Sigmund Freud is unquestionably the most famous person in the fields of psychiatry and psychology, and one of the most famous individuals in modern history. He is of particular importance for this subject because he was probably the first person to address psychological problems by examining the individual’s personal development in detail. As he developed his psychodynamic theory, and the treatment known as psychoanalysis, he attempted to carefully observe and listen to his patients in order to determine not only how and why they had become the person they were, but also whether those developmental processes might be common to all people. This careful approach to studying psychological conditions was likely the result of Freud’s substantial scientific research in anatomy and physiology earlier in his career.
But why is Freud so famous? Much of his theory may not seem relevant today, and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could ever have come up with the theory of penis envy. And yet Freud remains extraordinarily influential. There are at least three good reasons for Freud’s enduring influence and popularity. First, Freud was first! No one before him had established a cohesive theory of the development of personality, especially a theory that attempted to explain both normal and abnormal development. Thus, most theories developed since then have been viewed as extending, modifying, or opposing Freud’s psychodynamic theory. Second, key elements of Freud’s theory are generally accepted in psychology and psychiatry, such as the existence of unconscious elements of our mind that can affect our thoughts and behaviors and both the normal and abnormal roles of psychological defense mechanisms. The final factor contributing to Freud’s lasting influence is somewhat more complicated. Psychodynamic theory was not well received at first. In fact, the emphasis on childhood sexuality was ridiculed and scorned by many in the medical profession. However, Freud was determined, and he did not let the rejection of others deter him from continuing his studies. In addition, there were several very famous and influential individuals who supported his efforts. Thus, Freud found the motivation to persevere, and the rest, as they say, is history.