Sunday, June 28, 2015
How Freud’s Couch Became a Pop-Culture Phenomenon
In 1889 Sigmund Freud was still relatively new in his field, or what we’d call pre-Freudian Freud. At 33 years old, working as an assistant to another psychiatrist, he hadn’t had any of his big ideas yet.
Freud was mostly practicing hypnosis, which was a cutting-edge but controversial treatment. One day Freud gets a new patient, a very wealthy woman named Fanny Moser. Moser was struggling from all kinds of ailments—hysteria, sleeplessness, pain, and odd tics, and she had lots of doctors. When Moser came to Freud, he would have her lie down on a couch, just like he did with his other patients. A lot of hypnotists used couches to get patients into a more relaxed state, but Freud especially needed it because he was kind of a clumsy hypnotist.
Freud would tell Moser, “You’re very getting sleepy,” and she would insist that, no, in fact, she wasn’t. Instead, Moser wanted to talk. At first Freud would interrupt her with his theories, but she wasn’t having it. She wanted to tell him her stories. That’s when the light went on. Freud realized that if you just let patients talk and don’t say anything, they will let down their defenses, and the unconscious will be revealed. This is the moment when the pre-Freudian Freud becomes the Freudian Freud. The Freudian Freud’s new techniques and theories for therapy would come to be called “psychoanalysis,” and it would be embodied, in practice and popular culture, by a single piece of furniture: the couch.