Is Freudian psychotherapy an example of scapegoat mechanism?

1. Girard’s Criticism

In a brief passage in Job: The victim of his people, René Girard levelled a strong accusation against Freud’s psychoanalysis. According to the French author, the biblical character of Job should be seen as an “unyielding Oedipus” who “would have the whole world against him – Hellenists, Heidegger, Freud and all academics”.1 In fact, according to Girard, Job “would have to be killed on the spot or put away in a psychiatric ward for insuperable repression”.2 The explicit mention of the father of psychoanalysis, as well as the use of technical term 'repression', clearly shows that Girard was asserting that Freud would be unable to resolve a hypothetical Job-like clinical case, and that he would have given up and diagnosed an insuperable repression. We should look closely at this passage, which is so brief and sharp that it could go unnoticed, to understand what is at stake here.

But first, a bit of a contest. In the abovementioned essay, Girard essentially argued that Job was a suffering man who was victimized by his community. His “friends” – Eliphaz, Bilbad and Zophar – were three influential members of the victimizing community who tried to convince Job that he was responsible for his own sufferance. This is a classic scapegoating: the members of a community grow closer to each other by accusing, blaming, and persecuting an individual.

In a paradigmatic-case scenario, the victim accepts the community’s condemnation, and canalize their own violence – verbally, physically or mentally – against themselves.3 In this respect, however, Job’s case was exceptional: despite his friends’ insistence, he did not admit his guilt in the face of any accusation or under any circumstance. Regardless of which accusation or rhetorical strategy his friends adopted, the outcome was always the same: Job denied all culpability and continued to suffer.

Assuming Girard’s perspective, if Job shows a remarkably high resistance to admitting his faults, and if Freud would have been unable to cure him, the legitimate conclusion we can infer is that Freud’s therapy made people “admit” to their faults,4 even if they have none. In this light, psychoanalysis is nothing more than a psychological technique that relies on the scapegoat mechanism.

At this point, it is highly likely that anyone with at least some knowledge of Freudian psychoanalysis would turn up their nose at this suggestion to protest such a rough misinterpretation of psychoanalytic therapy. They would probably be inclined to see this accusation as a gross incomprehension, and if they know anything about Girard intellectual relationship with Freud,5 as a resentful boutade. The aim of this paper is to argue that this criticism is not, in fact, a boutade,6 but that, to some extent at least, there are some relevant confirmations in Freud’s works.

Before engaging in an accurate analysis, I will cite three Freudian passages that may help readers to seriously consider Girard’s critique. The first is taken from Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. In what is universally considered the best introduction to psychoanalysis, we are dealing with a mature Sigmund Freud who was illustrating what psychoanalysis is to onlookers, as well to experts. The following passage in “Lecture XXI” will not leave any Girardian reader unmoved:

The work of the Athenian dramatist [Sophocles] exhibits the way in which the long-past deed7 of Oedipus is gradually brought to light by an investigation ingeniously protracted and fanned into life by ever fresh relays of evidence. To this extent it has a certain resemblance to the progress of a psychoanalysis.8

Freud’s and Girard’s interpretations of Sophocles’ Oedipus King were not merely different, but antithetical: while the former asserted that this tragedy reveals the reality of the so-called Oedipus complex; the latter argued that this tragedy proves the reality of scapegoating based on an arbitrary accusation – in this case, the incestuous love and parricide hatred. If read with Girardian eyes, the abovementioned Freudian passage may sound like an admission of the use scapegoating in analysis.

Next, I would like to focus on another Freudian passage. In Analysis of Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy (19089), the notorious case of “little Hans”, Freud described psychoanalytic therapy in the following terms:

Analysis replaces the process of repression, which is an automatic and excessive one, by a temperate and purposeful control on the part of the highest agencies of the mind. In a word, analysis replaces repression by condemnation.10

This passage will be considered later in this article. For now, it is sufficient to note the word 'condemnation'. When Freud stated that psychoanalysis replaces repression with condemnation, this was not a case of inappropriate translation: 'condemnation' is a correct translation for the German Verurteilung. This passage, which was repeated with the same words in Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, and in “Lecture XIX” of Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis11 – shines a bright light on Girard’s critique: Job does not heal because he cannot stand replacing an alleged repression with a condemnation.

I would like to briefly mention one more reason why we should take Girard’s critique seriously. Still in Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud presented a comparison between unconscious missed actions and the confession of a misdeed in a public tribunal.

When someone charged with an offence confesses his deed to the judge, the judge believes his confession; but if he denies it, the judge does not believe him. If it were otherwise, there would be no administration of justice, and in spite of occasional errors we must allow that the system works. 'Are you a judge, then? And is a person who has made a slip of the tongue brought up before you on a charge? So making a slip of the tongue is an offence,12 is it?' Perhaps we need not reject the comparison.13

There is a curious usage of legal vocabulary here. In fact, Freud compared the manner in which psychoanalysis explores the unconscious to a judge who must elicit a confession from somebody who has done something wrong.14

I believe these words will move the reader to further investigate Girard’s accusation that Freudian psychotherapy is little more than a particular form of scapegoat mechanism technique.

What exactly did Girard mean when he wrote this? For the benefit of conceptual clearness, I will attempt to offer a concise definition of 'scapegoat mechanism', which will help to ensure clarity in my analysis by creating a verificationist standard by which we can judge whether, and to what extent, Girard was correct in this assessment.

So, what is a scapegoat mechanism? And when are we entitle to declare that something – be it a speech, a theory, a technique, or an action – relies on a scapegoat mechanism? A satisfactory definition for a Girardian notion of scapegoat mechanism is as follows:

Scapegoat mechanism def. (SMdef) = a process that begins during a time of crisis, through which an overall benefit is gained by a violent action and exclusion, perpetrated against someone or something that an authority has selected by substitution.

Since this definition will provide structure to my argumentation, some remarks are due. It is not easy to formulate a simple and concise conceptual definition for such a complex process, which creates – or at least influences – the very concepts that are used to attempt to comprehend its essence. For example, this definition seems to suggest that the authority existed before the violent action – and yet, the Girardian knows it does not work that way: the more successful the violent exclusion is, the more the authority validates itself, and vice versa, in a sort of reflective equilibrium.

In the interest of providing further clarification, I should specify that 'violent action' has a very broad meaning here, as it can include also a negative (axiological) judgment.15 In a general sense, 'exclusion' means the individuation of an element (i.e., a person, an animal, or an object) accompanied by the violent action against this element; it is correct to use 'exclusion' in this context, because even though the element belongs to a larger set of elements, it is not recipient of the ultimate overall benefit, at least not in the same way as other elements are. By 'authority', I am referring to someone or something who can stand as an authority that is perceived as being more valuable that the individual who suffer violence.

Had I defined the scapegoat mechanism as a process of méconnaissance, this would have highlighted a problem that is linked to the intellectual nature of such a concept. Méconnaissance, from the French mal connaître, means a lack of knowledge, which then leads to the following question: do intellectual acts – knowing, judging, thinking and so forth – appropriately describe what is at stake in a scapegoat mechanism? In other words, in a scapegoat mechanism situation, is there any relevant role for knowing? The answer to this can be debated, but in my opinion, characterizing the scapegoat mechanism in relation to knowledge would lead us away from the Girardian16 – as well as the Freudian – comprehension of human behaviour.17

I could have instead alleged that the victim is chosen in error, but conceptual problems still arise from this assertion. An error presupposes a “normative” standard or an intentional act, but the scapegoat mechanism as a social phenomenon does not have a standard.18 Furthermore, it is preferable to not commit oneself to the philosophical slippery slope of the intentionality of human minds.19

Now that a Girardian definition of the scapegoat mechanism has been delineated, it can be examined whether Freudian psychotherapy20 is a scapegoat mechanism.21

Before venturing into the next section, I would like to point out that I could have asked if in general, Freud’s psychoanalysis is a type of knowledge based on scapegoating. Instead, however, I chose to focus on psychotherapy, which is the practical and clinical application of psychoanalysis.

There are two reasons for this choice. First, because psychotherapy deals with people, and not with concepts, it will be easier for non-Girardian readers to understand the logic behind this key question. While we can intuitively grasp how a person can be a scapegoat and what this means, the use of a concept or data as a scapegoat to establish a theory on the human mind would undoubtedly seem odd22 to some readers.

Additionally, Freud once stated, “psycho-analysis began as a method of treatment”.23 Indeed, it is unclear where therapy ends and vice versa in Freud’s thought. However, for historic reason, it is easier to derive Freud’s theory from his therapy than the other way around.24 Regardless of which view is the most accurate, I am persuaded that focusing on psychotherapy can also shine a light on psychoanalysis as a mere theory.

2. Of What Does Freud’s Psychotherapy Consist?

I will illustrate Freud’s psychotherapy by detailing its historical evolution, which was a complex path that was made up of countless doubts and second thoughts. Before I start, however, I owe a brief justification for such an approach. First, Freud himself wrote that by describing the history of the development of psychoanalysis, he was better able to explain what psychoanalysis was, than if he had attempted a systematic description.25 Moreover, I believe – and I hope this paper will prove – that the implicit issue of scapegoat mechanism – which of course would have been formulated in different terms by Freud, psychoanalysts, and their opponents – is crucial when chronicling the progression of psychoanalysis. In fact, Freud’s intention that his psychotherapy not resemble anything close to scapegoating played a significant role in the development of psychoanalysis .26 Let us proceed, step-by-step.

When seeking to understand Freud’s psychotherapy, we cannot ignore the connection between his psychotherapeutic method and his etiology of psychopathology. In the first years of his career, Freud accepted an assumption that would have been viewed as commonsensical in the academic literature of his time,27 which hypothesized that pathologies can be explained and cured on an anatomical and physiological level. Examples of this theoretical physicalist approach in his clinical practice include his recommendation regarding the use cocaine to cure mental illness28 (On cocaine, 1885) and the application of electrotherapy to treat neurasthenia.29

This physicalist framework was later fortified by the assumption that there must always be a physical and hereditary predisposition for hysteria; this belief was also held by another influential figure in the first decades of Freud’s career, Jean Marie Charcot. His position was distinguished by another important element that played a relevant role in Freud’s intellectual growth over time: specifically, he held the theory of the psychic trauma as agent provocateur. According to this position, a psychic trauma is a singular event that triggers an ill physically predisposed, even if it does not qualify as a sufficient condition.

This brought an interesting and innovative change in Freud’s formation: while a physicalist frame would have determined the cause of illness to be “structural” and completely independent from patient experiences, the idea of psychic trauma allowed Freud to begin to consider the possibility that the cause of a mental illness could be “punctual,” like an event, and that it could be perceived in some way by understanding the mental life of the subject.

As a consequence, hypnosis and suggestions,30 even if embedded within physicalist notions,31 became therapeutic tools in Freud’s practice. I would note that in this phase, hypnosis and suggestions were used in order to “disperse”32 hallucinations, “wipe away”33 mental pictures, “remove”34 fears, “wipe out”35 memories.

