The Development of Psychoanalysis
“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.” ―Sigmund Freud
Welcome back! In today’s lecture, I am going to cover the factors that led to the development of psychoanalysis, Freud’s therapeutic technique for treating mental illness.
The origins of psychoanalysis can be traced back to Freud’s experiences in medical school. As a student, Freud was introduced to Josef Breuer, a highly respected neurologist who became his mentor. Prior to their meeting, Breuer had been treating patients with hysteria by using hypnosis to unearth traumatic memories of the past. Freud also used hypnosis early in his career but would soon abandon it.
Breuer had spent a significant amount of time treating a patient he referred to as Anna O., a highly intelligent woman in her early 20s who had been suffering from paralysis of limbs, speech disturbances, strange eating habits, and dissociative states. Yet, there was no obvious neurological cause to account for her symptoms.
In describing the case of Anna O. to Freud, Breuer noted that she would often discuss events that had recently been bothering her and in doing so, her symptoms would improve. Anna O. referred to her time spent with Breuer as the “talking cure.”
Soon after, Breuer and Freud co-authored a book called Studies in Hysteria in 1895. In it, they described the case of Anna O. in detail, along with other hysteria patients whom they had encountered. Over the years, Anna O. has become closely linked with Freud, but it is worth noting that he did not actually treat or even meet her in person.
While writing Studies in Hysteria, Freud came to the realization that patients with hysteria were repressing traumatic memories into the unconscious and that this was the root cause of their physical symptoms. Furthermore, he now believed that by using talk therapy, the patient would gain insight into these repressed memories and subsequently experience relief. These ideas served as the foundation of what Freud termed “psychoanalysis.”
When he treated patients, Freud would first ask them to lay on a couch, which eventually became an iconic image associated with him and psychotherapy more broadly. Next, Freud would use a technique he called Free Association. His patients would be encouraged to openly provide any thoughts, memories, or feelings that come to mind. In many cases, Freud found that his patients had difficulty doing this. He believed that that was actually a sign that important information was “close to the surface.” In other cases, patients would display resistance or be unwilling to disclose painful memories. Again, Freud believed that these were also signs suggesting that he was close to discovering the source of their troubles. The root causes of these traumatic experiences were anchored in childhood and usually involved unresolved conflict.
The second key technique in Freud’s psychoanalysis was dream interpretation. Freud was said to view dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious.” That is, he believed that the content of dreams provides clues to unfulfilled desires residing in the unconscious. The job of the psychoanalyst is to discuss these dreams, identify underlying content, and then interpret the true meaning of a patient’s dream. In doing so, the patient can now see the true meaning of their dream, which can help them resolve conflicts that they were otherwise unaware of. Interestingly, Freud also attempted self-analysis of his own dreams to better understand his neurotic tendencies.
Today’s task: In today’s task, take a minute to try Free Association for yourself. First, think of an issue that you may be dealing with in your life. This could be anything from stressors, your mood, relationships, etc. Next, grab a pen and paper and jot down whatever thoughts come immediately to mind. Try not to feel shy or embarrassed; consider this an exercise in personal exploration. From what you have written, is there anything that surprises you?
In tomorrow’s lecture, I am going to focus on Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. See you soon!
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