Freud was a brilliant child, he was said to have always been at the head of his class; he went to medical school, which was one of the few possible options for a bright Jewish boy in Vienna at the time. There, he became involved in research under the direction of a physiology professor named Ernst Brucke. Brucke believed in what we now call reductionism, which states: “No other forces than the common physical-chemical ones are active within the organism.” (Freud and Beyond, Stephen Mitchell and Margaret Black) This was a popular belief at the time. Freud spent many years trying to “reduce” personality to neurology; he later gave up on this idea.


Freud was very good at his research; he concentrated on neurophysiology; he even invented a special cell-staining technique. However, only a limited number of positions were available, and there were others ahead of him. Brucke helped him to get a grant to study, first with Charcot in Paris, then with his rival Bernheim in Nancy. Both of these men were investigating the use of hypnosis with hysterics. Freud used this idea later in his life, after exposure to Breuer.

After spending a short time as a resident in neurology and director of a children’s ward in Berlin, he came back to Vienna, and married his fiancee whom he had been engaged to for several years: Martha Bernays. Finally he set up a practice in neuropsychiatry, with the help of Joseph Breuer.

Later in his life, his lectures became more controversial, especially pertaining to his theories of the libido as the sole motivation for man. This did not sit well in the Victorian era. His followers went on to be core players in the psychoanalytic movement of this time. However, Freud also had a bad habit of shutting out anyone who did not agree with him. Therefore, his dissenters went on to found opposing schools of thought.

Jean-Martin Charcot was the authority on neuropathology at the time. A professor at the University of Paris, and the director at the Salpêtriere Hospital in Paris, Charcot studied various neurological diseases such as arthropathies or “Charcot Joints”, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, poliomyelitis, neuropathies or “Charcot-Marie-Tooth” disease, nuiliary aneurysms, and hysteria. The disease that Freud was concerned with was hysteria, which is now known as conversion disorder. At that time hysteria was believed to be a neurological disease, with physical symptoms. Charcot believed that hysteria was caused by a weak nervous system, which he thought to be hereditary. He believed that the condition could be triggered by a traumatic event such as an accident. This state then became “progressive and irreversible ” in order to treat such patients; Charcot developed the technique of hypnotism. Hypnotism allowed Charcot to study the symptoms of hysterics more closely. He never thought that he could cure hysteria through hypnosis; he actually thought that hysterics were the only people capable of being hypnotized.

Freud was intrigued by this technique, and set out to use it on his own cases. Freud, as well as other physicians of the time had known of Charcot because of his accomplishments in the field of neurology, but Freud was able to obtain a closer relationship with Charcot when he a student in Salpêtriere, where Charcot had a neurological clinic. “One day in my hearing Charcot expressed his regret that since the war he had heard nothing from the German translator of his lectures; he went on to say that he would be glad if someone would undertake to translate the new volumes if his lectures into German. I wrote to him and offered to do so.” (Freud, as quoted in The Freud Reader, Peter Gay) Because of this connection Freud became a part of Charcot”s circle of acquaintances. And with Charcot”s thoughts on hysteria, and the practice of hypnosis, Freud was able to begin his career.

Dr. Josef Breuer was both a friend, and mentor to Freud. As Breuer”s assistant, Freud observed the technique of Breuer. The most influential case was that of Bertha Pappenheim, who later became Anna O. At the time, Freud did not work for Breuer; it wasn”t until several years later that Freud heard of this case. Anna”s symptoms consisted of a severe cough, speech impediments, which led to muteness, followed by speech in English only all of these seemed to have no physical basis. At this point she was nursing her ailing father, when he passed away, she developed new symptoms: she refused food, lost feelings in her hands and feet, along with other paralysis, involuntary spasms, and visual problems, once again, none of these had any physical cause. Breuer diagnosed her with hysteria, and began treatment.

Anna would fall into, what Breuer called “spontaneous hypnosis” which Anna called “clouds.” When in this state she could remember her daytime fantasies as well as other experiences, Breuer would allow her to talk out these experiences, and afterward she would feel better, knowing the origins of her problems. Anna called this “chimney sweeping”, or “the talking cure.” For example, she recalled a time in which she saw a woman drink out of a bowl that a dog had just drank out of, disgusted by this, she recognized this as the cause for her avoidance of water. When she awoke, she asked for a glass of water.

