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Biography of Sigmund Freud

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Combining a remarkable intellect with penetrating insight, and what might best be described as astonishing literary talent, Sigmund Freud approached the study of human personality with fresh new insights, and the skills of an extremely well trained researcher. Freud pioneered the study of the human personality, and founded the modern specialty of personality psychology. Throughout his career, Freud sought to identify and trace the roots of personality, and to define the intricate relationship, and often-delicate balance between mental structures, personality components, societal pressures, and overt behavior.

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856, the son of an unsuccessful wool merchant, in the small catholic town of Freiberg Austria, the north of Vienna, province of Moravia (then part of the Hungary Empire, now The Czech Republic). He was one of eight children, including two older half brothers from his fathers first marriage, the first born of his mother, Emilie (Sigmund was her favorite) and she expected great things of him, third son to his father Jacob, recognized young Sigmund’s intellectual potential and encouraged him in his early academic inclinations.

His mother gave little Sigmund the only reading lamp in the house, to put in his room. Sigmund’s mother would not allow his brothers and sisters to disturb him when he was reading or studying. His father, Jacob, was a strict, authority figure, and was somewhat detached. Although Sigmund excelled in school, he experienced some emotional upheaval as well as episodes of depression. (These difficulties may have motivated him to later search for the mechanisms that prompt emotional problems and personality difficulties.)

In 1873, Freud entered the University of Vienna medical school, with the intentions of becoming a medical researcher, rather then practice medicine. He eventually specialized in Neurology, and intended to become an “academician” (a member of an academy or society concerned with the arts or sciences), as evidence of this Freud published five major studies by the time he was 26. In one of these studies, Freud discovered the anesthetic properties of cocaine during surgery, but missed fame when a colleague took credit for the discovery before him. While at the University of Vienna medical school, Freud was greatly influenced by his Professor Ernst Brucke, who had developed theories of behavioral and Psychological processes, and he continued studying with him after earning his medical degree. Freud came to the realization, that because of discrimination, opportunities for faculty appointments, as a medical researcher, and advancement in academia, were severely restricted for Jews at that time, and was compelled to enter the practice of medicine. He took the advice of Dr. Brucke and entered private practice as a clinical neurologist, and was soon able to marry his fiancée of four years, Martha Bernays.

Freud, with his new career goal in mind, traveled to Paris, France, to study for a year with Jean-Martin Charcot, well known for his skill in treating nervous disorders. Charcot expertise was in the use of hypnosis, and his role as one of the founders of the “new” specialty of psychiatry.

Biography of Sigmund Freud – Continued

Freud learned the use of hypnosis as a treatment method, but soon became dissatisfied with this technique for treatment of patients with “hysteria”.

Eventually, Freud began to work with an older Viennese colleague, Jozef Breuer, who had accidentally begun using a “talking cure” with such patients (which would later become the technique of “free association”) in an attempt to trace the origin of “neurotic symptoms”.

Freud was impressed by Breuer’s discovery that a patient, who recalled her earlier traumatic event, was relieved of her symptoms when the treatment session was ended.

Freud and Breuer collaborated and coauthored a book in 1895, entitled Studies on Hysteria. The two men ultimately parted over a disagreement concerning the importance of sexual factors as the cause of hysteria, and in 1896, Freud wrote his now famous paper, “Project for the Development of a Scientific Psychology.”

Freud began to practice on his own in both neurology and psychiatry, using free association techniques in the treatment of a variety of “psychiatric” patients suffering from psychological disturbances that produced both psychological as well as physical symptoms (without any apparent underlying physiological causes.)

Like other physicians of his day, Freud looked for physical causes of psychiatric problems. As a neurologist he knew that damage to the brain or nervous system could cause individuals to behave in strange ways, including physical symptoms such as loss of sensation (anesthesia), loss of motion (paralysis), and emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

For a number of patients, however, no physical causes could be found, and many of Freud’s colleagues were of the opinion that such patients were faking their symptoms.

In France, however, some psychiatrists were treating patients with “hypnosis“, although mainstream medicine considered it quackery. Freud, however, had observed Charcot induce psychiatric symptoms in patients through the use of hypnosis.

The evidence of hypnosis converted Freud from the “medical model” of psychiatric disorders to a psychological model (i.e. “Psychodynamics” [i.e. becoming convinced that powerful unconscious forces have the power to influence behavior, and the functioning of the body]).

The impact of unconscious forces on the body can produce the physical symptoms of paralysis, blindness, mutism, deafness, and other maladies, which resembles physical disease, but which occur in physically normal bodies, with undamaged nervous systems.

Later, Freud began asking his patients to relate their dreams during their treatment sessions. From insights gained during these treatment sessions, he formulated a system of interpreting dream symbolism, which he presented in his first book in 1900, the Interpretation of Dreams, which he considered his most original and important work.

During this period of time, Freud developed new ways of thinking about mental and emotional disorders, and formulated the theory and methods of psychoanalysis (which he believed to be a new science), and the first technique of psychotherapy.

Freud eventually turned away from neurology, which was based on a physical model of human behavior and founded his new science based on psychological or mental causes.

Written by Joseph Eulo

May 28, 2008 at 5:10 am

Posted in PSY101 Handouts

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