Founder of Psychoanalysis
Freud was born to a Jewish family on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Habsburg Empire (now Prîbor, Czech Republic). The Freuds moved first to Leipzig to escape antiSemitic riots, and then to Vienna in 1860. In his third year of medicine at the University of Vienna, he began to investigate the central nervous system, a subject he found so engrossing that his other courses suffered and he graduated three years late in 1881.
In 1885 Freud went to Paris to study under the neurologist Jean Charcot, who was treating hysteria using hypnosis. Experience with Charcot steered Freud’s interests toward psychopathology, the study and treatment of the abnormal functioning of the mind In 1886, upon his return to Vienna, he opened a private practice specializing in nervous disorders. In 1896 he coined the term “psychoanalysis” for the clinical study of mental states.
Freud believed that the mind has mechanisms of repression and resistance: repression makes inaccessible the memory of painful or threatening events, and resistance makes the mind unaware of this repression. His first psychic work, Studies on Hysteria, published in 1895, described hysteria as the manifestation of undischarged emotional energy associated with repressed psychic trauma. Freud used hypnosis to help a patient recall a traumatic experience and thereby release the damaging energy. However, he soon abandoned the use of hypnosis and adopted instead the technique of free association, in which the patient is encouraged to recount the flow of spontaneous thought.
From 1895 to 1900 Freud analyzed patients’ dreams in free association sessions. His analyses led him to posit that a person’s sexuality begins at infancy and develops in stages throughout life. He formulated the idea of the Oedipus complex: the development of sexual attachment to the parent of the other sex and hostile feelings toward the parent of the same sex. Expanding these claims, he developed the theory of transference, stating that the emotional attitudes children harbor toward their parents are transferred in later life to other people. In 1900 Freud completed The Interpretation of Dreams, a work outlining the fundamental concepts underlying psychoanalytic theory.
Freud was appointed full professor at the University of Vienna in 1902. However, the medical community was antagonistic toward his work, and when his next two treatises appeared—The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 1904, and Three Contributions to Sexual Theory in 1905—this hostility increased.
Freud’s final model of the mind, presented in 1923, involved the components he called “Id,” “Ego,” and “Superego.” The Id is the unconscious mind, the source of passions and instincts. The Ego is the agency that controls behavior by considering both the immediate social situation and the instinctual impulse of the Id. The Superego, formed by the Oedipus complex, inhibits Oedipal desires and enforces moral behavior.
In 1938 Nazi forces occupied Austria, and Freud escaped with his wife and children to London, where he died on September 23, 1939.
Sigmund Freud’s Legacy
Freud created a new approach to studying and understanding the human mind, and because of his work, Western culture has embraced theories about human psychology and interpersonal and social interactions that preFreudian culture lacked.
Despite the hostility to psychoanalysis of many of his contemporaries, Freud attracted numerous followers who became influential thinkers in their own light. Two of his disciples, Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, eventually each developed their own theoretical basis for psychiatric inquiry and hunched the neoFreudian schools of psychoanalysis.
Freud’s emphasis on the unconscious mind affected the development of medical psychology. Slowly physicians began to accept that the state of peoples’ unconscious can have a major impact on their physical health, and that some illnesses—neurological and physiological—have psychological origins.
Freud’s clinical practice inaugurated the fields of psychiatry and therapy; and he formulated a psychoanalytical doctrine that remains prevalent in modern society. Clinical psychiatric analysis and therapeutic counseling are commonly used services. Many therapists use Freud’s freeassociation technique, and many therapists adhere to his theories of repression, resistance, and transference.
The models of feeling, thought, and behavior described by Find have influenced many other disciplines and much of contemporary Western culture. Freud’s concern with analysis of dreams, for instance, fortified the surrealist trend in modern art and his ideas have even found their way into the popular film industry—from serious psychothrillers such as Spellbound (1945) and Psycho (1960) to the lighthearted contemporary films of Woody Allen.
Many contemporary critics take issue with some of Freud’s ideas. For instance, feminist scholar Teresa de Lauretis critiques Freud’s ideas of feminine sexuality in The Practice of Love. Nevertheless, Freud’s work is of such seminal importance to modern Western thought that cultural theorists and historians cannot avoid or ignore his influence, and Freudian scholarship will likely continue to be conducted by both those who applaud him and those who challenge his conclusions.
Sigmund Freud – 1856-1939