Individual Differences


Who was Sigmund Freud?

Last updated:
22 Sep 2003


Sigmund Freud

Sigmund FreudWhen psychology emerged as an independent scientific discipline in Germany during the middle of the 19th century it defined its task as the analysis of consciousness in the normal, adult human being.


Sigmund Freud however attacked the then traditional psychology. He likened the mind to an iceberg in which the smaller part showing above the surface of the water represents the region of consciousness while the much larger mass below the water represents the region of unconsciousness.


In this huge domain - the unconscious - Freud believed were the urges, passions, the repressed ideas and feelings - the great unseen forces which exercise an control over the conscious thoughts and deeds of the individual. 


Freud's aim in life was to "agitate the sleep of mankind".  In other words, Freud was interested in stirring the hornet's nest of human unconscious, which he succeeded in doing both academically and on a personal level with many patients and colleagues.

Freud was born in Moravia in 1856, attended the medical school of the University of Vienna for 8 years until 1881. His interest neurology caused him to specialise in the treatment of nervous disorders. He studied under the French psychiatrist Jean-Martin Charcot for a year, particularly in the area of hypnosis.


He tried hypnosis with his patients but was not impressed by its efficacy so he tried a new method of treatment devised by a Viennese physician - Joseph Breuer. This method was one in which the patient was cured of his or her symptoms simply be talking about them. Later he turned to the use of free association (instructing patients to say whatever came into their minds). One of his patients dubbed this therapy the “talking cure”.

For over 40 years Freud explored the unconscious by the method of free association and developed the first comprehensive theory of personality. He became both extremely influential and extremely controversial in his day. The same is true now!


Related link: Sigmund Freud Biography