Freud, Sigmund Schlomo

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Freud, Sigmund Schlomo





Although Sigmund Freud was not the first person to formally study psychology, many consider him the most pivotal figure in the development of the field as we know it today. Freud changed the way society has come to think about and treat mental illness. Before Freud, mental illness was thought to result from deterioration or disease of the brain. Freud changed all of this by explicitly rejecting the purely organic or physical explanations of his predecessors. Instead he believed that unconscious motives and drives controlled most behavior.

During a career that spanned 58 years, beginning with an earned medical degree in 1881 and continuing to his death in 1939, he developed and repeatedly revised his theory of psychoanalysis. Most of Freud's theory was developed from contact he had with patients seen in his private practice in Vienna. This type of "clinical" work was a radical departure from the laboratory research that was practiced by most leading psychologists of the day.

When Freud first presented his ideas in the 1890s, many of his contemporaries reacted with hostility. In fact, throughout his career, Freud faced enormous opposition to many of his ideas. Those especially controversial included notions about the role of the unconscious in behavior, childhood sexuality, and how the mind was governed (id, ego, and superego). But despite the opposition, Freud eventually attracted a group of followers that included well-known theoristsAlfred Adler and Carl Jung. Over time though, Adler and Jung distanced themselves from Freud and those loyal to him, due to theoretical disagreements with some of the core principles of psychoanalysis. Jung and Adler went on to develop their own theories of psychology.

Freud was a prolific writer and published many books and articles during his lifetime. Among the most influential books were The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), The Ego and the Id (1923), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). His combined writing fills 24 volumes in the standard American edition of his complete works.

Despite much controversy over his theories and psychoanalysis as a form of treatment, Freud's is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers in history. His theories on sexual development, although dismissed now by many, at the time led to open discussion and treatment of sexual matters and problems previously ignored. His stress on childhood development helped establish the importance of an emotionally nurturing environment for children. In addition, Freud's insights paved the way for other disciplines such as anthropology and sociology. Most social scientists accept his concept that an adult's social relationships are patterned after his or her early family relationships.


Early years

Sigmund Schlomo Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in a small town in Freiberg, Moravia, located in what is now the Czech Republic. Freud's father Jacob was 40 when Freud was born, 20 years older than Freud's mother Amalie. The patriarch of a large family, Freud's father had already been married twice, with two grown boys from his first marriage that were now older than Amalie. The dynamics of his extended family left their impression on Freud in his first years of life. In 1860 the family settled in Vienna where Sigmund, as he came to call himself, received an education emphasizing classical literature and philosophy. Little did he know that this education would eventually serve him well in developing his theories and conveying them to a wide audience.

Sigmund was the first child of Jacob and Amalie Freud. About a year and a half after Sigmund's birth another son, Julius, was born. Years later, Freud recounted memories of being extremely jealous of Julius after his arrival and admitted to having a secret wish that he could somehow rid himself of this other child who monopolized his mother's love and attention. A number of critics have proposed that Freud's early jealously of Julius played significantly in the development of his later theories on sibling rivalry. Tragically, Julius died less than a year later, on April 15, 1858. Freud later admitted that his childhood wish to be rid of his brother caused him lingering guilt throughout his life.

In December of the same year that Julius died, another child was born: Anna, the Freuds' first daughter. During the next six years, five more children, four girls and one boy, would round out the Freud family. Despite the many children his parents were responsible for, Sigmund was aware that he was the favored child.

Almost all of the details of Freud's early years stem from his own recollections. Most of the events were recounted and recorded during his pivotal time of self-analysis, following the death of his father. His self-analysis was also described in letters he had written to his colleague Wilhelm Fliess, which have since been published.

Jacob and Amalie Freud had both been raised as Orthodox Jews, but they gave their children a relatively nonreligious upbringing. At an early age, Sigmund began to distance himself from any hint of formal religion. As an adult he was firmly atheistic and at times, antagonistic regarding religion. He associated religion with superstition and was uncompromisingly committed to science as a means of measuring the cause and effect of behavior. But though he rejected formal religion, he did not reject his Jewish roots. In fact, he was proud of his Jewish identity and did not attempt to hide his Jewish heritage, though his relationship to it was purely secular.

Freud's early schooling, like that of his siblings, took place at home under his mother's direction. His father, Jacob, contributed to his education as Freud grew older. At the age of nine Freud passed the examination that allowed him to enter the Sperl Gymnasium, a German equivalent of a combined grammar and high school, with a strong emphasis on Latin and Greek. He also learned French and English and in his spare time taught himself the rudiments of Spanish and Italian. He had a keen interest in science at a young age that may have been sparked by a copy of History of Animal Life awarded as a school prize when he was eleven. He would frequently bring home plant and flower specimens collected during solitary walks in the nearby woods.

Despite comments in his later years that suggested his childhood was an unhappy one, he seemed to enjoy the Gymnasium. Freud, always very serious and studious, was first in his class for seven years until he graduated at age 17. His parents recognized his exceptional intellect at an early age and strongly encouraged him to pursue a scholarly career. In their quest to see him succeed, they showed obvious favoritism by giving him his own room and the privilege of using a gas light instead of candles to accomplish his schoolwork. From this point forward, Freud's singular focus was on scholarship.

In 1873, at the early age of 17, Freud entered the University of Vienna as a medical student. He had briefly considered a career in law, but found the allure of science too compelling to ignore. Although he was content to be engaged in work that might benefit humanity through working as a physician, research and the search for knowledge held a deep fascination for him.

University years

It took Freud eight years—an unusually long time—before he finally received his medical degree in 1881. Reports from friends who knew him during that time, as well as information from Freud's own letters, suggest that he was less diligent about his medical studies than he might have been. He focused instead on scientific research. In the spring of 1876 he obtained a coveted grant to perform research at a nearby research center maintained by Vienna University. Although it wasn't necessarily the most compelling subject—studying the sexual organs of eels—Freud was nonetheless enthused by the prospect of engaging in a long-held dream to conduct research. Freud performed his assigned task satisfactorily, but without brilliant results. In 1877, disappointed at his results and perhaps less than thrilled at the prospect of dissecting more eels, Freud moved to the laboratory of Ernst Brücke, the man who was to become his first and most important role model in science.

Freud's move to Brücke's laboratory was one he never regretted. Brücke was a celebrated physiologist teaching at the University of Vienna and was regarded by Freud as the greatest authority he had ever met. According to his own account, he spent some of his happiest years in Brücke's lab. As a physiologist, Brücke was concerned with the function of particular cells and organs, not just with their structure. Brücke's work thus focused on the attempt to discover basic physical laws that governed the processes that took place in living systems.

In Brücke's laboratory, Freud worked on the anatomy of the brain and other tissues. His most important project was determining whether a certain kind of nerve cell in frogs was the same kind found in humans. In other words, did the brain cells in humans reflect a commonality with those found in "lower animals?" This project had relevance to an ongoing debate that had been sparked by Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, published some 20 years earlier. Freud's work in Brücke's laboratory showed that the human and frog spinal neurons cells were of the same type. So, in a small way, Freud furthered Darwin's theory by showing that humans were genetically and historically linked to other animals. Throughout his life, Freud viewed Darwin's work as the precursor for many of his own discoveries in the development of psychoanalysis.

It was also in Brücke's laboratory that Freud first met Josef Breuer, the doctor whom Freud would later claim "brought psychoanalysis into being." Breuer was fourteen years older than Freud and had built a thriving private practice in Vienna by the time of their meeting. It was Breuer who first realized that symptoms of hysteria completely disappeared when the patient recalled and relived past emotional circumstances brought forth from the unconscious. Much of Breuer's insight along these lines was gleaned from his clinical work with a young hysterical woman he worked with named Anna O. According to Freud, these insights were the birth of what he later called catharsis. Freud and Breuer's professional collaboration also developed into a friendship that was nurtured by their mutual interest in music, painting, and literature and lasted for over 15 years.


  • The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. 24 vols. Edited by J. Strachey with Anna Freud. London: 1953–1964.
  • Standard Edition Vol. I. Pre-Psycho-Analytic Publications and Unpublished Drafts. 1886–1899.
  • Standard Edition Vol. II. Studies in Hysteria. With Josef Breuer. 1893–95.
  • Standard Edition Vol. III. Early Psycho-Analytic Publications. 1893–99
  • Standard Edition Vol. IV. The Interpretation of Dreams (I). 1900.
  • Standard Edition Vol. V. The Interpretation of Dreams (II) and On Dreams. 1900–01.
  • Standard Edition Vol. VI. The Psychopatholgoy of Everyday Life. 1901.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XII. Case History of Schreber, Papers on Technique, and Other Works. 1911–13.
  • Standard Edition Vol. VIII. Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. 1905.
  • Standard Edition Vol. IX. Jensen's 'Gradiva,' and Other Works. 1906–09.
  • Standard Edition Vol. X. The Cases of 'Little Hans' and the 'Rat Man.' 1909.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XI. Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo, and Other Works. 1910.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XII. Case History of Schreber, Papers on Technique, and Other Works. 1911–13.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XIII. Totem and Taboo and Other Works. 1913–14.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XIV. On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. 1914–16.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XV. Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Parts I and II). 1915–16.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XVI. Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Part III). 1916–17.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XVII. An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works. 1917–19.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XVIII. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works. 1920–22.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XIX. The Ego and the Id and Other Works. 1923–25.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XX. An Autobiographical Study, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, Lay Analysis, and Other Works. 1925–26.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XXI. The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents and Other Works. 1927–31.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XXII. New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis and Other Works. 1932–36.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XXIII. Moses and Monotheism, An Outline of Psycho-Analysis and Other Works. 1937–39.
  • Standard Edition Vol. XXIV. Indexes and Bibliographies. Compiled by Angela Richards, 1974. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1953–74.

In 1875, early in Freud's university career, he took his first of three trips to England. There, he visited his half-brother Emmanuel and his family in Manchester. Freud adored the English language and culture, and greatly enjoyed his visit. He returned only twice more during his lifetime. His second trip in 1908 was also to visit his brother in Manchester. His final trip in 1938, 63 years after his first visit, occurred when the Nazi takeover of Austria in World War II forced him to flee Vienna.

Amid the years Freud worked in Brücke's laboratory, there was an unwelcome interruption to his research. In 1879 and 1880, he was forced to take a year away from his research to fulfill compulsory military service. This obligation meant that he was to be "on duty" as a doctor to attend to sick or injured soldiers as the need arose. Though he found the military service tedious due to long stretches of idle time, he struck up a relationship with a German publisher who commissioned him to translate four essays from John Stuart Mill's collected works. This allowed Freud to at least partially exercise his intellect during this hiatus from the work with Brücke.

On his return from military service to university life, Freud decided at last to sit for his medical degree. Despite an earnest desire to help people, he had previously shown no particular enthusiasm for a doctor's life. By this time he had probed into several areas of medical research without committing himself to any one field. And from evidence that has survived, it appears that his aim was not so much to make his mark in some chosen area as much as turn an opportunity into a profitable venture. He didn't doubt that he had a mission in life, but at this point he wasn't what it was.

