Sigmund Freud's Life and Contributions to Psychology

Sigmund Freud in his office

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Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who is perhaps most known as the founder of psychoanalysis. Freud developed a set of therapeutic techniques centered on talk therapy that involved the use of strategies such as transference, free association, and dream interpretation.

Psychoanalysis became a dominating school of thought during the early years of psychology and remains quite influential today. In addition to his influence on psychology, Freud's ideas have permeated popular culture and concepts such as Freudian slips, the unconscious, wish fulfillment, and the ego are even commonly used in everyday language.

Sigmund Freud's Biography

Let's learn a bit more about his life and theories in this brief biography. Freud was best known for:

Birth and Death

  • Sigmund Freud was born May 6, 1856
  • He died September 23, 1939

Freud's Life and Career

When he was young, Sigmund Freud’s family moved from Frieberg, Moravia, to Vienna, where he would spend most of his life. His parents taught him at home before entering him in Spurling Gymnasium, where he was first in his class and graduated summa cum laude.

After studying medicine at the University of Vienna, Freud worked and gained respect as a physician. Through his work with respected French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, Freud became fascinated with the emotional disorder known as hysteria. Later, Freud and his friend and mentor Dr. Josef Breuer introduced him to the case study of a patient known as Anna O., who was really a woman named Bertha Pappenheim. Her symptoms included a nervous cough, tactile anesthesia, and paralysis. Over the course of her treatment, the woman recalled several traumatic experiences, which Freud and Breuer believed contributed to her illness.

The two physicians concluded that there was no organic cause for Anna O's difficulties, but that having her talk about her experiences had a calming effect on the symptoms. Freud and Breuer published the work Studies in Hysteria in 1895. It was Bertha Pappenheim herself who referred to the treatment as "the talking cure."

Later works include The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). These works became world-famous, but Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages has long been a subject of criticism and debate. While his theories are often viewed with skepticism, Freud’s work continues to influence psychology and many other disciplines to this day.


Freud also influenced many other prominent psychologists, including his daughter Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Karen Horney, Alfred Alder, Erik Erikson, and Carl Jung.

In a review of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud was ranked at number three (behind B.F. Skinner and Jean Piaget).

Freud's Contributions to the Field of Psychology

Regardless of the perception of Sigmund Freud’s theories today, there is no question that he had an enormous impact on the field of psychology. His work supported the belief that not all mental illnesses have physiological causes, and he also recognized that cultural differences have an impact on psychology and behavior.

His work and writings contributed to our understanding of personality, clinical psychology, human development, and abnormal psychology.

Selected Publications

  • (1895) Studies in Hysteria
  • (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams
  • (1901) The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
  • (1905) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality
  • (1905) Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
  • (1923) The Ego and the Id
  • (1930) Civilization and its Discontents
  • (1939) Moses and Monotheism


Read more about Sigmund Freud's life and theories in these biographies.

  • Breger, Louis (2000). Freud: Darkness in the Midst of VisionAn Analytical Biography
  • Ferris, Paul (1999). Dr. Freud: A Life
  • Gay, Peter (1998). Freud: A Life for Our Time
  • Roazen, Paul (1992). Freud and His Followers
5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bogousslavsky J. Jean-Martin Charcot and his legacy. Front Neurol Neurosci. 2014;35:44-55. doi:10.1159/000359991

  2. Freud S, Breuer J. Studies on hysteria. In: Strachey J, Freud A, eds. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. 24 vols. London: 1953-1964.

  3. Spencer R. Freud’s Oedipus complex in the #MeToo era: a discussion of the validity of psychoanalysis in light of contemporary research. Philosophies. 2020;5(4):27. doi:10.3390/philosophies5040027

  4. Haggbloom SJ, Warnick R, Warnick JE, et al. The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century. Rev Gen Psychol. 2002;6(2):139-152. doi:10.1037//1089-2680.6.2.139

  5. Library of Congress. Sigmund Freud: Conflict & culture. 2021.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.