How Sigmund Freud Changed What People Thought About the Mind (2022)

Freud influenced the science of mental health. Transcript of radio broadcast:


This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA SpecialEnglish. I'm Faith Lapidus.


AndI'm Bob Doughty. The work and theoriesof Sigmund Freud continue to influence many areas of modern culture.


Today, we explore Freud's influence on the treatment ofmental disorders through psychotherapy.



SigmundFreud was born May sixth, eighteen fifty-six, in Moravia, in what is now theCzech Republic. He lived most of hislife in Vienna, Austria. Early in his adulthood,Freud studied medicine. By the end ofthe nineteenth century, he was developing some exciting new ideas about thehuman mind. But his first scientificpublications dealt with sea animals, including the sexuality of eels.


Freudwas one of the first scientists to make serious research of the mind. The mind is the collection of activitiesbased in the brain that involve how we act, think, feel and reason.

Heused long talks with patients and the study of dreams to search for the causesof mental and emotional problems. Healso tried hypnosis. He wanted to see ifputting patients into a sleep-like condition would help ease troubledminds. In most cases he found theeffects only temporary.

Freud worked hard,although what he did might sound easy.His method involved sitting with his patients and listening to themtalk. He had them talk about whateverthey were thinking. All ideas, thoughtsand anything that entered their mind had to be expressed. There could be no holding back because offear or guilt.


Freudbelieved that all the painful memories of childhood lay buried in theunconscious self. He said this part ofthe mind contains wishes, desires and experiences too frightening to recognize.

Hethought that if these memories could somehow be brought into the consciousmind, the patient would again feel the pain.But this time, the person would experience the memories as an adult. The patient would feel them, be able toexamine them and, if successful, finally understand them.

Using this method, Freud reasoned, thepain and emotional pressure of the past would be greatly weakened. They would lose their power over the person'sphysical health. Soon the patient wouldget better.



Sigmund Freud proposed that the mind was divided intothree parts: the id, the ego and the superego.Under this theory, the superego acts as a restraint. It is governed by the values we learn fromour parents and society. The job of thesuperego is to help keep the id under control.

Theid is completely unconscious. Itprovides the energy for feelings that demand the immediate satisfaction ofneeds and desires.

Theego provides the immediate reaction to the events of reality. The ego is the first line of defense betweenthe self and the outside world. It triesto balance the two extremes of the id and the superego.


Manyof Freud's theories about how the mind works also had strong sexualconnections. These ideas included whathe saw as the repressed feelings of sons toward their mothers and daughterstoward their fathers.

Ifnothing else, Freud's ideas were revolutionary. Some people rejected them. Others came to accept them. But no one disputes his great influence onthe science of mental health.

ProfessorJames Gray at American University in Washington, D.C. says three of Freud'smajor ideas are still part of modern thinking about the mind.

Oneis the idea of the unconscious mind.Another is that we do not necessarily know what drives us to do thethings we do. And the third is that weare formed more than we think in the first five years, but not necessarily theway Freud thought.



DoctorFreud was trained as a neurologist. Hetreated disorders of the nervous system.But physical sickness can hide deeper problems. His studies on the causes and treatment ofmental disorders helped form many ideas in psychiatry. Psychiatry is the area of medicine thattreats mental and emotional conditions.

Freud would come to be called the father ofpsychoanalysis.


Psychoanalysis is a method of therapy. It includes discussion and investigation ofhidden fears and conflicts.

SigmundFreud used free association. He wouldtry to get his patients to free their minds and say whatever they werethinking. He also had them talk abouttheir dreams to try to explore their unconscious fears and desires.

His version of psychoanalysis remained the one mostwidely used until at least the nineteen fifties.


Psychoanalysisis rarely used in the United States anymore.One reason is that it takes a long time; the average length of treatmentis about five years. Patients usuallyhave to pay for the treatment themselves.Health insurance plans rarely pay for this form of therapy.

Psychoanalysishas its supporters as well as its critics.Success rates are difficult to measure.Psychoanalysts say this is because each individual case is different.


Morerecently, a number of shortened versions of psychological therapy have beendeveloped. Some examples are behaviortherapy, cognitive therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Behavior is actions; cognition is knowing andjudging.

Somepatients in therapy want to learn to find satisfaction in what they do. Others want to unlearn behaviors that only addto their problems.

In these therapies, patients might talk with atherapist about the past. Or patientsmight be advised to think less about the past and more about the present andthe future.



Otherkinds of therapy involve movement, dance, art, music or play. These are used to help patients who havetrouble talking about their emotions.

In many cases, therapy today costs less than it usedto. But the length of treatment dependson the problem. Some therapies, forexample, call for twenty or thirty visits with a therapist.

How long people continue their therapy can also dependon the cost. People find that healthinsurance plans are often more willing to pay for short-term therapies than forlonger-term treatments.


Mental health experts say therapy can often helppatients suffering from depression, severe stress or other conditions.

Forsome patients, they say, a combination of talk therapy and medication worksbest. There are many different drugs fordepression, anxiety and other mental and emotional disorders.

Critics,however, say doctors are sometimes too quick to give medicine instead of moretime for talk therapy. Again, costpressures are often blamed.

Mental health problems can affect work, school,marriage, and life in general. Yet theyoften go untreated. In many cases,people do not want others to know they have a problem.


Mentaldisorders are common in all countries.The World Health Organization says hundreds of millions of peoplethroughout the world are affected by mental, behavioral, neurological orsubstance use disorders.

The W.H.O. says these disorders have major economic andsocial costs. Yet governments facedifficult choices about health care spending.The W.H.O. says most poor countries spend less than one percent of theirhealth budgets on mental health.

Thereare treatments for most conditions.Still, the W.H.O. says there are two major barriers. One is lack of recognition of the seriousnessof the problem. The other is lack ofunderstanding of the services that exist.



Thefather of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, left Vienna soon after troops fromNazi Germany entered Austria in nineteen thirty-eight. The Nazis had a plan to kill all the Jews ofEurope, but they permitted Freud to go to England. His four sisters remained in Vienna and wereall killed in Nazi concentration camps.

Freud was eighty-three years old when he died of cancerin London on September twenty-third, nineteen thirty-nine. Anna Freud, the youngest of his six children,became a noted psychoanalyst herself.

Before Sigmund Freud, no modern scientist had looked sodeeply into the human mind.



SCIENCEIN THE NEWS was written and produced by Brianna Blake. I'm Faith Lapidus.


AndI'm Bob Doughty. You can downloadtranscripts and audio archives of our programs at Listen again next week for more news aboutscience, in Special English, on the Voice of America.

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