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“FREUD INC.: The Psychoanalytic Origins of Modern Advertising”

  • PPSC 80 Fifth Avenue Room 1408 New York, New York 10011 (map)

 This talk has been approved by New York State for 2 hours of Continuing Education Credit for LMSWs and LCSWs and will be led by Juliet Heeg, LCSW-R

“Without promotion, something terrible happens…nothing!”

— P.T. Barnum

While Freud and his contemporaries did not have to navigate identity branding within a 24/7 social media culture of tweets, insta-grams & cyber-spying, we might wonder if Freud were alive today whether he would be twittering to potential clients or just stick to passing out the old business card. Promotion in his day, involved flexing one’s influence in a different way, more word-of-mouth, “clubby,” perhaps seductive. Without more contemporary advertising platforms, analysts have always had to grapple with how we use our influence to secure business and to hang on to it.

The early relationship between psychoanalysis and advertising is a fascinating tale. Post-World War I in the U.S., ushered in the grandfather of Public Relations, Edward Bernays who just happened to be…Sigmund Freud’s nephew! Bernays employed some of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories to entice consumers to link products with satisfying their unconscious desires. Bernays helped create what has been dubbed: “The Happiness Machine” the mechanism that primes the economy as the “masses” buy products to help them feel good, maybe even happy. After World War I, Yankee frugality was out and this new consumer emerged. I will use excerpts of Adam Curtis’s documentary: “The Century of the Self” to explore this subject a well as to raise questions of what advertising means in our field today. How do we promote ourselves to get potential clients to buy into us? Do we want to create our own version of a “Happiness Machine”?  As we are “the product” how do we decide which version of our personal/professional self to promote, and how?

What does the very word “advertising” engender in us personally and professionally? Ambivalence, Dread, Hope, Shame…Confidence? I will speak from my own perspective, having been a former advertising copywriter as well as a clinician who advertises. I will also relate some material from “Mad Men” to stimulate our thinking on the matter. I will invite us to get inside the “psychoanalytic” mind of ad man Don Draper, as well as the “advertising” mind of analyst Abraham Brill and other colleagues. Together we will examine the cross-pollination of advertising and analysis, then and now; the pitfalls of promotion as well as the perils of not promoting. In conclusion, I hope this workshop invites us to investigate, challenge and reconsider how we sell ourselves, without selling ourselves short.


Juliet Heeg, LCSW-R is a former ad chick and current Co-Chair of the PPSC Annex. She has presented on the topic of grief in “Nostalgia for the Light: A Meditation on the Consciousness of Healing” at the IARPP conference and various institutes in New York City. Her published writings include the topics of loneliness, happiness, money and pop-culture. More recently she has published articles on cancer care within the spa industry: and maintains a private practice for individuals and couples in Manhattan.

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