It wasn't until the summer of 1882 that he left Brücke's laboratory, at Brücke's suggestion, to take a post at Vienna's General Hospital. While laboratory research was stimulating to Freud, he was always on the verge of poverty. Had he not been living at home during these years, it would have been very difficult for him to have supported himself on the meager wages he earned. His motivation for earning more money was not simply to build a financial reserve for its own sake, he began thinking about the possibility of marrying.

Marriage and family

In 1881 Freud made the acquaintance of Martha Bernays, the sister of one of Freud's university friends. Martha was slim and self-assured, with long dark hair and a narrow face. It seems to have been love at first sight. Martha was five years his junior and only two months after their first meeting they were secretly engaged. But both were too poor to marry and continued a long-distance relationship for another five years before marrying.

With no real prospect of ever earning a livelihood from his scientific work and desperate to marry Martha, Freud made a painful decision. Just six months after he met her, Freud sacrificed his scientific ambitions for the woman he loved: he decided to become a doctor. At Brücke's suggestion, Freud left laboratory work and spent the next three years at Vienna General Hospital, trying his hand at surgery, internal medicine, and psychiatry, not knowing which might become his specialty.

During their engagement Freud rarely saw Martha. By some estimates, they spent four and a half of those five years apart. She had moved with her family to Hamburg in northern Germany, far from Vienna. He continued working by day, and at night he read incessantly. He also wrote long, romantic letters to Martha every day.

Martha was Freud's first love, and he conveyed a passion for her that was reciprocated by her for him. However, money became increasingly important as he contemplated how to support a partner and the children that would follow after their marriage. Seeking financial support from Freud's father was out of the question. His father had been out of work for some time and was barely supporting his own family. In fact, Freud increasingly felt the burden of needing to help support his parents and sisters in addition to his own family as time passed.

On September 14, 1886, after five years of waiting, 30-year old Sigmund Freud married Martha Bernays. And even though Freud had been trying to save money after leaving laboratory work to pay for the marriage, their celebration was largely funded by generous friends.

They quickly settled into married life by setting up a home, and soon after began a family. Freud and Martha went on to have six children over the next nine years: Mathilde, Jean Martin, Oliver, Ernst, Sophie, and finally Anna. Anna would be the only child to follow in her father's work. Martha quickly became the kind of wife for whom Freud had hoped. She raised their children and managed their household while Freud attended to his medical practice and researched his theories.

Martha also had her own convictions that emerged as their children grew and the theory of psychoanalysis took shape, however. Martha had been raised in a religious family; her grandfather had been chief rabbi of Hamsburg, Germany. Her religious upbringing formed in her a steadfast commitment to her faith that she did not relinquish. Of course, this turned out to be a lifelong point of contention in her marriage with Freud, whose atheistic orientation undoubtedly created distance between them. In addition, Martha disagreed with a number of aspects of psychoanalysis as the theory emerged. What those disagreements were in detail is not precisely known.

It was known to Freud, Martha, and others, however, that their relationship was slowly disintegrating. As Freud delved deeper into his research and explored the mysteries of behavior that still eluded him, the passion once evident in his relationship with Martha faded. Although he remained married to Martha throughout his life, his work became his mistress.

Only one question has been raised regarding Freud's faithfulness to his wife. It concerns his sister-in-law Minna, who originally came in 1895 to live with them for several months, but ended up staying for the rest of her life. Freud had stated at one point that it was Minna Bernays along with his long-time friend Wilhelm Fliess who sustained his faith in himself when he was developing psychoanalysis in the face of much opposition. Freud occasionally went on summer holidays with his sister-in-law while Martha joined them later. Some observers found it difficult to believe that their relationship was entirely platonic.

After 10 years of marriage, Freud had firmly established himself as the patriarch of his own large family. His exhaustive work to find a cure for hysteria, however, had not brought him the fame, success, and happiness he longed for. Fears of poverty from his childhood resurfaced to haunt him.

Early days as a neurologist

In the spring of 1886, in a small office in the heart of Vienna, Freud began to practice medicine. His specialty was neurology and involved treating patients with both physical and so-called "nervous disorders." The majority of his work though focused on the causes and treatment for hysteria. Conventional treatment at the time consisted of measured electric shock and hypnosis, both of which Freud used in the early years of his practice.

But Freud eventually abandoned both of these treatments. He found hypnosis, despite its increasing popularity, to be of little help in working with neurotic disorders. He began experimenting with a number of methods to elicit the retrieval of memories from the unconscious. Eventually he hit upon a technique that seemed to work. He simply asked his patients to begin talking freely, verbally following their thoughts in any direction they were inclined to go. He called this technique "free association," and it eventually became the cornerstone of his treatment for hysteria.



The application of hypnosis to the treatment of emotional disturbances was introduced by Franz Anton Mesmer, a Viennese physician who was part scientist, part showman. Mesmer believed that the human body contained a magnetic force that operated like the magnets used by physicists. This magnetism was capable of penetrating objects and acting on them from a distance. Mesmer also believed that magnetism could cure nervous disorders by restoring equilibrium between a patient's magnetic levels and the levels present in the environment. Not surprisingly, Vienna's medical community considered him a quack. Yet, Mesmer became very successful in Paris and attracted quite a following. That is, until an investigative commission reported unfavorably on his so-called "cures," and he fled to Switzerland. But, despite this, the practice of using magnetism to cure, which eventually came to be known as mesmerism, spread to many other geographic areas including England and the United States.

Hypnosis gained more legitimacy and professional recognition in medical circles with the work of French physician Jean Martin Charcot, head of a neurological clinic in Paris for insane women. Charcot had some success treating hysterical patients by using hypnosis. More important, he described the symptoms of hysteria and the use of hypnosis in medical terminology, making them more acceptable to the French Academy of Science. But Charcot's work was primarily neurological, emphasizing physical disturbances such as paralysis.

One of Charcot's students, Pierre Janet, took hypnosis one step further. He was a strong proponent of viewing hysteria as a mental disorder caused by memory impairment and unconscious forces. He chose hypnosis as his preferred method of treatment. Thus, during the early years of Freud's career, the medical establishment was paying increasing attention to hypnosis and the psychological causes of mental illness.

Most of Freud's patients at this time were young, middle-class, Jewish women who suffered from a host of "neurological" symptoms such as paralysis, partial blindness, hallucinations, and loss of motor control; these symptoms, however, appeared to have no real neurological cause. For most of the 1880s and well into the 1890s, Freud treated these kinds of patients with a combination of massage, rest therapy, and hypnosis.

Freud was thus eager to find a more effective technique, and his partnership with Breuer was about to provide him with one. About this time, Freud visited France and was impressed by the therapeutic potential of hypnosis for neurotic disorders. On his return to Vienna he used hypnosis to help his neurotic patients recall disturbing events that they had apparently forgotten. Soon thereafter, however, he became disillusioned with hypnosis because he was not obtaining the results for which he had hoped.

The case of Anna O. that Breuer conducted, and to which Freud was privy through innumerable conversations with Breuer, was the beginning of what Breuer called "the talking cure," a conversational style of interaction that seemed capable of unlocking material in the unconscious.

As Freud began to develop his system of psychoanalysis, theoretical considerations, as well as the difficulty he encountered in hypnotizing some patients, led him to eventually discard hypnosis in favor of what he would later call free association. Free association was characterized by spontaneous disclosure of thoughts and emotion as it would arise without censorship.

It was this new technique of talking through the patient's hidden memories that would become the center of Freud's technique. Freud believed that the hidden, or "repressed," memories that lay behind hysterical symptoms were always of a sexual nature. Breuer did not hold with this belief, which led to a split between the two men soon after the publication of the studies.

Despite Freud's influential adoption and then rejection of hypnosis, some use was made of the technique in the psychoanalytic treatment of soldiers with combat neuroses during World Wars I and II. Hypnosis subsequently acquired various other limited uses in medicine. Various researchers have put forth differing theories of what hypnosis is and how it could be understood, but there is currently still no generally accepted explanatory theory for the phenomenon.


MythScientific response
(Courtesy Thomson Gale.)
Hypnosis places the subject in someone else's control.Magicians and other entertainers use the illusion of power to control their subjects' behavior. In reality, people who act silly or respond to instructions to do foolish things do so because they want to. The hypnotist creates a setting where the subject will follow suggestions—but the subject must be willing to cooperate.
A subject can become "stuck" in a trance.Subjects can come out of a hypnotic state any time they wish. The subject has control of the process of hypnosis, with the hypnotist simply guiding him or her.
The hypnotist can plant a suggestion in the subject's mind—even for something to be done in the future.It is impossible for anyone to be implanted with suggestions to do anything against his or her will.
Hypnosis may be used to improve accuracy of the subject's memory.Memories recovered under hypnosis are no more reliable than others.

Freud considered everything a patient said to be important—even their dreams. Though other physicians of the day discounted dreams, Freud examined their role in the unconscious mind and eventually interpreted the meaning of dreams. These and other techniques enabled Freud to create the theory of psychoanalysis bit by bit, layer upon layer.

Research on cocaine

One of Freud's most promising areas of research, which he conducted on his own time, had to do with a drug that had only recently been made available in Europe—cocaine. Although the effects of the coca plant had been known for quite some time, it was only in the 1880s that refined cocaine—the active ingredient in the coca leaf—became widely available in Europe. Freud was one of the first researchers to study the effects of cocaine on the mind and body. He used himself as the prime subject. The results of his earliest experiments—mostly subjective reports on how cocaine affected his own mood, wakefulness, and somatic symptoms—were published in July of 1884 in a paper called "Über Coca" ("On Coca"). His general assessment of the drug was that it might be useful not only in treating low mood but also in treating morphine addiction.

What Freud failed to emphasize sufficiently, however, was the anesthetic effect of cocaine on mucous membranes such as the nose and mouth. A colleague of his, Dr. Carl Koller, performed experiments that showed it could also be used to anesthetize the eye for the purposes of eye surgery. Since there was no other effective way to do this at the time, Kohler's discovery was a major one, and Freud deeply regretted not making the discovery himself.

After this disappointment, Freud continued his research with cocaine, eventually publishing two more papers. The first one was slightly more subdued in its praise than "Über Coca" had been, and the third one was even more skeptical. Freud frequently used cocaine himself to deal with minor aches and pains, and he recommended it enthusiastically to friends and acquaintances, even going as far as sending it to his fiancé, Martha Bernays, for her own use.

His enthusiasm for cocaine was sharply curtailed, however, by an ugly incident in 1885 in which he tried to treat a friend's morphine addiction by giving him cocaine. The friend, Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow, who had been one of Brücke's assistants while Freud was working in the same laboratory, abruptly gave up his morphine addiction and replaced it with a voracious appetite for cocaine. The incessant use of cocaine contributed to Fleischl-Marxow's death in 1891. The episode affected Freud deeply and soured him permanently on cocaine. Nonetheless, it appears from his correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess, a nose and throat specialist from Berlin and Freud's best friend and confidant during the 1890s, that Freud used cocaine occasionally, and sometimes heavily, through the mid-90s. After that time, however, he seems to have stopped using it entirely.