Freud’s attention became increasingly focused on the mental level. In 1891, he took critical stance against localizationism; and in 1892, in Preliminary Communication, he wrote that in the event of traumatic neurosis, the true cause of illness was the psychic trauma, not the physical injury.36 He began to abandon his interest in inheritance during this period, as well.37 Finally, in Studies on Hysteria, he famously concluded that the hysteric suffers mainly from reminiscences.38 This change in etiology required an adjustment at the therapeutical level. The aim of his “new” therapy was to incite the patient to remember, with a relevant emotional engagement, the first time that hysteric symptom arose and to express verbally the memory.39

But how to induce the patient to remember? Freud initially tried to address this new question with old answers: hypnosis, the application of which is dated back to 1886;40 and suggestion, which is now almost entirely stripped from physicalist epistemology.

To better understand the therapy in these years, we should open a brief theoretical parenthesis. Relevant notions, such as repression, abreaction, and catharsis, were traced to this period, even though only the first term would survive and become a column of official psychoanalysis temple.

I need to explain the other two terms. The German word Abreagieren, when used as a verb, is translated in English to 'vent', 'give vent to', 'let off steam'. According to Freud and Breuer’s theory, in order to heal, a person needed to use words to abreact the affect caused by the trauma – that is to liquidate it, to set it free. 'Catharsis', from the Greek κάθαρσις, which translates to purification or the elimination of something that harms in some way, is the general effect obtained with abreaction. This is also relevant because, as Freud wrote in 1923, when his therapeutic method was fully mature, this “cathartic method was the immediate precursor of psycho-analysis; and, in spite of every extension of experience and of every modification of theory, it is still contained as in it as its nucleus”.41

Returning to the practical level, Freud soon began to lose interest in hypnosis and suggestion, trusting more and more on free-associations technique, which moved the first steps with the case of Emmy von N. (at the end of 1889). As was the case for many Freud’s practical and theoretical switches, this new technique did not spontaneously occur as a revolutionary element. In the early years, in fact, the free-associations technique was blended with suggestion; this was made clear by the following passage from Studies on Hysteria, regarding the clinical case of Miss Lucy R. (1892-1893):

Thus when I reached a point at which, after asking a patient some question such as: 'How long have you had this symptom?' or: 'What was its origin?', I was met with the answer: 'I really don’t know', I proceeded as follows. I placed my hand on the patient’s forehead or took her head between my hands and said: ’You will think of it under the pressure of my hand. At the moment at which I relax my pressure you will see something in front of you or something will come into your head. Catch hold of it. It will be what we are looking for.42

It was only in the first years of the twentieth century that Freud abandoned this “pressure technique”, and free association became the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis.43 Later in this article, I will consider the extent to which free-association rule has been set free from suggestive dynamics.

This new etiology, which was founded on the thesis that the patient suffers of reminiscences, was accompanied by methods to prompt the patient to remember – but to remember what? To address this question about the content of memory, we must take a step back. In the case of Elisabeth von R., what must be remembered was the first occasion in which hysterical symptoms occurred. At that time, Freud was collaborating with Joseph Breuer, who came to this conclusion in the first years of the eighties, when he cured Anna O. Freud gradually moved away from Breuer and this theory, also because he started to view sexuality as being a central theme for psychology, as well as the source of psychopathologies.44

Between 1895 and 1896 Freud elaborated on his theory that some45 mental illnesses are caused by sexual abuse committed in the earliest years of patient’s youth.46 Two important points should be made here, which I will consider in greater detail later in this paper: in etiology, a patient’s distant past became central; and the event that starts the disease is an action – specifically a blameful, if not criminal, action – committed by somebody. Freud soon gave up this theory, however; one of the significant reasons of switch was the “surprise that in all cases, the father, not excluding my own, had to be accused of being perverse”.47 Even if Freud was not accustomed to describing the issue in such terms, the problem of the fault of disease clearly appears here for the first time. When illness was believed to be hereditary and grounded on a physical level, there was no reason to look for the culprit of the disease; but this new perspective made it clear that a (blameful) action by someone could be the cause of a disease.48

As Freud lost interest in this theory, another basic pillar of Freudian psychoanalysis was emerging: the Oedipus complex. In an October 1897 letter to Fliess, only few weeks after the letter of last quotation, Freud stated the central premise of this new theory. Citing Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he hypothesized that in his infancy a boy falls in love with his mother and is jealous of his father. In The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Oedipus complex49 became a universal architecture of every human’s mind; according to Freud, in fact, every human being has felt hatred and sexual love toward their parents.50

The new etiology that followed from this theoretical “discovery” was as follows: the impossibility of satisfying sexual desires, particularly Oedipial desires, causes a repression and forces the individual to seek out new goals for their desires and drives.51 The fine line between normality and pathology – which, according to Freud, is non-existent in reality – depends on quantitative factors related to the development of an individual’s drives. While some individuals are able to use the energy generated by the Oedipus complex to other ends and in other “fields”, others fail in this endeavour, causing various symptoms which a person need to face with a great amount of energy.

The Oedipal theory was part of the first topography in The Interpretation of Dreams. It is well-known that Freud divided mind in three systems: Conscious (Cs), Pre-Conscious (Pcs) and Unconscious (Ucs). The third system represents the privileged level52 of psychoanalysis, and it plays a central role in explaining and curing psychopathologies, since the mental wellness of the subject depends on the threshold between unconscious and the other two regions.53

I will not go into great details on this topic, as in many other issues, since it is sufficient to my argumentation to simply note that Freud repurposed an old idea. In fact, his medical findings brought him to think that the cause of physical disease is “structural” and “behind” the conscious (i.e., the personal) level. The difference with the past is that the cause of psychopathology is not related to the body, but rather activities of the mind – specifically those related to one’s desires.

Now that I have laid out the etiology and theoretical achievements of these years, what about the therapy that was used? The free-associations technique became the preferred method for bringing to consciousness old drives that encountered repression in the past. In this way, the goal of psychotherapy is to bring consciousness to unconscious drives, so that the energy that had been consumed by censorship could be used by the Conscious.54 It is important to understand that, according to Freud, repression intervenes as a defensive mechanism55 to remove drives that are viewed as unacceptable, especially in social life, from the conscience.56

Whit this in mind, the precedent formulation – according to which the end of psychotherapy is to bring back to consciousness unconscious pulsion under repression – has been also translated in this one: “analysis replaces repression by condemnation”.57 These findings became a core statement in psychoanalysis, and Freud held firm to them throughout his life.

Starting in the final decade of the nineteenth century and continuing through the first few years of the twentieth century, Freud developed – at the same time with his theory of drives – another fundamental assumption: the theory of transference. In Dora’s case report, Freud defined transference as “new editions or facsimiles of the impulses and phantasies which are aroused and made conscious during the progress of the analysis; […] that replace some earlier person by the person of the physician”.58 Rather than seeing transference as a necessary contraindication, Freud soon recognized it as an element that is necessary for a successful cure.59

Psychoanalytic therapy had finally assumed its classical shape, which would endure for decades beyond Freud’s death; later adjustments and supplements did not significantly alter these core tenets. Concerning these later additions, however, two points of interest are relevant to my argumentation. The first concerns the concept of “working-through”. In Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (1914) Freud instructed that after that repression is discovered, the analysist should give patient a sufficient amount of time “to work through it, to overcome it, by continuing, in defiance of it, the analytic work according to the fundamental rule of analysis”.60 While he did not exhaustively discuss this notion, nor did he add much of anything to it in his later works,61 he wrote in 1914 that working-through provides the most significant outcomes in the healing process and distinguishes the analytic treatment from any kind of treatment-by-suggestion.62

The other concept-of-interest related to Freudian therapy is that of “construction”, on which he only explicitly focused on in one of his last books, Construction in analysis (1937). In an earlier work, Analysis terminable and interminable (1937), Freud stayed true to his classic method, which dictated that constructions – conjectures about patient’s early life that the analyst shares with their patience during the therapy – are meant to “prepare the way”63 for bringing that which is repressed into consciousness. But surprisingly, Freud wrote in Constructions in Analysis that “an assured conviction on the truth of the construction […] achieves the same therapeutic result as a recaptured memory”.64

With this statement – which can either be read while considering Freud’s pessimism as to the efficacy of his therapy in his final years65 or interpretated as a declaration of optimism –, Freud denied that bringing to consciousness ancient unconscious drives retains any unique therapeutic power. This newfound conviction meant that the problem of the historical reality of the roots of mental diseases that had burdened Freud for so many years was unexpectedly set aside. This is of great interest to the present historical reconstruction, because it would seem that Freud, who sought to prove that psychoanalytic therapy was distinct from other suggestive methods for so long, doubted this very distinction at the end of his life. I will, of course, return to this point.

At last, we have an understanding of what Girard has meant by a “scapegoat mechanism,” and we have briefly delineated Freud’s therapy. Now I will begin to address whether Freud’s therapy exemplifies a scapegoat mechanism. I will closely follow the SMdef66 and address the following five points: the overall benefit of Freudian psychotherapy; the violence in this form of therapy; the act of exclusion; the presence and the role of the authority; and finally, the selection-by-substitution process.67 In some points, I will present the discussion as an imaginary dispute between the Girardian accuser, who believes the SMdef accurately describes Freud’s psychotherapy; and the Freudian advocate, who argues that this is not the case.

3. From Crisis to Benefit

Does psychotherapy foster a passage from a crisis situation to a benefit? If we simply interpret mental disease as a situation of crisis and healing as a benefit, we can undoubtedly answer this question in the affirmative. It would be useful, however, to deepen this point by questioning the very notion of 'crisis'. According to René Girard, and then according to the SMdef, a crisis is always crisis-of-differences,68 and conversely, a solution of a crisis is seen as a restoration or a creation of a system-of-differences.

Can Freud’s therapy be interpreted in these terms? In a sense, yes, it can be. Consider his explanation of mental illness, specifically neurosis, in view of the first topography. According to this framework, illness is derived from a malfunction, an inefficiency – which can sometimes actually be an over-efficiency –, of the threshold, or the “watcher”, between the Inc system and the other two systems. Unconscious drives try to conquer a place in consciousness, but these are rejected, and a symptom emerges as a compromise formation. When this etiology is viewed as if the difference between Ucs and Pcs (or Cs) is at stake, the therapeutic solution proposed by Freud can be interpreted as an operation of differentiation. In fact, an attempt is made to dredge up repressed drives and bring them into the Cs system, so that these drives (or desires) that once caused illness are now “differentiated” and harmless.

This scheme essentially remains the same as Freud switched to the second topography in the early 1920s. In Neurosis and psychosis, he wrote that “neurosis is the result of a conflict between the ego and its id”.69 Specifically, conflict arises when the ego fails in the “attempt to suppress certain portions of the id [that try to assert themselves on the ego] in an appropriate manner”.70 Still, there remained a conflict between two “sides” – the ego and the id – and an element that is hanging in the balance (i.e., drives, desires, and so forth). The solution proposed by psychotherapy consists of being conscious of such an element, so the ego can control and properly suppress it; for example, by either sublimation or by condemnation. Again, there is a dynamic of differentiation: there is an element that balances on the edge of two (or more) different fields or systems, and to heal means to restore the difference by determining – that is, differentiating – the element according to one of the two systems.

