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Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939: Psychiatrist and Founder of Psychoanalysis
Faith Lapidus. And I'm Bob Doughty.
The work and theories of Sigmund Freud continue to influence many areas of modern culture.
Today, we explore Freud's influence on the treatment of mental disorders through psychotherapy.
Sigmund Freud was born May 6, 1856, in Moravia, in what is now the Czech Republic. He lived most of his life in Vienna, Austria. Early in his adulthood, Freud studied medicine. By the end of the 19th century, he was developing some exciting new ideas about the human mind. But his first scientific publications dealt with sea animals, including the sexuality of eels.
Freud was one of the first scientists to make serious research of the mind. The mind is the collection of activities based in the brain that involve how we act, think, feel and reason.
He used long talks with patients and the study of dreams to search for the causes of mental and emotional problems. He also tried hypnosis. He wanted to see if putting patients into a sleep-like condition would help ease troubled minds. In most cases he found the effects only temporary.
Freud worked hard, although what he did might sound easy. His method involved sitting with his patients and listening to them talk. He had them talk about whatever they were thinking. All ideas, thoughts and anything that entered their mind had to be expressed. There could be no holding back because of fear or guilt.
Freud believed that all the painful memories of childhood lay buried in the unconscious self. He said this part of the mind contains wishes, desires and experiences too frightening to recognize.
He thought that if these memories could somehow be brought into the conscious mind, the patient would again feel the pain. But this time, the person would experience the memories as an adult. The patient would feel them, be able to examine them and, if successful, finally understand them.
Using this method, Freud reasoned, the pain and emotional pressure of the past would be greatly weakened. They would lose their power over the person's physical health. Soon the patient would get better.
Sigmund Freud proposed that the mind was divided into three parts: the id, the ego and the superego. Under this theory, the superego acts as a restraint. It is governed by the values we learn from our parents and society. The job of the superego is to help keep the id under control.
The id is completely unconscious. It provides the energy for feelings that demand the immediate satisfaction of needs and desires.
The ego provides the immediate reaction to the events of reality. The ego is the first line of defense between the self and the outside world. It tries to balance the two extremes of the id and the superego.
Many of Freud's theories about how the mind works also had strong sexual connections. These ideas included what he saw as the repressed feelings of sons toward their mothers and daughters toward their fathers.
If nothing else, Freud's ideas were revolutionary. Some people rejected them. Others came to accept them. But no one disputes his great influence on the science of mental health.
Professor James Gray at American University in Washington, D.C. says three of Freud's major ideas are still part of modern thinking about the mind.
Dr. Freud was trained as a neurologist. He treated disorders of the nervous system. But physical sickness can hide deeper problems. His studies on the causes and treatment of mental disorders helped form many ideas in psychiatry. Psychiatry is the area of medicine that treats mental and emotional conditions. Freud would come to be called the father of psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalysis is a method of therapy. It includes discussion and investigation of hidden fears and conflicts. Sigmund Freud used free association. He would try to get his patients to free their minds and say whatever they were thinking. He also had them talk about their dreams to try to explore their unconscious fears and desires. His version of psychoanalysis remained the one most widely used until at least the 1950s.
More recently, a number of shortened versions of psychological therapy have been developed. Some examples are behavior therapy, cognitive therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavior is actions; cognition is knowing and judging.
Other kinds of therapy involve movement, dance, art, music or play. These are used to help patients who have trouble talking about their emotions.
More About Sigmund Freud
The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, left Vienna soon after troops from Nazi Germany entered Austria in 1938. Freud was eighty-three years old when he died in London on September 23, 1939. Anna Freud, the youngest of his six children, became a noted psychoanalyst herself. Before Sigmund Freud, no modern scientist had looked so deeply into the human mind.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written and produced by Brianna Blake. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Bob Doughty. You can download transcripts and audio archives of our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Listen again next week for more news about science, in Special English, on the Voice of America. (This was also broadcast in 2008.)