The years between 1896, when Freud's father died, and 1899, when The Interpretation of Dreams was completed and published, were some of the most difficult but productive years of Freud's life. During this time, he formulated the basic techniques and theoretical framework of psychoanalysis. Aside from his patients, Freud's primary source of data was himself. He analyzed his dreams, his slips of the tongue, and the childhood memories he was able to dredge up from his unconscious. Freud called this process of interpreting himself his "self-analysis" and it proved to have a significant effect on his theories. Ongoing self-analysis was a routine that he more or less practiced the rest of his life. We know about this period only because of letters written to and saved by Marie Bonaparte, a princess of Greece and Denmark who was one of Freud's most loyal patients. She was also instrumental in his escape from Austria in 1938.

On October 23, 1896, after an illness of four months, Freud's father, 80-year-old Jacob Freud, died in Vienna. Freud was deeply shaken. Freud's feelings about his father's death were complex and confusing to him. He felt in some way he had distanced himself from his father in his pursuit of his mother's affections during childhood. In an effort to understand the nature of hysteria, he had wrongly imagined that his father had abused him and some of his siblings.

The suspicions about his father, he now realized, were no more than a figment of Freud's own imagination. It caused him a great deal of emotional consternation to admit this error. He wondered that his own mistake in assuming his father's alleged perversion might also mean that he had misinterpreted the many seduction stories heard by his patients. But years later, he would conclude that he had not done so, and that his practice simply had a disproportionate number of patients with seduction in their background. To the charge of "suggesting" to his patients that they might have been sexually traumatized, he both admitted to the possibility and also denied it at various times in his professional career.

Through self-analysis, Freud was able to see the truth about his relationship with his parents. Freud came to realize that his father was innocent, and that as a boy he had wanted to marry his mother. He saw his father as a rival for her love. Freud interpreted his own wishes as that which is common to all young boys in all cultures. He called this newly discovered phenomenon the Oedipus complex, and it would become one of his most important ideas. He later formed a parallel concept he called the Electra complex that pertained to girls and their fathers, although he did not develop this concept as thoroughly as the Oedipus complex.

After his father's death, Freud began to work on a book based on the self-analysis of his own dreams. The Interpretation of Dreams was published in November 1899, with the title page dated 1900. During the next six years, the book sold only 351 copies. It took two decades before Freud achieved the fame he had always imagined. But The Interpretation of Dreams would be the book that would establish Freud as a seminal thinker in his time. The book eventually brought him more wealth and fame than his father could have imagined. In his latter years, Freud still viewed this book as his most important.

Psychoanalysis taking shape

With the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams and another of Freud's books, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, his writings gained a much wider audience. This presented lecture opportunities and gained him a substantial following. It was at this time that Freud began hosting a weekly discussion group at his home on Wednesday evenings called the "Wednesday Psychological Society." After several years and a significant increase in membership, the group became formally known as the Viennese Psychological Society.

Among notable participants in the society were Carl G. Jung, Sandor Ferenczi, and Alfred Adler. Although membership in the society included many brilliant men, Freud considered himself the residing expert on all matters pertaining to psychoanalytic thought. He was not tolerant of disagreements, especially those that challenged core concepts of his theories. Such rigid expectations for adherence to his ideas inevitably caused sharp divisions among members. A number found aspects of Freud's theory to be weak or unhelpful as they employed the theories in their clinical practices. Others wanted to refine the ideas, but Freud would not waver from his own observations.

Sharp disagreements arose between Freud and key members of the Society in 1911. This was significant regarding Jung, because Jung had been Freud's intended heir to lead the Psychoanalytic Society to the next plateau. By 1914, however, the theoretical differences between Freud and several esteemed members had frayed to the breaking point. As a result, a number of leading members resigned from the society, including Adler and Jung. Freud was unforgiving in his separation from these and other resigning members and had little contact with them from that time onward.

The society resignations were quickly overshadowed by the beginning of the First World War in 1914, which was a major setback for the movement and its members. Freud was too old to fight, but his three sons, Martin, Oliver, and Ernst were all drafted. They eventually returned without loss of life or major injury.

Despite Freud's new position as a well-respected, if not world-famous, psychologist, the 1920s were not pleasant ones. Freud's daughter Sophie died of influenza in 1920. Her son, Heinz, who had been Freud's favorite grandchild, died of tuberculosis in June of 1923. Freud took the death of Heinz particularly hard. He seems to have invested much of his hope for the future in his grandson, and Heinz's death was a crushing blow. Josef Breuer, a man from whom Freud had been estranged for many years but whom he still respected, also died in June of 1925. During this decade, Freud also saw his close, inner circle of supporters, named the Committee, begin to unravel.

Also during this tumultuous period of time, Freud suffered from a personal illness. Freud had, for his entire adult life, been a vigorous and unrepentant cigar smoker. It is reported that he smoked an average of 20 cigars a day. As evidence of his habit, most photographs show him holding a cigar. In 1923, undoubtedly as a result of this habit, a cancerous growth appeared in his mouth on the inside of his right cheek. Drastic surgical measures were necessary to prevent the spread of the cancer. Surgery was performed in two separate sessions in the beginning of October of that year to remove Freud's upper right jaw and hard palate. For the next 16 years, until his death in 1938, Freud wore an uncomfortable prosthesis that resembled a large set of dentures. Talking and eating were difficult. Over the course of these 16 years, 33 different operations were performed to remove cancerous or pre-cancerous growths in Freud's mouth. Yet remarkably, he never stopped smoking.

The final years

From 1930 to 1938, Freud continued to live and work in Vienna. The international psychoanalytic movement was now well established. Freud had become famous and most of the turbulence within the movement during the 1920s had calmed down. Yet, due to his increasingly poor health, Freud was slowly becoming less involved in the inner workings of the psychoanalytic movement. In fact, in the mid-1920s he stopped attending meetings of the International Psychoanalytic Association.

For the last 15 to 20 years of Freud's life, beginning from the time he was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 1923, his daughter, Anna, was his nurse and constant companion. In 1923 she became a member of the Viennese Psychoanalytic Society and remained an important figure in psychoanalysis after her father's death. She gradually took over increasing amounts of responsibility from her father as it pertained to his work in the Association. Anna Freud became best known for her work on defense mechanisms and the analysis of children.

The early 1930s represented a time of political unrest and the eventual outbreak of war in Europe. On March 12, 1938, Hitler's forces invaded Austria and quickly took over the country. Although he initially resisted, his need to leave the country became apparent after numerous threats. On March 13, the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society voted to dissolve and recommended that all of its members flee Austria and reconvene, if possible, wherever Freud took up residence. Over the next week, Freud's home was raided several times, and on March 22, his daughter Anna Freud was arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Although money and valuables were stolen from Freud's home, his private study was left untouched. The property of the psychoanalytic publishing house, on the other hand, which was located a few doors down from Freud's home and office, was confiscated in its entirety.

Freud moved to England on July 6, 1938, with his wife and daughter Anna. They settled into his last home, a house that Anna Freud kept until her death 40 years later. Surprisingly, Freud's joy at the pleasures of their new home, including freedom from Nazi persecution, was tempered by a surprising homesickness for Vienna. He had always claimed that he hated Vienna. Now that he was gone, however, he longed for the familiarity of the city.

This homesickness was no doubt accentuated by the need for another surgical procedure to treat his ongoing mouth cancer in September of that year. Since Freud's first operations for mouth cancer in 1923, numerous pre-cancerous growths had appeared and been removed. In 1936, however, a cancerous growth had reappeared. Now, in 1938, the cancer had returned once more. Removing it this time required a significant procedure that left Freud very weakened.

In February of 1939, despite the drastic surgery that had been performed only five months earlier, Freud's cancer returned. This time the doctors deemed the tumor inaccessible and inoperable. Freud would have to live with it until he died. Over the course of the next eight months, Freud grew increasingly weak, and the tumor increased in size. By September, it had eaten through to the outside of his cheek, creating a large, unpleasant open sore.

On September 21, Freud, in severe pain, asked his doctor to administer a dose of morphine large enough to ease him out of life. His doctor complied, giving him several large injections of morphine over the course of the next few days. Freud died near midnight on September 23, 1939. He was cremated three days later on September 26. Ernest Jones, who became his first and most authoritative biographer, gave the funeral oration.


Freud's psychoanalytic system evolved over nearly 60 years of professional work. He himself was constantly revising aspects of his theory to better reflect what he was learning on a continual basis. There are a number of concepts that are essential for understanding psychoanalytic theory.

The psyche

Main points Freud's theory of the unconscious is the foundation upon which much of his psychoanalytic theory is built. Freud hypothesized that the mind is divided into three main parts: the unconscious, the conscious, and the preconscious. The unconscious is by far the larger and most important part of the mind according to Freud. It includes all the things that are not easily available to awareness. Freud suggested that the unconscious mind acts like a repository for those thoughts, memories, experiences, and feelings that can't or won't easily move into the conscious mind. Items may come to this repository because of trauma or for any number of reasons for which a person might protect him or herself from unpleasant emotion. The unconscious also includes drives or instincts that cause humans to behave the way they do.

The conscious mind also plays a key role. Freud believed that everything we are aware of is stored in our conscious mind. At any given time, a person is only aware of a very small part of what makes up his or her personality; the rest is buried in the unconscious and is inaccessible. Though small in comparison to the unconscious, the conscious mind is still essential and important for adaptive functioning.

The final part is the preconscious or subconscious. This is the part of mind that can be accessed if prompted, but is not in our active conscious. The preconscious exists just below the surface, and is buried until needed. Common information such as one's telephone number, childhood memories, or one's home address is stored in the preconscious.

Conflict between conscious and unconscious impulses are said to give rise to anxiety, which Freud believed to be common to all people. The most common way to counteract anxiety, according to Freud, was to employ the use of what he called defense mechanisms. To tap the unconscious, Freud used a variety of techniques, including hypnosis, free association, and dream interpretation. Carl G. Jung expanded on the Freudian concept, adding the idea of an inherited unconscious, known as the collective unconscious.

Also residing in the unconscious are the instincts or drives. The instincts, for Freud, are the principal motivating forces that "energize" the mind in all of its functions. There are, he held, an indefinite number of such instincts, but these can be reduced to a small number of basic ones, which he grouped into two broad generic categories: Eros (the life instinct), which covers all self-preserving and erotic instincts, and Thanatos (the death instinct), which covers all the instincts towards aggression, self-destruction, and cruelty.

Explanation Although Freud didn't invent the idea of the unconscious mind, he certainly was the one who made it popular. Given the work by other theorists in the nineteenth century, it is not surprising that Freud's concept of mind, especially the unconscious, grew to prominence. He took the principles that dominated the thought of those working with the physiology of the body and applied them systematically to the sphere of the mind. Thus Freud's conception of the unconscious explained behavioral patterns set in motion by unconscious instincts and drives, which were previously unexplained.

