Assessing the concept of psychoanalysis


It is Sigmund Freud who created the study but the concept of psychoanalysis did not stop with psychology. In the broad context of the study of mankind, sociology has also borrowed from him, and the key concepts of Freud find their way in sociological thinking. It is argued that Freud is a sociologist as much as a psychologist on the strength of the ideas he propounded was used in sociological studies. (Bocock, 2002) Though Karl Marx, Weber and mostly Durkheim are the often discussed sociologists, the study of sociology is not complete without the ideas of Freud on socialization, and culture. In tracing the historical background of the psychoanalysis therefore there is bound to be considerations of the impact of Freud on various sciences, the society and thinking. While the impact of psychoanalysis was profound on psychology, allied subjects like sociology were also affected. The study of the history of the movement has to be analyzed in this context. The theories of Freud have affected sociology in the context of socialization, gender issues, sexuality and language analysis. (Bocock, 2002) the fundamental concept of the Freudian theory was based on the concept of the unconscious. This forms the basis of the approach. A brief biography of Freud is inevitable since the history of the movement is closely tied with his life and times. (Hobdell; Fordham, 1998)

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Sigmund Freud was born in the Freiburg town on 6 May, 1856 and in 1873 entered the medical school of the University of Vienna. He was influenced by philosophy professor Franz Brentano and the theory of the “mechanistic physiology of Ernst Brucke.” (Hobdell; Fordham, 1998) He later worked at the psychiatry clinic of Theodore Meynert who taught him the diagnosis of brain disorders. He later went to Paris to study neurology under the neurologist Jean Charcot. Charcot and Josef Breuer, the Viennese physician were the greater influence on Freud. The major work of Freud was the interpretation of dreams, which began with the analysis of his own dreams called the “The Dream of Irma’s Injection.” (Hobdell; Fordham, 1998) the next was the postulate of the Oedipus complex and the advance was into the study of hysteria. It was a collaborative research Breuer in 1895. The following which Freud got after his works were published and discussed created the International Psycho-Analytical Association and many practitioners were calling themselves “Freudians.” The work by Freud on hypnotism and the controversial “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes’ in 1925, hypothesized the differences in the typical female and male superego.” (Hobdell; Fordham, 1998) Later Freud had to flee to London during the Nazi invasion of Vienna and he died at London at the age of eighty three. (Hobdell; Fordham, 1998)

The impact of his antecedents on psychoanalysis

There is an argument advanced, that the antecedents of the proponents of this branch of psychology were largely influenced by Judaism. The argument is done with zeal in the context of the antecedents of not only Freud, but of all the supporters of Freud. It is a case of dissecting the analyzer to see how far the percepts of that religion affected the thinking and output. The origins of Psychoanalysis was at a time when the world was fast changing and the earlier thinking based on religious background were being dismantled by discoverers like Copernicus, Darwin and the time was apt for the emergence of the study of psychoanalysis. (Bakan, 1958)

Since the concept has deep ties with the personal life of Freud, his life itself has been arranged in terms of the ‘pre- psychoanalysis period’ and the ‘post psychoanalysis period’. (Bakan, 1958) Freud was influenced by Brentano and later he may have been influenced by Jewish mysticism. His relation ship to the other personalities who shared the same background and who influenced him may lead us to interpret that the greatest discovery, transference may be related to mysticism. (Bakan, 1958)

The truth that there were more Jewish intellectuals who influenced him does not mean that there was a total influence of mysticism in the thing and analytical processes. It has been pointed out that Freud lived in a time when science and free thought were just emerging from the grip of the mystics and therefore there is no particular significance to the antecedents of Freud. In contrast it can be argued that Freud’s vision is rationalist because it did not have the doctrines of the church to be overcome. To Freud, the doctrine of the mind and Meta physics do not meet and we can observe a scientific exploration of the thought process, perhaps the process of apocalyptic thought. (Webster, 2005)

