In creating psychoanalysis, Freud developed therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association and discovered transference, establishing its central role in the analytic process. Freud’s redefinition of sexuality to include its infantile forms led him to formulate the Oedipus complex as the central tenet of psychoanalytical theory. His analysis of dreams as wish-fulfillments provided him with models for the clinical analysis of symptom formation and the mechanisms of repression as well as for elaboration of his theory of the unconscious. Freud postulated the existence of libido, an energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments, and a death drive, the source of compulsive repetition, hate, aggression and neurotic guilt.In his later work Freud developed a wide-ranging interpretation and critique of religion and culture.
Psychoanalysis remains influential within psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, and across the humanities. As such, it continues to generate extensive and highly contested debate with regard to its therapeutic efficacy, its scientific status, and whether it advances or is detrimental to the feminist cause. Nonetheless, Freud’s work has suffused contemporary Western thought and popular culture. In the words of W. H. Auden’s 1940 poetic tribute, by the time of Freud’s death, he had become “a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives.”
Early life and education
Freud was born to Galician Jewish parents in the Moravian town of Freiberg, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (later Příbor, Czech Republic), the first of eight children. His father, Jakob Freud (1815–1896), a wool merchant, had two sons, Emanuel (1833–1914) and Philipp (1836–1911), by his first marriage. Jakob’s family were Hasidic Jews, and although Jakob himself had moved away from the tradition, he came to be known for his Torah study. He and Freud’s mother, Amalia Nathansohn, who was 20 years younger and his third wife, were married by Rabbi Isaac Noah Mannheimer on 29 July 1855. They were struggling financially and living in a rented room, in a locksmith’s house at Schlossergasse 117 when their son Sigmund was born. He was born with a caul, which his mother saw as a positive omen for the boy’s future.
In 1859, the Freud family left Freiberg. Freud’s half brothers emigrated to Manchester, England, parting him from the “inseparable” playmate of his early childhood, Emanuel’s son, John. Jakob Freud took his wife and two children (Freud’s sister, Anna, was born in 1858; a brother, Julius born in 1857, had died in infancy) firstly to Leipzig and then in 1860 to Vienna where four sisters and a brother were born: Rosa (b. 1860), Marie (b. 1861), Adolfine (b. 1862), Paula (b. 1864), Alexander (b. 1866). In 1865, the nine-year-old Freud entered the Leopoldstädter Kommunal-Realgymnasium, a prominent high school. He proved an outstanding pupil and graduated from the Matura in 1873 with honors. He loved literature and was proficient in German, French, Italian, Spanish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
Early career and marriage
In 1882, Freud began his medical career at the Vienna General Hospital. His research work in cerebral anatomy led to the publication of a seminal paper on the palliative effects of cocaine in 1884 and his work on aphasia would form the basis of his first book On the Aphasias: a Critical Study, published in 1891. Over a three-year period Freud worked in various departments of the hospital. His time spent in Theodor Meynert’s psychiatric clinic and as a locum in a local asylum led to an increased interest in clinical work. His substantial body of published research led to his appointment as a university lecturer or docent in neuropathology in 1885, a non-salaried post but one which entitled him to give lectures at the university.
In 1886, Freud resigned his hospital post and entered private practice specializing in “nervous disorders”. The same year he married Martha Bernays, the granddaughter of Isaac Bernays, a chief rabbi in Hamburg. The couple had six children: Mathilde, born 1887; Jean-Martin, born 1889; Oliver, born 1891; Ernst, born 1892; Sophie, born 1893; and Anna, born 1895. From 1891 until they left Vienna in 1938, Freud and his family lived in an apartment at Berggasse 19, near the Innere Stadt or historical quarter of Vienna.
Freud began smoking tobacco at age 24; initially a cigarette smoker, he became a cigar smoker. He believed that smoking enhanced his capacity to work and that he could exercise self-control in moderating it. Despite health warnings from colleague Wilhelm Fliess, he remained a smoker, eventually suffering a buccal cancer. Freud suggested to Fliess in 1897 that addictions, including that to tobacco, were substitutes for masturbation, “the one great habit.”
Development of psychoanalysis
In October 1885, Freud went to Paris on a fellowship to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, a renowned neurologist who was conducting scientific research into hypnosis. He was later to recall the experience of this stay as catalytic in turning him toward the practice of medical psychopathology and away from a less financially promising career in neurology research.Charcot specialized in the study of hysteria and susceptibility to hypnosis, which he frequently demonstrated with patients on stage in front of an audience.
