Conversational ‘free association’ – anyone?

23 September 2014

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, died on this day in 1939. Born in 1856 of Jewish Galician parents in the Moravian town of Příbor (which was then in the Austrian Empire, now in the Czech Republic), he was the eldest child of Jacob Freud, a wool merchant, and his third wife, Amelia (née Nathansohn).

Sigmund spent most of his life in Vienna, moving to London after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938. In his early medical studies, he specialised in neurology but later switched to psychopathology as he was keen to investigate the possibility of treating hysteria with a technique of conversational ‘free association’, similar to hypnosis.

Freud’s controversial theories were set out in a number of influential texts, most notably Die Traumdeutung (‘The Interpretation of Dreams’) in 1900, which argued that dreams can be interpreted to reveal suppressed desires. He met with like-minded colleagues, Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, at his home and their weekly meetings developed into the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society in 1908 and later, the International Psychoanalytical Association.

Later in his career, Freud elaborated on a theoretical division of the unconscious mind and also put forward his thoughts on religion. He was awarded the Goethe prize in 1930 and elected to the Royal Society in 1936.

Some of his descendants have won fame in various fields. His daughter, Anna, was a pioneer of child psychoanalysis and his grandsons include Lucien, the painter and Sir Clement, the writer, broadcaster and caterer. Obviously good genes….

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