This is how a Girardian can interpret Freud’s psychotherapy: a process that leads from a crisis-of-differences to a differentiation. This interpretation may sound artificial, generic, and too far from Freud’s dictate, however. In fact, it is too simplistic to interpret psychotherapy as a process that leads from a crisis to an overall benefit, given Freud’s adversity toward the concepts of normality and abnormality. This adversity is a liet motive in all Freud’s thinking and it is explicitly reaffirmed in many of his works.71

It is important to stress this point, because the classic Freudian gradualist approach72 clashes with the centrality of differences. Even though Freud used the distinction between pathology and physiology, this cannot be considered “Freudian” at its core. Given his deterministic, naturalistic and gradualist background, he would have not believed that there was an objective and “essential” difference between pathology and physiology; in fact, the natural laws that lead to physiology are the same natural laws that lead to pathology.

As he clearly stated in Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-Eight President of the United States: a Psychological Study, 'normality' is a conventional, rather than a scientific (i.e., objective), category; in other words, normality is that which is considered close-to-average, and it usually indicates whether something is pathological or not, in order to consider whether it is harmful for a single person or for the community.73 Hence, it is the harm, or the sufferance, which determines the “true criterion” of normality. Accordingly, we should interpret psychotherapy as a passage from a state of sufferance to a state of absence-of-sufferance or diminished sufferance,74 rather than a passage from a crisis-of-differences to a solution (i.e., differentiation). This is the first element that suggests that the SMdef does not suit Freudian psychotherapy.

Moving to another issue, does Freudian psychotherapy aim to provide a benefit? This may seem like a trivial question that deserves a trivial answer. As far as the ability of psychotherapy to heal a person or remove sufferance from an individual, the practice brings about an overall benefit. However, it is important to note that Freudian psychotherapy is a “time-consuming business”,75 and successful clinical cases usually require several years; so, to recognize this therapy simply as a passage from a crisis or sufferance to a benefit may be an abstraction that is too rough and reductionist.

Is the provision of a benefit a priority in every phase of the psychotherapy76 process? A closer look will reveal that no, this is not the case. Freud frequently insisted that psychotherapy must pass through a renewal of the conflict from which symptoms arose.77 This approach is clearly different from a simple and direct pathway from a crisis to a benefit that is characterized by the SMdef.

To the contrary, such an approach would remind us of a completely heterogeneous “method”, which we could even label in Girardian words as being Christian, or Christic, at its core: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: I have come to bring not peace but a sword.”78 According to Girard, in fact, Jesus was not merely a medicine man who was more successful than the others.79 He refused to employ any measure of scapegoating, nor did he purport to be a pacificistic figure or a “problem solver”; to the contrary, he pushed and emphasized conflict. In this respect, because Freud’s therapy aims to renew – and in a certain sense, encourages conflict and patient’s suffering – it may, in fact, be associated with Jesus’ action. In this respect, we should thus conclude that Freudian psychotherapy cannot be labelled as a scapegoat mechanism, but rather as the opposite of a scapegoat mechanism.

If someone wished to continue to defend Girard’s criticism, they could insist that, after all, the expected outcome and the very aim of psychotherapy is related to the end of a crisis (i.e., a mental illness). At this point, the Freudian advocate could rely his defence on three arguments. First, Sigmund Freud did not view his method as being infallible, not even in his most optimistic years and works. Furthermore, he did not assume that it would be effective for all types of mental diseases.80 Finally, he did not even believe that his form of therapy – even when it had been shown to be successful – could serve as a prophylaxis.81 According to the admission of its creator, therefore, Freud’s therapy is fallible, partial, and not definitive. Even though the SMdef does not reference these notions, these specifications affirm that it may be overly simplistic to describe Freudian psychotherapy as a process that moves a patient from a situation of crisis to an overall benefit.

At this point, the Girardian accuser might play another card. Even if, by Freud’s own admission, psychotherapy is fallible, partial, and not definitive, this is not enough to prove that this form of therapy is not an example of scapegoating; after all, in practice, scapegoating rituals and techniques are also fallible, and in the end, Job’s friends failed in their attempts at scapegoating. Still, there seems to be a difference between Freud’s therapy and a “classic” scapegoat mechanism – specifically, the practitioner’s trust in the method. Freud was aware that his technique was not infallible; but Job’s friends, on the other hand, demonstrated a strong faith in their “method,” as is usually the case with scapegoaters. The Girardian accuser might again reply that there is a difference between the theorical confidence in Freud’s books, and the confidence – more relevant for our discussion – that Freud showed to his patient in a specific therapy situation.

We should begin to understand how controversial Girard’s accusation is regarding to this point. There is one final consideration related to the crisis/benefit issue: in Freudian therapy, the patient’s resistances – that is, their strong will to not take the doctor’s questions or comments under advisement, combined with an unwillingness to change their mind and a stubborn attitude – will always be understood as resistances to treatment, and thus as resistance to the cure. In this sense, nearly every obstacle to the therapy – if not all of them – is seen as being an obstacle to the cure.

This approach reminds us of the behavior of Job’s friends: every problem or obstacle that emerged during the process was immediately included – we could even say teleologized – within the healing paradigm.82 In this regard, Girard’s criticism seems to find its mark, since every phase in Freud’s therapy can be understood in light of the final goal – that is the overall benefit. This univocity – this 'being targeted to' – is reminiscent of the scapegoat mechanism.

As I have demonstrated, as it relates to a passage from a crisis to a benefit, Girard’s accusation presents some good arguments, as well as some flawed premises. I can now proceed to an examination of the SMdef, specifically the portion of the definition that describes a violent action.

4. A Violent Action?

Does psychoanalysis require any violent actions to attain the overall benefit? In fact, does Freud’s therapy involve violence in any way? A significant problem with this question – and a problem with Girard’s entire mimetic theory – is the broad definition of violence. To paraphrase Augustine, even though we likely share a common-sense intuition on what is violence, if we were to try to give it a definition, it would not be an easy task, and there would be many instances in which our intuition disagreed. For example, is it violent to impregnate a cow with mechanical tools? Is it still violent if we do not cause her any pain? The fact that our society seems to be growing more attentive to violence – stalking and mobbing have only recently become punishable by law, and this testifies to such a trend – does not help us in circumscribing the phenomenon, to the contrary, it makes things even more controversial.

Assuming that this problem concerning the definition of violence can be challenged,83 I am unable to do so in this paper; for this reason, I will rely to the greatest extent possible on a common understanding of violence, according to which a verbal action or an attitude can be also labelled as violent. Specifically, the following factors can be viewed as indicators of violence: the use of a force that cancels out the effects of another force; insisting that others do things, even if they are unwillingly; causing pain, sufferance, and/or sorrows; and quickly producing effects.

Guided by this intuitive definition of violence, I will now attempt to determine whether psychotherapy achieves its goals by means of a violent “action” (or multiple violent actions). It is useful to begin with the Freudian therapeutic premise that in order to start the healing process, the patient must “get the better of his self-reproach”.84 If reproach is something that can be seen as harmful – for example, harmful to self-esteem – especially when it is repeated over and over again, getting the better of self-reproach is not only a non-violent action, but it actually fights again (self-inflicted) violence.

When Freud wrote in An Outline of Psycho-Analysis that the patient must put their self-criticism out of action,85 he was stating the same tenet – indeed, this is a necessary condition for the so-called fundamental rule of analysis,86 which is that the patient must say whatever passes through their mind. It is often the case that the patient does not want to share certain elements (i.e., opinions, feelings, thoughts, memories), because they are perceived as being bad in some ways and they self-reproach because of them. This self-criticism is a nemesis of psychoanalysis and must be overcome by the patient. When a patient verbalizes their thoughts related to those elements towards whom they feel a reproach, there are two possibilities: they may be able to win over any feelings of reproach related to those thoughts; or they are still critical toward them, but they decide to say them out loud in order to get a greater benefit that will be able to overcome the pain of making those thought public, even if it is only to the analyst.

Since every resistance is linked in some way to the illness and draws its energy from repression by the ego that must be made conscious; and because making such repression conscious is the final goal of psychotherapy, the first option – to annihilate any sense of reproach – cannot be considered to be a premise for the commencement of psychotherapy. This means that by asking the patient to get the better of their self-reproach, Freud was asking them to find a motivation (i.e., a drive) that could win over (i.e., overcome,87 not annihilate) – even temporarily – the self-reproach.

It could then be argued that the Freudian psychotherapy insistence on silencing one’s self-reproach is, in fact, a request to make one’s self-reproach talk. After all, Freud requested that the patient share something for which they currently condemn, or have condemned, themselves. Is it not true that the goal of psychoanalysis is to replace repression with condemnation?88 If this is the case, it can be concluded that helping a patient to get the better of their self-reproach is not, tout court, an action against self-violence. Quite the opposite, in fact, as this can be seen as an unwilling action by the patient that could cause them some amount of sorrow.

It seems that Girard’s criticism has a point regarding violence. However, the Freudian advocate who strongly believes psychoanalysis has nothing to do with the scapegoat mechanism may reply that when the patient voices thoughts that may be subject to disapproval, they are not harming themselves any more than when they do not say these thoughts aloud, because they would still inwardly reproach the thoughts; by saying them out loud, the patient is at least able to start the healing process. It is important to remember that we already conceded that psychotherapy must pass through the renewal of the internal conflict, in order to gain an overall benefit.

At this point in the discussion, the Freudian advocate might counter by pointing out that the analyst – as long they are not practitioner of wild analysis89 – behaves in a passive manner toward the patient. Freud notoriously started his therapy session with an invitation to speak or to relate something,90 and his main activity during therapy was listening to his patient, without being seen.91 Moreover, Freud consistently criticized a judgemental attitude from the therapist.92 Also, the technique of fluctuant attention93 can be interpreted as if it aims at this goal: by not following his own expectations and by renouncing control of his own attention, the analysist appears to maintain a condition of complete passivity in front of his patient.

By being passive, the therapist will certainly not be perceived as violent. In Freud’s works, however, this passivity looks more like a general regulative ideal, rather than a constant principle or an indispensable clinical practice. In Introductory Lessons to Psycho-Analysis, psychotherapy is defined as an “interchange of words between the patient and the analyst”,94 and it is described in such a way that the patient and the analysist are on nearly the same level with regard to intervention.95 One could say, in fact, that Freud was not passive during treatment; moreover, he intentionally caused some harms to the patient because he prescribed that analysis must be carried out as the patient is “in a state of frustration”.96

But, again, renewing the psychic conflict and bringing a sorrow to the patient may be viewed as a step along the path toward healing; so at this point, some clarification is due. If what is healed is different from what was harmed, we can actually envision this as a scapegoat mechanism. The SMdef states that the benefit should concern a general situation, while the violent action should be carried against somebody or something that is a part of the system-in-crisis. If we wish to translate the SMdef in the context of psychoanalysis, we need to understand who or what was healed and who or what suffered negative consequences (e.g., a state of frustration). If a part undergoes negative consequences and the whole is “healed”, the SMdef might accurately describe this process.

