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Freud's Slip Up

07/03/2017 13:35

Freud's original sin in the 1900s happened at the expense of hysterical women. In our century, drug addicts are at risk of being neglected.

When I met the leader of the populist right party, who is also Norway's finance minister, last year in a debate about drug addiction, she addressed me towards the end and said: "I agree so much with what you're saying about the fact that there are as many roads into addiction as there are addicts." "You cannot have listened very well," I answered brusquely. For, in fact, I am claiming the complete opposite.

When Freud, as a young doctoral student, went to "Hôpital de la Salpêtrière" in Paris to learn from the famous neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (the man who discovered ALS, Stephen Hawking's illness), he happened to find himself in the midst of a heated medical debate in and around the hospital. De epicenter of the debate was the basement of the hospital, where a group of young doctors were performing autopsies of children's bodies to examine to what degree their sexual organs had been desecrated. Turned out that a much larger number of children's bodies had desecrated sexual organs than expected at first, and the finds became an important argument in the debate over whether children and young people who claimed to have been victims of sexual abuse - which was the central theme of the debate - were speaking the truth.

Freud himself was convinced by the finds and returned to Vienna with enthusiasm and courage. At a medical congress towards the end of the 1800s he performed his essay "Ethology of Hysteria" (the origins of hysteria) which laid the foundation for his "Verführungstheorie" (seduction theory) - a theory that ties sexual and other abuse towards children to psychiatric illnesses in adult patients. To his disappointment and surprise the essay was discredited by his peers and not before long Freud shelved the whole idea - and we ended up with what is know today as the basic theory of psychoanalysis: the "Lustprinzip" (pleasure principle) that, being different from the seduction theory, relates psychiatric illnesses (hysteria) in adults to inner fantasies of sexuality among children - instead of real experiences of abuse.

Many psychiatrists and doctors have tried to breathe life to Freud's original theory after his death in the 1930s, but every single one have been discredited and excluded from the psychoanalytic establishment for ther attempt at dissent: John Bowlby, Alice Miller, Jeffery Masson og Sandor Ferenczi all faced the same fate as the young Freud when he laid out his theory about the origin of hysteria: they were met with disinterest.

However, about one hundred years later, an American researcher - Vincent Felitti - came onto the scene. When doing a large experiment to map a possible link between overveight and childhood trauma, he stumbled - almost by coincidence - over a number that made most people who were researching drugs, psychiatry and traume to fall off their chairs. By first isolating overweight people with heavy drug problems, and then isolating only heavy drug users, he found that they had a 4600% larger probability to have been victims of six childhood trauma, including violence and sexual abuse.

In practice, that means if you walk down Oslo's skid row, the open drug scene at Brugata (Bridge Street) - you can estimate that there are 50 times more people on one side of that street as compared to the other that have been victims of childhood trauma like sexual abuse.

The leader of the populist right and others who live in an illusion that there are as many roads into abuse as there are addicts, should recognise this realization and implement it when drug policy is being made. Many women and children had to suffer, by not being believed when they made claims of abuse, because Freud changed his mind one hundred years ago. Let us not make the same mistake again, and by doing so letting Freud's original sin lead to addicts suffering the same fate. Good drug policies and treatment requires mapping the situation, but also not disbelieving heavy addicts who have been victims of abuse in their childhood, and then making policies and offering treatment that take these facts into account.

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