Article

Sigmund Freud

Todd Dufresne

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online May 2013 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0105
Sigmund Freud

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Sigmund Freud was born in Moravia (now the Czech Republic) on 6 May 1856, spent most of his life in Vienna, Austria, and, after a lengthy battle with cancer of the jaw, died on 23 September 1939 in north London, England. Freud trained as a neurologist at the University of Vienna, founded a private practice as a “nerve” doctor, and became the founder of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis began as a psychotherapeutic practice, based on the cathartic power of speaking, used to treat actual neuroses, such as neurasthenia (inexplicable symptoms of psycho-somatic origin), and psychoneuroses, such as hysteria. Freud’s earliest patients came from within his own social and cultural milieu, namely, upper-middle-class Jewish women. At first, Freud employed hypnosis with patients, then the pressure technique (Druckprozedur, whereby he would lay a hand on their heads), and finally words alone within the analytic setting; ultimately, Freud would sit behind a patient, who reclined on a chaise-lounge in his home office, and listen to intimate details of their lives for fifty-minute sessions three to five times weekly for a few months at a time. The theoretical origins of psychoanalysis are controversial. In 1896 Freud coined the word psychoanalysis in articles about the cause (or etiology) of hysteria: childhood sexual abuse. A year later he privately dropped the seduction theory but continued to publish on and develop psychoanalysis. Only in 1905 did Freud publically acknowledge his changed etiology, according to which hysteria was caused by childhood sexual fantasy. In short, after 1897 psychoanalysis proper was born: the interpretation of unconscious, repressed fantasy. Typically, Freud’s work is divided into pre-, early, mid-, and late periods of psychoanalysis. The final period is the most well known but is also the most confounding. At that time, Freud examined the role of culture in individual psychology and initiated a focus within psychoanalysis that became influential in America after his death: ego psychology. Most confounding is his insistence on what was already an outdated biology based on the Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics. Not only did Freud thereby reinvest psychoanalysis in indefensible scientific ideas from the pre-psychoanalytic era, but he also revealed anew his Romantic belief that human nature changes only very slowly. In other words, after 1920 Freud instituted a pessimism (his late dualism) that compromised psychoanalysis as a cure for everyday suffering and misery. It cannot be surprising that many analysts thereafter emphasized elements that “saved” psychoanalysis from Freud’s own dark views and therapeutic pessimism. Freud has nonetheless remained a seminal, albeit misunderstood, source on the importance of childhood in the development of adult psychology.

Article.  10026 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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