One additional clarification is needed before I can proceed on this point: by 'negative consequences', I do not necessarily mean any kind of sufferance. An annihilation or a reduction can both be interpreted as negative consequences, even if the thing that is annihilated or reduced does not suffer in any sense. After all, scapegoating can also be leveled against objects or values, and according to the Girardian point-of-view, this should be considered a proper scapegoating, even if an object or a value cannot suffer.

If we admit that the elementary parts of Freud’s psychic ontology are drives, then according to this perspective, nothing can properly suffer.97 This, however, is not sufficient to conclude that the SMdef cannot include any process that was described – or prescribed – by Freud. We might then wonder what is healed and what suffers negative consequences in psychoanalytic treatment. It is not easy to answer this question and, at this point, I will only examine one possible answer.98

It could be argued that in both cases, the patient’s ego is at stake. On the one hand, psychotherapy seeks to heal the ego, since, as we have already seen, the end of psychotherapy is to strengthen the ego99 by endowing it with the power to master100 drives; on the other hand, the state of frustration is determined by the lack of satisfaction of symptomatic action, which are compromises that offer a sense of satisfaction to repressed sexual drives, but also to the ego.101 For the reasons explained above, the SMdef seems to be off-base when used to describe Freud’s psychotherapy.

There are two more points regarding violence that need to be made. As I have already noted, violence seems to imply a coercion, or an “obligation”; but how can a practice that adopts the free association technique be coercive? If a patient is always free to choose the chain of thoughts that will ultimately allow them to bring their repressed thoughts into their consciousness, how can this therapy be coercive? By way of a reply, here are two hints to which I will return in Section 6.

It is curios that Freud chose the word 'free' (freie) to define his technique, given his firm conviction on physical and psychological determinism. Furthermore, regarding coercion, it must be investigated whether suggestion can be a subtle coercion and – this is a fundamental point – whether there is room in Freud’s therapy for suggestion. Certainly, the Freudian therapist who properly applies this form of therapy will not force their patient to agree with the therapist’s diagnosis, at least not in the same manner as Job’s friends, but it is not so clear which roles played the therapist in patient’s emotive arousal and remembering.

The second and final point regarding violence involves the time parameter. As I have explained, violent actions imply a certain degree of quickness. If violence is able to be effective, it would plausibly be effective within a short interval of time. However, this is not the case since, as I pointed out in an earlier section, psychotherapy is a time-consuming business. In this respect at least, the SMdef seems to miss its target. However, we have seen that, as it relates to violence, there remain several problems, which I will attempt to resolve in the following sections, especially in Section 6.

5. Traces of Exclusion in Therapy

Does psychoanalysis achieve its ultimate goal by means of exclusion? Is the overall benefit gained because of exclusion? Thinking back to Freud’s early years as therapist, we could answer both of these questions in the affirmative. As I have explained,102 hypnosis and suggestion were used to disperse hallucination, wipe away mental pictures, remove fears, wipe out memories; here, exclusion is highly evident. The very idea of abreaction and catharsis implies a sort a liberation103 from something, which could also be viewed as a practice of exclusion. Interestingly, this idea of exclusion is not only present in Freud’s early years, nor it is only observed in transition phase from the cathartic to the psychoanalytical method,104 but it is also evident in his full maturity. In fact, he wrote in 1937 that psychoanalytical therapy was “the freeing of someone from his neurotic symptoms, inhibitions and abnormalities of character”.105

It would appear that psychoanalysis is, in fact, a matter of something being excluded. Mental illness often arises because of an unsuccessful removal of sexual drives106 – essentially an exclusion of such drives from the patient’s consciousness.107 As such, psychotherapy is an attempt at successful exclusion.

On the other hand, however, there is enough textual evidence in Freud’s works to not only deny this conclusion, but to argue that psychotherapy is the exact opposite of exclusion. Freud wrote in various passages that healing does not mean that something is rejected, but rather that it is accepted, integrated, and expanded.108 These words depict psychoanalysis as a practice of “adding”, instead of “taking away”.

This apparent contradiction in Freud’s works can be clarified by stating that the aim of psychotherapy is to bring that which has been forgotten into the consciousness and to contemporaneously do away with compulsions that arise from unconscious psychic material.109 This double action is not the result of a coincidence; the ego, or the patient, is enriched by placing at their disposal those energies that, owing to repression, are inaccessible and confined in the unconscious.110 No psychic energy—that is to say, no drives —is eliminated; rather, this energy is converted into something different. Thus, no elimination means no exclusion.

Even if this is correct, the Girardian accuser could nevertheless respond in two ways. They could reply that this last remark is more concerned with theory than with therapeutic praxis, and they could insist on the fact that Freud used on many occasions, including in his record of clinical cases,111 words that were clearly related to an exclusion.

Consequently, this point remains at least somewhat controversial. One detail that can hardly be seen as controversial is that unlike in the case of Job, the patient is not subjected to any form of exclusion in Freud’s therapy. As has already been discussed,112 abnormality is not intended to be an objective condition; the Oedipus complex, which Freud argued was the actual nucleus of neuroses,113 is universal in all humans – and if everyone has it, then no one can be excluded because of it in any sense. Finally, Freud wrote on several occasions that reproaches against others – and remember, an accusation can serve as a mean of excluding someone – “leads one to suspect the existence of a string of self-reproaches with the same content”.114 This is why it is difficult to argue that an analyst would put forward a practice of exclusion against their patient.

The patient’s person is therefore not subjected to any practice of exclusion, so they cannot be conceived as a scapegoat. But what if it is not the patient that is being scapegoated, but rather a part of the patient’s life? Freud’s belief that infancy plays a central role in this etiology,115 and more generally, in an individual’s life, is well known. As I discussed in Section 2, in the early 1890s, Freud’s shift in thinking meant that therapy became a matter of remembering things that happened earlier in life; the period of infancy gradually became central in Freud’s diagnosis, until 1896, when he held the theory that the originary cause of mental pathology was an episode of sexual abuse during one’s early youth, between the ages of eight to ten.116 Early youth is then considered to be the root of the illness, but in this case, the child remains passive in the face of a violent action; in other words, we could say that they are a victim.

Freud soon reversed this scheme: starting in 1897, the child – who by now is three-to-five years of age – is no longer passive in the face of a “scandalous” sexual action, but is instead the active source of “scandalous” sexual desire. The Oedipus desire cannot be satisfied in reality, especially in our society, and so it is quelled under repression. This originary repression – that is the repression of Oedipal drives – becomes the model for all successive repressions,117 which can then cause pathology. Is pointing to this period of a patient’s life as being the cause of a pathology the equivalent of asserting that the child is guilty118 of future illness?

Freud explicitly addressed this point in A Case of Obsessional Neurosis, where he informed his patient that “moral responsibility could not be applied to children”.119 Curiously, Freud added a note to this passage, in which he stated that these arguments about moral responsibility are ineffective. Telling a patient that they should not feel guilty for fantasies, actions, and desires experienced in childhood does not yield any success in the therapy and does not release the patient from sufferance. Freud did believe, however, that young child was amoral,120 so they could not be held morally responsible for anything. Why, then, did he believe that arguments related to the impossibility of a child’s responsibility cannot help the patient?

He believed this precisely because psychotherapy must replace repression by condemnation. Infantile drives do not make a child morally responsible, but this is not to say that they cannot fall under condemnation by the hand of the “highest agencies of the mind” – the ego and the super-ego. It is plausible Freud was aware that moral responsibility is a matter of civil normativity, and it cannot affect the deepest psychological structures. A proper condemnation – that is, a successful condemn – requires consciousness, but it is not a matter of civil normativity. By condemning repressed drives, the patient creates distance away from them, and they are repudiated and excluded, which is why all symptoms associated with them disappear.

As Freud put it in Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose (Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional neurosis), “[d]as Unbewußte sei das Infantile” – that is, “the unconscious is the infantile”.121 Unconscious drives are deprived of energy and made harmless by this conscious condemnation. If the system in crisis is the mental life of the individual, the overall benefit is attained by condemning a segment of it – a precise period or episodes from their early youth. If condemnation can be understood as an act of exclusion – I condemn x, so I renounce to x, I no longer feel x or substitutes of x are a part of me – it can be concluded that the SMdef accurately depicts a crucial component of Freud’s therapy. According to this hypothesis, early youth is then the scapegoat of psychotherapy, which makes the three Freudian quotation I introduced in Section 1 more meaningful.

It is important to note that a patient’s condemnation of their own infancy highlights an important feature of the scapegoat mechanism: Girard realized that if the scapegoat mechanism is to be successful, there must be a relation of similarity between the scapegoat and the scapegoaters, as well as one of dissimilarity.122 In our example, the infant and the adult patient are the same person (i.e., a relation of similarity), but there is a considerable amount of time between them (i.e., a relation of dissimilarity). Could it be that it was this practical and clinical need to create a differentiation that led Freud to the theoretical assumption of the centrality of infancy? I believe that this hypothesis deserves further attention and additional historical studies; as it related to the present discussion, it represents a significant challenge for Freudian advocate.

6. The Presence and the Role of Authority

Is the (alleged) violent action of exclusion perpetrated, or lead, by an authority? I have already pointed out that to speak of an authority is viewed as being slightly inappropriate. By 'authority', I mean a major force that has been acknowledged as such; an authority is anyone or anything that is able to accomplish a scapegoating.123 In fact, the occurrence of this word in the definition is redundant, if it is not for the fact that by imposing itself as an authority, somebody or something can more easily to carry out a scapegoat mechanism.

Regarding this point, it can be noted that the Oedipus complex, oneiric symbolism, and universality and the independence thereof from individual experience, these concepts actually “overtake” the individual – their belief, their reports, and their emotions – and are thus imposed as being unquestionable.124 Freud’s hypothesis that the Oedipian complex, the incest taboo ,125 the primal scene,126 oneiric symbolism, and other “institutions” are genetically inherited, and that in a certain sense, they existed prior to the individual, goes in the direction of stating some independent truth that the analyst trusts more than the patient’s reports;127 and these “theoretical authorities” indicate where to look for that which must be condemned. Freud’s advocates, however, would reply that this pertains to the theoretical level, but that psychotherapy does not pass through a conceptual illustration of what psychoanalysis is.128

Another source of authority – that is, another source of force – can be the number of people who judge and/or interact with the patient. Psychotherapy can easily avoid this point, however, by renewing the focus on Freud’s insistence that the presence of third parties be excluded during therapy sessions. “The talk of which psychoanalytic treatment consists brooks no listener”.129 A two-persons situation appears, prima facie, to be very different from the crowded scapegoat mechanisms Girard described in his texts; and from an “objective” point of view, Freudian therapy is a matter of two people talking to one other. But what about the “psychological”130 point of view? Here, I will return to the issue of transference.

