The NY Times ran a brief article by Patricia Cohen noting the disappearance of Freud and psychoanalysis from university psychology departments at the same time that there has been an explosion of interest in "what purports to be psychoanalysis" in humanities departments.
In the case of psychology departments, psychoanalysis has been dismissed as unscientific by many of its critics. Cohen quotes Alice Eagly, chairperson of the department of psychology at Northwestern University:
The primary reason it (psychoanalysis) became marginalized, Ms. Eagly, said, is that while most disciplines in psychology began putting greater emphasis on testing the validity of their approaches scientifically, “psychoanalysts haven’t developed the same evidence-based grounding.” As a result, most psychology departments don’t pay as much attention to psychoanalysis.
Psychology professor Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University sees the eventual demise of psychoanalysis. “I don’t think psychoanalysis is going to survive unless there is more of an appreciation for empirical rigor and testing.”
Eagly and Lilienfeld represent a point of view that has contributed to a widespread failure to appreciate the potential of psychoanalysis as a method of inquiry and path of insight. Perhaps Eagly and Lilienfeld see this failure as a positive development for psychology, but I should hasten to add that interest in the unconscious mind has actually been enjoying resurgence among neuroscientists and even among some non-clinician-psychologists. Although they may not be aware of the implications for psychoanalysis, many psychoanalysts have been noticing the relevance of their discoveries. (If you're looking for some of the more integrative work out there, try UCLA neuropsychologist Allan Schore. I've read the first three books on this list and would recommend any of them, but the first was my favorite. I haven't read his most recent work.)
While the predominance of the statistical standard in academic psychology has been one factor in the marginalization of psychoanalysis as a discipline, the popularity of psychoanalysis in humanities departments has been a mixed blessing. While greater interest in how psychoanalytic ideas might help us glean insights into so much that is bizarre and irrational about politics, society and human behavior, much of what passes for psychoanalysis in the humanities would be described by critics as obscurantist at best -- a characterization that is usually meant pejoratively but isn't always regarded as a bad thing by those who are accused of muddy inaccessibility or willful abstruseness.
Professor Lilienfeld suggests that "postmodern theorizing has rendered [the] claims [of psychoanalysis] even more fuzzy and more difficult to assess.” Perhaps this criticism is to be expected of Lilienfeld who is neither a psychoanalyst nor an advocate for psychoanalysis. After all, we might wonder, how much does he really know about psychoanalysis? But one must also wonder what is going on when psychoanalysts with years of study and training cannot even begin to penetrate the discussions that are part of contemporary psychoanalytically-informed humanities coursework. Here, Cohen quotes Prudence Gourguechon, president elect of the American Psychoanalytic Association, admitting candidly that she "honestly [can’t] understand what they’re talking about.”
Part of the problem is that when psychoanalysis is not heavily informed by clinical work, it tends to give way to wild interpretation and theorizing that is subject to no form of testing whatsoever. A tendency to drill down, relentlessly pulling every possibility, every comma and every nuance from the written work of a few clinical theorists can squeeze the life out of theories that only become more alive for us through broad and disciplined experience with real human beings in clinical settings. We must also be devoted to the process of sustained self-inquiry so that in listening to others we are not too severely limited by our own deafness.
In the humanities, a lack of clinical training and experience makes the construction of theories that serve defensive purposes particularly problematic. The psychoanalyst's attention to his or her own defenses and to countertransference is a matter of ongoing and everyday concern both in training and in practice. Nothing about the typical education of theorists in the humanities similarly prepares them to recognize and deal with the depth of their own defensivive activity. Moreover, they are surrounded by fellow theorists who are eager to mutually support these defenses. This becomes most evident when academic discourse that is plainly compromised by a (probably undiagnosed) thought disorder passes for profundity among those who cannot simply admit to themselves or others that they are reading what a sober French analyst might call le gook de gobbledy. Such a version of psychoanalytic inquiry is justifiably criticized for a lack of rigor and standards.
Although the professional discipline of psychoanalysis has not relied upon statistical approaches to validation, it offers a method of exploration that, at its best, is grounded in clinical data informed by the insights of clinicians and theorists who have developed methods of inquiry and understanding that are as real as the methods of historians and cultural anthropologists. In the case of psychoanalysis, the nature of the subject -- unconscious systems -- requires that we rely on methods other than statistical ones to advance an understanding of behavior that cannot be comprehended as the product of conscious thought and consciously explicit motivation.
Jonathan Lear, who is quoted in the Times article, wrote an excellent piece (The New Republic, 1995) addressing some of the most common criticisms of psychoanalysis. I strongly recommend this article. While Lehr devotes more attention to Jeffrey Masson than he might if he were writing the article today, his observations are, nonetheless, thoroughly relevant to the discussion today.