Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis, First Lecture

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Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis, First Lecture

Lecture excerpt

By: Sigmund Freud

Date: September 1909

Source: Lecture delivered September, 1909. Revised by Freud and reprinted in the American Journal of Psychology (September 1910): 21 (2) 181-218.

About the Author: Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), born Sigismund Schlomo Freud, is the founder of the psychoanalytic movement worldwide. He has long been considered among the most influential psychological theorists of the twentieth century.


Sigmund Freud was born in Freiburg, Moravia, to Jewish parents. His father, Jakob Freud, was a wool merchant; his mother was Amalia Nathanson. She was Jakob's second wife (although some sources list her as his third wife), and was twenty years younger than her husband. Amalia gave birth to Sigmund, the first of her seven children, when she was twenty-one years old. Jakob had two older sons by a previous marriage. When Sigmund was about four years old, the family moved to Vienna, Austria, where he spent most of his life. The family moved to Vienna because laws allowing discrimination against Jewish people had been vacated in the late 1850s.

Freud was an exceptional student throughout his entire academic career. He began medical studies at the University of Vienna in 1873, and engaged in physiological research for six years with Ernst Brucke (1819–1892), who was the director of the physiology laboratory at the university. Freud's initial concentration was in biology; from there he specialized first in physiology and then in neurology. Freud graduated from medical school in 1881 and became engaged to Martha Bernays in 1882.

From 1882 until 1885, Freud completed his residency and worked at the General Hospital in Berlin, where he directed a children's program. Freud went to France from 1885 to 1886 to pursue postgraduate work in psychiatry and neurology. He first studied with the famed psychiatrist Jean Charcot (1825–1893) in Paris, and then with his colleague and rival Hippolyte Bernheim (1840–1919) in Nancy. Both psychiatrists were doing research on the use of hypnosis in working with patients suffering from hysteria and other psychological abnormalities.

Upon his return from France in 1886, Freud married Martha Bernays. They had six children together, the youngest of whom, Anna, became a well-known psychoanalyst. Sigmund Freud set up a private practice in neuropsychiatry in Vienna, which he dedicated to the treatment of psychological disorders. Although he had been quite impressed with the successes of Charcot and Bernheim, Freud did not believe that the effects of hypnosis were long lasting and set about finding a more permanent form of treatment.

Earlier in his medical studies, Freud had also been influenced by the work of his friend and colleague, Josef Breuer (1842–1925), who encouraged his patients to talk at length about their past experiences while under the influence of hypnosis. Freud began to work in conjunction with Breuer, and they encouraged their neurotic patients to talk uninhibitedly and without any internal (self-imposed) or external restrictions about their earliest memories of symptom occurrence. They discovered that this process often led to gradual amelioration of symptoms and greatly improved overall functioning. During his work with Breuer, Freud originated and developed the theory that many neuroses, defined as phobias, hysterical paralysis, psychosomatic complaints, and some forms of paranoia, originated with severe traumas occurring in early life that were later forgotten or removed from consciousness. The goal of treatment was to facilitate the patient's ability to recall the experience to consciousness. Once the early traumatic memory was recalled, the patient could deeply confront or re-experience it both emotionally and intellectually. In the course of the confrontation, the trauma's emotional power could be "discharged," which would serve to remove the underlying psychological roots of the psychopathological symptoms and manifestations. This experience was called catharsis.

In 1895, Freud and Breuer co-authored the book Studies in Hysteria—based on the case of "Anna O."—which explained their theory in some detail. Not long after the publication of this book, Freud and Breuer parted ways; Breuer contended that Freud placed excessive emphasis on the sexual origins and content of neuroses. Freud continued to refine and develop both his theories and the practice of psychoanalysis; he also began an in-depth self-analysis that lasted for several years.

Freud shared details about the origins of psychotherapy in the following lecture delivered at the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the opening of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, in September, 1909.


Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a new and somewhat embarrassing experience for me to appear as a lecturer before students of the New World. I assume that I owe this honor to the association of my name with the theme of psychoanalysis, consequently it is of psychoanalysis that I shall aim to speak. I shall attempt to give you in very brief form an historical survey of the origin and further development of this new method of research and cure.

Granted that is a merit to have created psychoanalysis, it is not my merit. I was a student, busy with passing of my last examinations, when another physician of Vienna, Dr. Joseph Breuer, made the first application of this case and its treatment, which can be found in detail in "Studien über Hysterie," later published by Dr. Breuer and myself.

