The Ego, The Spectacles and the ID: Dr. Sigmund Freud

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“A civilization which leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence.” (Sigmund Freud, 1930’s)

Sigmund Freud (born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) is one of the most prominent physicians to have ever lived. An Austrian neurologist, he became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis, providing much of the basis for the field of psychology and psychiatry, and many of each study’s central postulates are credited to him.  Though poor, Freud’s parents ensured his education, and though interested in philosophy and law as a student, he moved instead into medicine, undertaking research into cerebral palsy, aphasia and microscopic neuroanatomy. He went on to develop theories about the unconscious mind and the mechanism of repression, establishing the field of verbal psychotherapy by creating “psychoanalysis”, a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient (or “analysand”) and a psychoanalyst. Though psychoanalysis has declined as a therapeutic practice, it has helped inspire the development of many other forms of psychotherapy, though quite a few significantly diverge from Freud’s original ideas and approach.

sigmund-freud3Some of the most characteristic features of Freud’s work are his belief in the existence of libido (an energy with which mental process and structures are invested), his therapeutic techniques such as the use of free association (in which patients report their thoughts without reservation and make no attempt to concentrate while doing so), transference (the process by which patients displace on to their analysts feelings based on their experience of earlier figures in their lives) and the establishment of its central role in the analytic process, and his proposition that dreams help to preserve sleep by representing as fulfilled wishes that would otherwise awake the dreamer. He was also a prolific essayist, drawing on psychoanalysis to contribute to the interpretation and critique of culture.
Sigmund_Freud2Psychoanalysis remains influential within psychiatry and across the humanities, though some critics see it as pseudo-scientific and sexist, and a study in 2008 suggested it had been marginalized within university psychology departments, even being considered long obsolete. One analysis of research literature concluded that experimental data supports some of Freud’s theories, including the ideas of oral and anal personality types and the importance of Oedipal factors in some aspects of male personality development, but that others, such as Freud’s view of dreams as primarily bearers of unconscious wishes, and several of his views about the psychodynamics of women, were either unsupported or contradicted by research. Regardless of the scientific content of his theories, his work has suffused intellectual thought and popular culture to the extent that in 1939 W. H. Auden wrote in a poem dedicated to him: “to us he is no more a person / now but a whole climate of opinion / under whom we conduct our different lives …”. His trademark circular specs also contribute to the popular image of Freud ingrained in the minds of contemporary students and scholars alike …
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