Documents and contributions

Freud’s important contributions and theories that made up the basic tenets of psychoanalysis were during the two years – between 1894 and 1896. It was during this period that the attempt was made at compiling an etiological inquiry into the aspects of psychoses, neuroses, psychiatry and neuropathology. This was the beginning when he built upon the works of the earlier analysts like Mbius and developing the theory of sexual aetiology of the neuroses. We may say that these years marked a deviation from the normal pattern of thought. (May, 1999) the evidence of the progress of the works of Freud can be found in the letters he wrote to Wilhelm Fliess, which constitute the documents available for the analysis of the history of psychoanalysis. The letters range a period from 1887 to 1904, which includes the time of the creation of the theory and its development by other researchers too. These correspondences reveal the thought process of the person who created a virtually new field of human knowledge. (Masson, 1985)

In 1908, the American psychologist G. Stanley Hall sent Freud an invitation for a lecture at the Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, on abnormal psychology. Although Freud had by that time published the ‘interpretation of dreams’, and had a good following at Europe, with scholars like Karl Abraham, Sandor Ferenczi and importantly Carl Jung the writing until the time was entirely in German and there was only a rumor about his works in England and America. Hall, whose views on child development and sexuality matched that of Freud was first to take cognizance in the western world. (Fancher, 1998b)

The beginning and progress of psychoanalysis

The origin and beginning of psycho analysis was stated by Freud himself in his book by the title – “The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement.” (Freud, 1914) He opens the book with the introduction which claims that the subject was his design. He asserts that “psychoanalysis is my creation; for ten years I was the only one occupied with it, and all the annoyance which this new subject caused among my contemporaries has been hurled upon my head in the form of criticism.” (Freud, 1914) Freud speaks of the opportunity to speak at the American university as a great honor, and at the same time confides that it was there that he declares that Josef Breuer, merited being considered as the originator of the theories. “I should have dignified Breuer’s ‘cathartic procedure’ as merely preliminary to psychoanalysis, and should have claimed that psychoanalysis itself only began with my rejection of the hypnotic technique and my introduction of free association.” (Freud, 1914) He also acknowledged that the other contributors were Charcot, Chrobak, and others. The theory of repression is the important concept on which the psychoanalysis rests. The fact that Freud followed Charcot, who coined the term ‘the great neurosis’, which is now not in vogue, but was spoken of by Anthony Storr as “severe conversion hysteria in women, is seldom seen today.” (Webster, 2005) Strangely the hysteria simply vanished.

C.G. Jung, the assistant physician at Burgholzli, was instrumental in creating the ‘first psychoanalytic Congress’. (Freud, 1914) There was the founding of a periodical, which began to appear in 1909, under the name of “Jahrbuch fur Psychoanalytische und Psychopathologische Forschungen.” (Freud, 1914) Carl Jung was acquainted with Freud through the ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ the theories was introduced in the hospital where Jung worked, and later Jung corresponded with Freud about the association tests for which he is famous. Though he did not entirely agree with Freud, he seems to have defended Freud against the allegations leveled against his experiments with Dora by Gustav Aschaffenburg. (Webster, 2005) Jung contributed the theory of complexes but it did not meet approval from Freud. The introduction of psychoanalysis into the concept of schizophrenia marked a turning point in the stream of thought. This was considered by Freud to be “deeper psychology (tiefen psychologie) which furnishes us a part of the psychology still to be created.” (Freud, 1914)

Freud, Jung and Klein formed the thought under-currents in the development of the subject, and though they each varied in concept and belief, there was a common thread in the thinking processes. The orientation was the same. The research into hysteria or what is called the Dora’s analysis was conducted in 1900 just after the publication of the interpretation of dreams, and this will show the relation that Jung had with Freud, the understanding of the works of the two can be related to the main texts Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, on Jung’s ‘Definitions’ in Psychological Types which throw light on the development of psycho analysis at the period. (Hobdell; Fordham, 1998)

