Profile of a Famous Psychologist
Profile of a Famous Psychologist: Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud was the most influential thinker of his age and the man behind the concept of psychoanalysis, a method explaining that a person’s inner conflicts lie within the unconscious mind. Although it originated as a theory of the human psyche based on studies of psychopathology, psychoanalysis became a more general perspective on personality development and functioning, and despite repeated criticism, marked Freud’s name in the history of psychology and neurosciences. This paper will look into Sigmund Freud’s biographical background, provide a description of his theories, and explain how his contribution to the field made him one of the most influential and controversial personalities of the 20th century.
Sigmund was born on May 6, 1856, in Austria. His parents were German-speaking Jews, and their status was similar to that of the Austro-Hungarian ruling class. As Sigmund was his mother’s first-born son, Amalia convinced herself that one day her son would become a great man; thus, she loved him in an egocentric way and always favored him over other children (Jay, n.d.). At the same time, attached to his young mother as a child, Freud looked at her as the embodiment of a seductive, desirable woman from whom he inherited “the sentimentalism” (an ambiguous word in German that would mean that he was capable of intense emotions and feelings) (Roudinesco, 2016), whereas the habit of bringing out a Jewish anecdote to exemplify some moral feature came from his father’s influence.
When Sigmund was three and a half, his family moved first to Leipzig and then to Vienna as his father’s business collapsed. Freud was considering a career in law but preferred to study medicine at the University of Vienna between 1873 and 1881, majoring in comparative anatomy in the third year of his studies. Not seeing many career prospects after working in various departments of the Vienna General Hospital combining medical practice with research in physiology, in 1885, Freud went to Paris to study and cooperated with the neurologist Charcot (Surbeck, Killeen, Vetter, & Hildebrandt, 2018). Sigmund returned to Vienna in 1886 to arrange his private practice as a docent in neuropathology and married Martha Bernays after a four-year engagement. The couple had six children in relatively quick succession (Phillips, 2014). Around that time, the world also saw Freud’s first influential research papers, such as his work on aphasia (1891) and the effects of cocaine (1894). The latter study shows that Sigmund was an advocate of using cocaine for pain relief before its potential dangers became commonly known.
Through extensive clinical work, collaborating with the physician Josef Breuer and Wilhelm Fliess, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, Freud invented the method of psychoanalysis, a term he first used in 1896. Initially, they practiced clinical hypnotism on so-called hysterical patients using the method of free association: With the analyst sitting behind them, patients would lie on a couch and speak about whatever came to mind. As Phillips (2014) has described, the doctor would not interrupt the “talking cure” (p. 2) or use any drugs as a part of treatment but interpret and reconstruct the patients’ childhood experiences instead. Freud believed that, by bringing the unconscious recollections and feelings to the forefront, patients would be able to modify and alleviate repetitive negative emotions and symptoms.
From 1886 until his death in 1939, Freud also formed several theories that relate to ego, libido, and sexuality, which are, as reported by Roudinesco (2016), only a few of the other topics the theorist studied during his lifetime. According to Jay (n.d.), the general findings from Freud’s attempts to clarify the relationship between the unconscious, preconscious, and conscious appeared in two books in the 1920s: Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and The Ego and the Id (1923). Freud’s model of the psyche explains the id as the instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual and aggressive inclinations. The super-ego operates as the conscience, and the ego is the part that conciliates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.
Freud remained a prolific writer his whole life, and he published 23 volumes of theoretical and critical writing presented in the Standard Edition, the official translation of almost all his papers in English. Phillips (2014) has stated that such works as Studies on Hysteria (1895), The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1905), The Future of an Illusion (1927), and Civilisation and Its Discontents (1929) made Freud known worldwide. In 1902, the informal Wednesday evening meetings that had started for interested fellow professionals grew into the psychoanalytic movement, which led to the foundation of the Psychoanalytical Association in 1910, making Freud a household name.
During the First World War, Sigmund discovered a growth on his palate and, in 1923, received a diagnosis of cancer, which he suffered from for the rest of his life. In 1938, after living and working in Vienna for nearly 60 years, the rise of the Nazi regime forced him to flee to London, where he died in 1939. Talking about his biography, Freud said, “My life is interesting only if it is related to psychoanalysis,” which gives us an idea that the father of psychoanalysis spent a life full of turmoil and human suffering. Indeed, a review of the facts of his life shows that, among other factors, his experiences have colored the way we think about his theories.
Jay, M. E. (n.d.). Sigmund Freud. In Encyclopædia Britannica online. Retrieved from
Phillips, A. (2014). Becoming Freud: The making of a psychoanalyst. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Roudinesco, E. (2016). Freud in his time and ours. (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Surbeck, W., Killeen, T., Vetter, J., & Hildebrandt, G. (2018). Sigmund Freud—Early network
theories of the brain. Acta Neurochirurgica, 160(6), 1235–1242.