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Chertok, L. (1970). Freud in Paris: A Crucial Stage. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 51:511-520.

(1970). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 51:511-520

Freud in Paris: A Crucial Stage

Leon Chertok


In 1882 Breuer related to Freud, who was at the time working in a physiological laboratory, the case of a hysterical patient, Anna O., which aroused Freud's scientific interest in psychology. However, just as with Breuer himself, Freud too was afraid of the sexual element inherent in hysteria, while nevertheless being, possibly in consequence of his puritan temperament, unconsciously attracted by the erotic aspects which hysteria assumes. In Paris, in 1885, Freud abandoned his investigations on cerebral anatomy in order to follow Charcot's teaching on hysteria. Such a radical change of course in Freud's scientific interests induced a crisis which all but led him to cut short his stay in Paris. While he was fully aware of the scientific importance of his teacher's ideas, Freud was once again disturbed by the sexual aspects of the hysterical phenomena which he had

occasion to witness directly. He was, however, very soon able to overcome this crisis, inasmuch as he found in Charcot a model who, in contrast to Breuer, was not afraid of studying hysteria scientifically. Furthermore, Charcot, while having, in a limited professional circle, clearly stated that hysteria was caused by 'la chose génitale', nevertheless exerted on Freud a reassuring effect because in his official academic lectures he minimized the part played in this disorder by the sexual component. It was not until some ten years later that Freud was to relinquish the interpretation given by Charcot in his lectures, proceeding to confirm and elaborate the intuitive ideas which had been privately expressed by the master of the Salpêtrière, and to propound openly the theory of the sexual aetiology of the neuroses.

The decisive influence exerted by Charcot on Freud's career proved most valuable, not only on the scientific plane, but also on the emotional plane, in the difficult periods through which the future master of psychoanalysis passed before reaching the decision to abandon physiology for psychology.

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