similar attitude to physical illness? Presumably, if faced with someone suffering from cancer or heart disease, she would advise them to seek medical care, and wouldn’t simply call on them to get involved in the class struggle.

Unfortunately there is still far too little understanding of mental illness, the suffering it causes, and the potential benefits of psychotherapy. It is no accident that Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue in his first Prime Minister’s Question Time.

Sabby Sagall, London