Freud also contributed to sociology and closely linked the works with psychoanalysis. The consideration that Freud’s work is about individuals has alienated sociologists from considering the work as a sociological Inquiry. While the psychoanalysis was progressing and gaining ground in Europe and America, Sociologists were being influenced by the theories that related to socialization. This was more related to the gender roles in children, and about sexuality. The social group life was also analyzed with the backdrop of psychoanalysis but not in the direct way. (Bocock, 2002)

The theory of infantile sexuality was published in 1905 although Freud has talked of it earlier. It became the basis of psychoanalytic investigations. The letters he wrote to Fliess from 1896 shows the ideas shaping up it was in 1905 that infantile sexuality as a concept was published. The biogenetic laws and the theory of infantile sexuality shaped later speculations in psychoanalytic investigations. Fliess was admired by Freud to a great extent and the same was recorded by Ernest Jones. The same time the exploration of his own mind by Freud earned him the latter’s respect. Freud’s self-analysis was the momentous in the history of psychoanalysis because that was the single factor that would give birth to the discipline and pose a lot of controversial questions, both to Freud, and the establishments and other thinkers. The taboos that surrounded science and the very attempt to think in the lines of the taboos require an intellectual discipline that is uncommon. (Bocock, 2002)

Mystery of the missing disease

The neurosis was a medical condition described by Charcot. The neuroses were described by Charcot in a vivid manner and later called hysteria suddenly vanished from society. Frank Sulloway called it “the mysterious clinical diminution of hysteria in the course of the twentieth century.” (Bocock, 2002) Recently it was also observed by Anthony Storr that the basis of the analysis – the severe conversion hysteria found in women is not seen today. In 1977 there are questions raised by researchers like Jacques Lacan who did never find such hysteric women any more. Etienne Trillat the historian says that hysteria is dead and took its secrets to its grave. There is not yet an answer to the question as to why a disease that was prevalent for centuries previous to Freud, and diagnosed at his time simply disappear from the face of the earth? (Bocock, 2002)

The disappearance of diseases could be on account of improvements in society, like hygiene, vaccination and so on, or the pathogenic cause disappearing. There is no explanation to the disappearance of hysteria in women from our midst. (Bocock, 2002) Another important question or mystery that surrounds the psychoanalysis history relates to the psychoneuroses that he outlined early in 1895. The theory was that Hysterical symptoms were the result of the unconscious memories of sexual molestations in infancy. Freud claimed that most of the patients with hysteria had a childhood abuse problem. This resulted in the lecture titled, “The Aetiology of Hysteria,” and insisted that the theory was sound with eighteen patients. The patient’s reaction to sensory regression to infantile scenes according to him revealed the problem at the root. The extreme case of this claim was with a patient who had “a facial tic and eczema around the mouth.” (Esterson, 2003) Freud who claimed after the analysis that the patient had been in infancy engaged in fellatio, which was refuted by the patient, which resistance was also taken as a symptom of the occurrence. There was some mist and smoke and the reasons of the mystery of the disappearing disease and the disappearing hypothesis is yet not clear. In two years after the declaration of the aetiology of the neuroses the author of the theory lost faith in it and a substitution was made with unconscious fantasies. (Esterson, 2003) Thus there are severe gaps in the history of psychoanalysis that stops scholars from taking the system as true entirely. It also caused dissent from within and from other psychologists who totally reject Freud as unbelievable.

Breuer’s Contributions

The influence of Charcot prompted the study of hysteria and also made the change to the study of psychology possible for Freud. The Paris connection proved to be a great impetus in the direction of thinking that the progress of psychoanalysis was taking. The Viennese physician, Josef Breuer contributed the most important concepts of psychoanalysis. Freud was greatly influenced by him. Breuer already had a reputation for his research in anatomy and his discovery of the role of the vagus nerve in breathing and the subsequent discovery in 1873 of the sense of balance by the ear canals distinguished him in the medical research circles. Then he gained interest in neuro pathology, which brought him closer to the concepts of psychoanalysis. (Webster, 2005)

