Reader's Encyclopedia

Freud, Sigmund (1856 - 1939)

Austrian psychiatrist, the originator of psychoanalysis. Freud was trained as a medical doctor at the University of Vienna. He graduated in 1881 but never practiced internal medicine. He soon became interested in neuropathology and studied hypnotism and cerebral anatomy.

He became dissatisfied with hypnotism as a treatment for hysterical patients. However, he had noticed that some patients had fallen into reveries in which they had talked about their problems and afterwards had felt better. From these observations he began to formulate his theory of "free association," which is the kernel of psychoanalysis. In Freudian practice, patients under the guidance of an analyst attempt to recall emotional episodes that aggravated conflicts, and thus recognize and release frustrated emotions. Freud used dream interpretation as one of his basic tools in analysis. The patient's dreams were analyzed for their symbolic content and were used as a guide to the patient's internal life. Freud viewed dreams as a person's means of expressing repressed emotions, and repression was seen as the source of neurotic behavior.

Freud postulated the existence of three internal forces that govern a person's psychic life: (1) the id, the instinctual force of life -- unconscious, uncontrollable, and isolated; (2) the ego, the executive force that has contact with the real world; (3) the super-ego, the governing force, or moral conscience, that seeks to control and direct the ego into socially acceptable patterns of behavior.

As his theories began to take concrete form, Freud started to publish his findings. The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) was one of the first reports on his independent studies of the subconscious. By this time his work had begun to attract attention outside his native Vienna, and others took up his cause. In 1908 the first International Congress of Psychoanalysis met in Vienna. Many young doctors, some of them now famous in their own right, attended this meeting; among them were Alfred Adler, A. A. Brill, Ernest Jones, and Carl Jung.

From the beginning the very nature of his work made Freud the center of controversy. His theories about sex have been, in general, misunderstood by the public and in varying degrees rejected by many of his followers. Freud maintained that the primary motivating factor in human psychology and human behavior is sexual, but he did not limit this to its purely erotic connotations. The sexual instinct, or libido, as Freud saw it, has many of the aspects ordinarily referred to as "social." He found elements of strong sexuality among children and ascribed most neuroses to the repressive influence of social and individual inhibitions on se

Although many of Freud's ideas have been superseded, he is still considered the great innovator in the field of psychiatry. The work of only one other man in this century. Albert Einstein, has had as great an impact on man's way of thinking and acting. Freud's influence has been especially strong on artistic expression, both the fine arts and literature. Such authors as Thomas Mann and James Joyce embodied much of his thought in their works.

Among Freud's important works are Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex (1910), Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious (1916), Leonardo da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence (1916), Totem and Taboo (1918), The Ego and the Id (1927), and Moses and Monotheism (1939).

Freud, a Jew, was forced to flee from the Nazis in 1938. He and his family moved to England, where he died, an honored and respected man.