The author starts from the view that psychoanalysis is short on facts and overprovided with theories, a view that might be justified. This might therefore be a book of rather wide interest. However, the author, a psychoanalyst, has written a work for psychoanalysts. He tackles this psychoanalytic problem from several perspectives. There are, he says, clinical facts, verifiable by repeated observation by different observers, and the ordinary signs and symptoms of mental disorder meet the criteria of verifiability; but those arising in the special situation of psychoanalytic treatment cannot be so easily verified.
He then conducts an examination, in three parts, of psychoanalytic ideas. First, in Chapters 1 and 2 he reviews facts, reliably to be found in the psychoanalytic situation. These consist of Freud's ideas as laid out in Chapter 7 of the Interpretation of Dreams (first published in 1899; Reference Freud and StracheyFreud, 1914), and elaborated by him in his writings up to about 1920: in short, Freud's particular interest in the economic model of mental function. Freeman recapitulates these somewhat elderly theories with a revitalising perception, and in addition employs many brief (or longer) vignettes from his own clinical work. Thus, he offers verification by repeating Freud's observations, raising them to the status of clinical fact.
He then deals with Freud's revision of his theories during the 1920s (Chapters 2-5), when Freud was moving slowly away from a full commitment to the economic model. The method of argument is solid: Freeman attempts to show that the revisions are not necessary, since new phenomena (traumatic neurosis, repetition compulsion, etc.) can still be explained with the old theories. And in exemplary fashion he provides clinical vignettes to show how such loyalty can be achieved. And this provides more weight that those early ideas of Freud are verifiable, objective facts.
The third part (the remainder) of the book deals with other revisions of Freud's theories — particularly those of Fairbairn, Klein and Kohut — concerned with early development, narcissistic disorders, psychosis and clinical technique (Chapters 7-10). Here Freeman's method is slightly different. He argues from a priori grounds that such revisions are not necessary, and he does not revisit the clinical situation. Perhaps this is understandable, since he would need to be able to grasp the clinical process in both his own school and that of the ‘deviant’ school. What sort of clinical material could convincingly discriminate between, say, the ‘dubious’ phenomenon of splitting and the tried-and-tested repression? Psychoanalysts have barely begun to establish what conditions are necessary to be able to make such a discrimination between the characteristic observations of different schools. Lacking this clinical reference point, this part of the book therefore loses some of the grip of the preceding chapters. The sense of evidence being built up fades, and Freeman seems to fall here into the familiar temptation of proselytising his own school over others.
Freeman does not address the fashionable and over-familiar recent arguments against Freud's scientific achievement. Instead, he gives a picture of how facts might be built up from evidence in the psychoanalytic clinical situation, and thus supports the view that psychoanalysis occupies a valid place within the natural sciences.