Once he had set up in private practice in 1886, Freud began using hypnosis in his clinical work. He adopted the approach of his friend and collaborator, Josef Breuer, in a use of hypnosis which was different from the French methods he had studied in that it did not use suggestion. The treatment of one particular patient of Breuer’s proved to be transformative for Freud’s clinical practice. Described as Anna O., she was invited to talk about her symptoms while under hypnosis (she would coin the phrase “talking cure” for her treatment). In the course of talking in this way these symptoms became reduced in severity as she retrieved memories of traumatic incidents associated with their onset.
Freud’s clinical work eventually led him to the conclusion that more consistent and effective symptom relief, compared to that achieved by using hypnosis, could be obtained by encouraging patients to talk freely, without censorship or inhibition, about whatever ideas or memories occurred to them. In conjunction with this procedure, which he called “free association”, Freud found that patients’ dreams could be fruitfully analyzed to reveal the complex structuring of unconscious material and to demonstrate the psychic action of repression which underlay symptom formation. By 1896, Freud had abandoned hypnosis and was using the term “psychoanalysis” to refer to his new clinical method and the theories on which it was based.
Escape from Nazism
In 1930 Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize in recognition of his contributions to psychology and to German literary culture. In January 1933, the Nazis took control of Germany, and Freud’s books were prominent among those they burned and destroyed. Freud quipped: “What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now, they are content with burning my books.”
Freud continued to maintain his optimistic underestimation of the growing Nazi threat and remained determined to stay in Vienna, even following the Anschluss of 13 March 1938, in which Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and the outbreaks of violent anti-Semitism that ensued. Ernest Jones, the then president of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA), flew into Vienna from London via Prague on 15 March determined to get Freud to change his mind and seek exile in Britain. This prospect and the shock of the detention and interrogation of Anna Freud by the Gestapo finally convinced Freud it was time to leave Austria.
Jones left for London the following week with a list provided by Freud of the party of émigrés for whom immigration permits would be required. Back in London, Jones used his personal acquaintance with the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare to expedite the granting of permits. There were seventeen in all and work permits were provided where relevant. Jones also used his influence in scientific circles, persuading the president of the Royal Society, Sir William Bragg, to write to the Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax, requesting to good effect that diplomatic pressure be applied in Berlin and Vienna on Freud’s behalf. Freud also had support from American diplomats, notably his ex-patient and American ambassador to France, William Bullitt.
The departure from Vienna began in stages throughout April and May 1938. Freud’s grandson Ernst Halberstadt and Freud’s son Martin’s wife and children left for Paris in April. Freud’s sister-in-law, Minna Bernays, left for London on 5 May, Martin Freud the following week and Freud’s daughter Mathilde and her husband, Robert Hollitscher, on 24 May.
By mid-September 1939, Freud’s cancer of the jaw was causing him increasingly severe pain and had been declared to be inoperable. The last book he read, Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin, prompted reflections on his own increasing frailty and a few days later he turned to his doctor, friend and fellow refugee, Max Schur, reminding him that they had previously discussed the terminal stages of his illness: “Schur, you remember our ‘contract’ not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense.” When Schur replied that he had not forgotten, Freud said, “I thank you,” and then “Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it’s right, then make an end of it.”
Anna Freud wanted to postpone her father’s death, but Schur convinced her it was pointless to keep him alive and on 21 and 22 September administered doses of morphine that resulted in Freud’s death around 3am on 23 September 1939.However, discrepancies in the various accounts Schur gave of his role in Freud’s final hours, which have in turn led to inconsistencies between Freud’s main biographers, has led to further research and a revised account. This proposes that Schur was absent from Freud’s deathbed when a third and final dose of morphine was administered by Dr Josephine Stross, a colleague of Anna Freud’s, leading to Freud’s death around midnight on 23 September 1939.
Three days after his death Freud’s body was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium in North London, with Harrods of Knightsbridge acting as funeral directors, on the instructions of his son, Ernst. Funeral orations were given by Ernest Jones and the Austrian author Stefan Zweig. Freud’s ashes were later placed in the crematorium’s Ernest George Columbarium. They rest on a plinth designed by his son, Ernst, in a sealed ancient Greek urn that Freud had received as a gift from Princess Bonaparte and which he had kept in his study in Vienna for many years. After his wife, Martha, died in 1951, her ashes were also placed in the urn.
