A Case of Hysteria

Father Freud Knows Best

One of Charcot’s most attentive pupils was the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. In 1895 he copublished with Josef Breuer Studies on Hysteria. In it, they posit that hysteria’s cause was not physiological but from traumatic memories deep in the subconscious. The book’s first case study was “Anna O.” (aka Bertha Pappenheim), who sought Breuer’s help with symptoms that manifested while she was caring for her dying father. Breuer diagnosed her hallucinations and speech problems as hysteria. To access her unconscious mind, he hypnotized her and quietly recorded her dialogue for later analysis. Pappenheim’s case fascinated Freud and led him to conclude hysteria was rooted in childhood sexual abuse, a diagnosis Breuer did not share. Freud continued treating hysteria via psychoanalysis, perhaps most famously with Dora (Ida Bauer), who presented with symptoms of nervous coughing, migraine headaches, and antisocial behavior. Before treatment with Freud she underwent hydrotherapy and electric shocks but after accusing both her father of having an extramarital affair and her father’s friend of making unwanted advances, Dora was ordered to seek treatment with Freud. Their sessions would prove critical in Freud’s landmark book The Interpretation of Dreams.

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