The unconscious material of a person's life drives behavior in both positive and negative ways. But when unconscious experience or emotion creates maladaptive living, the unconscious material cannot simply be brought into consciousness at will. It must be coaxed out using the proper techniques. Freud created the techniques of psychoanalysis as the means of bringing material from the unconscious into the conscious mind, so that it could be investigated and possibly changed. The analogy of an iceberg has been often used to help visualize the role of the conscious as compared to the unconscious mind. The bulk of the iceberg, the unconscious mind, lies below the surface, exerting a dynamic and determining influence over the direction of the mass. The visible part, the conscious mind, is small in comparison and is subject to the weight of the portion below the surface.

Regarding instincts and drives, Freud is often referenced as having said that all human actions spring from motivations which are sexual in origin. This assertion is not completely accurate. Freud did state that sexual drives play an important and central role in human life, actions, and behavior. This was the subject of much controversy for the sexually repressed time period in which he lived. He went also took it further by saying that sexual drives exist and can be discerned in children from birth, and that sexual energy (libido) is the single most important motivating force in adult life. However, even here a crucial qualification has to be added. Freud effectively redefined the term sexuality to include any form of pleasure that is or can be derived from the body. Thus his theory of the instincts or drives is essentially that the human being is energized or driven from birth by the desire to acquire and enhance bodily pleasure.

Examples One of Freud's patients once described to him a repeating dream that involved her chasing a man she worked with up several flights of stairs. The woman claimed that even though she ran faster and faster, she never caught the man nor reached the top of the stairway, which caused her immense frustration. Freud interpreted such dreams as the unconscious mind representing a desire or drive for sexual contact with the person she was chasing. Freud would say that the dream expressed itself through the unconscious because it might be too threatening, psychologically speaking, for the patient to admit this to herself. It might threaten her self-concept or sense of morality to admit to such lustful urges. So instead, her unconscious mind turned the urges into a non-threatening symbol—running up flights of stairs.

Structure of the mind (id, ego, superego)

Main points Freud further divided the conscious and unconscious mind into three structures or systems that performed different roles. These systems he named the id, ego, and superego. Freud viewed human beings as energy systems, where only one system can be in control at any given time, while the other two systems give themselves over to the psychic energy of the one in control.

The id is the original system of personality and the dominant one at birth. In German, the word was literally translated as the "it." The id is primarily the source of psychic energy and the core of all instincts. It is infantile in the way it manifests and functions on the unconscious level. It lacks organization and is demanding, insistent, and impulsive. The id cannot tolerate tension and works to discharge tension as quickly as possible and return to a balanced state. Therefore the id operates according to the demands of what Freud called the pleasure principle. That is, it wants to satisfy its desires so as to relieve the tension.

The ego, in contrast, works not by the pleasure principle but rather by the reality principle. In other words, there is a real world out there that must be reckoned with. The ego (literally "I") is the personality structure that develops to deal with the real world and solve the problems of life. It acts as the "executive" branch of the personality that governs, controls, and regulates matters of life. The ego functions as part of the conscious mind.

The superego is the judicial branch of the personality. It imposes a moral code, concerning itself with whether a particular action is good or bad; right or wrong. It represents the ideal, rather than a reflection of reality, and strives for perfection instead of pleasure. The superego represents the ideals of society as they are passed from one generation to another. The superego can be represented by both the unconscious and conscious mind depending on the particular function it is serving.

Explanation The id never matures, remaining infantile in its impulses and urges while seeking pleasure and avoiding tension at all costs. If it had its way it would forever seek indulgence, the same way a young child seeks only to get his or her selfish needs met. If left to its own appetite, the id would be unable to function in the world.

To temper the id's urges, the ego steps in to acknowledge an objective reality that must be dealt with. Other people, for instance, also have needs that must be considered. While it is the job of the ego to help satisfy the id's inclinations, it also must mediate how serving those needs will affect one's reality. Over time, the ego's efforts create a "dialogue" of sorts with the real world that transforms into actual skills, competencies, and memories. These resources are then internalized into what Freud referred to as the "self," an emerging sense of personhood, instead of a bundle of urges and needs.

The superego works to inhibit the id's impulses while persuading the ego to substitute moralistic goals for realistic ones and to strive for perfection. The superego works off the basis of psychological rewards and punishments. If a person responds in the "right" manner, the reward might be a feeling of pride or self-love. If the individual deems their action as immoral or "wrong," the resulting punishment might be guilt or feelings of inferiority.

Example Freud conceived the mind as being in constant conflict with itself. He understood this conflict as the primary cause of human anxiety and unhappiness. His classic example is the patient Anna O., who displayed a rash of psychological and physiological symptoms: assorted paralyses, hysterical squints, coughs, and speech disorders, among others. Under hypnosis, Josef Breuer, a fellow physician and close friend of Freud, traced many of these symptoms to memories of a period when she cared for her dying father. One symptom, a nervous cough, they related to a particular event at her father's bedside. Upon hearing dance music that was drifting from a neighbor's house, she felt an urge to be there, gone from her father's bedside. Immediately, she was struck with guilt and self-reproach for having the desire to leave him. She covered this internal conflict with a nervous cough, and from that day on, coughed reflexively at the sound of rhythmic music. Freud's investigations into internal conflicts such as this led him to eventually construct the divisions of the mind now known as id, ego, and superego.

Defense mechanisms

Main points Because the ego is the great equalizer between the id and superego, conflict is inevitable. This conflict, according to Freud, brings anxiety and serves as a signal to the ego that its survival may be in jeopardy. Freud further divided anxiety into three kinds: realistic anxiety (fear of real situations), moral anxiety (fear that stems from the internalized ideal world of the superego), and neurotic anxiety (fear that results from impulses originating in the id). It is the unconscious neurotic anxiety that most intrigued Freud and formed the basis for his research. Psychoanalytic therapy was developed to treat the various neuroses that were largely unconscious. Freud postulated that the ego aids this process of repressing the anxiety through use of what he called defense mechanisms.

The ego deals with the demands of reality, the urges of the id, and the perfectionist tendencies of the superego as best as it can. But when the anxiety becomes overwhelming, the ego must defend itself. It does so by unconsciously blocking the impulses or distorting them into a more acceptable, less threatening form. The techniques for doing this are called the ego defense mechanisms. Freud, his daughter Anna, and other disciples have discovered a number of defense mechanisms that accomplish this purpose.

Explanation: Repression Repression is one of the most important Freudian processes, and it is the basis for other ego defenses and neurotic disorders. It is a means of defense through which threatening or painful thoughts or feelings are excluded from awareness. Freud explained repression as an involuntary removal of something from consciousness. Anna Freud called it "motivated forgetting."

Examples Victims of war or other trauma sometimes face experiences that are too overwhelming for them to assimilate into their conscious mind. In order to cope, they must protect themselves from letting the painful experience incapacitate them. The result is that they unconsciously repress the emotion. This emotion may resurface unexpectedly if a similar life event such as an accident or other victimization triggers the repressed memories.

Explanation: Denial Denial involves blocking external events from awareness. For example, if a particular situation is too much for a person to handle, he or she simply refuses to allow the experience to become reality for them, despite the fact that it happened. The use of denial is a primitive and dangerous defense because eventually the individual must face reality. The longer one attempts to deny the objective reality, the greater may be the consequences. Denial can operate by itself or, more commonly, in combination with other, more subtle defense mechanisms that support it.

Examples Denial can be unconscious as when a dying person refuses to admit that their life will soon end or when a person with a heart condition denies that their overeating or smoking is of any consequence. It can also take a semi-conscious state where the individual accepts a portion of the situation but denies another. For instance, a person may acknowledge that they were in an automobile accident but they will not accept the fact that a loved one who was critically injured might die.

Explanation: Displacement Displacement is the redirection of anxiety onto a substitute or "safer" target. The redirected energy, often anger, cannot be discharged in the most logical way, so it must find another way to be released.

Examples The classic example is the frustrated worker who feels victimized by his boss but cannot express his anger directly at his supervisor. Instead, he finds a safer target and yells at his family when he arrives home. According to Freud, the man does not intentionally displace his anger and frustration on his family, but unconsciously does so because he finds the relationships of his family "safer." Venting his frustration at home will minimize consequences arising from his actions, were he to express his anger on the job.

Explanation: Projection Projection takes one's own anxiety-arousing impulses and attributes them to someone else.

Examples A husband finds himself attracted to a charming and flirtatious woman at work. Instead of acknowledging his attraction, he becomes increasingly jealous of his wife and worried about her faithfulness to the marriage. Freud would say that the jealous husband is simply projecting his own feelings onto his wife in an effort to reduce the anxiety he feels about his own unacceptable feelings.

Explanation: Reaction formation Reaction formation helps protect against threatening impulses by overemphasizing the opposite of one's actual thoughts and actions.

Examples A pastor who is involved in a secret extramarital affair unconsciously attempts to push away threatening impulses related to his behavior by preaching vehemently against sexual impurity. The pastor, according to psychoanalytic theory, is attempting to reduce his own feelings of guilt and almost atone for his secretive behavior by taking the opposite or morally "right" stance.

Explanation: Regression Regression involves going back to an earlier phase of development when there were fewer demands. In the face of severe stress, individuals may attempt to cope with anxiety by clinging to immature behaviors.

Examples Children who are frightened in school may indulge in infantile behavior such as weeping, excessive dependency, thumb-sucking, and clinging to the teacher. Again, this is perceived by psychoanalytic theory as an unconscious wish on the part of the child to obtain nurturing, attention, or some type of consolation to cope with stressors they feel unable to handle. So, regression to an earlier, more helpless state can either provide them with the safety they feel they need or exempt them from responsibilities they perceive are beyond their capabilities.

Explanation: Rationalization Rationalization helps a person justify specific behaviors or decisions that may not be acceptable to the conscious mind.

Examples A woman interviews for a job that she really wants, but after the interview is over and she is not offered the position, she claims that she really did not want the job anyway. Rather than admitting to herself that she may not have conducted the interview in an appropriate manner or did not have the necessary skills or experience the employer was seeking, she portrays the situation as one where she is the decision-maker. This distortion of the situation helps her minimize potential feelings of failure, inadequacy, or inferiority.

Explanation: Sublimation Sublimation, according to a psychoanalytic perspective, involves diverting sexual or aggressive energy into other channels that are often socially acceptable and even admirable.

Examples A male with aggressive impulses becomes an all-state linebacker on the school football team. Were these same aggressive impulses acted out in common social situations, it would be considered inappropriate and possibly abusive to those on the receiving end. But given that "hitting" is inherent in a contact sport, the student can legitimately channel his aggressive tendencies toward a socially acceptable "performance." Not only does this give the student a release for the unconscious aggression, but it may also provide social approval for reinforcing the aggressive behavior in that context.

Psychosexual development

Main points Freud's theory of psychosexual development had its origins in, and was a generalization of, Josef Breuer's earlier discovery that traumatic childhood events could have devastating negative effects upon the adult. This view assumed that early childhood sexual experiences were the crucial factors in the determination of the adult personality. Freud's believed that from the moment of birth, the infant is driven in his actions by the desire for bodily/sexual pleasure. Initially, infants gain such release, and derive such pleasure, through the act of sucking. Freud termed this period the oral stage of development. This is followed by a stage in which the locus of pleasure or energy release is the anus, particularly in the act of defecation, and this he termed the anal stage. Then the young child develops an interest in its sexual organs as a site of pleasure and an accompanying sexual attraction for the parent of the opposite sex, while developing a subtle hatred for the parent of the same sex. This, Freud called the phallic stage of development. Following this the child then enters what Freud called the latency period, in which sexual motivations become much less pronounced. This lasts until puberty, when the mature genital stage of development begins, and the pleasure drive refocuses around the genital area.