But first one word. I have noticed, with considerable satisfaction, that the majority of my hearers do not belong to a medical profession. Now do not fear that a medical education is necessary to follow what I shall have to say. We shall now accompany the doctors a little way, but soon we shall take leave of them and follow Dr. Breuer on a way which is quite his own.

Dr. Breuer's patient was a girl of twenty-one, of a high degree of intelligence. She had developed in the course of her two years' illness a series of physical and mental disturbances which well deserved to be taken seriously. She had a severe paralysis of both right extremities, with anesthesia, and at times the same affection of members of the left side of the body; disturbance of eye-movements, and much impairment of vision; difficulty in maintaining the position of the head, an intense Tussis nervosa, nausea, when she attempted to take nourishment, and at one time for several weeks a loss of the power to drink, in spite of tormenting thirst. Her power of speech was also diminished, and this progressed so far that she could neither speak nor understand her mother tongue; and, finally, she was subject to states of "absence," of confusion, delirium, alteration of her whole personality. These states will later claim our attention….

The illness first appeared while the patient was caring for her father, whom she tenderly loved, during a severe illness which led to his death, a task which she was compelled to abandon because she herself fell ill. [Dr. Breuer] gave his patient sympathy and interest, although at first he did not understand how to help her. It had been noticed that the patient, in her states of 'absence,' of psychic alteration, usually mumbled over several words to herself. These seemed to spring from associations with which her thoughts were busy. The doctor, who was able to get these words, put her in a sort of hypnosis and repeated them to her over and over, in order to bring up any associations that they might have. The patient yielded to his suggestion and reproduced for him those psychic creations which controlled her thoughts during her 'absences,' and which betrayed themselves in these single spoken words.

These were fancies, deeply sad, often poetically beautiful, day dreams, we might call them, which commonly took as their starting point the situation of a girl beside the sick-bed of her father. Whenever she had related a number of such fancies, she was, as it were, freed and restored to her normal mental life.

The doctor soon hit upon the fact that through such cleansing of the soul more could be accomplished than a temporary removal of the constantly recurring mental 'clouds.' Symptoms of the disease would disappear when in hypnosis [when] the patient could be made to remember the situation and the associative connections under which they first appeared, provided free vent was given to the emotions which they aroused….

She was talking one day during hypnosis about her English governess, whom she disliked, and finally told, with every sign of disgust, how she had come into the room of the governess, and how that lady's little dog, that she abhorred, had drunk out of a glass. [At the time] out of respect for conventions, the patient had remained silent. Now, after she had given energetic expression to her restrained anger, she asked for a drink, drank a large quantity of water without trouble, and woke from hypnosis with the glass at her lips. The symptom thereupon vanished permanently.

… When, a number of years later, I began to use Breuer's researches and treatment on my own patients, my experiences completely coincided with his.

… Ladies and gentlemen, if you will permit me to generalize, as is indispensable in so brief a presentation, we may express our results up to this point in one formula: Our hysterical patients suffer from reminiscences.

… This fixation of the mental life on the pathogenic traumata is an essential, and practically a most significant characteristic of the neurosis.

… So we are forced to the conclusion that the patient fell ill because the emotion developed in the pathogenic situation was prevented from escaping normally, and that the essence of the sickness lies in the fact that these 'imprisoned' emotions undergo a series of abnormal changes.


By 1896, Freud had coined the term psychoanalysis for the type of clinical work he was doing. In his system, he replaced hypnosis, which had received early recognition as a means of facilitating recall, with "free association." Free association involved the patient's lying upon a couch in Freud's office, achieving a highly relaxed state of mind, and talking about whatever came to mind, without censorship or regard to content in a stream of consciousness manner. Meanwhile, Freud sat behind the patient, listened, took extensive notes, and made interpretations of the underlying meanings in what was said. Freud interpreted not only what was said, but also the connections and associations between thoughts expressed near one another in time. It was his belief that free association was a viable means of uncovering the contents of the unconscious, recalling forgotten or repressed memories, and coming to understand the reasons that they had been removed from consciousness.

In 1900, Freud published what has frequently been considered his greatest work, The Interpretation of Dreams. By so doing, he firmly established the legitimacy and importance of the psychoanalytic movement. At that time, the general belief was that dreams were a biological manifestation of random electrical impulses in the brain. Freud, however, asserted the very controversial hypothesis that dreams actually represented the disguised manifestations of repressed sexual desires. Psychoanalytic theory did make a distinction between the concrete (literal, also called the manifest content) and the symbolic (abstract, also called latent) content of the dream. The latent content was deemed the important material, since Freud believed that it represented repressed conflictual material for the dreamer.

