Though Sigmund Freud was a trained neurologist, he never liked the idea of other doctors practising psychoanalysis. In a paper written in 1927, he explained that a medical degree was a disadvantage to the aspiring analyst because it would leave his head full of ideas “of which he can never make use”. There was even a “danger of its diverting his interest and his whole mode of thought from the understanding of psychical phenomena”, which ought instead to be informed by “psychology, the social sciences, the history of civilisation and sociology”. Psychoanalysis was not – not on Freud’s watch – to be “swallowed by medicine”.
It is lucky he didn’t see what happened next. Today the most widely accepted method for understanding “psychical phenomena” is one practised by doctors and dependent on concepts derived from the study of physical disease. Pre-eminent in the field is a medical institution, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), whose latest taxonomy of human suffering is published this month.