In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sigmund Freud

  • Introduction
  • Freud’s Autobiography
  • Child Analysis
  • Infantile Sexuality, Psychosexual Development, and the Oedipus Complex
  • Freudian Clinical Technique
  • Recommended Primary Materials on Freud

Childhood Studies Sigmund Freud
Todd Dufresne
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0105


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.

“Anna O.”

On one occasion, Freud 1957 attributed the birth of psychoanalysis to Josef Breuer’s lengthy treatment of Bertha Pappenheim’s hysteria in 1881–1882. Thus the origins of psychoanalysis are sometimes linked to technical and therapeutic innovations for the treatment of formerly untreatable mental disorders. It was Pappenheim, in her early twenties, who called the technique of open discussion and the cathartic release therein “chimney sweeping” and “the talking cure.” Freud was duly impressed, and in their Studies on Hysteria of 1895, Breuer and Freud presented “Anna O.” as Case 1 in their argument (Breuer and Freud 1955a), developed in Breuer 1955, first, that hysterical and obsessive patients “suffer from reminiscences”; second, that talking can get to the historic and traumatic root of mental disturbance; and, third, that the resulting knowledge is efficacious. Jones 1953 provides Freud’s version of events.

  • Breuer, Josef. “Case Histories. Case 1: Fräulein Anna O.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 2, Studies on Hysteria. By Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud. Translated and edited by James Strachey, 21–47. London: Hogarth, 1955.

    Earliest reported case of a cure through cathartic talk, conducted and written by Freud’s senior colleague, Josef Breuer, and essential to the creation narrative of psychoanalysis. “Anna O.’s” symptoms included aphasia, amnesia, paralysis, headaches, and hallucinations. It is the first case of Studies on Hysteria.

  • Breuer, Josef, and Sigmund Freud. “On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena: Preliminary Communication.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 2, Studies on Hysteria. By Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud. Translated and edited by James Strachey, 1–17. London: Hogarth, 1955a.

    Key early theoretical statement of 1893 about the therapeutic efficacy of talk therapy, and the claim that hysterical patients “suffer from reminiscences.” Became chapter 1, the theoretical foundation, of Studies on Hysteria.

  • Breuer, Josef, and Sigmund Freud. Studies on Hysteria. Vol. 2. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Translated and edited by James Strachey. London: Hogarth, 1955b.

    Establishes Freud’s bona fides as a therapist and theorist of hysteria. Includes foundational case studies by Breuer and Freud, all of which follow in the wake of claims made in the “preliminary communication” (Breuer and Freud 1955a) and the case of “Anna O.” (Breuer 1955). Originally published in 1895.

  • Freud, Sigmund. “Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 11, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo da Vinci, and Other Works. By Sigmund Freud. Translated and edited by James Strachey, 7–55. London: Hogarth, 1957.

    One of Freud’s most significant retellings of the backstory surrounding the case of “Anna O.” At Breuer’s expense, Freud emerges as someone courageous enough to confront the sexual fantasies of his (often female) patients. Originally published in 1910.

  • Jones, Ernest. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 1, The Formative Years and the Great Discoveries, 1856–1900. New York: Basic, 1953.

    Contains classic summary of Freud’s view about “Anna O.,” and reveals for the first time her true identity, the well-regarded Austrian feminist social worker Bertha Pappenheim.

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