Sigmund Freud: The Creator of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud was born on May 6th, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia, now the Czech Republic. Freud’s mother was his father’s second wife, and she was twenty years younger than his father. Freud had two older half-brothers that were around twenty years older than he was; also, he was the first of seven children from his mother. At the age of four, Freud moved from Moravia to Vienna, Austria, where he would spend the majority of his life, despite having claimed to dislike the city.

Freud did well in school, and because he was Jewish—though he later came to identify as an atheist—he attended medical school at the University of Vienna in 1873 (medicine and law were the only viable options available to Jewish men at that time in Vienna). Though Freud wished to pursue neuropsychological research, research positions were extremely hard to come by. As a result, Freud moved into private practice with a focus in neurology.

While training, Freud befriended a physician and psychologist by the name of Josef Breuer. This relationship would prove to be incredibly important to the development of Freud’s work once Breuer began treating hysteria patients by using hypnosis and encouraging them to talk about their past. The process of hypnosis, which Breuer’s patient Anna O. referred to as “the talking cure,” allowed patients to discuss memories that they could not recall during a conscious state; and as a result, the symptoms of their hysteria would be relieved. Freud co-authored Studies in Hysteria with Breuer, and then traveled to Paris to learn more about hypnosis under the renowned French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot.

In 1886, Freud returned to Vienna and began a private practice. Originally, Freud used hypnosis on his neurosis and hysteria patients, but he soon realized that he could get more out of patients by having them sit in a relaxed position (like on a couch) and by encouraging them to say whatever was on their mind (known as a free association). By doing so, Freud believed he would be able to analyze what was said and determine what traumatic event in the past was responsible for the patient’s current suffering. 

Freud’s most famous works came in quick succession—in the span of ve years, he released three books that would impact psychology for decades to come: 1900’s The Interpretation of Dreams, in which he introduced the world to the idea of the unconscious mind; 1901’s The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, where he theorized that slips of the tongue—later known as Freudian slips—were actually meaningful comments revealed by the “dynamic unconscious”; and 1905’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, where among other things, he spoke of the now-famous Oedipus complex.

A leading scientific mind of his day, Freud found himself gaining unwanted attention when, in 1933, the Nazi regime came to power in Germany and began burning his works. In 1938, the Nazis seized Austria and Freud had his passport confiscated. It was only due to his international fame and the influence of foreigners that Freud was allowed to move to England, where he remained until his death in 1939.