The Five Lectures of Freud

Sigmund Freud and his Clark Lectures

            Sigmund Freud was a neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis (Jay, 2016). In 1909, he visited the United States in order to deliver five lectures about psychoanalysis as requested by psychologist G. Stanley Hall (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016c). The University was celebrating its twentieth anniversary by conducting a series of lectures where prominent figures spoke about their field (Burnham, 2012). The purpose of this essay is to explore each of Freud’s lectures in detail. Before describing the lectures, it is important to understand how Freud mapped the mind. He divided it into three parts twice. The first time he categorized it into the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious (Freud, 1938).

The conscious layer contains everything that an individual is aware of, such as immediate physical experience. The preconscious contains what we are not aware of, but can bring forth to the conscious. This includes memories such as what an individual ate for lunch the day before. However, it is not limited to memories only, it also could also contain immediate physical experience that is not in the conscious such as background noise or proprioception.  The last division is the unconscious.  This encompasses elements that we are not aware of and are being repressed, which is an essential concept in psychoanalysis that will later be described. This material will not come forward to the conscious unless with the help of analysis.

The second time he organized the mind, he divided it into the id, the ego, and the superego (Rana, 1997). The superego is the part of the mind that is the last to develop and is constantly reminding the ego of rules and morals; they could be social, political, religious, etc. The id, which is innate, is the most important component in psychoanalysis. It is constantly looking for pleasure. The next division is the ego. This plays the role of moderator between the rules of the superego and the desires of the id. Moreover, the superego is both conscious and unconscious, as well as the ego. However, the Id is the only part of the strata that is solely unconscious.

            In the first lecture, Freud describes how hysteria was one of the foundations of psychoanalysis. He talks about one of his patients when he was working with Dr. Josef Breuer (Gray, n. d.). The patient was a twenty-year-old woman who was experiencing physical symptoms such paralysis, loss of sensation, trouble with her vision and speech, and for several weeks she could not drink water, this is known as hydrophobia. Another symptom was a condition called absence, where she seemed to disconnect from reality and concentrated on a special thought. When she was in this condition, she usually muttered certain words. Dr. Breuer wrote down the words and tried to use them as a starting point in order to induce hypnosis. When the patient was hypnotized, she could talk about what she was thinking during her absences, which were usually fantasies or memories. After she explored her fantasies while being under hypnosis, the physical symptoms of hysteria disappeared. She called this method of treatment the talking cure. Her picture can be found to the right side of this paragraph.

            An example of how one of her trains of thought connected to her symptoms is in the following story. During one summer, the patient visited a friend who kept a dog as their pet. This dog would drink from the glass of water of her friend, and her friend would later drink from it too. The patient explained that she had a negative opinion of her friend (she never used the word friend, but rather lady-companion), but this event was what disgusted her the most. When the patient ended telling this story, she was able to drink water once again, which meant that her symptom of hydrophobia had disappeared.

This connection between memories and physical symptoms was present for every characteristic of hysteria in the current patient and the other ones that were treated by Freud. He concluded from this that “hysterical patients suffer from reminiscences” (Freud, 1909). In other words, the symptoms are expressions of memories. The next thing to explore is what kind of memories create the basis for hysteria. For Freud it was events that consisted of suppression or repression, the former is a conscious and the latter is an unconscious process. In the example mentioned above, the patient suppresses her feelings of disgust. Another important characteristic for Freud is the evidence of conscious and unconscious states of the patient. When she was not absent she did not remember the memories that were later connected to her symptoms. And yet all of this information was already known by the patient; thus, Freud asserted that the desire of the expressions and the memories were in the unconscious and with the help of this new type of treatment it was brought to the conscious. Therefore, relieving the patient of its hysteria. A photograph of Dr. Breuer can be found to the left.