As I indicated in Section 2, Freud noted that during therapy, the patient substitutes the person of the doctor with a person in their past, usually a parent. The patient then projects their feelings toward this “third” person onto the analyst, so that the analyst occupies the role that the third person held in the patient’s past. Freud explicitly stated that the analyst also serves the patient as “an authority and a substitute for his parents.”131 Since the super-ego is the “heir to the parental agency”,132 as an outcome of this introjection into the ego of the two parents,133 the person of the analyst may be relocated by the patient to the place of the super-ego.134 In this way, Freudian psychotherapy seems to be a matter between two persons; but from a psychological point of view, because of transferences and projections, this practice involves more than two “persons,” and more importantly, it involves people with a close tie to “authority”.

According to Freud, the transference mechanism is necessary in the context of an analysis, and it is also necessary for healing.135 The analyst is not required to force the creation of this affective bound, because it will spontaneously create itself. Notwithstanding this, when it appears and be consolidated, it “must be combated”,136 because it is only when transference is dissolved that the patient is truly cured.137

Thus, the analyst gains an authoritative power over their patient by transference. Is this power what makes the analyst able to end the crisis (i.e., the mental illness) and bring about the benefit? This question leads to the topic of suggestion. As I have already described, such a technique was used by Freud in his pre-psychoanalytic period, but what exactly is suggestion? The first time Freud defined suggestion, he described it as a psychic influence, by means of which “an idea is aroused in another person’s brain which is not examined in regard to its origin but is accepted just as though it had arisen spontaneously in that brain”.138 Many years later in 1921, Freud described suggestion as a convincement that is based on an uncanny and coercive erotic tie.139 The two descriptions are similar: through a suggestion, an external idea is coercively placed in the mind of a patient by the means of an erotic—that is, an affective—bond.

To return to the topic at hand, it could be said that Iphigenia was convinced by suggestion (i.e., she shared an affective bound with her father, Agamemnon, as well as with others) that her sacrifice was necessary to save Greece. Similarly, was Freud’s patient convinced by suggestion that the origin of their illness was found in repressed drives that dated back to their early youth? Is psychoanalysis little more than a kind of suggestion? Freud considered this objection many times,140 and it is not far from the truth to say that this criticism was his biggest worry related to his therapeutic method. In particular, this objection can be formulated in the following manner: if this translation was merely a suggestion, and it is used accordingly, psychoanalysis would be simply a “particularly well-disguised and particularly effective form of suggestive treatment”.141 Freud responded to this criticism on several occasions – and each of these replies would deserve a deep analysis—but I will now address only one of them, which asserts that in the course of suggestive therapy, the patient is merely passive in the face of the suggestion, which the therapist uses to repress the symptoms; in Freudian psychotherapy, suggestion is instead used to help the patient change the outcome of the psychic conflict that caused the symptoms.142

This point is crucial and complex. Focusing on the question of “authority”, there is a marked oscillation between the coercive force of translation and the fact that a cure requires that the patient’s ego acknowledge the conflict within themself and take control of all unconscious drives – that is to say that at the end of the day, since no one else can remember for the patient, the success of the cure depends on them.143 This problem is made even more intricate by the declared “love of truth” on which the analytical relationship is premised.144 More will be written about this issue in the next section.

Is there a coercive intervention in transference dynamics (i.e., an analyst’s intervention as an authority); or is the patient, by means of transference, simply placed into conditions to acknowledge their repressions? It seems that Freud preferred to avoid this problem, since he had attempted to bring up the problem of coercion at another level. In fact, Freud once wrote that the therapist cannot exercise any influence on the patient’s capacity for transference145 – that is, the capacity of being influenced –, and yet, he also quoted Ferenczi when he asserted in relation to transference, the therapist’s personality can influence the outcome of the cure.146 The point is therefore not whether or not the patient is coerced, but whether or not they can be coerced to coercion or not. Freud was bagging the question, but he did not resolve it. Moreover, even at this level, Freud’s ideas do not appear to be clear and steady.

In conclusion, if the goal of psychotherapy is to provide control to the patient’s ego, given the coercion that transference performs on their ego and given the fact that the analyst is identified with the patient’s super-ego, the Girardian accuser could argue that the goal of psychotherapy is to covertly “integrate” the super-ego into the ego; and that as a result of this integration, the new ego is able to condemn its past drives, deprive them of their energy, and sublimate them. This hypothesis of a substitution of the super-ego with the ego should not look all that odd. After all, Freud wrote that the line between the ego and the super-ego is very fine: “sometimes it [the ego] is merged with the super-ego so that we cannot distinguish between them”.147 If this is the case, the SMdef is quite fitting when describing Freud’s therapy, particularly considered that according to Freud, the super-ego is also the vehicle of cultural tradition.148

The Freudian advocate might wish to reply to some of these arguments. I will only examine one possible defense strategy, because it will permit us to end the discussion about the free-association technique. In light of the accusation of using transference as an authoritative means of compelling a patient, one could insist that Freud’s therapy relies on the free-association technique. How can there be coercion if the patient is always free to direct the chain of thought that, assuming that the treatment is successful, will enable them to bring past repressions into their consciousness?

Freud was aware of the tension between transference, which is an unavoidable and necessary dynamic for psychotherapy; and the free-association technique, which serves as the fundamental rule of psychotherapy.149 The position in which the therapy is carried out – with the analyst behind and out-of-sight of the patient – seeks to prevent “the transference from mingling with the patient’s associations imperceptibly”.150 While the transference represents the link between psychoanalytical therapy and pre-psychoanalytical therapies, the free-association technique represents the core of the new Freudian technique.

But is that actually the case? When the free-association technique took its first steps, it was a particular kind of suggestion.151 Is the mature free-association technique truly free from suggestion? It is extremely relevant to consider exactly how this rule was formulated at the beginning of the treatment. We know that the goal is for patient to say everything that passes through their mind, but did Freud only say: “Say everything you think loudly?”. I will mention only two representative examples of Freud’s formulation: “the one and only condition of the treatment-namely, to say everything that came into his head, even if it was unpleasant to him, or seemed unimportant or irrelevant or senseless”;152 “he is to tell us not only what he can say intentionally and willingly, what he will give him relief like a confession, but everything else as well that is self-observation yields him, everything that comes into his head, even if it is disagreeable to say it, even if it seems to him unimportant or actually nonsensical”.153 This rule can be summarized in a few words: say everything that is on your mind, even if, for any reason, it is something that you feel like not saying.

From a semantic and logical point of view, the second part of the law – the part after the comma – would not add anything to the concept of 'say everything that passes through your mind'. And yet, it is difficult to believe that the father of depth psychology was unaware that words and sentences has a “more than literary” meaning. In particular, to such an extent that “even if” was unconsciously translated as “particularly if”; does this not sound like an indirect invitation to speak about “uncomfortable” facts? In other words, does the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis require a confession-like situation? If that is the case, transference and the authoritative position occupied by the therapist is not a natural and necessary step. Rather it is a dynamic that is ingeniously sought from the very beginning of the therapy by the therapist.

Even with these explanations and clarifications, we are still far from the final word on this matter. Recent scientific psychology investigations, such as those conducted by Daniel Wagner,154 can reveal more information on these phenomena of suggestion in “normal” communication. What I have already said, however, is sufficient to establish that the use of authority in Freud’s therapy is rather controversial.

7. Substitution and Truth

The final point that I will examine related to the SMdef pertains to the “selection by substitution”. Is the object of the action of exclusion substituted in some way? Since we are discussing past deeds and desires, it is tempting to ask whether the real responsible for the crisis situation (i.e., mental illness) is the determination of what will be “banned” or excluded. However, this formulation of the question would be misleading. According to this view the scapegoat is usually substituted for the entity that is actual responsible of the crisis, but this is a misinterpretation of Girard’s scapegoat mechanism. Our notion of responsibility presupposes the scapegoat mechanism; in fact, the necessary conditions for its existence is a society that has developed a certain kind of punishment system—and according to mimetic theory, all punishment social systems are historically derived from scapegoating.

To borrow a Darwinist scheme,155 by substitution I simply mean a process that randomly selects objects until certain conditions are satisfied. In particular, many violent actions of exclusion are directed in different times towards different “objects”,156 until the amount of violence is enough to prevent any retaliatory violence from a given object. As such, there is no objective 157 link between what is excluded per se and the end of the process (i.e., the overall benefit).

To incorporate this problem into my topic, the question would be: are repressed drives from early youth objectively linked with a successful end of therapy? Is consciously remembering and working-through these drives objectively linked to patient recovery? Or are these memories selected by substitution? Of course, in a Freudian analysis, these memories are not randomly chosen every time; rather, they are part of a tested technique. But this does not change the fact that they can be independent158 from the success of psychoanalysis.

For most of his career, Freud thought there was an objective link: remembering repressed drives leads to healing. If this were not the case, the risk of proposing yet another kind of suggestive therapy would be extremely high, and the time-consuming work that went into determining the proper chain of mental associations would look like nothing more than a tedious farce. Freud was fairly clear about the historical and material truth of past drives that must be remembered:159 “Psycho-analytic treatment is founded on truthfulness”,160 and “[i]t is dangerous to depart from this foundation”.161

However, this “love for truth” in psychoanalysis treatment, which represents an interesting link between Freudian and Girardian theories and epistemologies, has rarely been absolute. According to Freud, mere knowledge of past facts cannot help the patient; there must also be a certain level of emotional engagement.162 Moreover, as the following passage asserts, some method for introducing historical truth into therapy can even be harmful:

[…] it may seem tempting to take the easy course of filling up the gaps in a patient’s memory by making enquiries from the older members of his family; but I cannot advise too strongly against such a technique. Any stories that may be told by relatives in reply to enquiries and requests are at the mercy of every critical misgiving that can come into play. One invariably regrets having made oneself dependent upon such information; at the same time confidence in the analysis is shaken and a court of appeal is set up over it. Whatever can be remembered at all will anyhow come to light in the further course of analysis.163

According to classic Freudian psychotherapy, the Freudian therapist is interested in past truths, but a trustful relationship with their patient, which must be sought within the confines of this personal relation, is more precious than truth.

As I previously wrote, Freudian psychotherapy assumes that consciously remembering past repressed drives with emotional engagement has an objective link to the successful end of therapy. After all, the force of repressed drives was at the origin of mental disease, and when this force is removed from an unsuccessful repression and placed under the ego’s control, the disease comes to an end. As I anticipated at the end of the second section, this “paradigm” surprisingly shifted—or at the very least, it was questioned—at the end of Freud’s life.

In Constructions in Analysis, Freud wrote that an assured conviction by the patient as to the truth of the construction (i.e., narrative conjectures by the therapist on patient’s early life) “achieves the same therapeutic result as a recaptured memory”.164 If this is the case, it is clear that there is no objective link between a past event x and the patient’s healing; in fact, the patient could also be healed by past events y or z. Real past repressed drives can be substituted by others. All that matters is that patient is convinced of their effective truth, because a genuine conviction can produce the emotional engagement in them that is required for the cure.

