What do we know about Sigmund Freud's theories?

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), commonly referred to as "the father of psychoanalysis" was an Austrian neurologist and is generally recognized as one of the most influential and authoritative thinkers of the twentieth century. He remains a well-recognised figure and he and his ideas are still frequently referenced in pop culture. Freud has been influential in two related but distinct ways. He simultaneously developed a theory of the human mind and human behaviour, as well as clinical techniques for attempting to help neurotics. He popularised the ideas of the unconscious, defense mechanisms, Freudian slips and dream symbolism, while also making a long-lasting impact on fields as diverse as literature, film, Marxist and feminist theories, literary criticism, philosophy and psychology.

Interpretation has changed over time

Freud's beliefs are still highly influential and frequently discussed.

Conscious and unconscious

The mind is divided into the unconscious and the conscious. Freud's work focused on bringing thoughts from the unconscious to the conscious.


Repression is to push down previous traumas on an unconscious level.

Sexual desire

Perhaps Freud's most famous theory, Freud had very controversial views on the construction of sexuality.

Freud's beliefs were problematic

A lot of his beliefs and behaviour are considered problematic today.

Freud’s beliefs are grounded in sexism and uphold misogyny

Freud focused on the male perspective in his psychological studies, dismissing women as both inferior and amoral by nature. According to Freud, men have the opportunity to heal from their troubles, while women need a man to guide them at all times.


Freud believed lesbianism was a product of mental illness.

Reported abuse was actually a fantasy

Freud believed a lot of reported abuse was actually misremembered childhood sexual fantasy. He never seriously believed or helped his patients when they spoke of this traumatic topic.

Recovered memories

[P1] Freud believed repressed traumatic memories could be recovered.

His own baggage

Despite being an alleged expert on the mind, Freud himself was severely troubled.

Much of what we know comes from pop culture

Freud remains an influential figure and trope in popular culture.

Words and sayings

A huge amount of sayings that are now common parlance come from Freud and his theories.

TV and movies

Freud's beliefs have often been portrayed on TV and in movies.

All that we can know is that they are now irrelevant

Most of Freud's beliefs have been disproved or superseded.

Freud’s beliefs do not apply to modern-day psychology

Amongst the psychologists of today, Freud’s work is dismissed as both incorrect and damaging. His treatments only worsened clients’ conditions and marginalized certain populations, particularly women.

Everything we know is questionable

Freud carefully curated his own story, image and legacy and destroyed his personal papers at least twice, once in 1885 and again in 1907.

Freud didn’t invent psychoanalysis

Freud is not the true father of psychoanalysis; it was invented by Joseph Breuer.

Freud’s theories did not come from his work as a therapist

Freud's work as a therapist did not actually follow or support his own theories.
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This page was last edited on Tuesday, 24 Mar 2020 at 14:16 UTC