Freud maintained that nothing happens by chance or by accident. There is a reason behind every act, thought, and feeling. Everything we do, think, say , and feel is an expression of the mind—the conscious, preconscious, or unconscious mind. In his book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud introduced the idea that the little "accidents" of daily life are often expressions of the motivated unconscious, such as calling someone by the wrong name, missing an appointment, and breaking something that belongs to another . Texas Republican Dick Armey once referred to the openly homosexual congressman from Massachusetts, Barney Frank, as "Barney Fag." Once, a psychology professor referred to Sigmund Freud as "Sigmund Fraud." Such mix-ups can often be embarrassing, but, according to Freud, they represent the motivated activity of the unconscious. There is a reason for every slip of the tongue, for being late, for forgetting a person's name, and for breaking something that belongs to another. The reasons can be discovered if the contents of the unconscious can be examined.
Freud taught that most symptoms of mental illnesses are caused by unconscious motivations. Freud provided detailed case histories of 12 patients, as well as dozens of shorter discussions of specific patients. In these case studies, he found support fo his theory that psychological problems were caused by unconscious memories or desires. For example, Freud wrote about the case of Anna O. Although Freud did not directly treat or even meet Anna O., her physician, Joseph Breuer , consulted with Freud.
At the time, Anna O. was a 21-year old woman who had fallen ill while taking care of her sick father who eventually died of tuberculosis. Anna's illness began with a severe cough, and later included the loss of movement in her right side, disturbances of vision, hearing, and the inability to drink liquids. Dr . Breuer diagnosed Anna O's illness as hysteria, and developed a form of therapy that appeared effective in relieving her symptoms. This form of therapy consisted of Breuer talking with Anna O. about her symptoms, and in particular about her memories of events that happened before the onset of the symptoms. For example, in talking about her severe cough, they talked about her memories of caring for her father , and the severe cough he had from his tuberculosis. As she explored these memories, and especially her feelings toward her father and about his death, her own cough lessened and disappeared. Similarly , when talking about her inability to drink liquids (she had been quenching her thirst with fruit and melons), she suddenly recalled the memory of seeing a dog drink from a woman' s glass, an incident that completely disgusted her at the time but about which she had for gotten. Soon after describing this memory, she asked for a drink of water and immediately regained her ability to drink liquids.
To Breuer, and to Freud, hysterical symptoms did not occur by chance. Rather , they were physical expressions of repressed traumatic experiences. From the experience treating Anna O., Breuer concluded that the way to cure hysterical symptoms was to help the person recall the memory of the incident that had originally led to the symptoms. By the patient' s recalling the traumatic incident (e.g., her father' s death), an emotional catharsis or release can be achieved by having she or he express any feelings associated with that memory . This then removes the cause of the symptom and hence the symptom disappears.
Freud adopted and refined the technique developed by Breuer for e fecting the "talking cure." Freud believed that for a psychological symptom to be cured, the unconscious cause of the symptom must first be discovered. Often the proces involves discovering a hidden memory of an unsettling, disagreeable, or even repulsive experience that has been repressed or pushed into the unconscious (Masson, 1984). Freud always acknowledged the importance of the case of Anna O. on his thinking, and gave credit to the careful observations of Dr . Breuer:
If it is a merit to have br ought psychoanalysis into being, that merit is not mine. I had no shar e in its earliest beginnings. I was a student and working for my final examinations at the time when another iennese physician, Dr. Josef Breuer first made use of this p ocedure on a girl who was suffering from hysteria. (Fr om Freud's lectures presented at Clark University in Massachusetts, 1909.)
Freud is uncharacteristically immodest in the above quote. He adapted the notions of symptom formation and the talking cure from Breuer , and combined these with other ideas about the unconscious, about repression, about stages of development and many other notions, and, from these, he formulated a grand theory of personality that has yet to be rivaled by a single unitary theory of personality .
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