At this point, the Girardian accuser might maliciously suggest: is any mental disease actually rooted in the Œdipus complex? And if this is the case, then why does the therapist need to know the actual event that triggered the unsuccessful repression? If the underlying fact is always premised on the Œdipian complex, could any Oedipian-like situation obtain the same healing effect? If this is, in fact, the case, a therapist’s capacity for being persuasive and for making up good stories becomes an important quality. The force of transference becomes even more important than it was when truthful memories were required as a necessary condition. This unexpected position leaves open the possibility of a “hermeneutic” outcome of the psychoanalysis, even though this is far from Freud’s intention.165

In conclusion, concerning the selection by substitution, the SMdef seems to correctly predict, at least to a certain extent, this last feature within Freud psychoanalysis. The past repressed drives that must be “excluded” (or condemned) are selected by substitution, since they do not maintain an objective link with the overall final benefit.

8. Conclusion

Is Freudian psychotherapy an example of the scapegoat mechanism? Even though my last two sections seemed to veer in the direction of an affirmative answer, the overall discussion should recommend caution. Whether we answer yes or no, we will need to challenge different argumentations on both sides. While the Girardian accuser will insist that healing must pass through a condemnation and that this transference resembles a suggestion carried by an external authority; the Freudian advocate will draw attention to the therapist’s passive behavior, their non-judgmental attitude, and the total sincerity that is required in a successful treatment. I have shown the strengths and weaknesses of each of these arguments, as well for other arguments.

In conclusion, due to Freud’s variations over the past several decades – and sometimes even within the same book – I can neither say that the Girardian critique is fully correct, nor that it completely missed the target. Perhaps it would be more appropriate—and this solution will undoubtedly please the Girardian accuser more than the Freudian advocate166 – to state that it seems that Freud progressively – and sometimes with ups and downs – became aware that something like a scapegoat mechanism was involved, or could has been involved, in his method of mental illness treatment. While he sometimes used this knowledge to obtain technical results, he also sometimes ethically and scientifically blamed this “intrusion” and attempted to build something different. While this claim proves to be less bold than Girard’s criticism against Freud, it is still a notably audacious claim. Of course, future studies and additional contributions are required to further explain Freudian psychoanalysis in a historical and conceptual manner with the conceptual tools provided by the mimetic theory.

Other concerns related to this same topic should also be discussed. For example, the Freudian advocate could comment that in the case of Job, there was a real persecuted individual, a real-life scapegoat, whereas there was nothing like this in all of Freud’s clinical cases. This is true, but the question still remains: can Freudian psychotherapy detect a true scapegoat case? Following my argumentation, it seems difficult to defend an answer in the affirmative.

Another exercise could be to consider whether Job’s friends acted like good or bad therapists. Concerning this point, it seems clear to me that they failed in seeing Job’s “uncomplaining resignation”167 as their goal, and not as a pathological symptom. Above all, they were likely wrong in coming out too quickly168 and too manifestly as advocates of the super-ego.

Of course, a Girardian does not expect that men in the sixth century B.C. – the period in which the book of Job has been dated – would have relied on sophisticated scapegoating techniques that required thousands of years to develop. According to Girard, while the scapegoating mechanism and its derivates has become increasingly subtle over the years, we have, at the same time, become more sensitive when it comes to recognizing them. When we read some Plato’s works, specifically Socrates’ maieutic dialogues, some of us cannot help but feel a sense of discomfort due recognition of an attempt to disguise a suggestive mind trick as an autonomous path toward knowledge. My question is: will the readers of Freud’s clinical cases feel the same way in the next several hundred years?

Furthermore, how can a non-sacrificial psychotherapy – a therapy for mental illnesses that does not rely on a scapegoat mechanism – be traced and developed, and how much of a precursor will the work and writings of Sigmund Freud prove to be in this process? Girard’s different comprehension of mental illness, according to which “[m]any psychic catastrophes misunderstood by the psychoanalyst result from an inchoate, obstinate reaction against the violence and falsehood found in any human society”,169 calls for a different kind of psychotherapy.170 Will Freud – who was, after all, so close to discovering scapegoating as a pillar of culture orders – be considered a precursor of it?


In this paper, I will discuss a criticism that René Girard made against Freud’s psychoanalysis. In Job: The victim of his people Girard stated that in a hypothetical Job-like case, the Freudian psychotherapist – or Freud himself – would have put Job away in a psychiatric ward for insuperable repression. Was Girard suggesting that psychoanalytical therapy was founded on patient-blaming, that is a particular form of scapegoat mechanism? I will explore this hypothesis, and I will highlight the valid points and the flaws of this critique and evaluate the extent to which Girard’s insight can help us shed light on the therapeutic effectiveness of Freud’s techniques.


  • Cappelletti V., Introduzione a Freud, Laterza, Roma-Bari.
  • Foucault M., The Will to Knowledge. The History of Sexuality: 1, translated by R. Hurley, Penguin, 1998.
  • Girard R., Violence and the Sacred, translated by P. Gregory, Continuum, London, 1977, p. 291 (original edition: R. Girard, La Violence et le Sacré, Éditions Bernard Grasset, Paris, 1972, p. 381).
  • Girard R., Delirium as system, in To double business bound, translated by Livingstone P. N., John Hopkins University Press, 1978.
  • Girard R., Job. The victim of his people, Stanford University Press, 1987.
  • Girard R., The Scapegoat, translated by Y. Freccero, John Hopkins University, 1989.
  • Girard R., I see Satan Falling Like Lighting, translated by J. G. Williams, Orbis Book, Maryknoll, 2001.
  • Girard R., Evolution and Conversion. Dialogues on the Origins of Culture, Bloomsboory, 2017.
  • Innamorati M., Freud, Carocci Editore, Roma, 2015.
  • Masson J. M., The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory, Farrar Straus & Giroux, New York, 1894.
  • Nemo P., Job and the excess of evil, translated by M. Kigel, Duquesne University Press, 1998.
  • Oughourlian J., The Puppet of Desire, The Psychology of Hysteria, Possession and Hypnosis, translated by E. Webb, Stanford University Press, 1991.
  • Taubes S., The Political Theology of Paul, translated by D. Hollander, Stanford University Press, 2003.
  • Wegner D. M, White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obsession, and the Psychology of Mental Control, Penguin, 1989;
  • Wegner D. M., The Illusion of Conscious Will, MIT Press, 2002.

Sigmund Freud’s works:

  • S. Freud, Preface to the Translation of Bernheim’s Suggestion, in Standard Edition Vol. I
  • S. Freud, Extracts from the Fliess Papers, in Standard Edition Vol. I
  • S. Freud, Preliminar Communication, in Standard Edition Vol. II
  • Freud S., Studies on Hysteria, in Standard Edition Vol. II
  • Freud S., Hereditary and the Aetiology of the Neuroses, in Standard Edition Vol. III.
  • S. Freud, The Neuro-Psychosis of Defence, in Standard Edition Vol. III
  • Freud S., The Interpretation of Dreams, in Standard edition Vol . IV
  • Freud S., On Psychotherapy, in Standard Edition Vol. VII
  • S. Freud, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, in Standard Edition Vol. VII
  • S. Freud, Psycho-Analysis and the Establishment of the Fact in Legal Proceedings, in Standard Edition Vol. IX.
  • Freud S., Analysis of phobia in a five-year-old boy, in Standard Edition Vol. X
  • Freud S., Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. X
  • Freud S., Wild Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XI.
  • Freud S., Five lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XI,
  • Freud S., Papers on Technique, in Standard Edition Vol. XII
  • S. Freud, On Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XII
  • S. Freud, Technique of Pyscho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XII
  • Freud S., Further Recommendation on Technique, in Standard Edition Vol. XII
  • Freud S., Totem and Taboo, in Standard Edition Vol. XIII
  • S. Freud, The History of Psycho-Analytic Movement, in Standard Edition Vol. XIV
  • S. Freud, Instincts and their Vicissitudes, in Standard Edition Vol. XIV.
  • Freud S., Introductory lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard edition Vol. XV
  • Freud S., New Introductory lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard edition Vol. XXII
  • S. Freud, An Autobiographical Study, in Standard Edition Vol. XX
  • S. Freud, Short Account of Psychoanalysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XIX
  • Freud S., The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Whilelm Fliess (1887-1904), edited by Masson J. M., Belknap Press.
  • S. Freud, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII
  • Freud S., Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, in Standard Edition Vol. XX
  • Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII
  • Freud S., Construction in Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII
  • Freud S., Neurosis and Psychosis, in Standard Edition Vol. XIX
  • Freud S., The Question of Lay Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XX
  • Freud S. and Bullitt W. C., Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twentyeighth President of the United States: A Psychological Study, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1967.
  • Freud S.*, An Infantile Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVII*
  • Freud S., Recommendation to Physicians Practisizing Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XII
  • Freud S., Lines of Advances in Psychoanalytic Therapy, in Standard Edition Vol. XVII
  • Freud S., Two Enclyclopedia Article. Psychoanalysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVIII
  • Freud S., On Narcissism: an Introduction, in Standard Edition Vol. XIV
  • Freud S., The Ego and the Id, in Standard Edition Vol. XIX
  • Freud S., Postcript to Question of Lay Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XX
  • Freud S., From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVII
  • Freud S., A Child is Being Beaten, in Standard Edition Vol. XVII
  • Freud S., Totem and Taboo, in Standard Edition Vol. XIII
  • Freud S., Humor, in Standard Edition Vol. XXI
  • Freud S., The Economic Problem of Masochism, in Standard Edition Vol. XIX
  • Freud S., Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, in Standard Edition Vol. XVIII
  • Freud S., Construction of Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII
  • Freud S., Introductory lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard edition Vol. XVI,

  1. Girard R., Job. The Victim of his People, translated by Y. Freccero, Stanford University Press, 1987, p. 46. ↩︎

  2. Ibidem. ↩︎

  3. Several popular cases that non-Girardians would find familiar include Oedipus, Iphigenia, and the Gerasene demoniac (this last case should be called 'paradigmatic' until the coming of Jesus). ↩︎

  4. Girard is not the first one who has noted an analogy between Job’s friends’ behavior and psychoanalytic therapy as technique. In Job et l’Excès du Mal, Philippe Nemo affirms Job’s friends’ technique relies on assumptions very close to psychoanalytic therapy (like an intellectualistic and reductionist approach, as well as the interpretation of patient’s resistance as validation of therapist’s theory about their symptom). See P. Nemo, Job and the Excess of Evil, translated by M. Kigel, Duquesne University Press, 1998. ↩︎

  5. Freud has been one of the greatest sources of inspiration for Girard and, at the same time, one of his favorite targets. Girard himself was conscious of this ambivalence: in Violence and the Sacred, he explicitly says that Freud has already pointed out the two fundamental Girard’s theses: the relevance of mimesis in human behavior and the scapegoat mechanism (in Chapters VII and VIII, respectively, of the book). Nevertheless—and as Girard taught us, a “nevertheless” often hides a “because of”—Girard criticized Freud and psychoanalysis in nearly every book. So, it would not be ironic, but just unsurprisingly insightful, using Girardian concept of model/rival to describe Girard’s own relationship with Freud. ↩︎

