On November 2, 2002 at the Thirteenth Annual Interdisciplinary Conference of the International federation for Psychoanalytic Education Thomas Szasz, M.D. delivered an address with the provocative title, “The Cure of Souls in the Therapeutic State.”

The title of his address intrigued me because he used the timeless designation for pastoral care and practice ‘Cure of Souls.’  In his speech Szasz strips away the hallowed pseudo-medical regalia of the psychoanalytic enterprise and reveals its definitive social and professional meaning.

He appropriately addresses Freud’s “many contradictory teachings and the diverse practice’s he engaged in, calling them all ‘psychoanalysis.'”  Szasz further states:  “We know the term is used to refer to a method of diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, detecting mental illness in famous dead persons and in characters invented by poets and writers, explaining and influencing human behavior, and interpreting the ‘meaning’ of works of art.

Szasz quotes Richard Fox (2001), president of the American Psychoanalytic Association who said:  “Psychoanalysis today is a far cry from what it was thirty or forty years ago… We lobby in Washington… with other groups… to further our goals (p.27).”

Szasz says that at some point in his career he stopped identifying himself as a psychoanalyst because he felt that ‘psychoanalysts – beginning, sadly, with Freud himself – have betrayed psychoanalysis (Szasz, 1965, 1977).”

Szasz knows that psychoanalysts have not acknowledged that problems in living are not diseases and that listening – and – talking is not a form of medical treatment.  For Szasz, psychoanalysis has nothing to do with illness or health, medicine or treatment.  He calls psychoanalysis “… a moral dialogue, not a medical treatment.”  “If the practice of psychoanalysis is not a form of treatment, what is it?  It is a modern reincarnation of the age-old cure of souls as secular-existential dialogue (Szasz, 1978/1988).”

“Therefore, verbal intercourse, especially the psychoanalytic dialogue, entails existential intimacy, often more intense than sexual intimacy.”  It is important to note that Szasz calls psychoanalysis a secular moral “cure of souls.”  Here he admits, without apology, I might add, the religious moral core of the psychoanalytic enterprise. “Freud himself-compared the psychoanalytic relationship with the Catholic confessional.

“Actually, it was Joseph Breuer who first used the confessional to explain the workings of his method of “mental treatment.”  he wrote:  “We meet the same urge [to verbally reveal secrets] as one of the basic factors of a major historical institution – the Roman Catholic Confessional” (Breuer and Freud, 1893-1895/1953-1974, vol. 2, p. 211).  “Freud uses the model of the confessional in The Questions of Lay Analysis (1926).”

Given the above information Szasz realizes that … purged of jargon, the psychoanalytic ‘procedure’ consists only of listening and talking.  Today, this procedure is consistently referred to as ‘talk therapy.’

There is much value in what Szasz discusses in his paper which I cannot consider here but I cannot close this blog without acknowledging the following words by Dr. Szasz:  “Actions speak louder than words, says the proverb.  I would go further: When actions and words conflict, we must view the actions as the truth, and the words as lies.  This too is derived from the practice of the religious confessional.”

My point is the inherent, intrinsic and redemptive clarity of actions.  I appreciate Dr. Szasz because he has braved incredible criticism in order to take a stand in our day for an important ethical and moral ideal summarized in the words:  “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”