“Freud was full of horseshit”. These are the words of Albert Ellis, co-founder of CBT and originator of what he calls Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).
I studied quite a bit of Ellis’ theory as I trained in clinical psychology. I recently returned to one of my prescribed texts (reference below). Helpfully, a chapter is written by Ellis on REBT in which he provides a transcript of one of his ‘therapy’ sessions. In it, one finds a veritable obsession with the scatological. His patient is Sara, a 25 year old who, ‘without any traumatic or violent history’, Ellis tells us, is nonetheless ‘insecure’, and ‘self-denigrating’. (Ellis regarded this sort of thing as ‘high-class whining’).
Sara tells Ellis that she has trouble explaining herself. She says that she is nervous.
Ellis interprets this by speaking for her: “‘I can’t think clearly. What a shit I am for not thinking clearly’. You see: you’re blaming yourself for that”.
Throughout the transcript, Ellis does the bulk of the talking. At one point, he opines to Sara: “[Y]ou don’t have to upset yourself. As I said before, if I thought you were the worst shit who ever existed, well that’s my opinion. And I’m entitled to it. But does it make you a turd?”
At no point does Sara herself make any reference to the scatological side of life. These are exclusively Ellis’ associations. He lectures Sara that if she believed that she were a kangaroo, then she would be ‘hopping around’, since ‘whatever you believe you feel’. Based on his speech, Ellis feels himself to be in a world of excrement, and sees it everywhere he looks.
One might counter this by arguing that Ellis was merely translating his patient’s speech, but such translation is clearly an interpretation. To be ‘insecure’ is not at all the same as to be identified with faeces. I have met, for instance, people with the delusion that they smell repulsively, like shit. This is, generally speaking, on the side of melancholia, an identification with an object that is by turns disgusting, unwanted, but occasionally precious. It is not at all self-evidently synonymous with just any old association or self-reproach. To interpret at all in a non-reckless manner, one would need the patient themselves to not only make the scatological reference, but also to establish, through association, the place of this reference in his/her mental life. Ellis the Rational has neither the time nor the aptitude for such intellectual cleanliness.
Some accuse Freud of taking too much interest in the private side of life; breastfeeding, toilet training, infantile masturbation. Freud, and psychoanalysis more generally, however, had no interest in the anal (or genital, etc) for its own sake. The anal object was of relevance to Freud only because, at certain points, it was raised by patients themselves. Unlike Ellis, Freud listened more than he spoke. Faeces becomes an object of demand by the Other in the life of every child. And moreover, the rims of the body, the areas which are portals between inside and outside, are simultaneously erogenous zones and (not coincidentally) zones of social regulation. Shit per se is of not inherent interest in psychoanalysis. This is different to enjoyment and demand, which are of interest, and these phenomena can be oriented around any rim, whether it be the eyes, ears, mouth, genitals, or indeed, the anus.
This is in marked contrast to our cloacal cognitivist Ellis, who not only observes the excremental everywhere, but also speaks it, emphasises, interpolates it. In Heideggerean terms, he dwells in a kind of in-der-Scheisse-sein.
According to Wikipedia, Ellis the logician published a text in 1965 called Homosexuality: Its Causes and Cure. Lest anybody imagine that this sort of unprincipled stupidity was a mere by-product of the times, we should recall that the very same year, Jacques Lacan gave a seminar on ethics, arguing that the only duty was to hold fast to one’s desire. Thirty years earlier, Sigmund Freud wrote to the concerned mother of a homosexual man that ‘homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of’, and assuredly, no illness.
So much for horseshit, and Augean stables.
Corsino, R. J., & Wedding, D. (2000). Current psychotherapies. Sixth edition. Peacock: Itasca, IL.
Whilst the text is okay, it’s one of those books which is written for students, and which is therefore released in a new edition every year or so, with all the pages and chapters out of order. It renders the prescribed reading difficult, if not useless for any student trying to use a second-hand copy. It’s a scam in other words. For that reason, I’d encourage the curious not to purchase it, but to seek a library instead.