This developmental sequence best described the progression of normal human development, according to Freud. A child at a given stage of development has certain needs and demands, such as the need of the infant to nurse. Frustration occurs when these needs are not met. Freud called these frustrations conflicts, and the child encounters them as part of the developmental process. Successful resolution of the conflict is crucial to adjustment and eventual adult mental health. According to Freud, when a child experiences a significant degree of frustration or overindulgence around these conflicts, the child's sexual urges become stuck to some extent in that stage of development. He called this inability to resolve the conflict a fixation. The child then continues to repeat the maladaptive behaviors that are indicative of that unresolved conflict. In contrast, if the child progresses normally through the stages, resolving each conflict and moving on, then the sexual urges do not become fixated and will progress normally.

In Freud's view, many mental illnesses, particularly hysteria, can be traced back to unresolved conflicts experienced at one of these developmental stages or to events which otherwise disrupt the normal pattern of infant development. For example, homosexuality is seen by some Freudians as resulting from a failure to resolve the conflicts inherent in the phallic stage, particularly a failure to identify with the parent of the same sex. The obsessive concern with washing one's hands and personal hygiene, which characterizes the behavior of some neurotics, is seen as resulting from unresolved conflicts/repressions occurring at the anal stage.

Explanation: Oral stage The oral stage of psychosexual development begins at birth when the oral cavity is the primary focus of psychosexual energy (libido). The child, of course, preoccupies himself with nursing and receives the pleasure of sucking and accepting things into the mouth. The child who is frustrated at this stage and unable to get his needs met adequately, because his mother refuses to nurse him on demand or who ends nursing sessions early, is characterized by pessimism, envy, suspicion, and sarcasm. The overindulged infant, whose nursing urges were often excessively satisfied, is optimistic, gullible, and is full of admiration for others around him. This stage culminates in the primary conflict of weaning, which both deprives the child of the sensory pleasures of nursing and of the psychological pleasure of being cared for, mothered, and held. This stage lasts approximately one and one-half years.

Examples A child fixated at the oral stage of development may become very dependent on his or her mother, clinging to her and becoming fearful of being away from her. This, according to Freud, results because the child was unable to adequately resolve the dependency needs in the oral stage of development.

Explanation: Anal stage At approximately 18 months of age, the child enters the anal stage of psychosexual development. With the advent of toilet training comes the child's obsession with the anus and with the retention or expulsion of the feces. This represents a classic conflict between the id, which derives pleasure from expulsion of bodily wastes, and the ego and superego, which represent the practical and societal pressures to control the bodily functions. The child meets the conflict between physical desires and the parent's demands in one of two ways: Either he puts up a fight or he simply refuses to go. The child who wants to fight takes pleasure in excreting maliciously, perhaps just before or just after being placed on the toilet. If the parents are too lenient and the child manages to derive pleasure and success from this expulsion, it will result in the formation of what Freud called the "anal expulsive character." This characterizes adults who are generally messy, disorganized, reckless, careless, and defiant. In contrast, a child may opt to retain feces, thereby spiting his parents while enjoying the pleasurable pressure of the built-up feces in his intestine. If this tactic succeeds and the child is overindulged, he will develop into an "anal retentive character." This type of person is stereotypically viewed as neat, precise, orderly, careful, stingy, withholding, obstinate, meticulous, and passive-aggressive. The resolution of the anal stage, which includes proper toilet training, permanently affects the individual's inclinations to possess and their attitudes toward authority. This stage lasts from ages one and one-half to two years.

Examples According to psychoanalytic theory, if a child becomes fixated at the anal stage, it carries over into the rest of the person's life. For instance, an adult who has anal expulsive traits may like crude or inappropriate bathroom humor or exhibit passive-aggressive behavior toward others. Those characterized by the anal retentive trait may be overly concerned with order, cleanliness, or organization. This behavior is sometimes diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder and may pose significant problems for the person as he or she attempts to carry on normal activities of living.

Explanation: Phallic stage The phallic stage is the setting for the most crucial sexual conflict in Freud's psychosexual model of development. In this stage, the child's genital region becomes the focus. As the child becomes more interested in his or her genitals and in the genitals of others, conflict arises. This conflict, which Freud labeled the "Oedipus complex" for boys and the "Electra complex" for girls, involves the child's unconscious desire to possess the opposite-sexed parent and to eliminate the same-sexed one.

In the young male, the Oedipus conflict stems from his natural love for his mother, a love which becomes sexual as his libidinal energy transfers from the anal region to his genitals. Unfortunately for the boy, his father stands in the way of possessing his mother. The boy therefore feels aggression and envy towards this rival, his father, and also feels fear that the father will strike back at him. The boy, by this time, has undoubtedly noticed that women, his mother in particular, do not have penises. Although he understands that this is a male-only fixture, he fears that his father will do something to take away his penis. Freud called this fear "castration anxiety," which helps the boy to repress his desire for his mother. Moreover, while the boy recognizes now that he cannot possess his mother, because his father does, he can possess her vicariously by identifying with his father and becoming as much like him as possible. This identification indoctrinates the boy into his appropriate sexual role in life.

While the Oedipal conflict was developed in great detail, Freud did not provide as much clarity on the Electra complex. The Electra complex has its roots in a young girl's discovery that she, along with her mother and all other women, lack the penis that her father and other men possess. Her love for her father then becomes both erotic and envious, as she yearns for a penis of her own. She comes to blame her mother for her perceived castration, and is struck by "penis envy," the apparent counterpart to the boy's castration anxiety. The resolution of the Electra complex is far less clear-cut than the resolution of the Oedipus complex is in males. Freud stated that the resolution comes much later and is never truly complete. Just as the boy learned his sexual role by identifying with his father, so the girl learns her role by identifying with her mother in an attempt to possess her father vicariously. At the eventual resolution of the conflict, the girl passes into the latency period, though Freud implies that she always remains slightly fixated at the phallic stage.

Fixation at the phallic stage develops a phallic character who is reckless, resolute, self-assured, and narcissistic. The failure to resolve the conflict can also cause a person to be afraid of or incapable of close love. Freud also postulated that fixation could be a root cause of homosexuality.

Examples Freud believed that adults may unconsciously replay unresolved conflicts from their childhoods if fixated at that stage. Perhaps the best example is young adults who seek the company of the opposite sex, and may eventually marry someone like their own mother or father. Freud would say that this not only represents familiarity, but an unconscious effort to resolve the fixated conflict from the phallic stage of psychosexual development. The young person may try to "win" the affection of the desired one in an effort to finally achieve the maternal or paternal closeness for which they have longed.

Explanation: Latency The resolution of the phallic stage leads to the latency period, which is not a psychosexual stage of development, but a period in which the sexual drive lies dormant. Freud saw latency as a period of unparalleled repression of sexual desires and impulses. During the latency period, children pour this repressed libidinal energy into asexual pursuits such as school, athletics, and same-sex friendships. But soon puberty strikes, and the genitals once again become a central focus of libidinal energy. The latency stage extends approximately from ages six to 12. Critics claim that Freud's assumption of a latency period of sexual development, especially at this stage of growth, represents a significant weakness in his theory.

Examples Boys and girls in the latency stage, for the most part, have same-sex playmates and show little interest in being in the company of peers of the opposite sex. During this period, boys and girls typically begin evidencing their sex roles through play. Boys gravitate to those activities characterized as masculine, participating in more aggressive play. Girls tend to favor more feminine activities such as playing with dolls or dressing up.

Explanation: Genital stage In the genital stage, as the child's energy once again focuses on his or her genitals, interest turns to heterosexual relationships. The less energy the child has fixated in unresolved psychosexual development, the greater the capacity will be to develop normal relationships with the opposite sex. Freud thought that if a person did not get trapped in any of sequential psychosexual stages, then adolescence would mark the beginning of an adult life and normal sexual relations, marriage, and child-rearing. If, however, the person remained fixated, particularly in the phallic stage, development would be troubled as he or she struggled to resolve the points of contention. Unfortunately, the person will often resort to repression and other defense mechanisms because he or she does not know how to truly resolve the unconscious issues. Freud, unlike Erik Erikson who expanded his stages to cover the full span of life, believed that the crucial conflict of the genital stage occurred between the ages of 12 and 18, but left the impression that the genital stage continues indefinitely.

Examples The genital stage primarily comprises adolescents who are intensely interested in the opposite sex, dating, and sexual experimentation. If young people have resolved the previous conflicts in earlier psychosexual stages, they should be able to contain their genital urges in an appropriate manner. If not, they will, according to Freud, act out their unresolved conflicts in aberrant ways. For instance, a male who has not resolved the phallic stage conflict may become possessive and jealous of his girlfriend, attempting to restrict her social life and thereby demanding loyalty to him exclusively.


There were three major sources of influence on the psychoanalytic movement: previous assumptions about the unconscious, early notions about psychopathology, and evolutionary theory.

Assumptions of the unconscious

As early as the eighteenth century, German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz developed the notion that there were degrees of consciousness ranging from completely unconscious to fully conscious. A century later, German philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart refined Leibnitz's concept of the unconscious by stating that only conscious ideas are perceived in awareness. Gustav Theodore Fechner, who preceded Freud but had contact with him in the later part of the nineteenth century, also speculated about the unconscious. Fechner conceived the classic illustration of an iceberg to visualize the contrast between the conscious and unconscious mind.

Discussion of the unconscious was very much a part of the European intellectual community during the 1880s when Freud was beginning his clinical practice. But the unconscious was not only of interest to professionals. It had become a fashionable topic of conversation among the educated public. A book entitled Philosophy of the Unconscious became so popular that it appeared in nine editions. In the 1870s, at least a half dozen other books published in Germany included the word "unconscious" in their titles.

So, although Freud is often credited with "discovering" the unconscious, his genius was more accurately stated as having taken the preexisting notions of the unconscious that were popular in his day and fashioning them into a coherent and tangible system.

Early ideas about psychopathology

History is replete with examples of misconceptions about mental illness. In the Middle Ages people who were mentally ill were perceived as being possessed by the devil. It was believed that only severe punishment of these individuals could yield a cure. Those who would not publicly repent of their "sins" were often executed. Over time this view softened. By the eighteenth century, mental illness came to be viewed more as irrational behavior. Mentally ill persons were confined in institutions similar to jails. Although they were no longer put to death, they were offered no treatment.

In the early 1880s, a French physician by the name of Philippe Pinel recognized the need for treating those suffering from mental illness and began attempting to make sense of a patient's problems by listening to them. Under Pinel's direction, a number of patients previously thought to be hopelessly disturbed began to be cured. This concept of a "talking cure" began to spread rapidly throughout Europe and then to the United States.

