May 10, 2007


Freud’s Wizard: Ernest Jones and the Transformation of Psychoanalysis. By Brenda Maddox. Da Capo. $26.

The Identity Trap: Saving Our Teens from Themselves. By Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. AMACOM. $22.

      One of these books explains in great detail how Sigmund Freud’s insights into the mind spread until they became a worldwide phenomenon and the foundation of a new science – or pseudo-science, to their detractors. The other book gives on example of how those insights, in modified form, get real-world, practical application today.

      Freud’s Wizard could just as well have been called “Freud’s Publicist,” because that, as Brenda Maddox shows at length, is what Ernest Jones was. Jones may be best known as Freud’s biographer – his hagiographer, some would say (and have said); but that was after Freud’s death. Jones was also Freud’s colleague and disciple, and the man responsible for moving the nexus of the psychoanalytic movement from Vienna to London. He did this by relocating its founder: it was Jones who arranged Freud’s escape to England shortly before Freud, who was Jewish, was to be taken to the Nazi death camps. Jones is quite a character – Maddox details his nearly unending series of affairs, including ones with patients, at considerable length. Actually, Jones was not the only early practitioner of psychoanalysis who believed that close, even intimate relations with patients were at least harmless, at most an important part of the therapeutic process. Sándor Ferenczi had similar thoughts, in his case believing that the analyst needed “to act the part of a loving parent in order to neutralize the early unhappiness of his patients.” But Freud had little toleration for the analytic excesses – or deviations – of Ferenczi or Jones (or Jung or Adler or other early psychoanalysts). His system needed to be preserved at all costs; and Jones, whatever his therapeutic disagreements with Freud may have been, had a large hand in preserving it in its original form and helping it spread worldwide. Freud’s Wizard is not a book for patients or for casual readers; its fascinations are for those already well-versed in the field and interested in its early history. It is very well-written, but in light of the fact that many of Freud’s theories have been revamped, if not discarded, by his successors, it will seem like ancient and perhaps not-very-relevant history to the uninitiated.

      Yet Freud and his works remain tremendously important, even when they have been changed beyond easy recognition. Psychologist and family counselor Joseph Nowinski (whose professions Freud would not have recognized or, most likely, accepted, in their absence of a required medical degree) uses one of Freud’s key theories – about the development of a stable adult personality – as the underpinning of The Identity Trap. The book is, however, not Freudian at all; nor is it even technical, except occasionally and in passing. This is a book intended to help the parents of identity-confused teens figure out how to cope with their children’s extreme behaviors. Eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation are all evidence of identity confusion or uncertainty, according to Nowinski. By giving examples of teens with specific problems, and making suggestions to parents on how to handle similar situations, he provides a real service to families in turmoil – if their problems closely parallel the ones here, which in many cases they won’t. For those non-parallel cases, Nowinski offers the basic advice to remember yourself as a teen and try to see your child’s world as you saw yours through your teenage eyes. Unfortunately, this may be impossible – or irrelevant, because today’s world is so different and/or your personality is so different from your child’s. Nowinski offers a series of often-helpful FAQs in question-and-answer format, plus occasional “Heads Up!” comments that are decidedly less useful: “Don’t live in the past.” “Pass on the rituals you grew up with.” Many families will find at least a few points of contact with the troubled teens and parents portrayed here, and those families will find Nowinski’s prescriptions useful. Many others won’t get the connections, because they won’t be there. And Nowinski’s constant drumbeat for “honest self-examination,” while well-intentioned, does become wearing over time.

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