Poor Man's Psychoanalysis
October 16, 1950
Since last May when "Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health," was published (NEWSWEEK, Aug. 21), thousands of readers of this best seller have tried the "therapy" which the author, L. Ron Hubbard, claims will "help to eliminate any psychosomatic illness."
But the majority of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and other doctors who have read the amazing volume refuse to dignify dianetics as a serious scientific effort. The 39-year-old Hubbard has no medical degree. He is an engineer, explorer, and writer of science fiction and, as such, beneath the professional notice of practicing physicians. To most doctors, the dianetics concept is unscientific and unworthy of discussion or review.
But even as medical men maintain their haughty silence, the dianetics vogue flourishes. Latest reports show that the Hubbard Dianetics Research Foundation has set up an elaborate office with eighteen consulting rooms in Elizabeth, J.J. There is a "dianetics house" in New York, another in Los Angeles, and branches in Washington, Chicago, and Honolulu.
These signs of public approval were too much for Dr. Morris Fishbein, former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association and now a free-lance with a dozen jobs in medical foundations and on magazines.
For 30 years, Fishbein's voice has sounded out against cults of all kinds with a peculiar vigor that has blighted some of the hardiest.
Last week, in an editorial in Postgraduate Medicine, the voluble doctor got around to dianetics, or as he terms it, "Poor Man's Psychoanalysis."
"The writer of this weird volume suffers apparently from a caco?thes scribendi," Fishbein writes. "Some of his paragraphs are lush outpourings of exuberant diction funnier than anything attempted in the verbal caricatures that distinguished Robert Benchley."
Fishbein has conscientiously tried to uncover the meaning of this new treatment. "According to Hubbard's system, psychologic difficulties are caused by "blocked engrams." The engram is said to be 'a moment of unconsciousness containing physical pain or painful emotions ... and is not available to the analytic mind as experience.' Again, an engram is a 'definite and permanent trace left by a stimulus on the protoplasm of a tissue.' This assumption leads to the statement that every cell in the body has memories, and these include 'memories derived from ancestors and others and developed in the womb, all of which mark the entire life of the unfortunate individual whose body is composed of these talented cells'."
Hubbard, says Fishbein, is "so concerned about the effects of engrams that he demands that all operative procedures be conducted in complete silence. Anything said during coitus, he claims, creates engrams for mother and for fetus. Attempted abortion that fails creates engrams that show up in the life of the fetus years later."
As nearly as Dr. Fishbein can make out, "therapy in dianetics consists of unblocking, or releasing the engrams. As with psychoanalysis, the patient is at ease. The therapist, called an auditor, puts him in 'reverie.' Then he 'installs a cancellor.' He tries to make the patient remember a 'prenatal.' Ultimately, he gets at a 'basic-basic.' The discussion includes mentions of 'preclears,' 'somatic strips,' 'valance shifts,' and other jargon, perhaps even beyond some of the individualistic nomenclature of advanced Freudians. The similarities to psychoanalysis are obvious. A 'clear' is a person without engrams, just as if he had been analyzed and was free from inhibitions."
"The United States is overwhelmed with mind-healing cults," Fishbein concludes. "A new one like dianetics simply adds to the fun and the fury. Sooner or later some official agency will give this method a name -- either the practice of medicine, mind-healing, or some other classification covered by the laws of the individual states.
Meanwhile, dianetics is good stuff for resort conversation; perhaps by next summer something even more comical will come along."