            In the second lecture, Freud explained how he discarded hypnosis, which was a central component for the process of relieving hysterical symptoms, because not all of the patients could undergo a hypnotic state. Keeping in mind that the catharsis, which is the release of an emotion, was what really helped hysteric patients, Freud tried to replicate this with individuals in their normal state. He based this direction on a demonstration by Bernheim in 1889. This French physician and neurologist showed that people who had been put into a hypnotic state of somnambulism reported to not remember what happened when they were in that state. However, when Bernheim insisted that they did, the events became conscious. Freud tried to parallel these two events, the demonstration of Bernheim and his practice by saying that the repressed memories that occurred during a state of absence would be recovered if individuals were pressed for information. The technique that he used for people in their normal state consisted of suggestion. When a patient reported that they did not remember something, Freud said that the memory would become accessible the instant when he touched their foreheads. He quickly abandoned this because he asserted that it was exhausting and consumed a lot of time.

            However, he did not stop using suggestions to allow catharsis until he found evidence that the patients indeed remembered the repressed memories or fantasies. It is important to explain that he was very careful to not use leading questions or influence the answers of his patients. Thanks to these findings he started to develop a theory that explained the origin of hysteria. Freud argued that there was a force, which he named resistance, that prevented the expression of desires and thus created this pathological condition. He explained that one process of resistance was repression.

            The cause of repression was a result of the dynamics of the mind. He describes this process by saying that the Id was a wish, a desire that will bring pleasure. Nevertheless, because it is incompatible with the rules of the superego, the ego represses it into the unconscious. Thus, the desire of a certain expression is achieved without breaking the subject’s ethical standards.

            Another example of the interactions between these parts of the mind is seen by another patient of Freud. This female patient felt attracted to the husband of his sister. When the patient’s sister died, she thought now he can marry me. The Id’s wish is to be with her brother-in-law. However, that thought becomes repressed by the ego, because the superego thinks that the statement is not appropriate. When the patient was in Freud’s practice, she reported that she did not remember this event, but after she told him this story (the memory was no longer repressed) her hysterical symptoms disappeared.

An important characteristic of Freud’s model of the mind is that each component is not independent of the other, every part is in constant interaction and that many mental aspects are the outcome of the struggle between the id and the superego chosen by the ego. Another important feature is the component that even though a wish has been repressed, it has by no means disappeared. It now exists in the unconscious, where it is trying to escape into the conscious in order to find expression. By talking about it in a psychoanalytic setting, it becomes conscious without breaking the rules of the superego. To summarize the first two chapters, memories and fantasies are connected to hysteric symptoms and the dynamic between the parts of the mind are responsible for repressing or expressing desires.

In the third lecture, Freud kept discussing the topic of repression. He explained that when he suggested to patients that they did remember a memory that was linked with their hysterical symptoms, the patients talked about things, such as memories or ideas, that were not related, at least in an obvious way, to their symptoms. Nevertheless, he thought that these set of ideas were connected to the source of hysteria, but the connection was not explicit because they were being repressed. Freud made the remark that his colleague, Dr. Carl Jung, later supported this concept with research. In other words, ideas or thoughts are connected by means of associations and the more resistance presented by the subject, the more the first set of thoughts would be distorted.

It has already been stated that hysterical symptoms were a form of expression of what the Id desired. The initial thoughts mentioned by patients were also, according to Freud, symptoms because they expressed in a distorted way what the Id craved.

These conscious substitutes of what is repressed are not only seen in patients with hysteria, but also in the everyday life of every human being. Freud described several types of ways where this process can be seen. One of them is by telling jokes. In his third lecture, Freud told the following joke: “Two not particularly scrupulous business men had succeeded, by dint of a series of highly risky enterprises, in amassing a large fortune, and they were now making efforts to push their way into good society. One method, which struck them as a likely one, was to have their portraits painted by the most celebrated and highly-paid artist in the city, whose pictures had an immense reputation. The precious canvases were shown for the first time at a large evening party, and the two hosts themselves led the most influential connoisseur and art critic up to the wall on which the portraits were hanging side by side. He studied the works for a long time, and then, shaking his head, as though there was something he had missed, pointed to the gap between the pictures and asked quietly: ‘But where’s our saviour?”’ (Freud, 1905a).