  6. At least not an episodic boutade, since this is not the only place in which Girard makes this accusation. See Girard R., Delirium as System, in To Double Business Bound, translated by P. N. Livingstone, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1978. ↩︎

  7. “Deed” is the English word for the German “Tat”. In the German language, Tat can mean “action” in general, but also “Straftat,” which is “criminal action.” As such, there is a negative connotation for Tat that the English “deed” maintains. As a matter of fact, the Italian translators chose “misfatto,” which means “misdeed”. ↩︎

  8. S. Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVI, p. 330. Freud had already stated this in S. Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, in Standard Edition Vol . IV, pp. 261-262: “The action of the play consists in nothing other than the process of revealing, with cunning delays and ever-mounting excitement – a process that can be likened to the work of psycho-analysis – that Oedipus himself is the murderer of Laïus […].” [Our italics]. ↩︎

  9. Written in 1908 and published the next year. ↩︎

  10. Freud S., Analysis of Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy, in Standard Edition Vol. X, p. 145. ↩︎

  11. Freud S., Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XI, p. 28 and Freud S., Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVI, p. 294. ↩︎

  12. James Strachey noted the words for “slip-of-the-tongue” and “offense” in the German language (versprechen and vergehen, respectively) have similar word patterns. ↩︎

  13. Freud S., Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XV, p. 50. ↩︎

  14. Such analogy it is further explored in Psycho-Analysis and the Establishment of the Fact in Legal Proceedings, in Standard Edition Vol. IX, and Foucault has notoriously pointed out the family resemblance between confession and Freud’s psychotherapy. Foucault M., The Will to Knowledge. The History of Sexuality: 1, translated by R. Hurley, Penguin, 1998. ↩︎

  15. Regarding this topic, see Daniele Bertini’s article in this volume. ↩︎

  16. In this sense, I believe the passage in which Girard claims that the scapegoat mechanism should not be interpreted in psychological terms must be read: R. Girard, Violence and the Sacred, translated by P. Gregory, Continuum, London, p. 291. The English translation of this (very relevant) point is inaccurate, however, so I recommend consulting the original French version: R. Girard, La Violence et le Sacré, Éditions Bernard Grasset, Paris, 1972, p. 381. ↩︎

  17. Moreover, also if we want to ignore this philosophical question, it could be wrong to speak of méconnaissance in the definition of scapegoat mechanism. Girard has noted many times that, in some societies, scapegoat mechanism can co-exist with an adequate knowledge by persecutors concerning who is culprit, for what, and who, nonetheless, shall be punished. See for instance what he writes about Robert Lowie’s remarks concerning Chuchki people. R. Girard, Violence and the Sacred, p. 26-27. ↩︎

  18. Rather, we should consider it as a condition of possibility for normativity in general. ↩︎

  19. The word “substitution” still presents a problem. To substitute someone or something else means to take someone else’s place or to be mistaken for someone else. But when this word is spells in the same way as “to be mistaken for” or “to stand for,” a conceptual relation seems to be drawn between the two concepts. Objects and facts do not, per se, stand for other objects or facts; they can only do this in virtue of a mental and/or conceptual operation. Therefore, it would seem that a scapegoat mechanism would, by definition, require a mind. In order to avoid this problem, we can put it in the following terms: victims of violence are randomly chosen in different times —that is, they are chosen independent of their role in the crisis situation—they are substituted until a positive result has been reached. ↩︎

  20. By “Freudian psychotherapy,” I do not mean psychotherapy inspired by Sigmund Freud’s work, but specifically the practices that Sigmund Freud employed and illustrated on a theoretical level that he labelled as “psychotherapy.” As such, I will henceforth use “Freudian psychotherapy” as a synonym of “Freud’s psychotherapy.” ↩︎

  21. The Girardian can be tempted by a tautological answer: Since it is a human technique and all human cultural products have their roots in expiatory murder, Freudian psychology could be legitimately defined as a derivative form of a scapegoat mechanism. However, this answer would be uninteresting and would not enable us to measure the fecundity of Girard’s theory. Moreover, according to Girard, another principle—a “Christian principle”—which is different from the scapegoat mechanism, has influenced human affairs throughout history; as such, there is the possibility that Freudian psychotherapy comes from, or has been contaminated by, this other elementary matrix. ↩︎

  22. Nevertheless, fully legitimate from the Girardian point of view. ↩︎

  23. Freud S., Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXII, p. 156. ↩︎

  24. Certainly, Freud had prejudices and beliefs that affected his clinical approach – and Freud was obviously aware of this: see S. Freud, Instincts and their Vicissitudes, in Standard Edition Vol. XIV, p. 117 – but this does not change the fact that psychoanalysis was conceived by a doctor, rather than a philosopher. ↩︎

  25. See S. Freud, The History of Psycho-Analytic Movement, in Standard Edition Vol. XIV, pp. 20-21. However, we would better not trust too much this passage, given the “propagandistic” accent of this work. We shall rather think, for instance, about Freud’s troubles and procrastinations, from 1908 to 1912, in writing a systematic exposition of analytic technique, the project of an Allgemeine Technik der Psychoanalyse↩︎

  26. This is also Girard’s thesis, even though he did not support it with a solid historical argument. See R. Girard, Delirium as System↩︎

  27. This was largely due to the influence of Ernst Wilhelm Brücke. ↩︎

  28. This misstep was not promoted by Brücke. In fact, it was the first attempt to conduct research without the guidance of a “supervisor.” ↩︎

  29. See S. Freud, An Autobiographical Study, in Standard Edition Vol. XX, p. 84. ↩︎

  30. It is not so relevant here to carefully distinguish these two phenomena. ↩︎

  31. See S. Freud, Preface to the Translation of Bernheim’s Suggestion, in Standard Edition Vol. I, pp. 77-78. ↩︎

  32. S. Freud, Studies on Hysteria, in Standard Edition Vol. 2, p. 51. ↩︎

  33. Ivi, p. 53. ↩︎

  34. Ivi, p. 57. ↩︎

  35. Ivi, p. 59. ↩︎

  36. See S. Freud, Preliminar Communication, in Standard Edition Vol. II, pp. 5-6. ↩︎

  37. Although Freud never abandoned the Lamarckian belief that mental “facts” can be inherited, we can at least state that such an idea played a secondary role in his theories. I will return to this in Section 6. ↩︎

  38. See Ivi, p. 7. ↩︎

  39. See Ivi, p. 6. ↩︎

  40. See V. Cappelletti, Introduzione a Freud, Laterza, Roma-Bari, p. 163. ↩︎

  41. S. Freud, Short Account of Psychoanalysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XIX, p. 194. ↩︎

  42. S. Freud, Studies on Hysteria, p. 110. However, Freud had already used this technique with Elizabeth von R. See Ivi, p. 145. ↩︎

  43. First occurrence in Technique of Pyscho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XII, p. 107. But the idea was already presented in The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). ↩︎

  44. See Freud S., Hereditary and the Aetiology of the Neuroses, in Standard Edition Vol. III. But already in Extracts from the Fliess Papers, in Standard Edition Vol. I, p. 179. ↩︎

  45. Freud distinguishes in that phase between psychoneurosis and actual neurosis. Anyway, in my paper I will not follow such distinctions, since any mental illness can be defined as a “crisis” in mental life of the patient. ↩︎

  46. See Hereditary and the Aetiology of the Neuroses, p. 152. ↩︎

  47. Freud S., The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Whilelm Fliess (1887-1904), edited by Masson J. M., Belknap Press, p. 264. ↩︎

  48. J. M. Masson argued that Freud abandoned this theory mostly for “political” reasons, as he was afraid it could have been too extreme and outrageous. J. M. Masson, The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory, Farrar Straus & Giroux, New York, 1894. Curiously enough, Masson lost his chair as project director of the Freud Archives after this publication. ↩︎

  49. Even if in that book was not already mentioned as 'Oedipus complex'. ↩︎

  50. See Freud S., The Interpretations of Dreams, in Standard Edition Vol. IV, pp. 261-264. ↩︎

  51. In this context, it is irrelevant to make distinctions regarding these notions. ↩︎

  52. Many years later, in a passage that is too-often overlooked by critics, Freud will say that “psychical is unconscious in itself.” S. Freud, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII, p. 158. ↩︎

  53. S. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, in Standard Edition Vol. V, p. 567. ↩︎

  54. In the case of Dora (1901) Freud uses similar words to describe the goal of his therapy. See S. Freud, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, in Standard Edition Vol VII, p. 55. ↩︎

  55. The idea of removal as a defensive mechanism was already presented in S. Freud, The Neuro-Psychosis of Defence, in Standard Edition Vol. III. ↩︎

  56. S. Freud, On Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XII, p. 209. However, this idea was already clear before in Freud’s mind. ↩︎

  57. S. Freud, Analysis of Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy, in Standard Edition Vol. X, p. 145. ↩︎

  58. Freud S., A Fragment of an Analysis of Hysteria, in Standard Edition Vol. VII, p. 116. ↩︎

  59. Freud S., Introductory Lessons to Psychoanalysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVI, p. 447. ↩︎

  60. Freud S., Further Recommendation on Technique, p. 155. ↩︎

  61. Freud S., Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, in Standard Edition Vol. XX, p. 159, and Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, §6. ↩︎

  62. Freud S., Further Recommendation on Technique, p. 155-156. ↩︎

  63. Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII, p. 238. ↩︎

  64. Freud S., Construction in Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII, p. 266. ↩︎

  65. Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, p. 229-230. ↩︎

  66. P. 4. ↩︎

  67. Such a sequence is not chosen for theoretical reasons, but it follows the occurrence of this notion in the SMdef. ↩︎

  68. Girard R., Violence and the Sacred, p. 51. ↩︎

  69. Freud S., Neurosis and Psychosis, in Standard Edition Vol. XIX, p. 149. ↩︎

  70. Freud S., The Question of Lay Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XX, p. 203. ↩︎

  71. I will only mention one insightful and emblematic passage concerning this topic: “[…] it is not scientifically feasible to draw a line of demarcation between what is psychically normal and abnormal; so that that distinction, in spite of its practical importance, possess only a conventional value. We have thus established a right to arrive at a understanding of the normal life of the mind from a study of its disorders – which would be not if these pathological states, neurosis and psychoses, had specific causes operating in the manner of foreign bodies”. Freud S., An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, p. 195. ↩︎

  72. Not only regarding normality and abnormality, but also in relation to several dichotomies (e.g., human and animal) to such an extent that it can be considered as a general principle of his ontology. ↩︎

  73. Freud S. and Bullitt W. C., Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twentyeighth President of the United States: A Psychological Study, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1967. ↩︎

  74. I will come back on this soon. ↩︎

  75. Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, p. 216. ↩︎

  76. When I do not specify otherwise, by 'psychotherapy' I always mean Freud’s psychotherapy. ↩︎

  77. See Freud S., Introductory Lessons to Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. 16, p. 454. ↩︎

  78. Mt, 10, 34. Commented by Girard in Girard R., I see Satan Falling Like Lighting, translated by J. G. Williams, Orbis Book, Maryknoll, 2001. ↩︎

