In much the same way stone pillars supported the roof of the ancient temple above, psychotherapy is based on six 'pillars': assumptions about the nature of man that are accepted as foundational truths. Interestingly, it was Freud who developed the six pillars. Even though most psychotherapists today distance themselves from Freud, a close examination of any of the more than 250 kinds of psychotherapy reveals a continuing reliance on Freud's ideas about man. It should be noted that these assumptions are descriptive and subjective: there are no experiments capable of proving or disproving such hypotheses. Just as an example, the very core of Freud's theory of the human mind is what he called "repression," an idea for which there is no scientific evidence. Nada.
THE FIRST PILLAR: ENVIRONMENTAL DETERMINISM
The primary pillar of Freudian theory and psychotherapy is the assertion that all human mental and emotional problems are the result of external environmental influences. (Here is where determinism comes into play. According to determinism, man is not a free agent: every individual develops as a result of influences other than himself.) This is the source of the idea that man is not naturally predisposed toward evil.
Environmental determinism denies the Biblical doctrines of the Fall and original sin. There is no such thing as "sin." Psychotherapy insists that man is inherently good, and that anything he does that isn't good isn't his fault but the result of factors in his environment (his parents and family, his genetic makeup, the neighborhood and culture in which he was raised, the schools he attended, etc.) Freud insisted that "man is basically a socialized animal; he is not responsible for his actions." [Emphasis added.] In other words, if a person is raised in the right way by enlightened parents, and if all external influences are of the right type, he or she will grow into a perfect human being. (My wife and I sat next to a couple and their obnoxious child last night at a restaurant. Apparently they didn't get the memo.)
Freud did agree that "children are completely egotistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them." But he insisted that this stage was merely "the initial, primitive, infantile part of mental life which we can find in actual operation in children, but which, in part, we overlook on account of their small size, and which, in part, we do not take seriously since we do not expect any higher ethical standard from children." It isn't a problem, Freud observed, because it is merely a biological stage which the child will leave behind as he or she grows to maturity.
In other words, Freud--and every one of the 250+ approaches to psychotherapy--maintains that what was once called "evil" isn't a spiritual problem--it's a technical problem. Psychotherapy is the "cure" for "the despair of degeneracy." For those enlightened individuals who refuse to accept the foolish (the apostle Paul referred to the "foolishness" of the cross) idea of a Redeemer paying for their degeneracy, psychotherapy offers a 'better' way.
What all of this means is that Freud laid the supposedly scientific (one of the biggest misconceptions about psychotherapy is that it is scientific--it is in no way scientific, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding) foundations for a doctrine of what we could call original innocence, thus rejecting and replacing the Biblical doctrine of original sin.
(In the next article in this series, we'll examine the idea of psychic determinism.)
* Reductionism is the idea that the way to understand human behavior is by breaking it down into its simplest basic components. In other words, the whole is nothing more than the sum of all its parts. Out of that comes the idea, for example, that the brain and the mind are the same thing. According to that theory, when a person dies so does his or her mind. That is, of course, completely at odds with Biblical teaching that describes a conscious existence after physical death. It also demonstrates the arrogant--and foolish assumption--by psychotherapists that they can actually explain human behavior. As the saying goes, ask two psychotherapists and you'll get three opinions.