Dr Sigmund Freud Biography Essay

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who is perhaps most known as the founder of psychoanalysis. Freud's developed a set of therapeutic techniques centered on talk therapy that involved the use of strategies such as transference, free association, and dream interpretation.

Psychoanalysis became a dominating school of thought during the early years of psychology and remains quite influential today.

In addition to his influence on psychology, Freud's ideas have permeated popular culture and concepts such as denial, Freudian slips, the unconscious, wish fulfillment, and the ego are even commonly used in everyday language.

In a 2002 review of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud was ranked at number three.

Let's learn a bit more about his life and theories in this brief biography.

Sigmund Freud Was Best-Known For

Birth and Death

  • Sigmund Freud was born May 6, 1856
  • He died September 23, 1939

Life and Career

When he was young, Sigmund Freud’s family moved from Frieberg, Moravia to Vienna where he would spend most of his life. His parents taught him at home before entering him in Spurling Gymnasium, where he was first in his class and graduated Summa cum Laude.

After studying medicine at the University of Vienna, Freud worked and gained respect as a physician. Through his work with respected French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, Freud became fascinated with the emotional disorder known as hysteria. Later, Freud and his friend and mentor Dr. Josef Breuer introduced him to the case study of a patient known as Anna O., who was really a woman named Bertha Pappenheim.

Her symptoms included a nervous cough, tactile anesthesia, and paralysis. Over the course of her treatment, the woman recalled several traumatic experiences, which Freud and Breuer believed contributed to her illness.

The two physicians concluded that there was no organic cause for Anna O's difficulties, but that having her talk about her experiences had a calming effect on the symptoms. Freud and Breuer published the work Studies in Hysteria in 1895. It was Bertha Pappenheim herself who referred to the treatment as "the talking cure."

Later works include The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). These works became world famous, but Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages has long been a subject of criticism and debate. While his theories are often viewed with skepticism, Freud’s work continues to influence psychology and many other disciplines to this day.


Freud also influenced many other prominent psychologists, including his daughter Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Karen Horney, Alfred Alder, Erik Erikson, and Carl Jung.

Contributions to Psychology

Regardless of the perception of Sigmund Freud’s theories, there is no question that he had an enormous impact on the field of psychology.

His work supported the belief that not all mental illnesses have physiological causes and he also offered evidence that cultural differences have an impact on psychology and behavior. His work and writings contributed to our understanding of personality, clinical psychology, human development, and abnormal psychology.

Selected Publications by Sigmund Freud

  • (1895) Studies in Hysteria
  • (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams
  • (1901) The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
  • (1905) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
  • (1905) Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
  • (1923) The Ego and the Id
  • (1930) Civilization and its Discontents
  • (1939) Moses and Monotheism

Biographies of Sigmund Freud

  • Breger, Louis (2000). Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision--An Analytical Biography
  • Ferris, Paul (1999). Dr. Freud: A Life
  • Gay, Peter (1998). Freud: A Life for Our Time
  • Roazen, Paul (1992). Freud and His Followers

Study Questions

How significant was Jewish culture and religion for Freud's life and work?

Freud's parents were both Jews, but not very observant ones. Although Freud grew up to be a dedicated atheist, Jewish culture remained deeply significant to him throughout his life. He took pride in being a Jew at the same time that he rejected the religious tenets of Judaism. For most of his life, Freud was an active member of the local chapter of the Jewish social society B'nai B'rith. Many of his supporters in psychoanalysis–especially in his early days in Vienna–were Jewish. Freud regarded it as a great triumph when the first non-Jewish psychiatrists–Eugen Bleuler, C. G. Jung, and their colleagues in Zurich–started practicing psychoanalysis in the early 1900s. Anti- Semitism limited Freud's opportunities for advancement and forced him to struggle for recognition and security. In the 1930s, anti-Semitism waxed in barbaric fashion with the ascendancy of National Socialism in Germany and Austria. This had a direct effect on Freud's life and work: it led to the flight of many psychoanalysts, including Freud, from Central Europe; the destruction of the publishing house and various psychoanalytic associations and clinics that had sprung up in Vienna, Berlin, Budapest, and elsewhere; and the resultant shift of psychoanalysis' center of gravity from Europe to the United States. Freud's last completed work, Moses and Monotheism (1938), explored Moses, the central figure of the Jewish tradition.

