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Freudian slip: Has the father of psychotherapy fallen out of favor?

Many of Sigmund Freud's major ideas have since been discredited. Is the psychologist who gave us the 'id' and the 'Oedipus complex' still relevant?

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    Google honored famed Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud with a Doodle on Friday, what would have been his 160th birthday.
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Google is celebrating the 160th birthday of the world's most famous psychologist, Sigmund Freud, with a peaceful and contemplative image.

The Google Doodle is lovely. It shows a dreamer, reclining against a background of blue icebergs, but it raises the question – does a 160-year-old psychologist whose work has been almost totally discredited still matter?

Most modern psychologists now say that his work says more about his own strange mind than the human brain generally, and his ideas about gender, parenting, and human development have been crushed beneath the weight of improved science.

“Freud is truly in a class of his own,” wrote Todd Dufresne, a professor at the Northern Ontario Medical School, for the Los Angeles Times in 2004. “Arguably no other notable figure in history was so fantastically wrong about nearly every important thing he had to say. But, luckily for him, academics have been – and still are – infinitely creative in their efforts to whitewash his errors, even as lay readers grow increasingly dumbfounded by the entire mess.”

The establishment of modern mental health treatments caused Freud's psychoanalytic methods to fall out of favor. Although practiced by only 1 in 20,000 Americans today, according to Gizmodo, they are now studied everywhere except psychology. A 2007 US News and World Report college survey found 1,175 courses referencing psychoanalysis, but 86 percent were outside the psychology department, The New York Times reported.

"For decades now, critics engaged in the Freud Wars have pummeled the good doctor’s theories for being sexist, fraudulent, unscientific, or just plain wrong," wrote Patricia Cohen for the Times. "In their eyes, psychoanalysis belongs with discarded practices like leeching."

Many scholars outside psychology, however, say Freud's influence hasn't vanished altogether, but rather shifted from that of a "scientist" to "an interpreter."

“Freud to me is a writer comparable to Montaigne and Samuel Johnson and Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, writers who take on the really big questions of love, justice, good government and death,"  Mark Edmundson, an English professor at the University of Virginia and author of “The Death of Sigmund Freud," told the Times. 

Even if he has been passed from the field of science into pop culture, the very existence of a Google Doodle suggests that people are still talking about him.

"My bottom line is that any trip to a movie theater, any conversation with someone at work, seems to make clear that the influence, the impact, of Freud is still alive and well in the year 2000," Robert Thompson, director of the center for the study of popular television at Syracuse (N.Y.) University, told the Monitor back in 2000. "In spite of the fact that most people have no idea that he is humming so loudly in the background of everything from their 'pickup lines' to their talk about the weather, the 21st century begins as one in which we know a cigar is never just a cigar, and that's an important thing to know."

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