#111- Psychoanalyzing George W. Bush with Justin Frank MD



Justin A. Frank, M.D. is a Washington, D.C. based psychoanalyst and author of the book, Bush On The Couch: Inside The Mind Of The President, which has a 2007 update. Harvard trained, he is a member of the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute and is the recipient of numerous teaching awards from George Washington University. He lectures widely on a variety of topics including Psychoanalysis and cinema, especially political movies and the films of Woody Allen; Shakespeare and the unconscious; the Psychoanalytic theory of marriage; psycho-political life in the nuclear age; the psyche of George W. Bush; psychopathology of post-modern life. In addition to his recently updated book on the president, his many publications include articles in popular magazines, articles on film theory, and book chapters on psychoanalytic topics. He also writes a blog for HuffingtonPost.com.



  1. Posted September 19, 2007 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Shrinkrapradio’s issue #111 is a great podcast as usual. If I am critical of the episode it is because of the subject at hand. Dr. Justin Frank is interviewed about his book called ‘Bush on the couch’, in which he has made a psycho-analysis of the current president of the US based on whatever sources he had available, short of having had George W. himself on the couch. If the latter had been the case, the study would have been better, but as a doctor, Frank couldn’t have published it. With detached distance he could, the question is whether he should have. Allow me to make a couple of reservations.

    How different is Frank’s book about Bush from the survey about Goldwater? Frank defends himself by pointing out he has done 2 years of research and the Goldwater survey had asked professionals to make a claim on more superficial basis. However, also after 2 years of research, Frank can still not claim he has truly examined George W.

    Yet he makes heavy statements summarizing it as: Bush hates his father and he identifies the American people with his father and will do everything to hurt them. I mean, if at all this can be true, it must be subconscious, and sufficiently hidden from his direct circle of adjuncts, otherwise he cannot pull this off. This brings me to the critique of Karl Popper on Freud and psycho-analysis in general: What could possibly falsify these claims about the president’s personality?

    What I am getting at is that no matter how thorough and conscientious such a study is conducted, it cannot be sufficiently founded. Frank points out that psycho-analytic studies have been made of Moses and Hitler (bien etonnés de se trouver ensemble), but that is for lack of having the opportunity to do otherwise and moreover as part of heuristic historical analysis. He also relates to us that the CIA and other such agents use the services of psychiatrists and psychologists for analyzing important subjects. So why can’t Frank study Bush? Well he can study all he wants, but apart from using an authority argument (if the CIA can do it, I can), the kind of study essentially remains heuristic and can never make hard claims. Especially not the kind Frank has made.

    It is therefore my opinion the whole study can be debunked a prima facie and the book is basically superfluous. If Bush needs to be criticized it should be for his policies, decisions and statements and that should be enough. Dr. Lawrence Friedman, dean of the Los Angeles Institute of Psychoanalysis, responded to the Goldwater survey in a way that seems to me completely applicable to Frank’s study: “I shall do everything I can to help defeat Mr. Goldwater, but I shall point to his ideas, his statements, his political orientation, and his associations, not to his psychology. There is enough political evidence to defeat him with. I would like to see [presented] that information and not waste your facilities on an approach which is neither right nor effective.”


  2. slucky
    Posted September 22, 2007 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    After reading Anne’s comment, it’s nice to know where Bush’s 30% approval ratings are coming from.

    It’s like the author says “Dont’ criticize me until you read the book”. it’s evident from the exhausting explanations and needling the author over minutia from the interview that Anne has NOT read the book, and probably never will.

    Closed mindedness is nothing to brag about.

  3. Thea
    Posted September 23, 2007 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    What an excellent podcast! To finally have some theories that can possibly explain the riotous behavior of President Bush. I have had my own speculations about his psychology, as trying to understand a person is a good way to find empathy and compassion for someone. Now we need a podcast that tries to explain the psychology of so many Americans putting him in office – twice! So baffling, as I know a couple of Bush fans, and they are smart and good people. Perhaps it just comes down to the penchant that people have to see and hear what only reinforces what they already believe, even if it is false.

  4. Posted September 26, 2007 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    You can call it closed mindedness, but I think we have more to lose than a bad president (mind you, I am no great fan of Bush) if we give up on important values. I think the APA’s restrictions and Karl Popper’s critiques apply to Frank’s book. I think they are immensely more important. I do not believe that ‘anything goes’ when it comes down to attacking a bad person/politician/leader.
    Reading the book would give it more credit than it deserves. There are some standpoints or modes of conduct that are disqualified at face value. Like Ahmedinejad denying the holocaust. Investigating his point of view, seems to me, a waste of time. Frank is not at that level, but 30-45 minutes of conversation with Dr. Dave in this podcast, with all the chances of justification, has not given me any indication the book is worth reading. Quite to the contrary.
    I think it is right to criticize Bush, but I also think it needs to be done in the right way. If you don’t, it will blow up in your own face.
    Frank should have restrained from writing the book. No matter how true his conclusions might be. Just as we do not allow evidence in court when it is true, but acquired in a way the law won’t allow.

  5. nik
    Posted September 28, 2007 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I loved the episode and have pre-ordered the 2007 edition of the book. I’m not sure why Anne finds the book so offensive.

  6. Karen
    Posted October 23, 2007 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I found the show absolutely fascinating and have reccommended it to a number of people. To find out things about George Bush like, he tortured animals as a child and then in college felt like it was okay to “brand” ( as in branding cows) freshroom students who were trying to get into his fraternity,
    helps me understand a little better why he does what he does.

    I agree with Thea about finding out more about why people vote for such a man.

  7. nik
    Posted November 4, 2007 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Now that I’ve received the 2007 edition of the book, I have to admit I find it a little creepy. The author, despite protests to the contrary, doesn’t seem to like Bush very much. And doing a psychoanalytic attack on a public figure feels… well… creepy.

    He defends his approach by saying the CIA did it all the time. But really, is the CIA ever held up as an example of good ethics?

    Still, it’s a fascinating book and I’m enjoying it very much. It’s a guilty pleasure — like looking at pictures of Britney Spears naked. I feel dirty and silly for doing it, but seeing what I’m not supposed to see gives me pleasure.

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