Founder of scientific psychoanalysis, b. 6 May 1856 (Feiburg, Moravia [today's Príbur, Czech Republic]), d. 23 September 1939 (London, England).
Sigmund Freud was the son of Jewish wool merchant Jakob Freud and his second wife Amalie Nathanson. When Sigmund was 3 years old the family had to leave Freiburg (today's Pribor, Czech Republic) and seek better economic conditions in Leipzig, Germany. This was followed a year later by a move to Vienna, capital of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Freud developed an intense dislike of this centre of bourgeois life but stayed there for 78 years.
Freud studied medicine at the University of Vienna. Having performed research on the brain he was appointed lecturer in neuropathology in 1885. During a 19 week study period at the Salpêtrière in Paris he witnessed work with patients classified as "hysterics", which showed that symptoms such as the paralysis of a limb could be produced by hypnosis and were thus not a problem of the brain but of the mind. This proved to be the determining experience in Freud's life and set him on the road to his own discoveries.
On his return to Vienna Freud established a clinical practice in neuropsychology, which he maintained for over 50 years. His experiences with patients led him to develop and refine his theory of the mind or "psychoanalysis", a term he coined in 1896. Four of his many writings may serve here to document the development of his thoughts:
Freud's desire to understand the human mind often led him to develop extensive theories from only limited observations. This led to much controversy, and the new psychoanalysis was sometimes seen more as a new sectarian religious movement than a science. However, many of Freud's scientific achievements have withstood the test of time, despite of much unjustifiable generalization and far-ranging theorizing. His description of the sexuality of children has led to improvements in clinical psychology, and his method of free discourse between patient and doctor forms the basis of modern psychiatry.
Freud's works were burnt as soon as Hitler's troops invaded Austria in 1938. Freud had to flee the country and went to England for the last year of his life.
Jay, M. E. (1995) Sigmund Freud. Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th ed.
Portrait: photo by Henry Verby, 1920, US Library of Congress; public domain