Sigmund Freud was a nineteenth century neurologist who was born in Austria in 1856, and is best known for developing psychoanalysis, also known as Freudian psychology. Psychoanalysis is mainly about human behaviour and can be divided into three areas – it’s a method of investigation into the human mind and the way it works, it’s a set of theories about human behaviour and it is also a method of treatment. The treatment involves an opportunity for the patient to talk freely about his thoughts, dreams and fantasies. The analyst then interprets these, often connecting them with the patient’s unconscious desires and fears, and allows this new insight to help the patient deal with the problems and recover.
This area of psychology became controversial, not least because it discussed topics that were taboo in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as sexuality and repression. Freud’s theory that dreams were a manifestation of the unconscious wishes of the patient and were directly related to what had happened in their life, is particularly well known. This area of his work is often portrayed in the media as being all about sexual desire and repression, yet Freud himself pointed out that at no point in his book on the subject, “The Interpretation of Dreams”, did that subject matter arise and in fact was contrary to his views expressed in there.
The mainstay of psychoanalysis is the treatment that requires the patient to talk through his problems. The theory stated that by talking, the patient began to connect with emotions previously denied or repressed. Freud believed that allowing these feelings to remain in the unconscious was detrimental to the mind and possibly even to the body as well. The “talking cure” as it became known, is widely practised today although psychoanalysis itself has evolved during the twentieth century and spread into separate new streams of psychological theory. Freud’s other well known theory, that personality is affected by the experiences during childhood, is also widely accepted.
Whilst some critics have labelled his work as “pseudo-science”, others working in the closely related field of neuro-psychoanalysis have found evidence in the brain of the existence of libido, the unconscious and repression. Freud made a large impact on the study of psychology and despite the controversy his work has helped scientists move further forward in the understanding of the human mind.