Non-scientific schools in psychology. A discussion on the methodology of Psychoanalysis and scientific validation

The author has identified psychoanalytical and humanistic psychology as non-scientific. There is insufficient experimental methodology with emphasis is instead placed on therapeutic resolution (Malim & Birch, 1998; Cordeiro, Pedro, Paixão, Maroco 2015). Structuralism, functionalism and behaviourism employ experimental scientific methodology (Chung & Hyland, 2012; Malim & Birch, 1998), as does the Gestalt school. However gestaltism lacks credibility as pivotal experiments from Lewin, Lippit and White (1939) and Kohlers (1925) have poor experimental design and measurements (Schultz & Schultz, 2008).

Without an experimental method and RCT trials there cannot be high quality evidence (Coolican, 2004; Petrisor & Bhandari, 2007). Freud’s psychodynamics is the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and without experimental designs and an establishment of variables and casual effects cannot produce scientific evidence (Hoffmann, 2015; Coolican, 2004). Relying on case studies, free association and dream analysis as primary methodology (Landis, 1941; Brain, 2000), allows for natural patient behaviour, but are unreliable research methods as there is no control over extraneous variables and replication difficulty (Petrisor & Bhandari, 2007). Data pooling, meta- analysis and systematic reviews help validate case studies by acquiring quantitative date (Coolican, 2004). Contemporary psychoanalytical research employs these methods successfully (Abbass, Hancock, Henderson, Kisely, 2014; Shedler; 2010; Abbass, 2009).

Eysenck and Wilson (1973) find the limited sample size, lack of statistical analysis and patient improvement and the potential for research bias and subjective selection reasons for psychodynamics being a non-science (Eysenck, 1952). Further limitation in Freudian validation is its unfalsifiability (Johnson, Wiersema, Kuntsi, 2009). For example, one cannot disprove acts supposedly deriving from repression of the Oedipus complex (Coolican, 2004).

However, Fisher & Greenberg (1977) believe psychoanalysis should not be “totally accepted or rejected” (p. 27). Hoffmann (2015) explains evidence fulfilling scientific research standards have been produced which support psychoanalytical theories, such as with Skinners operant conditioning, derived from Freud’s defence mechanisms (Overskeid, 2007).

The significance of dreams, seminal for Freud and Jung (Freud, 1999; Eisendrath & Hall, 1991), is a theory with additional evidence. Treat stimulation theory states dreams help deal with danger and emotional encounters (Valli et al., 2005; Gujar, McDonald, Nishida, Walker, 2011). Dream deprivation is casual to psychological disorders (Krystal, 2012). Freud’s (1999) ‘wish fulfilment’ is evident in drug users and dehydrated people’s dreams (Johnson, 2001; Lewis, 2013); and PTSD dreams confirm psychological disturbances (Campbell & Germain, 2016). Sceptics maintain dreams are random brainstem activation (McCarley & Hobson, 1977; Wasserman, 1984; Boag, 2016). However, Wasserman (1984) believes this research is inconsistent and supports psychoanalytical significance

Gedo (2002) says Freud’s theory of motivations originating from the unconscious somatic system has scientific validation, specifically in the libidinal and self-preservation drives. Neuroscience also finds unconscious drives causal to our desires (Berridge, 2004); as does cognitive psychology in its procedural knowledge and implicit cognition theories (Squire & Dede, 2015; Tryon, 2014; Gaillard, Cleeremans & Destrebecqz, 2014; Yang et al., 2011; Schacter, 1992).

As with various psychological schools, within psychoanalysis there are conflicting views. Jung differed from Freud in dream causality (Eisendrath & Hall, 1991); Erikson in the social factors causal in behaviour (Malim & Birch, 1998), and Adler with his theory of ‘individual psychology’, teleology, akin to the humanistic view of Rodgers and Maslow (Chung & Hyland, 2012). None of these or the founding theories of psychoanalysis applied experimental scientific methodology, however, the resent employment of meta-analysis and RCT trails are supporting psychoanalytical credibility. Hoffmann (2015), perhaps controversially, believes today’s psychoanalysis to be a scientific research programme.



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