Sigmund Freud:Introduction

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Although Sigmund Freud was not the first person to formally study psychology, many consider him the most pivotal figure in the development of the field as we know it today. Freud changed the way society has come to think about and treat mental illness. Before Freud, mental illness was thought to result from deterioration or disease of the brain. Freud changed all of this by explicitly rejecting the purely organic or physical explanations of his predecessors. Instead he believed that unconscious motives and drives controlled most behavior.

During a career that spanned 58 years, beginning with an earned medical degree in 1881 and continuing to his death in 1939, he developed and repeatedly revised his theory of psychoanalysis. Most of Freud's theory was developed from contact he had with patients seen in his private practice in Vienna. This type of "clinical" work was a radical departure from the laboratory research that was practiced by most leading psychologists of the day.

When Freud first presented his ideas in the 1890s, many of his contemporaries reacted with hostility. In fact, throughout his career, Freud faced enormous opposition to many of his ideas. Those especially controversial included notions about the role of the unconscious in behavior, childhood sexuality, and how the mind was governed (id, ego, and superego). But despite the opposition, Freud eventually attracted a group of followers that included well-known theorists Sigmund Freud. (Copyright HultonDeutsch Collection/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.) Sigmund Freud. (Copyright Hulton–Deutsch Collection/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.) Alfred Adler and Carl Jung. Over time though, Adler and Jung distanced themselves from Freud and those loyal to him, due to theoretical disagreements with some of the core principles of psychoanalysis. Jung and Adler went on to develop their own theories of psychology.

Freud was a prolific writer and published many books and articles during his lifetime. Among the most influential books were The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), The Ego and the Id (1923), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). His combined writing fills 24 volumes in the standard American edition of his complete works.

Despite much controversy over his theories and psychoanalysis as a form of treatment, Freud's is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers in history. His theories on sexual development, although dismissed now by many, at the time led to open discussion and treatment of sexual matters and problems previously ignored. His stress on childhood development helped establish the importance of an emotionally nurturing environment for children. In addition, Freud's insights paved the way for other disciplines such as anthropology and sociology. Most social scientists accept his concept that an adult's social relationships are patterned after his or her early family relationships.