Breuer called this the cathartic method, from the Greek word for cleansing. With this method, Breuer was able to eliminate her symptoms one by one. However, Anna began falling in love with Breuer, Freud called this a transference love, and perhaps Breuer began developing an affinity for her as well, but Anna began telling several people that she was pregnant with Breuer”s child. She started wanting it so much that her mind convinced her body that she actually was pregnant, as she began exhibiting the symptoms of pregnancy, hence creating a hysterical pregnancy. After this point, Breuer broke off sessions with her and abandoned his studies of hysteria.

It wasn”t until eleven years later that Breuer and Freud published Studies on Hysteria. This piece explained their theory, which consisted of the fact that every case of hysteria was caused by a traumatic experience, and this experience is an event that the patient is unable to remember, or understand. Emotions or symptoms caused by the experience are exhibited in weak, or vague ways. Once the patient is made aware of the causes behind his/her symptoms, his/her symptoms will be relieved. In essence, the emotions boil up in the unconscious, hence exhibited in physical symptoms, with an unknown mental cause. Once the emotions can be expressed consciously by recognition of the cause, the steam may be vented safely hence the symptoms dissipate.

After the publication of this book Breuer and Freud had a friendly falling out, Breuer to go on to the more physical medicine, living out his position as internist, while Freud further developed the ideas of hysteria and hypnosis. Freud began theorizing that the libido was responsible for all cases of hysteria, as an underlying cause. This led to some of his most controversial works. It seemed as though, according to Freudian belief that everything, good or bad was a result of sexual repression. This idea, at the time, was to say the least, unorthodox. Freud set the precedent of a sexually consumed world, not Charcot, nor Breuer recognized this in society. Actually Freud seemed to be the only one that believed this at the time. Today it is more widely accepted, but certainly not completely accepted.

Freud went on to theorize many more ideas, but perhaps the only one left, worth mentioning, under the context of Charcot and Breuer, is the id, ego, and superego. According to Freud, reality starts with the world, which is full of objects. Within the objects lies the organism, which is a special object. It is special because it acts to survive, and reproduce. This is guided by its needs: hunger, thirst, avoidance of pain, and sex. The nervous system of the organism is the sensor for the organism”s needs. When the nervous system is at “id” level it translated the organism”s needs into motivational forces, in German is “Triebe” also called wishes. This translation is called the primary process. The id works with keeping the “pleasure principle,” which is the demand to take care of ones needs.

The “ego” is what connects the id with reality, ultimately fulfilling these wishes, with real actions, or real rationalization. The ego searches for objects to satisfy the wishes. This problem solving activity is the “secondary process.” The ego functions with the “reality principle,” which is reason.

The “superego” is a record of things to avoid, and strategies to take, in order to achieve these wishes easily. The superego consists of two parts: the conscience, which is the internalization of punishments, and warnings. The other is the ego ideal, which is derived from rewards and positive models. Together they communicate to the ego. This idea was published in his The Ego and the Id. This was essentially Freud”s compilation of several tears of study with the understanding of the human mind, human motivation. This piece was a unique expression of his understanding of the world. All of these mechanisms contribute to the functioning human.

Freud went on to publish many widely read works, not only by intellectuals, but Freud knew how to write in the dialogue understandable to the common-folk as well, he published, Interpretations of Dreams, Totem and Taboo, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Civilization and its Discontents, among countless essays, and manuscripts.

Freud immigrated to England just before World War II broke out, for Vienna became an increasing dangerous place for Jews, especially ones with as much fame as Freud. Soon afterward, he died of cancer of the mouth, which he had suffered from for the last 20 years of his life.

Freud was the greatest figure in psychology, “Freud is the father of psychoanalysis. It had no mother,” one cannot help but to think what ideas he would have dreamed of if he were alive today. For Freud was a man ahead of his time, ahead of society. A genius such as he comes around only every so often; men such as Freud are what push our culture forward. Has it been for the better?