During the nineteenth century, psychiatrists were divided into two camps, the somatic and the psychic. The somatic approach held that abnormal behavior had physical causes such as brain lesions, or understimulated or overly tight nerves. The psychic school subscribed to emotional or psychological explanations for abnormal behavior. In general, the somatic viewpoint dominated, supported by the ideas of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who ridiculed the view that emotional problems somehow led to mental illness.

The discipline of psychoanalysis developed as a revolt against the somatic orientation. It was against this backdrop that Freud later adopted his "talking therapy" techniques, which he used extensively with his neurotic patients.

Evolutionary theory

Freud's thinking was greatly influenced by the writings of Charles Darwin. Freud read all of Darwin's works and made notations in the margins of each book. He regularly praised the works to colleagues and in his own publications. Some have claimed that Darwin's writings exerted more influence on Freud's thinking, and therefore on the development of psychoanalytic theory, than any other single source. As almost a confirmation of this, Freud insisted later in life that the study of Darwin's theory of evolution should be an essential part of the training program for psychoanalysts.

Darwin discussed several ideas that Freud later emphasized in psychoanalysis, including unconscious mental processes and conflicts, significance of dreams, hidden symbolism of certain behaviors, and importance of sexual arousal. On the whole, Darwin focused, as Freud did later, on the nonrational aspects of thought and behavior. Darwin's theories also affected Freud's ideas about childhood development and the notion that humans were driven by the biological forces of love and hunger.

Rise of the sciences

The sciences also experienced a boom during Freud's first few decades in Vienna. In addition to Darwin's writings, most notably The Origin of Species, published between the years 1859 and 1880, there were numerous other avenues of innovation. Alfred Noble invented dynamite. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. Vienna was eager to join the ranks of Europe's leading cities and showcased its latest innovations during the Vienna World's Fair in 1873, which Freud eagerly attended.

Revolt against Jews

With Vienna's prosperity also came a growing prejudice against the newly arrived Jews of eastern Europe. And when the populist, anti-Semitic Karl Lueger was elected as the city's new mayor in 1897, Freud and his fellow liberal, middle-class Jews were revolted.

World War I, 1914–1918

The First World War created a significant uproar in Europe as it was sparked by the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in Serbia. The Austro-Hungarian attempt to punish the Serbs for the assassination instigated a series of threats and counter-threats by the European powers. Eventually almost all of Europe became involved in a war that lasted far longer than anyone had expected and resulted in the defeat of the Central Powers and the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

During this four-year period when the war was being waged, the psychoanalytic movement slowed its prewar growth but survived. During the war years, all international congresses were canceled, since half of the nations represented at the International Psychoanalytic Association's were at war with nations represented by the other half. Communications between members were restricted for the same reason. In 1918, with the war winding down, the fifth International Psychoanalytic Congress met in Budapest, Hungary, and attracted a number of government officials from Austria, Germany, and Hungary. This was a direct result of interest sparked by the application of psychoanalysis to war neuroses.

World War II, 1939–1945

By the time World War II started, Freud was famous, and the psychoanalytic movement was well established. Internal conflict between Freud and key members of the Psychoanalytic Society had resulted in the resignation of several important figures, including Jung and Adler. The society had resettled by the beginning of the Second World War. The most significant event for Freud and the psychoanalytic movement during this time occurred in March 1938, when the German Nazis invaded Austria. The event forced Freud to flee to England and fragmented the Psychoanalytic Society for several years. It also marked a turning point for Freud as he began to recede into the background of the movement and allowed others, his daughter Anna in particular, to assume greater leadership over the direction the movement would take.


Freudian psychoanalytic theory did not long remain the only method of explaining the human personality. Even during Freud's lifetime, alternatives were offered by a number of other theorists, resulting in a splintering of psychological thought.

Freud's early disciples

Freud's theory of psychoanalysis was built on the assumption that human beings have an unconscious mind. This unconscious mind, with its hidden drives and instincts, is what drives behavior. And since the unconscious is so pervasive and directive, it determines behavior, or to say it more philosophically, is deterministic. Psychoanalysis is a highly deterministic approach to human behavior because it assumes that behavioral patterns established in youth determine one's behavior later in life. This deterministic presupposition is in large part what made Freud's theory so intriguing and controversial.

Yet despite the controversy, psychoanalysis spread rapidly within professional circles and attracted some of the brightest physicians of the day. This included both Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, two names that would become synonymous with Freud as much for their alliance as for their eventual split.

Alfred Adler, a medical doctor with a deep interest in psychology and human nature, met Freud in their native Vienna in 1900 at a medical conference where Freud presented his new ideas about dreams and the unconscious. Freud's radical ideas were met with scorn and open hostility, as they often were during these early years of the psychoanalytic movement. Adler, one of the few who had recognized the brilliance of Freud's first major work, The Interpretation of Dreams, was dismayed by the proceedings and came to Freud's defense in an article he wrote for a medical journal. In the article, he demanded that Freud's views be given the respect and attention they deserved. Adler soon joined the circle of psychologists who gathered at Freud's home on Wednesday evenings for animated discussion, debate, and collaboration about emerging psychoanalytic theory. Buttressed by his loyal supporters, many of them insightful psychologists and original thinkers in their own right, Freud's movement grew as his seminal ideas gradually captured the imagination of intellectuals throughout Europe, England, and America. Adler was for a time the president of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association and the editor of its journal. Yet there had always been differences between Adler's views and Freud's, and over the years, these differences became increasingly apparent and problematic. First, Adler never accepted Freud's views about the overarching significance of infantile sexual trauma. Freud was typically intolerant of disagreement, though, and in a dramatic and politically charged break, Adler resigned his posts in 1911, leaving Freud's circle along with a group of eight colleagues to found his own school of psychology. He and Freud never met again.

Individual psychology Adler then took his ideas and his followers and began what he called individual psychology, which was based on the idea of the indivisibility of the personality. His most significant divergence from Freud's theory was his belief that the human being is a whole person, not a conglomeration of mechanisms, drives, or dynamic parts. And in contrast to most psychological thinking of the time, Adler believed that human beings are fundamentally self-determined. Central to his therapeutic approach, and in direct conflict with Freud's views, was his belief that people always have control over their lives; their choices are what shape them. "Individual Psychology breaks through the theory of determinism," Jung wrote. "No experience is a cause of success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the socalled trauma—but we make out of them just what suits our purposes. We are self-determined by the meaning we give to our experiences." Adler's emphasis on the wholeness of the person and the fact that our values inevitably shape our experience led to his conviction that, in the end, there is only one true meaning to human life: care and love for our fellow humans. "There have always been men who understood this fact; who knew that the meaning of life is to be interested in the whole of mankind and who tried to develop social interest and love. In all religions we find this concern for the salvation of man." For Adler, it is only this meaning, this interpretation of our experience as it pertains to the whole of humankind that leads to the genuine mental health and happiness of the individual.

Analytical psychology Carl Jung met Freud in 1907, after he sent Freud a report on some of his early research in the psychotherapeutic technique of word association, to which Freud responded with an invitation to meet him in Vienna. Jung lived in Zurich, where he was practicing psychiatry and teaching at Zurich University. At that first meeting in Freud's home, the two men talked "virtually without a pause for thirteen hours." Each was captivated by the other's genius and passionate interest in psychology, and they began a close correspondence in which they exchanged letters as often as three times a week. Jung quickly stepped into a leading role in the psychoanalytic movement, becoming a staunch defender and chief disseminator of Freud's ideas. Freud confided to Jung that he saw him as his "successor and crown prince," and Jung became, for all concerned, Freud's heir apparent. From the beginning, Jung found Freud's theories about repression and the unconsciousto be ingenious explanations of much of what he was finding in his work with his own patients. But, as Adler did, he struggled with Freud's insistence on the primacy of the sexual drive.

There was another significant tension between Freud and Jung, however. Jung had a burgeoning interest in world religions, mythology, and alchemy, interests with which Freud had little patience. In fact, Freud was by this time openly atheistic and viewed religion as inferior to science. In contrast, religious imagery and occultism had in fact been a recurring fascination for Jung, and he had had several "paranormal" experiences and encounters with psychic mediums during his youth.

A major turning point in Jung's intellectual career was his book Symbols of Transformation, researched and written between 1909 and 1912, while he was still Freud's champion spokesman and organizer. Jung immersed himself in a world of mythology, fantasy, and preverbal imagery. "The whole thing came upon me like a landslide that cannot be stopped," he wrote of his work during this period. "It was the explosion of all those psychic contents which could find no room, no breathing space, in the constricting atmosphere of Freudian psychology and its narrow outlook."

In 1914 Jung broke with Freud to develop his own school of psychology. His analytical psychology emphasized the interpretation of the psyche's symbols from a universal mythological perspective rather than a personal biographical one. Jung believed that the psyche has a collective ancestry that goes back millions of years. He argued that the psyche was made up of what he termed archetypes, which are primordial images inherited from our ancestors. As support for such a theory, he spoke of the immediate attachment infants have for their mother, the inevitable fear of the dark seen in young children, and how images such as the sun, moon, wise old man, angels, and evil all seem to be predominant themes throughout history. The aim of life, according to Jung, is to know oneself. He thought the best way to do that is to explore both the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious.

Other schools of thought

Freud and his theory of psychoanalysis were so pivotal in the establishment of modern psychology that a strong argument can be made that virtually every major psychological theory of the twentieth century was either a hybrid of or a reaction to psychoanalysis. Even staunch behaviorists such as John Watson, and later B. F. Skinner, used psychoanalysis as a reference point to develop radically different theories of the personality that had little or no resemblance to Freud's ideas.

Object relations Freud used the word "object" to refer to any person, object, or activity that can satisfy an instinctive desire. In his view, the first object in an infant's life that can gratify such a desire is the mother's breast. As the child grows, other people become desire-gratifying objects in a variety of different ways.

Object relations theory owes its roots to Freud but diverged on a different path. Its core principles focus on interpersonal relationships with these objects, whereas Freud emphasized the instinctual drives themselves with little attention given to a child's actual relationship to the object. Object relations theorists see the social and environmental influences on personality, particularly between the mother and child, as crucial to the development of personality and the child's sense of self or ego. Object relations is closely aligned with what is also known in professional circles as ego psychology. Two well-known pioneers in object relations theory are Melanie Klein and Heinz Kohut. Klein's early career overlapped Freud's later years, and Kohut's began around the time of Freud's death.

Karen Horney Karen Horney was trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst in Berlin and is considered one of the first modern feminists. From 1914 to 1918 she underwent psychoanalytic training at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute and later became a faculty member there. Though initially devoted to Freud's systematic paradigm of psychoanalysis, she eventually disputed several of his key concepts. In particular she took issue with his view on unchanging biological forces as the determining factors for personality development. She denied the high status of sexual factors in his theory, including the Oedipal complex, the concepts of libido, and the three-part structure of the personality (id, ego, and superego). In fact, she left Freud's psychoanalytic circle over his views that women have poorly developed superegos and inferiority feelings about their bodies because they lack a penis. She countered Freud's view by saying that men have "womb envy," an unconscious desire for a womb.