Breuer was a great influence is without doubt established by Freud himself. With him the traumatic conditions and the symptoms and the repression that occurs in the subconscious and what they called the repressed effect was studied by both in common. Freud admits that the fundamentals of their work related to the cathartic method. They experimented with patients and the trauma gene incident and the situation from which the situation came, and tried to identify the conflict and thus free the mind from the trauma. It is claimed that both together “discovered the procedure characteristic of the psychic processes of the neuroses.” (Esterson, 2003) Freud later called it regression. This led to the belief that psychoanalysis needs to look up the past of the patients and a pathological condition may be brought about by a mental cause, although a physical pathological condition may not exist. The famous analysis of a patient of Freud called “Dora,” which he carried out in 1899 he claims to be the turning point in analysis the aspects of the dream was encountered and this made the difference. (Freud, 1914)

Questioning the veracity of the History

The claims that were put forth by Freud himself and the others who followed him both with regard to the theories of psychoanalysis and their observations and the patients and records have been questioned by modern writers and some of the criticism is valid. It is claimed that some of the stories of psychoanalysis are fictional. One questionable myth is that Freud brought up the seduction theory based on the statements of his female patients. It is claimed that these female patients were sexually abused in childhood by their parent. Freud it is said came to realize that the women were fantasizing, and he discovered infantile incestuous fantasies. Freud’s patients in never have told him anything, but based on his own interpretations, the hysterical symptoms were attributed by him to sexual molestations in infancy. (Esterson, 2003)

It is also a fact that just after he announced the aetiology of the neuroses he abandoned it. The seduction theory episode is patently false and the change over to the fantasy theory and the subsequent analysis into the unconscious all has elements of uncertainty. There may have been a lot of false claims, false starts and illusions. It is argued that the seduction theory episode is “false in all its essentials is especially important in recent times, when it has been drawn into the debate about the repression of memories of childhood abuse that are supposedly ‘recovered’ some decades later.” (Esterson, 2003) There is a need to conduct further enquiry into the historical papers and material to determine the truth of the claims and there need be an account that is accurate as to the cause of “Freud’s transition from the seduction theory to the fantasy theory” which was the motif with which Freud recreated the contents of the unconscious and the infantile fantasies in theory.


The history of psychoanalysis begins and most probably ends with Freud and a handful of psychologists who discussed the system threadbare in the last century. The system of analysis has been criticized on many counts, and much of it was claimed to be what we may say as ‘sensationalism’ However the theory of the unconscious, the ego and the psychology of Freud has stood the test of time. The analysis using hypnosis is still a method widely used, although the principles have come a long way from Freud. Freud’s work was incomplete in the sense that the taboo attached to the explorations that were necessary with regard to fantasies, incest and other matters that formed the basis of the hypothesis of the childhood trauma can be reinvestigated with modern methods to affirm if he was right or wrong. In the modern free society Freud can be revisited in an unbiased manner to see how far psychoanalysis is correct as he postulated and if improvements to it will make it useful to mankind.


Bakan, David. (1958) “Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition” D. Van Nostrand:

Princeton, NJ.

Bocock, Robert. (2002) “Sigmund Freud”

Routledge: New York.

Esterson, Allen. (2003) “Psychoanalytic Mythology” Retrieved 26 March, 2008 at

Fancher, Raymond E. (1998a) “Commentary on the Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis.

Fancher, Raymond E. (1998b) “Introduction to the Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis.

Freud, Sigmund. (2004) “The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement” Kessinger


Freud, Sigmund. (1914) “The History of the Psychoanalytic Movement” translated by a.A.

Brill (1917) Nervous and Mental Disease Monograph Series (No. 25). New York: Nervous and Mental Disease Pub. Co.

Hobdell, Roger; Fordham, Michael. (1998) “Freud, Jung, Klein — the Fenceless Field:

Essays on Psychoanalysis and Analytical Psychology” Routledge. London.

Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff. (1985) “Introduction to the Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904” the Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 1-13.

May, Ulrike. (1999) “Freud’s Early Clinical Theory (1894-1896): Outline and Context”

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, vol. 80, no. 1, pp: 769-781.

Webster, Richard. (2005) “Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science, and Psychoanalysis” Orwell

Press. Oxford, England.


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