Freud began his study of medicine at the University of Vienna in 1873. He took almost nine years to complete his studies, due to his interest in neurophysiological research, specifically investigation of the sexual anatomy of eels and the physiology of the fish nervous system, and because of his interest in studying philosophy with Franz Brentano. He entered private practice in neurology for financial reasons, receiving his M.D. degree in 1881 at the age of 25.Amongst his principal concerns in the 1880s was the anatomy of the brain, specifically the medulla oblongata. He intervened in the important debates about aphasia with his monograph of 1891, Zur Auffassung der Aphasien, in which he coined the term agnosia and counselled against a too locationist view of the explanation of neurological deficits. Like his contemporary Eugen Bleuler, he emphasized brain function rather than brain structure.
Freud was also an early researcher in the field of cerebral palsy, which was then known as “cerebral paralysis”. He published several medical papers on the topic, and showed that the disease existed long before other researchers of the period began to notice and study it. He also suggested that William John Little, the man who first identified cerebral palsy, was wrong about lack of oxygen during birth being a cause. Instead, he suggested that complications in birth were only a symptom. Freud hoped that his research would provide a solid scientific basis for his therapeutic technique. The goal of Freudian therapy, or psychoanalysis, was to bring repressed thoughts and feelings into consciousness in order to free the patient from suffering repetitive distorted emotions.
Classically, the bringing of unconscious thoughts and feelings to consciousness is brought about by encouraging a patient to talk about dreams and engage in free association, in which patients report their thoughts without reservation and make no attempt to concentrate while doing so. Another important element of psychoanalysis is transference, the process by which patients displace onto their analysts feelings and ideas which derive from previous figures in their lives. Transference was first seen as a regrettable phenomenon that interfered with the recovery of repressed memories and disturbed patients’ objectivity, but by 1912, Freud had come to see it as an essential part of the therapeutic process.
Freud believed that the function of dreams is to preserve sleep by representing as fulfilled wishes that would otherwise awaken the dreamer.In Freud’s theory dreams are instigated by the daily occurrences and thoughts of everyday life. His claim that they function as wish fulfillments is based on an account of the “dreamwork” in terms of a transformation of “secondary process” thought, governed by the rules of language and the reality principle, into the “primary process” of unconscious thought governed by the pleasure principle, wish gratification and the repressed sexual scenarios of childhood.
In order to preserve sleep the dreamwork disguises the repressed or “latent” content of the dream in an interplay of words and images which Freud describes in terms of condensation, displacement and distortion. This produces the “manifest content” of the dream as recounted in the dream narrative. For Freud an unpleasant manifest content may still represent the fulfilment of a wish on the level of the latent content. In the clinical setting Freud encouraged free association to the dream’s manifest content in order to facilitate access to its latent content. Freud believed interpreting dreams in this way could provide important insights into the formation of neurotic symptoms and contribute to the mitigation of their pathological effects.
Research projects designed to test Freud’s theories empirically have led to a vast literature on the topic.Seymour Fisher and Roger P. Greenberg concluded in 1977 that some of Freud’s concepts were supported by empirical evidence. Their analysis of research literature supported Freud’s concepts of oral and anal personality constellations, his account of the role of Oedipal factors in certain aspects of male personality functioning, his formulations about the relatively greater concern about loss of love in women’s as compared to men’s personality economy, and his views about the instigating effects of homosexual anxieties on the formation of paranoid delusions.
They also found limited and equivocal support for Freud’s theories about the development of homosexuality. They found that several of Freud’s other theories, including his portrayal of dreams as primarily containers of secret, unconscious wishes, as well as some of his views about the psychodynamics of women, were either not supported or contradicted by research. Reviewing the issues again in 1996, they concluded that much experimental data relevant to Freud’s work exists, and supports some of his major ideas and theories.
Other viewpoints include those of Hans Eysenck, who writes in Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985) that Freud set back the study of psychology and psychiatry “by something like fifty years or more”, and Malcolm Macmillan, who concludes in Freud Evaluated (1991) that “Freud’s method is not capable of yielding objective data about mental processes”. Morris Eagle states that it has been “demonstrated quite conclusively that because of the epistemologically contaminated status of clinical data derived from the clinical situation, such data have questionable probative value in the testing of psychoanalytic hypotheses”. Richard Webster, in Why Freud Was Wrong (1995), called psychoanalysis perhaps the most complex and successful pseudoscience in history. Crews believes that psychoanalysis has no scientific or therapeutic merit.
I.B. Cohen regards Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams as a revolutionary work of science, the last such work to be published in book form.In contrast Allan Hobson believes that Freud, by rhetorically discrediting 19th century investigators of dreams such as Alfred Maury and the Marquis de Hervey de Saint-Denis at a time when study of the physiology of the brain was only beginning, interrupted the development of scientific dream theory for half a century.The dream researcher G. William Domhoff has disputed claims of Freudian dream theory being validated.