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Erich Fromm: Shortcoming as a Therapist



In The Legacy of Erich Fromm Daniel Burston (pp.82-83) makes a telling point about Erich Fromm as a clinician:


"According to Herbert Spiegel and Michael Maccoby, Fromm's greatest shortcoming as a therapist was that he was attentive to aspects of patient's utterances that tended to confirm his own theories and preconceived ideas, but inattentive, impatient, or actually dismissive of those facets of their experience and self-representations (or 'self-reports') that did not coincide with his 'intuitive' sense of their problems and situation (Maccoby, personal communication, May 14, 1985; Spiegel, personal communication, Nov. 24, 1987). Having formulated a patient's 'core' problem to his own satisfaction, he would often adopt a didactic, prescriptive stance and interpret conflicting testimony, no matter how compelling, as 'resistance'. In this respect, Maccoby suggests, Fromm departed from Freud's model of the analytic process as a collaborative enterprise aimed at patiently uncovering the truth, toward a master-disciple model of therapeutic interaction, in which the therapist becomes an idealized role model, like a Zen master or medieval mystic. Unfortunately, as Maccoby points out,

For a patient with repressed infantile impulses and grandiose ideals, such a therapy can both increase transference resistances and a sense of guilt about one's unworthiness, one's unproductiveness, and dependency. Instead of remembering or experiencing childlike drives, humiliations, rages, and fears as a means to mastering them, the patient attempts to resolve his conflicts by becoming an ideal person, like the master. In so doing, he may again submit to authority and repress sexual or angry impulses directed against the patient. As a result, some Frommian patients identify with the master and self-righteously direct their irrational feelings at others."

"In practice, if not theory, 'Frommian' analysts can be as authoritarian as their Freudian counterparts if they fall into the abortive trap of false idealization and pseudo-authenticity."



Burston, Daniel. (1991). The Legacy of Erich Fromm. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.




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