Book Review: Freud and the Post-Freudians by J. A. C. Brown

Who might this book interest? Generally, this book would interest the educated layperson, Christian or not, who desires to know more about Freud and the psychological developments after Freud beginning with Adler, Jung, Ferenczi, and Rank, and working up to Horney, Fromm, and Sullivan. Specifically, Christians who are interested in the relationship of psychology and religion would benefit from this work. The author does discuss or mention the various theorists’ view of religion in addition to their views of humanity and psychological issues.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Quick Summary: While I normally like to include some information about the author, finding information on J. A. C. Brown has proven a difficult endeavor. From what I could find, Brown was born in Scotland in 1911 and earned a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh. Also, he specialized in psychiatry and worked with the military, and later, with mental hospitals, and prisons. While initially holding that mental illness was a biological and individual issue, he came to view them as social problems. He died in 1964 (

Succinctly, J. A. C. Brown provides a solid, critical examination of Freud and the Post-Freudians up until the 1950s. While this book is older (it was last revised in 1964), it still continues to give valuable insight into Freud and those who followed after him. While it provides a very useful explanation and examination of its time period, this work does not address many of the important theorists since that time such as: Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, etc. Yet, I would suggest that this book is a very good introductory work on modern psychology.

Chapters 1 and 2 begin by discussing the basic concepts of psychoanalysis and the theories of Freud. Chapter 1 identifies the four primary Freudian concepts as: psychic determinism, unconscious, goal-directed behavior, and developmental. These four concepts are universally accepted by Freudian analysts.

Chapter 2 tells the story of Freud’s life, times, and development of his psychological theories. Freud gradually began to use free association and develop theories of the unconscious, motivation, repression, resistance, transference, and causation of neurosis. In his continuing development, he discovers two theories: infantile sexuality and Oedipus complex, and two vital drives: self-preservation and procreation. Alfred Adler’s break with Freud influenced Freud to develop life/death instincts, repetition compulsion, division of personality, the role of anxiety, and method of analysis. Ultimately, many of Freud’s theories need to be viewed in light of his life and times.

Chapter 3 discusses the Early Schematics. Freud and orthodox Freudians do not take departure from their ideas very well. Alfred Adler developed his own psychological approach based on the feeling of inferiority and the goals of social significance, self-esteem, and superiority. Carl Jung developed a system based in myth and archetypes with an emphasis on the unconscious mind. Two others are also included in this chapter with which I was previously unfamiliar. Sandor Ferenczi did not theoretically depart from Freud, but he did depart practically in his cooperative approach to therapy. Lastly, Otto Rank emphasized birth trauma and the resolution through psychotherapy.

Chapter 4 examines the British Schools. World War I caused the spread of psychoanalysis to the United Kingdom and the United States. Among Freud’s early disciples, Ernest Jones was the only British, and he promoted Freud’s ideas in his country. In the U.K., two groups developed: the orthodox Freudians and the Eclectics. W. H. R. Rivers and I. D. Suttie were among the eclectics. Generally, they were active therapist who practiced brief therapy and respected patients’ religious beliefs. Anna Freud and Melanie Klein were among the orthodox Freudians and extended their theory by working with children. Interestingly, the author felt the need to spend several pages criticizing American psychology.

Chapter 5 covers the Psychosomatic Approach. This is an interesting chapter because it is generally assumed today that mental disorders are caused by organic causes, while as the author observes that before the nineteenth century, emotional causes of physiological problems were thought to exist. The difficulty is that it is hard to scientifically prove psychosomatic illness. Several psychoanaylst are mentioned in this category: Georg Groddeck, Franz Alexander, J. L. Halliday, and Wilhelm Reich. Groddeck believed every illness had a meaning to the sufferer. Alexander developed his theory fight or flight, taking appropriate action, and potential physical neurotic responses. Halliday studied psychosomatic illness as a community phenomenon. Lastly, Reich focused on social factors of character formation and body tension which may result in various physical illnesses. In conclusion, psychosomatic illnesses appear to exist, but it remains difficult to prove.

