From ‘The Freud Squad’ to ‘The Good Freud Guide’: A Genealogy of Media Images of Psychoanalysis and reflections on their role in the public imagination

Caroline Bainbridge


Since Jeffrey Masson published The Assault on Truth (1984) some twenty-seven years ago, popular media representations of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy have taken on a number of guises. These encompass a full spectrum of perspectives on the values and pitfalls of psychoanalysis as both a mode of therapeutic intervention and a tool for the scrutiny of the self. Such representations include both those premised on profound suspicion (seen, for example, in print media coverage of ‘false or repressed memory’ debates) and others grounded in a mode of reification (for example, the idealised images of therapy seen in TV dramas such as The Sopranos [HBO, 1999-2007]). This article considers the shifting cultural contexts surrounding the emergence of such representations of psychotherapy in order to offer a genealogy of its popular media images. It draws on the work of D.W. Winnicott to explore what such a genealogy suggests about the role of psychoanalysis in shaping the emergence of a culture of feeling in this period. It considers debates about notions of ‘therapy culture’ and discusses the over-arching preoccupation with matters of emotion that appears to dominate media images on the contemporary Western cultural scene. How are such cultural developments linked to the rise of ‘mediatisation’ and its impact on notions of selfhood and subjectivity? Arguing that the media have now come to function as objects of our internal worlds, this article explores what can be learnt from object relations psychoanalysis in attempting to grapple with such shifts in experience, and it deploys a psycho-cultural approach to the ideas that emerge when such questions are posed.


Psychoanalysis; therapy culture; media as object; cultural history

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