  79. Girard R., The Scapegoat, translated by Y. Freccero, John Hopkins University, 1989, p. 176. For my argumentation, it is interesting to note that according to Girard, in the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus cured a man whose “psychic system” had fallen into a frenetic and pathological mimesis. ↩︎

  80. For examples, narcissistic or psychotic conditions. See Freud S., Introductory Lessons to Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. 22, pp. 154-155. It is worth noting that this is despite his writings in some publications, such as On Psychotherapy, where he asserted that his method, if properly adjusted, might even cure psychosis. See Freud S., On Psychotherapy, Vol. 7, p. 264. ↩︎

  81. See Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, pp. 230-231. ↩︎

  82. In this respect, Philippe Nemo also noted a parallelism between psychoanalysis and the behavior of Job’s friends. P. Nemo, Job and the Excess of Evil, p. 66. ↩︎

  83. According to Girardian scholar Sandor Goodhart, “violence” is not a fact, a phenomenon, or a simple concept with an intension and an extension; it is more akin to a category. ↩︎

  84. Freud S., Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. X, p. 177. This argument is related to the free-association technique, a discussion of which I will return to later in this paper. ↩︎

  85. Freud S., An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, p. 174. ↩︎

  86. Ibidem↩︎

  87. It is useful to clarify that this does not necessarily mean that the “pain” that is the result of self-reproach is diminished; it could also be increased by this “confession” to the analyst. It is nevertheless overwhelmed by another drive—usually by an erotic drive that is directed toward the analyst. I will return to this point when transference and suggestion are in question. ↩︎

  88. Freud S., Analysis of Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy, in Standard Edition Vol. X, p. 145. ↩︎

  89. See Freud S., Wild Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XI↩︎

  90. See Freud S., A Case of Hysteria, in Standard Edition Vol. VII, p. 16. ↩︎

  91. See Freud S., Further Recommendation on Technique, in Standard Edition Vol. XII, pp. 133-134. In the relevant passage, Freud described the respective positions in a treatment session—the patient lying on a sofa and the analyst behind them and out of their sight—for which there is a historical basis and “is the remnant of the hypnotic method out of which psycho-analysis was evolved.” Ibid. ↩︎

  92. Freud S., An Infantile Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVII, p. 14 note 2. He also demands a non-judgmental attitude from any person. See Freud S., Introductory Lessons to Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVI, pp. 306-307. ↩︎

  93. Freud S., Recommendation to Physicians Practisizing Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XII, pp. 111-112. ↩︎

  94. Freud S., Introductory Lessons to Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVI, p. 17. ↩︎

  95. Idibem↩︎

  96. Freud S., Analysis Interminable and Terminable, p. 231. See also: “Analytic treatment should be carried through, as far as is possible, under privation-in a state of abstinence”. Freud S., Lines of Advances in Psychoanalytic Therapy, in Standard Edition Vol. XVII, p. 162. ↩︎

  97. Drives do not suffer↩︎

  98. I will examine another possible answer—which I believe is the correct answer—later in this text. ↩︎

  99. See Freud S., New Introductory Lessons to Psychoanalysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXII, p. 80. ↩︎

  100. See Freud S., An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII, p. 173. ↩︎

  101. See Freud S., Two Enclyclopedia Article. Psychoanalysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVIII, p. 247. ↩︎

  102. See p. 8. ↩︎

  103. Even the word 'abreagiren' includes this concept, since it is composed of the Latin preposition ab, which means a departure from something – that is, an exclusion. ↩︎

  104. In On Psychotherapy Freud almost used 'cathartic' as a synonym of 'analytic' (see Freud S., On Psychotherapy, in Standard Edition Vol. VII, p. 260); and he wrote, rephrasing a Leonardo Da Vinci’s quotation, that psychotherapy seek “to take away something” (Ivi, p. 261) – that is, to exclude something. See also Freud S., Introductory Lessons to Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XVI, p. 450. ↩︎

  105. Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, p. 216. ↩︎

  106. See Freud S., Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XI, p. 27. ↩︎

  107. E.g. see Freud S., On Narcissism: an Introduction, in Standard Edition Vol. XIV, p. 93; see Freud S., The Ego and the Id, in Standard Edition Vol. XIX, p. 17. ↩︎

  108. Think also to the metaphor used in Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XI, pp. 26-27. ↩︎

  109. See Freud S., Three Essays on Sexuality, in Standard Edition Vol. VII, p. 189. ↩︎

  110. See Freud S., Postcript to Question of Lay Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XX, p. 256. ↩︎

  111. See Freud S., From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVII, p. 11. ↩︎

  112. See pp. 13-14. Freud often reiterated that categories of normality and abnormality had a practical value, not an objective one. However, the Girardian could reply that not all accusers, including Job’s friends, were interested in the objective value of the concept of abnormality—they were more interested in the practical value thereof. ↩︎

  113. Freud S., A Child is Being Beaten, in Standard Edition Vol. XVII, p. 193. ↩︎

  114. Freud S., A Case of Hysteria, in Standard Edition Vol. VII, p. 35. ↩︎

  115. Freud S., Totem and Taboo, in Standard Edition Vol. VII, p. 17. ↩︎

  116. Freud S., Hereditary and Aetiology in Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. III, p. 152. ↩︎

  117. See Freud S., Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, p. 94. ↩︎

  118. Of course, it is not enough to say that these two words share a common origin in ancient Greek. In fact, αἰτῐ́ᾱ can mean both “cause and guilt” and “accusation.” ↩︎

  119. Freud S., A Case of Obsessional Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. X, p. 185. ↩︎

  120. Freud S., New Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XXII, p. 62. ↩︎

  121. Here the English translator used the past 'was', but I believe it is better the abovementioned translation. See Freud S., Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. X, p. 177. ↩︎

  122. See Girard R., Violence and the Sacred, pp. 286-287. ↩︎

  123. From the crowd’s point of view, of course, there is no scapegoating, and the benefit is due to a transcendent entity; in fact, we could say that from the crowd’s point of view, the transcendent entity x is the authority. From a sociological point of view, however, it is correct to assert that the crowd is the true authority. ↩︎

  124. The philosopher Jacob Taubes believed that similar to Saint Paul, Freud has been the thinker who believed in the necessity of atoning for original sin more than anyone else. I have to thank my colleague Matteo Bisoni for having brought this passage by Taubes’ to my attention. See Taubes S., The Political Theology of Paul, translated by D. Hollander, Stanford University Press, 2003. ↩︎

  125. See Freud S., Three Essays on Sexuality, in Standard Edition Vol. VII, p. 225. ↩︎

  126. See Freud S., From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, pp. 96-97. ↩︎

  127. See Freud S., Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XV, p. 380. ↩︎

  128. See Freud S., Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis, in Standard Edition Vol. X, p. 181 note 1. ↩︎

  129. Freud S., Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XV, p. 17. ↩︎

  130. Girard would use a more fitting term: interdividual. ↩︎

  131. Freud S., An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, p. 181. ↩︎

  132. Freud S., Humor, in Standard Edition Vol. XXI, p. 164. ↩︎

  133. See Freud S., The Economic Problem of Masochism, in Standard Edition Vol. XIX, p. 167. ↩︎

  134. Vol. 9, p. 512. Here, Freud speaks of the ideal of the ego, but this is simply another way to refer to the superego. ↩︎

  135. Freud S., A Case of Hysteria, p. 116. ↩︎

  136. Ibidem↩︎

  137. Freud S., Further Recommendation on Technique, in Standard Edition Vol. XII, p. 143. ↩︎

  138. Freud S., Preface to the Translation of Bernheim, in Standard Edition Vol. I, p. 82. ↩︎

  139. See Freud S., Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, in Standard Edition Vol. XVIII, pp. 127-128. ↩︎

  140. Just a few places: Freud, Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XVI ,pp. 446-447; Freud S., The Question of Lay Analysis, pp. 189-190. ↩︎

  141. Freud S., Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XVI, p. 452. ↩︎

  142. Ivi, p. 451. ↩︎

  143. See Freud S., Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XV, p. 15. ↩︎

  144. Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, p. 248. ↩︎

  145. See Freud S., Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XVI, p. 451. ↩︎

  146. See Freud S., Analysis Terminable and Interminable, p. 247. ↩︎

  147. Freud S., Humor, p. 164. ↩︎

  148. See Freud S., Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XXII, p. 67. The concept is reiterated also in Freud S., An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, p. 146. ↩︎

  149. See Freud S., Papers on Technique, in Standard Edition Vol. XII, pp. 105-107. ↩︎

  150. Freud S., Further Recommendation on Technique, p. 134. ↩︎

  151. See p. 9. ↩︎

  152. Freud S., A Case of Hysteria, in Standard Edition Vol. X, p. 159. My italics. ↩︎

  153. Freud S., An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XXIII, p. 174. My italics. ↩︎

  154. Wegner D. M, White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts: Suppression, Obsession, and the Psychology of Mental Control, Penguin, 1989; and Wegner D. M., The Illusion of Conscious Will, MIT Press, 2002. ↩︎

  155. Girard compared his theory to Darwin’s. See Girard R., Evolution and Conversion. Dialogues on the Origins of Culture, Bloomsboory, 2017. ↩︎

  156. I am using 'object' in the broadest possible sense of the word. ↩︎

  157. That is due to the quality of the objects in se↩︎

  158. As in Darwinian theory, the concept of independence is closely link to the concept of randomness. ↩︎

  159. See Freud S., Introductory Lessons on Psycho-Analysis, in Vol. XVI, p. 336. One can say that the term “remember” semantically presupposes that the content of memory is a fact that actually happened. ↩︎

  160. Freud S., Further Recommendation on Technique, p. 164. ↩︎

  161. Ibidem↩︎

  162. See p. 8. ↩︎

  163. Freud S., From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, p. 14. ↩︎

  164. Freud S., Construction of Analysis, in Standard Edition Vol. XXIII, 266. ↩︎

  165. See Innamorati M., Freud, Carocci Editore, Roma, 2015, pp. 306-307. ↩︎

  166. Even if Freud’s therapy efficiency is not challenged by this view; to the contrary, Freud’s therapy efficiency can be explained with significant tested efficiency of the scapegoat mechanisms. ↩︎

  167. Freud S., An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, p. 180. ↩︎

  168. Although it is interesting to note that they observed seven days of silence when they met Job. (Job 2:13). ↩︎

  169. Girard R., Violence and the Sacred, p. 188. Since the English translation is not so faithful, I would like to mention also the original text: “Au depart de nombreux désastres psychiques il y a une soif de verité forcément méconnue par la psychanalyse, une protestation obscure mais radicale contre la violence et le mensogne inséparables de tout ordre humain.” Girard R., La Violence et le Sacré, p. 246. ↩︎

  170. Jean Michel Oughourlian was a neuropsychiatrist and a psychologist who collaborated with Girard and attempted to bring his theories in psychopathology and in clinic. A possible sample of Girardian psychotherapy can be derived from J. Oughourlian, The Puppet of Desire, The Psychology of Hysteria, Possession and Hypnosis, translated by E. Webb, Stanford University Press, 1991. ↩︎