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Culture

Freud's Pivotal Role in Understanding the Mind

Saturday marks Freud's 150th birthday. In an interview with DW-WORLD.DE, Dr. Hans-Joachim Busch of the Sigmund Freud Institute talked about how Freud changed our understanding of the mind, and his relevance today.

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Sigmund Freud changed the way we see ourselves

DW-WORLD.DE: Sigmund Freud's theories were revolutionary in his time; he's considered the father of psychoanalysis. What is his significance today?

Hans-Joachim Busch: Freud's close exploration of the unconscious is the most significant contribution to our understanding of the mind. Through Freud, we have become familiar with the unconscious and have increasingly learned to deal with it. This is the case for both healthy individuals, as well as those with problems who are in therapy. These are people who may not be mentally ill, but who follow unconscious motives, which could possibly have precarious results. Freud made this area accessible to us and we can therefore consider these matters in therapy.

Are Freud's theories still up to date?

Absolutely! His theories are for the most part still very current. Psychoanalysis could not even exist or be conceived without them. The unconscious is the theoretical core of psychoanalysis. Everything else can be derived from it, or can be looked at in this respect, such as drive, sexuality and all sorts of psychological processes. Brain research has confirmed Freud's theory that the unconscious exists and that it is very significant for the understanding of the human mind and people's actions.

What captivates us so much about Freud?

Freud familiarizes us with parts of our psyche which are very deep and which we aren't directly aware of. But we sense them. Through Freud, we feel understood in our quintessential motivation in life and for our actions -- both good and bad. But it also makes us unpleasantly accessible. He exposes us to something, which we don't necessarily want to know.

In what areas of our daily lives can we see Freud ' s legacy?

Freud certainly influenced children's upbringing and putting everyday life in a psychological or pedagogical perspective. The fact that we have become more responsive to children and their needs, that we try to understand them, can largely be traced back to Freud, although of course this has become common knowledge in psychology. Freud's approach of understanding interaction through talking and empathy is not only evident in the case of children's upbringing at home and in the school, but also for adults. When it comes down to it, the encouragement of mutual exchange -- that couples talk openly about problems in their relationship and their sexuality -- can be attributed to Freud.

How did Freud change people ' s approach to sexual and personal fulfillment?

Through Freud, people got the notion at all that they have desires, which they should take seriously. They became aware that their non-fulfillment can also lead to negative psychological developments up to the point of symptoms.

What about Freud ' s influence on our cultural history?

Psychoanalysis has played a key role in many areas of culture, such as literature, film and art history. It started with the surrealists, who gave in to and expressed their inner being -- painted the unconscious, so to speak. This was a significant movement in 20th century art, which was also strongly influenced by Freud. You can't say Freud was the sole reason for this movement. But it was in the air and he put it into words. In literature, Freud had close contact to his contemporary writers and was recognized by many of them at the time. The same was the case with scientists, such as Albert Einstein. This recognition in the cultural world has continued through today. Literature, philosophy, art and cultural science, theology -- all the humanities and cultural studies have dealt with Freud very intensely.

The Sigmund Freud Institute (SFI) in Frankfurt was opened in 1960, over 20 years after the Nazis destroyed the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Institute. The SFI focuses both on training psychoanalysts, as well as researching psychoanalysis and its various applications.

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