            Freud explained that the connoisseur’s Id wanted to express to the businessmen that they were thieves, however, his superego stopped him from doing so. Thus, because of resistance, repression occurred. But, instead of being expressed as symptoms of hysteria, the mind found that it could articulate this by means of a joke. This means that jokes allow repressed material to come forward without breaking the superego’s rules. In other words, the connoisseur was able to insult the businessmen without offending them.

The lectures thus far have shown that the everyday activities such as telling jokes, speaking about memories, and talking about the first thing that comes to mind, helps patients relieve repression and, therefore, remove their hysterical symptoms. Additionally, Freud has stated several ways in which the dynamics of the mind are evident, such as repression, substitution, and resistance. Moreover, there is another one that Freud has not talked about yet. This is another type of repression, namely when a patient cannot think or say anything more.

            Freud asserted that not only sets of ideas that come from the Id and are incompatible with the superego are repressed, but also thoughts that are difficult to distort or the one where their association would become obvious. This is why, Freud argues, sometimes subjects report that they cannot continue with their free association, which is the process where patients talk about the first thing that comes to their mind.

            Another method in which psychoanalysts explore the unconscious, besides free association, is by dream interpretation. This becomes evident when Freud states that “dreams are the royal road to the unconscious” (Freud, 1900). 

            He discussed how the dreams of adults may seem like random nonsense, nevertheless, the ones from children are displayed clearly like wish-fulfillments that were not satisfied the day before. Additionally, he explained that it the same concept applied to adults’ dreams, however, the content is distorted. In other words, dreams are the disguised wish-fulfillment of repressed wishes.

            In addition, Freud separated the dreams into two types of content: manifest and latent content. The former is what is visible in the dream. In other words, the physical representations present in the dream, this material comes from what happened the day before. The latter are the unconscious ideas that are represented by the latent content. He continues his lecture by saying that the unconscious material is being repressed when people are awake, however, when individuals sleep the mechanism that restrains thought from entering the conscious is weakened. Moreover, patients have to free associate to the manifest in order to understand their unconscious repressed material. Additionally, there are two more mental processes occurring in the dream, they are condensation and displacement. The former has already been discussed, this refers to how the manifest content could represent several latent elements (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016a). The latter is a defense mechanism. Displacement when a wish that can be fulfilled in a way redirects its attention to be satisfied in another (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016b). For example, if a repressed desire is ultimately disappointed in the waking life, individuals dream about it, thus redirecting how the wish is accomplished.

            In the last part of his third lecture Freud discussed the topics explored in his book “Psychopathology of Everyday Life.” He asserted that concepts like repression and resistance are not only components of patients that live with hysteria, but they occur every day on everyone. Other concepts include the inability to recall something even when it is known, the slips of the tongue (now known as Freudian slips), as well as reading or writing wrongly (Freud, 1904). These mechanisms serve the same purpose of expressing an unconscious repressed desire from the Id.  Freud argued that sometimes repressed material was articulated in the forms of dreams and also this type of everyday psychopathology, and thus it deserved to be called a symptom.

            In his fourth lecture, Freud talked about the discoveries made using the techniques mentioned above. Mainly, that erotic content was the principal kind of material that was being repressed in both children and adults. This evidence was the cause that made Freud report that sexual drives were innate and universal. This claim was controversial because at the time it was believed that the development of sexuality was non-present during childhood (Freud, 1905b). In addition, Freud too, at first, doubted that his assertion was correct, he mainly though that the patients he analyzed with Breuer were the only one that had a sexual component influence their pathology. However, as time passed he observed a pattern in all of his patients. Even Freud’s followers stated at first that this was one theoretical point in which they disagreed with him. Nevertheless, they ultimately found the same pattern with their own patients.

