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Bernfeld, S. (1951). Sigmund Freud, M.D., 1882—1885. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 32:204-216.

(1951). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 32:204-216

Sigmund Freud, M.D., 1882—1885

Siegfried Bernfeld, Ph.D.


Freud summarized his attitude towards medical practice in a little known passage in the 'Post-script to a Discussion on Lay Analysis'. 'After forty-one years of medical activity', he said, 'my self-knowledge tells me that I have never really been a doctor in the proper sense. I became a doctor through being compelled to deviate from my original purpose. … I have no knowledge of having had any craving in my childhood to succour suffering humanity. My innate sadistic disposition was not a very strong one, so that I had no need to develop this one of its derivatives. Nor did I ever play the "doctor game"; my infantile curiosity evidently chose other paths … I scarcely think, however, that my lack of genuine medical temperament has done much damage to my patients. For it is not greatly to the advantage of patients if their physician's therapeutic interest has too marked an emotional emphasis. They are best helped if he carries out his task coolly and, so far as possible, with precision' (Freud (16), p. 208).

Freud's family early sensed this 'lack of genuine medical temperament'. 'He is too soft-hearted; he cannot stand the sight of blood', (Bernays (1), p. 340) was their way of expressing it when, at seventeen, he announced the sudden reversal of his plans. Instead of taking up law he had decided to study medicine. His father and sister, of course, shared the current ideal of the physician as a man who had to be enthusiastic in helping the sick and ailing and, at the same time, hard and insensible to their wounds, deformities, pains and suffering.

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