Chapter 6 addresses Psychoanalysis and Society. Freud and Jung both accepted the concept of the collective unconscious even though scientist typically rejected it as unfounded, but Freud never made use of it while Jung extensively utilized the concept. Freud draws on Darwin to explain society’s origin, sexual prohibitions, religion, law, etc, and uses psychoanalysis for social critique with highly questionable results. Most anthropologist reject Freud’s concepts based upon their studies of various cultures and societies, although after Freud and the initial group, psychology increasingly turned toward a sociological emphasis.

Chapters 7, 8, and 9 discusses three theorist, Horney, Fromm, and Sullivan who continued their work in America and moved psychology toward the social and cultural. Much of their work is in opposition to Freudian psychoanalysis. This chapter is of a primary interest to me because of its interpersonal focus. Horney theorized that neurosis is the basic anxiety that we experience which is dealt with by moving toward people, moving against people, or moving away from people. She has significant disagreements with Freudian theory in many areas. Drawing on then current historical and economic thought, Fromm criticizes Freud using Marxist social and economic theory. Lastly, Sullivan is an American psychiatrist who is very difficult to understand and summarize. He stresses our need for satisfaction and security which are met in an interpersonal way, but when they are not met, we experience anxiety. The relationship between the therapist and client is significant. These three theorist collaborated for a period of several years.

In chapter 10, Brown summarizes and concludes his evaluation of Freud and those who came after him. Mostly, he defends Freudian theory as the best explanatory psychological theory that exists at the time of his writing. Frankly, this chapter is not well written and seems like it is one long sentence from beginning to end.

Evangelical Assessment: This book is a survey and critical evaluation of Freud and the Post-Freudians, not specifically a book about the relationship between psychology and religion, but with having said that, it often addresses theorists’ views of religion. With a few notable exceptions, psychoanalysis has had a tumultuous relationship with religion in general and Christianity in particular. Freud considered religion an illusion, “the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity” (117), whereas Jung and Suttie saw religion more positively (66-67). For Freud religion is a part of the societal mechanism that “commemorate[s] the crime and assuage[s] the guilt” (117).

Obviously, Freud’s view of religion as an illusion and a mental illness presents a major difficulty for psychoanalysis’ relationship to religion. Based on his own agnostic or atheistic views, and Darwin’s supposed disposal of God, Freud’s theory presupposes that God does not exist and is a neurotic projection of desperate people who need God for security in this world. Christians do believe and confess, “I believe in God,” but generally, not because of neurosis. Christians believe that God exists and desires a personal relationship with them. While this personal relationship may have psychological implications, those are not what makes it true. I am not going to attempt to argue for the existence of God, but to simply acknowledge that Freud and Christians are miles apart in their beliefs.

Having stated this, with discoveries in science in the last century to the present, I do not believe that Freud’s supposed scientific basis is sustainable, and that one can hold a scientific and Christian view at the same time. In my own view, God’s existence or non-existence is beyond the realm of scientific study although science may point to the metaphysical reality of God. In addition, psychoanalysis of Freud himself would seem to point to important personal experiences in his own life that caused him to deny the existence of God (Vitz 1988). In an interesting turn, Vitz and Gartner challenge that if one presupposes that God does exist then psychoanalysis may provide a viable explanation for atheism (Vitz and Gartner, 1984a, 1984b)!

Admittedly, there are many ways in which Evangelical Christianity is incompatible with psychoanalysis. I am listing further resources that deal with this in my sources.


Brown, J. A. C. Freud and the Post-Freudians (Baltimore: Penguin, 1964).

Brown, J. A. C.:

Jones, Stanton L. and Richard E. Butman. Modern Psychotherapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991).

Vitz, Paul. Sigmund Freud’s Christian Unconscious (New York: Guilford, 1988).

Vitz, Paul and J. Gartner. Christianity and Psychoanalysis, Part 1: Jesus as the anti-Oedipus. Journal of Psychology Theology, 12, 4-14, 1984a.

Vitz, Paul and J. Gartner. Christianity and Psychoanalysis, Part 2: Jesus as the transformer of the superego. Journal of Psychology Theology, 12, 82-90, 1984b.

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