Other criticisms of Freud and psychoanalysis

As more has been learned about child development since Freud's theories were first launched, there has been an increasing lack of support for some of his assumptions about the human personality. Perhaps none of his ideas have met with as much criticism as his psychosexual stages of development. While many modern-day clinicians still find aspects of his stages helpful, most do not adhere to the presupposition of sexual conflict being the central task of developmental maturity. Thus, concepts like Oedipal and Electra complexes are held by a very small minority of professionals overall.

Another criticism of Freud concerns his training as a physician and his extensive reliance on a medical model to develop his theory of psychoanalysis. His strong emphasis on pathology causes him to label behavior as "problematic" or "inappropriate" that most in contemporary times would classify as normative or common to the human condition. In other words, he is accused by some of "creating" psychopathology when it may not be anything out of the ordinary human experience.

Example: Data collection and report Freud's methods of collecting data from his patients have also drawn much criticism by scholars. The following represent some of the most prominent concerns:

Freud did not make verbatim transcripts of his conversations with patients. If he made notes at all it was typically hours after the interaction. Critics claim that important data would inevitably be lost because recall of specific details would fade the longer the interval between analysis and recording. This opened up the possibility that there were important omissions and distortions of the original data.

Because a central component of Freud's theory involved interpretation of a patient's disclosures, some critics claim that Freud could have easily recalled and recorded only what he wanted to hear or selectively chosen those aspects that would support his assumptions.

Freud claimed that a high percentage of his female clients had experienced sexual abuse as children, often by their fathers. Some have suggested that Freud used suggestive or even coercive procedures to elicit or plant memories of child sexual abuse in his patients. Freud himself later acknowledged that some recollections by his patients may have been fantasies they imagined. He even left the door open to the possibility, though he did not explicitly state it as fact, that he may have influenced their recollection in a coercive way.

Researchers have found discrepancies between Freud's notes and those cases histories on which those notes were supposedly based. This is a difficult problem to trace because Freud destroyed most of his patient files. Freud only published six case histories, and none are considered to be compelling evidence for the soundness of psychoanalysis. One of the cases he published was not even one of his patient, but that of another physician.

Even if Freud's recollections of events discussed in therapy were completely accurate, the reports given to him by patients may not have matched reality. Freud is known to have spent little time verifying accounts about patient's childhood experiences, especially those accusing family members of sexual abuse. Critics argue that he should have questioned family members to determine the accuracy of patient reports.

Critics have also pointed out that Freud's theories are based upon a very small homogenous sample group made up almost exclusively of upper-class Austrian women. Not only is it limited in gender and geographical location, but it is also influenced by a late nineteenth century society that was Victorian in manner, which manifested as sexually repressed. Such a sample, many contend, made Freud's focus on sex simply a reflection of the time period more than a determinant of personality.

Example: Is psychoanalysis science? Some psychologists claim that psychoanalysis is good science, others that it is bad science, and still others that it is not science at all. Those who believe psychoanalysis is good science are no doubt the minority based on findings in the latter half of the twentieth century. Surprisingly, not all psychoanalysts fall into this group. Rather, a fair number of psychoanalysts are willing to concede that psychoanalysis is not science and that it was never meant to be science. Instead, they claim that it is more like a worldview that helps people see connections that they otherwise would miss.

It is questionable whether Freud himself thought of his theory of psychoanalysis as science. Despite the growing popularity of psychoanalysis for therapy during his lifetime and beyond, Freud admittedly had little personal interest in the potential treatment value of his system. His primary concern was not to cure his patients but rather to explain the dynamics of human behavior. Though he thought of himself as a scientist more than a therapist, he did not apply scientific methods to how he gathered or analyzed the work upon which his theory was built.


Freud's laboratory did not consist of various apparatus like beakers, scales, or microscopes. Instead, his lab consisted of essentially one piece of furniture: the couch. Most who told their stories on his couch did so as if they were speaking to themselves, since Freud traditionally sat at the head of the couch, out of sight. Some say this therapeutic remoteness was necessary for objectivity; others claim it is evidence of his lack of warmth. Freud admitted to having less interest in treating patients and more passion for understanding the workings of the human personality. His patients were simply his subjects or the means by which to gather the data toward that end.

Despite the many critics Freud has garnered in the last several decades, he did create a number of important techniques that were repeatedly used with his patients and that were adopted by large numbers of followers in subsequent years. Traditional psychoanalysts still use some of these techniques in treatment, much in the same way Freud attempted them. Many others use modified versions that faintly resemble Freud's original work. The fact remains, however, that the discipline of psychology owes a large debt to this pioneer for how he challenged and contributed to our treatment of mental disorders.

The techniques of psychoanalytic therapy are designed to increase awareness, foster insights into the patient's behavior, and shed light on the meaning of one's symptoms. Following are some of the most important techniques that are associated with psychoanalysis.

Free association

Free association plays a central role in analytic treatment. In using free association, patients are encouraged to say whatever comes to mind, regardless of how painful or irrelevant it may seem. The aim of this unchecked verbalization is to open the door of the unconscious so that thoughts, wishes, fantasies, conflicts, and motivations held in the unconscious mind can flow into consciousness without censorship. Free association often leads the patient to remember past experiences that may have been repressed and can result in an intense expression of emotion, called catharsis.

During the free-association process, the therapist's task is to identify the repressed material that is locked in the unconscious. If there is any disruption in the flow, this usually indicates the presence of anxiety, which the therapist attempts to identify and interpret.

Dream analysis

Dream analysis is also an important procedure for uncovering unconscious material and giving the patient insight into areas of unresolved problems. During sleep, defenses are lowered and repressed feelings surface. Freud called dreams the "royal road to consciousness," because in them unconscious wishes, needs, and fears are expressed. Some motivations and fears are so unacceptable to the person that they are expressed in disguised or symbolic form through dreams rather than being directly revealed in some other way.

Dreams have two levels of content: latent content and manifest content. Latent content consists of hidden, symbolic, and unconscious motives, wishes, and fears. But latent content, if revealed directly, can be very painful for the person to experience. So to make it less threatening, it transforms into what is called manifest content, which is the dream as it appears to the dreamer. This manifest content is often disguised in symbols. The therapist's task in dream analysis is to identify the symbols in dreams and provide guidance to the patient as to the dream's meaning.

As part of dream analysis, the therapist may ask the patient to free associate some aspect of the manifest content to help him or her understand latent meanings. As the meaning of the dreams are recognized, it helps the patient unlock the repression that has kept the material hidden and allows the patient new potential to deal effectively with the material.

Analysis and interpretation of transference

Transference is the unconscious shifting of feelings from someone in the patient's personal life to the therapist. Transference allows the patient to understand and resolve previously "unfinished business" from past relationships. As therapy progresses, childhood feelings and conflicts begin to surface from the unconscious. A patient may unconsciously transfer feelings of love, sexuality, hostility, or any number of other emotions onto the therapist during the process of therapy. If the therapy is to produce real change, the transference relationship must be worked through.

The transference situation is considered valuable because it allows the patient an opportunity to re-experience a variety of feelings that would not otherwise be accessible to them. By using the therapist as a safe or neutral object to express these wishes, beliefs, and desires, patients are able to change some of their long-standing patterns of behavior.

The analysis of transference is an important technique in psychoanalytic therapy because it allows the patient to achieve present-moment insight into past relational issues. As the therapist interprets the transference process for the patient, he or she can work with the insights to make changes in desired areas.

Analysis and interpretation of resistance

Resistance in a psychoanalytic context is anything that works against the progress of therapy and prevents the patient from accessing unconscious material. Resistance then is any idea, attitude, feeling, or action that gets in the way of potential change. During free association, a patient may show an unwillingness to relate to certain thoughts or experiences. Freud views resistance as an unconscious process that people use to protect themselves against intolerable anxiety and pain that might result if they became aware of the repressed feelings.

In therapy, resistance blocks both the patient and therapist from gaining insight into the processes of the unconscious. The analytic therapist's role is to point out resistance when it is observed in hopes that the patient will acknowledge the block and deal with the conflict.

Resistance in psychoanalytic therapy is not something to be rid of, but something that must be dealt with. The anxiety that causes the resistance will not lessen unless the resistance is faced. Having said this, it is important that the analytic therapist respects the resistances of clients and assists them in working therapeutically with their defenses. When handled properly, resistance can be one of the most valuable tools in understanding the patient.


It appears that the current status of psychoanalytic theory is going through an identity crisis of its own and has been since the mid-1980s. Some in the psychoanalytic community believe that the theory and practice of psychoanalysis are declining due to several key factors.

Terms long used in psychoanalysis are familiar to many but remain vague and imprecise. This makes continuity of use across the professional landscape difficult and open to various interpretations, some of which may be contradictory. Second, many terms in psychoanalytic theory refer to abstractions, such as drives or instincts, yet are often treated as if they refer to substantial entities. Yet, without more concrete ways of describing these abstractions, some fear that psychoanalysis will never be subjected to the rigorous empirical testing that would enhance its credibility in a therapeutic environment that increasingly values measurable therapeutic outcomes. Another problem within psychoanalytic theory surrounds the multiple layering of concepts and terms, often making it redundant and more complicated than it needs to be.

On the issue of empirical testing, those in the psychoanalytic community differ widely. Some believe that the theories are not empirically verifiable, while others believe they already have been extensively tested. Proponents cite two important facts. First, they claim that a large body of experimental evidence already exists on psychoanalytic ideas, some confirming the theory and others not. Second, while psychoanalysis does not seek to validate their concepts using empirical methods, it does use a holistic method of viewing the entire person as a single organism. This procedure is widely used with validity in both the social sciences and the "hard" sciences. Recognizing the holistic nature of psychoanalytic ideas and therapy suggests that some kinds of interpretation are more valid than others. In the minds of some psychoanalysts, the use of a holistic method nullifies the debate about whether psychoanalysis is a science or merely a means of interpretation.

Some general propositions have been set forth that most of today's practitioners would agree form core foundational ideas of modern psychoanalysis:

  • Humans have many thoughts, emotions, and motives that are unconscious. Neurological studies supply ample evidence that unconscious processes of cognition exist. Defense mechanisms like repression and denial against emotions that are unpleasant are well documented as real responses.
  • Personality patterns form in childhood and shape later relationships. Observational and longitudinal studies have shown that adult personality traits have parallels that begin in childhood.
  • Mental representations of the self, others, and relationships guide our social patterns. Considerable research on attachment behaviors both in animals and humans confirm this.
  • Personality development is more than simply working through sexual conflict (Freud's theory). It also involves learning to move from dependency to interdependency.

Not all of the research on Freud's ideas supports psychoanalytic theory. Studies on personality development do not confirm the suggestion that personality is formed by age five and changes little after that, as Freud thought. Most psychologists accept that personality continues to develop over time and can change dramatically after childhood. Contemporary research on instincts as the driving force of personality shows that Freud's conception of these ideas is no longer a useful model for human motivation. But the most important finding is that some psychoanalytic concepts can be reduced to propositions testable by the methods of science.


1856: Sigismund Freud is born (changes his name to Sigmund at age 22).

1873: Receives a summa cum laude award on graduation from the Gymnasium. He is already able to read in several languages.

1877: Joins Brücke's laboratory.

1880: A year of military service. Breuer provides treatment to Bertha Pappenheim (Anna O.).