He later named the phenomenon of sexual development in childhood Oedipus complex (Lapsley, 2011). This refers to how male children are at first in love with their mothers because they are the providers of pleasure, such as food, warmth, etc. The complex also involves feelings of jealousy towards children’s fathers. This material was, obviously, repressed. To support his theory of infantile sexuality, Freud shared a paper of a faculty member of Clark University. The name of the paper was “A Preliminary Study of the Emotion of Love between the Sexes,” and it stated that the appearance of what the author called “sex-love” did not make its initial original appearance in individuals who were in their teenage years, but rather when they were just mere children. The author made 2, 500 observations that supported his hypothesis and only 800 were made by him.
            To summarize the lectures up to this point, Freud believed that there was material in the form of wishes that were either repressed or could not be satisfied. The frustrated desires were then expressed in a way that relieved the Id’s wants in several forms such dreaming, forgetting, or mispronouncing something. In his fifth lecture, Freud talked about another form of expression. This phenomenon is transference.

            Sigmund Freud explained that because a lot of wishes end in disappointments, individuals then resort to fantasies. Moreover, he added that the successful man made his fantasies a reality, but for those who did not, they ended up expressing their desires with hysterical or neurotic symptoms, as well as other psychoanalytic concepts. This included transference, which is a set of affective feelings mixed with hostility directed towards their psychoanalysts without a particular reason (Felluga, n. d.) . This allows the repressed erotic material, as well as the aggressive one, to take place while complying with the set of rules of the superego.

            Freud claimed that transference was also seen in the everyday life of all human relationship like forgetting and misspelling. And that this was the implicit way human beings engaged in a therapeutic procedure in order to relieve tension caused by the dynamics between the Id and Superego.

            There were three possible outcomes after the repressed material was made conscious. The first one is that the individual replaces their repression with a condemning judgment about their unconscious material. The second result that is possible after psychoanalytic therapy is that now that the individual understands what drives him or his Id’s desires, the subject can engage in a behavior that is similar to the defense mechanism known as sublimation. This refers to finding socially accepted activities that permit the person to indulge his or her desires without disobeying their superego. An example of this is identifying the drive that motivates someone to engage in aggressive behavior, then redirecting this into an activity such as mixed martial arts. If this action takes place, then the individual is allowed to be aggressive without breaking a social rule. The third possible result would that a hysterical symptom is eliminated, while a new one appears.

            In conclusion, Freud stated that there was a constant interaction between several parts of the mind, especially the id and the superego. The dynamics mentioned above were usually unconscious and created different forms that allowed a relief in tension. These included dreams, transference, slips of the tongue, forgetting, mispronouncing, misplacing, as well as creating hysterical symptoms. The tension created by the id and superego is also relieved by psychoanalytic therapy.

Burnham, J. C. (2012). After Freud left: A century of psychoanalysis in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Felluga, Dino. (n. d.). "Modules on Freud: Transference and Trauma ." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Purdue U. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from <>.

Freud, S. (1938). An Outline of Psychoanalysis. New York: W.W. Norton.

Freud, S. (1909). Five lectures on psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Freud, S. (1905a). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious.

Freud, S. (1900). The Interpretation of Dreams.

Freud, S. (1904). The Psychopathology of Everyday life. New York: Norton.

Freud, S. (1905b). Three contributions to the theory of sex. New York: Dutton.

Gray, R. (n.d.). Freud, "Aetiology of Hysteria" Retrieved April 27, 2016, from

Jay, M. E. (2016). Sigmund Freud. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from

Lapsley, D. K. (2011). Id, Ego, and Superego. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from & Chapters_files/Entry for Encyclopedia of Human Behavior(finalized4 Formatted).pdf

Rana, H. (1997). Sigmund Freud. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2016). Condensation. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2016). Displacement. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2016). G. Stanley Hall. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from