Sigmund Freud


According to Freud and the psychoanalysts, mental failure was rooted in the subconscious, in repressed desires that unconsciously upset the dynamic of the human psyche. He brought therapeutic innovation to the field of psychiatry by letting the psychiatrist talk with the patient.

Psychological flaws were rooted in the subconscious, according to Freud (1856-1939) and the psychoanalysts who followed his ideas. When he reached this conclusion, around the turn of the 20th century, he turned the thinking of the time about mental illness completely upside down. Although Freud never worked in psychiatry, his idea had a great impact on the evolution of mental healthcare.

Unprocessed desires, mostly a legacy of the first years of life, are repressed and therefore subconsciously upset the dynamics of the human psyche, with different symptoms as the result. Building on the theories of Charcot, Freud arrived at these insights through studying hysteria. However, he was convinced that the unconscious did not only manifest itself in mental disorders. Repressed thoughts were carried into daily life through dreams, jokes, acts of failure and slips of the tongue.

In addition to these new insights, Freud brought therapeutic innovation to the psychiatric profession. Psychiatrists began to listen to the story of the patient who, as a result, had  to actively work with the psychiatrist towards his or her own recovery. But psychoanalysis is extremely labour- and time-intensive, and consequently was initially only open to wealthier mentally ill people. Not until later in the twentieth century did it become a usable means in psychiatry.