1881: Awarded a delayed doctor's degree in medicine.

1882: Meets Martha Bernays and becomes secretly engaged to her.

1884: Discovers the analgesic properties of cocaine.

1886: Starts private practice. Marries Martha in September.

1887: Starts using hypnosis. The birth of daughter Mathilda.

1889: Birth of son Martin.

1891: Birth of son Olivier.

1892: Birth of son Ernst.

1893: Birth of daughter Sophie.

1895: Birth of daughter Anna.

1896: Freud for the first time uses the term "psychoanalysis." Death of Jacob Freud.

1897: Postulates Oedipus complex.

1899: The Interpretation of Dreams is published on November 4.

1902: Begins the Wednesday Psychological Society meetings at his home.

1906: C. G. Jung starts his correspondence with Sigmund Freud.

1909: Publication of Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy (Little Hans).

1911: Adler's resignation.

1913: Break from Jung. Publication of Totem and Taboo.

1920: Publishes Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

1921: Publishes Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego.

1923: Diagnosed with cancer of the jaw. Publication of The Ego and the Id.

1930: Freud's mother dies.

1933: Sigmund Freud has a letter exchange with Albert Einstein on the topic Why the War? The Nazis publicly burn Freud's work in Berlin.

1938: March 13th: Austria's annexation (Anschluss). Freud's house and the headquarters of the Vienna Association of Psychoanalysis are searched. Anna Freud is arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo. In June, Freud and his family emigrate to Great Britain.

1939: September 23rd, Freud's death. Moses and Monotheism is published.

Case studies

Each of Freud's five major case histories was written for colleagues and was intended as an explanation of the meaning of the patient's symptoms along with his observations and analysis. All of his case histories are relevant to the development of his theory and practice of psychoanalysis, but three are of particular importance because they demonstrate how his theory


Anna Freud

Anna Freud, in addition to being the youngest daughter of Sigmund Freud, was a pivotal figure in the field of child psychoanalysis and development. She was born in Vienna, Austria, and educated at private schools in Vienna. From the beginning Anna did not form a close bond with her mother, but she did feel especially close to her father while growing up. She received much affirmation from the elder Freud, and he routinely expressed his approval of her intellectual interests and pursuits.

As a student she was bored and restless with formal education and openly complained about attending school. She claims to have learned less in her formal education than from guests that her father had at their home. This is where she supposedly learned several languages such as Hebrew, German, English, French, and Italian. At age of 19, Anna began two years of study to become a teacher, and in the summer of 1915 she successfully passed her teacher's examination.

When Anna Freud was 23 years old, she underwent psychoanalysis with her father as analyst, which was unusual, even at that time. This analysis continued for several years, and Anna seemed to form a dependence on her father from which she never broke free until his later years. In 1923, when her father had the first of many operations on his jaw to remove cancer growths, Anna felt it was her duty to care for him because he was ill. She remained his constant companion and primary caregiver until his death many years later.

Shortly after this, in 1924, Anna Freud began taking more responsibility over her father's professional career and performing active service in the psychoanalytic community. That same year she became a member of the Committee of her father's closest advisors. In 1925, she was on the executive board of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute and started work as a training analyst. In addition, she also took over all the aspects of production of the Verlag, a psychoanalytic publication similar to a journal that her father created.

Anna Freud's long-time interest had been children. Though she never married nor had her own, she devoted her professional career, first a teacher and then as a psychoanalyst, to working with children. She was undoubtedly influenced profoundly by her father's psychoanalytic theories. She used these theories as a framework to understand the experiences of children and the stages of their normal psychological development.

In 1927 Freud and two of her closest friends, Eva Rosenfeld and Dorothy Burlingham, organized a nursery school for local children. Within this school Freud and her colleagues (the most famous of which was Erik Erikson) taught alternate teaching methods while taking careful notes of the process. Anna would increasingly use her work with children as a means to study the developing ego of children. She eventually published, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense in 1936 in honor of her father's 80th birthday.

World War II brought dramatic changes in the structure of the psychoanalytic movement. After the Nazis took control of Austria in 1938, Anna and her father emigrated to London, England, where Sigmund Freud died a year later.

In 1947, Freud and Burlingham established the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic in London, which provided training opportunities for individuals interested in the psychological and emotional development of children. From the 1950s until her death, psychoanalysts, child psychologists, and teachers worldwide sought opportunities to hear Freud lecture, and to benefit from the insights she developed from a lifetime of working with children.

After her father's death, Anna Freud's career flourished. She published several books of her own, adhering mostly to the psychoanalytic principles her father had set, but expanding or refining in places that set her apart from him. Among her important written works are: The Psychoanalytical Treatment of Children (1946), Normality and Pathology in Childhood (1965), and the seven-volume Writings of Anna Freud (1973).

and methods evolved. The first, the case of Anna O., was conducted by Dr. Joseph Breuer, Freud's mentor. The remaining two, the "Rat Man" and "Dora," were conducted and recorded by Freud.

Anna O.: free association Joseph Breuer was a famous physician that had befriended the young Freud as he was just beginning his practice. The two men frequently discussed Breuer's patients at length. One in particular, a 21-year-old Anna O., would become a pivotal case in the development of psychoanalysis.

An intelligent and attractive woman, Anna O. suffered from severe hysterical complaints including paralysis, memory loss, mental deterioration, nausea, and disturbances of vision and speech. The symptoms first appeared when she was nursing her dying father, who had always pampered her.

Breuer began Anna's treatment by using hypnosis. He found that while hypnotized she would recall specific experiences that seemed to have given rise to certain symptoms. Talking about the experiences under hypnosis often relieved the symptoms. For more than a year Breuer saw Anna every day. She would recount the day's disturbing incidents and after they talked she sometimes reported that her symptoms had been eased. She referred to their conversations as the "talking cure."

Freud's interest in what lay beyond conscious life and in hypnotism and hysteria led him to study with the famous neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in Paris. When Freud returned to Vienna, he began using hypnosis, massage, and pressure on the head to get patients to dredge up thoughts related to their symptoms. Only later did he ask them to say whatever crossed their minds. This he called free association, what the patient called Anna O. had already labeled as the "talking cure." Freud's investigations into internal conflicts such as this case also led him to determine that the mind was divided into three conflicting, now known as id, ego, and superego. So, in a very real sense, Anna O. was the first psychoanalytic patient even though Freud did not administer the treatment.

"Rat Man" One of Freud's best known cases involved a young lawyer he assigned the name "Rat Man." The young man's case was thus named by Freud because he had obsessive thoughts concerning rats, torture, and punishment. Treatment included having the man talk about the first things that came to mind as he considered his disturbing thoughts. Freud used this technique, which he called free association, to probe the man's unconscious conflicts that resist direct expression. Freud then interpreted the man's symptoms and found them rooted in ambivalence about sexuality and about his hostile feelings toward his father. For Freud, interpretation was necessary to give meaning to the apparently random thoughts of free association. In the case of "Rat Man," Freud wove together elaborate stories, explanations, and speculations to make sense out of constellations of symptoms that seemed impossibly puzzling.

"Dora": Transference The famous and controversial case of "Dora," an 18-year old female, would become the first of Freud's major case histories. "Dora," as Freud called her, worked intensely with him in analysis initially but abruptly ended her work with him after just 11 weeks. Through the process of analysis, Dora had "transferred" on Freud some very passionate feelings ranging from love to fury during their work together. Freud initially did not recognize the significance of these emotions. Also embedded in her disclosures was a homosexual theme which Freud failed to fully appreciate, in large part because he had not yet discovered how homosexual urges manifested in neuroses.

Upon completion of the analysis, Freud had originally intended this case to be an exposition on dream interpretation but after reflection, considered it a failure in this regard. Instead he chose to evaluate the transfer of emotion that was a prominent dynamic of "Dora's" analysis. Freud used the concept of transference to refer to the strong emotions that are projected by the patient onto the therapist. This case, perhaps more than any other, helped formalize his concept of transference and its essential role in effective psychoanalysis.

Relevance to the modern reader

Freud and his theory of psychoanalysis have had a great impact on Western society and specifically on American popular culture. Perhaps one of the most obvious ways psychoanalysis has affected popular culture is the legitimization it gave to sexuality in the early part of the twentieth century. Sexual restraints were already starting to loosen around the time that Freud began espousing his ideas publicly, but the popularity of psychoanalysis was a great boost to public openness toward sexual issues.

Freud's psychoanalysis, though dated, can still provide students of psychology a number of helpful insights into the human condition. Nearly every person can benefit from understanding basic aspects of psychoanalytic thought like transference, resistance, ego-defense mechanisms, etc. Whether in a professional context or lay context, these and other psychoanalytic concepts provide a conceptual framework for looking at and understanding the origins and manifestations of behavior. This is something nearly everyone is curious about.

It is feasible for someone to not accept the orthodox Freudian position and still benefit from the many psychoanalytic concepts that shed light on inner conflicts and human relationships. From a broader perspective, psychoanalysis shows us that there are patterns to life and relationships, patterns that are often established in the early phases of development. This has significant implications for many areas of human interaction, such as intimate relationships, the family and child rearing, and therapeutic relationships.

As newer psychoanalytic theorists refine classical analytic techniques, it opens the possibility that psychoanalytic theory will regain some of the influence it has lost over the years. Current directions in psychoanalytic therapy are focusing on building collaborative working relationships with patients, instead of giving the therapist control over the therapeutic relationship. Also, there is a push in some circles to incorporate briefer forms of psychoanalytic therapy due to societal pressure for accountability and cost-effectiveness. This is also a trend that uses psychoanalytic theory as the basis for group therapy, which has been well received.



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Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. Anna Freud: A Biography. New York: Summit Books, 1988.

Further readings

Breger, Louis. Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

Breuer, Joseph, and Sigmund Freud. Studies in Hysteria. Boston: Beacon Hill Press, 1950.

Clark, Ronald. Freud: The Man and the Cause. New York: Random House, 1980.

Ferris, Paul. Dr. Freud: A Life. London: Pimlico, 1997.

Freud, Ernst. The Letters of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books, 1975.

Freud, Ernst, Lucie Freud, and Ilse Grubich-Simitis, eds. Sigmund Freud: His Life in Pictures and Words. New York: New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1998.

Freud, Sigmund. An Autobiographical Study. London: Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psycho-Ananlysis, 1946.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York, Avon Books, 1965.

Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998.

Freud, Sigmund. An Autobiographical Study. London: Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psycho-Ananlysis, 1946.

Gay, Peter. The Freud Reader. London: Vintage, 1995.

Freud, Sigmund. An Autobiographical Study. London: Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psycho-Ananlysis, 1946.

Jones, Ernest. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1953.

Krull, Marianne. Freud and His Father. London: Hutchinson, 1986. Masson, Jeffrey, ed. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess. Cambridge, MA: Belnap Press, 1985.

Rieff, Phillip, ed. Freud: Early Psychoanalytic Writings. New York, Collier Books, 1963.

Trilling, Lionel, and Steven Marcus, eds. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. New York: Basic Books, 1961.

Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. Anna Freud: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.

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Freud, Sigmund Schlomo

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