In 1901, Freud published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. In 1902, he was appointed to an associate professorship at the University in Vienna. He began to attract a following and, also in 1902, he founded the Psychological Wednesday Society, which was later (1908) renamed the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. This society grew into the International Psychoanalytic Association (1910) and included Alfred Adler (1870–1937) and Carl Jung (1875–1961) among its members. Freud's loyal followers formed the core of the psychoanalytic movement—although many chose to split off from classical psychoanalysis and form their own theoretical schools over time.

Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905. His early work excited great controversy and was not well received due, in large part, to its emphasis on sexuality. His importance in the field of psychological theory began to be recognized in 1908, when the first International Psychoanalytic Congress was held in Salzburg, Austria, gaining Freud considerable international acclaim. His international stature was further heightened in 1909, when he was invited to deliver a series of lectures in the United States. He traveled to America with Carl Jung, and they met such American luminaries as the philosopher and psychologist William James (1842–1910). The course of lectures evolved into the 1916 text, Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Freud's association with Jung lasted just until 1913, when they had a falling out over Freud's exclusively sexual interpretation of the concepts of libido and incest. Jung's publication of Symbols of Transformation in 1912 led to their theoretical and personal, final rift.

Although Freud was deeply affected when any of his followers split off to pursue other philosophical avenues, he also recognized that this was a common occurrence in the early days of a new science. He continued to work, to write, and to publish prolifically, until his death in 1939. In 1923, Freud developed mouth cancer, a disease that he battled until his death. He underwent a series of operations that left him unable to appear in public. At that time, his philosophical and theoretical writings began to take on a new direction—Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, published in 1921, The Future of an Illusion, published in 1927, and Civilization and its Discontents, published in 1929, all dealt with broad cultural issues.

When Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) began his rise to power, the work of psychoanalysis ceased in Germany, and Freud's books were publicly burned in Berlin. The League of Nations requested that Freud and Albert Einstein collaborate on the creation and publication of Why War? in 1933. When the Nazis invaded Austria, Freud and his family were able to secure (by means of a large financial transaction) safe passage to England, where he lived until his death in 1939. His final book Moses and Monotheism, was completed in England and published shortly before he died. Freud's death was unusual for its time, since he was an early proponent of physician-assisted suicide. Since he had terminal mouth cancer and was in great pain, Freud requested that his physician administer a lethal dose of morphine, which was done on September 23, 1939.

Psychoanalytic theory was poorly received at first, due primarily to its emphasis on sexuality. It has remained controversial through the years and generally has at least as many vigorous detractors as adherents. The enormity of the unconscious in Freud's theoretical model has been challenged. Modern psychological theorists postulate that the motivations and problems associated with the unconscious are far less than was held by classical analytic theory, and that the unconscious is far less "busy" than Freud believed. Those theoretical schools that utilize the concept of the unconscious tend to view it as that aspect of the mind that holds whatever it is that an individual does not need or want to hold in consciousness.

Despite its flaws and its detractors, Freud's psychoanalytic theory has made many important and lasting contributions to the field of psychology. First, Freud pointed out that much behavior is motivated by biology, especially in early life, and that society has an enormous impact on the development of expressed behavior. Second, Freud proposed the theory that early psychological trauma can lead to problems in later life—although that is not always true, it is a well-accepted concept. Third, Freud's naming and description of the various ego defenses has held up well through time and is still largely accepted. Finally, Freud set the standard for psychotherapy. The "talking cure" remains useful, although modern psychiatry emphasizes the role of brain chemistry in psychiatric diseases and pharmacological drugs to treat them. Today, most psychiatric patients spend less time talking about themselves in detailed conversations with the medical doctor (and very little time in free association) than when Freudian psychoanalysis was at its peak. For the most part, clinical psychologists have assumed the role of therapeutic counselor. Although the concept of transference has lost some popularity, most psychotherapists agree that the development of a close and trusting relationship between therapist and client is essential for the success of the therapeutic process.



Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Web sites

Freud Museum London. "Freud's Library." 〈http://www.freud.org.uk/fmlibe.htm〉 (accessed November 20, 2005).

The New York Freudian Society. "Freud Abstracts." 〈http://nyfreudian.org/abstracts/〉 (accessed November 15, 2005).

The New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. "The Abraham A. Brill Library." 〈http://www.psychoanalysis.org/resources-library.html〉 (accessed November 15, 2005).

Personality Theories. "Sigmund Freud." 〈http://www.ship.edu/%7Ecgboeree/freud.html〉 (accessed November 16, 2005).