What were the basic elements of Freud's theory of the mind? Briefly describe the distinctions between the id, ego, and the superego, their relation to the conscious and the unconscious, and the meaning of the terms "neurosis," "libido," "cathexis," and "Oedipus complex."

The id is entirely unconscious; it obeys the "pleasure principle" and wants to act on impulses and instincts. The ego is mostly conscious and partly unconscious; it obeys the "reality principle," interposing between the person and reality. The superego is also mostly conscious but partly unconscious; it is the internalization of society's restrictions on behavior. Repression is the method by which objectionable material in the conscious part of the ego and superego is made unconscious. Material which is not conscious at a particular moment but can be called easily into consciousness is sometimes referred to as "pre-conscious."

A "neurosis" is a mental illness that does not involve rejection of reality. It is caused, according to Freudian theory, by the partially successful repression of unwanted thoughts or desires, which leads to secondary symptoms such as depression, hysteria, and anxiety. "Libido" is psychic energy derived from the sex drive. It is "cathected" onto–that is, attached to or invested in–objects of desire. Libido that is inappropriately cathected can lead to neurosis. "Anal" and "oral" personality types are the result of libido being "fixated" (i.e. irrevocably cathected) at the anal and oral stages of psychosexual development. The "Oedipus complex" refers to the universal, but universally repressed, desire to sleep with one's mother and kill one's father. It derives its name from the Greek myth of Oedipus, who fulfilled a prophecy by unknowingly sleeping with his mother and killing his father. According to Freud, the unsuccessful repression of Oedipal desires is the main cause of neurosis in adult life.

Freud claimed that his work led to a striking change in the way people in Western culture conceived of themselves. What was this change? What was Freud's most important "discovery"?

Freud had a variety of influences on psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, history, and literary studies, but his most important contribution was probably the simple claim that many of our behaviors are motivated by unconscious, often unpleasant desires. Previous writers and thinkers had acknowledged that much of what we do is automatic and unconscious (such as the complex set of muscle movements needed to ride a bike). And the idea that people acted for reasons other than those they professed–even when they were telling the truth as they knew it–was hardly novel either. But there were three things that were strikingly novel about Freud's approach. The first was that he claimed, at least in his writings before the First World War, that there was only one basic drive worth mentioning: the drive for sex. Previous writers had always suggested that humans were motivated by a number of drives, including survival-oriented drives like sex, food, and safety, as well as "higher" drives like morality and the desire for positive social interactions. Freud, in contrast, linked every pathological behavior–and most non-pathological ones–to sex. The second innovation was that Freud pointed to forgotten childhood experiences as the crucial source of individual differences in character. Most previous writers had argued that genetic or inherited characteristics, or, at the opposite extreme, conscious attempts at self-control, were most important. The third novelty was that Freud hypothesized a complicated, systematic unconscious that was governed by the interaction between "beliefs" and "desires" in much the same way that the conscious mind was–except much more childishly. Together, these three precepts led to the theory that behavior is governed by the interaction between self, situation, and society, on the one hand, and powerful, unconscious, and usually sexual urges derived from childhood experience, on the other. This led to a conception of humans as egos struggling for control over their primitive ids and fooling themselves into thinking they had won the fight.

Essay Topics

Who was Wilhelm Fliess and why was he important for Freud and for psychoanalysis?

How did Freud's early training in physiology contribute to his psychoanalytic theories?

Why is Studies in Hysteria considered the first psychoanalytic book?

What are some of the criticisms that have been brought against Freud and psychoanalysis?

What effect did the First World War have on the psychoanalytic movement?

Explain the controversy between American and European psychoanalysts over "lay analysis."

What was a typical day in Freud's life like? Describe both the personal aspects (e.g. meals, family, hobbies) and the professional aspects (e.g. therapy sessions, writing, correspondence).

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