A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis

By Sigmund Freud | Go to book overview

SEVENTEENTH LECTURE

GENERAL THEORY OF THE NEUROSES

The Meaning of the Symptoms

IN the last lecture I explained to you that clinical psychiatry concerns itself very little with the form under which the symptoms appear or with the burden they carry, but that it is precisely here that psychoanalysis steps in and shows that the symptom carries a meaning and is connected with the experience of the patient. The meaning of neurotic symptoms was first discovered by J. Breuer in the study and felicitous cure of a case of hysteria which has since become famous (1880-82). It is true that P. Janet independently reached the same result; literary priority must in fact be accorded to the French scholar, since Breuer published his observations more than a decade later (1893-95) during his period of collaboration with me. On the whole it may be of small importance to us who is responsible for this discovery, for you know that every discovery is made more than once, that none is made all at once, and that success is not meted out according to deserts. America is not named after Columbus. Before Breuer and Janet, the great psychiatrist Leuret expressed the opinion that even for the deliria of the insane, if we only understood how to interpret them, a meaning could be found. I confess that for a considerable period of time I was willing to estimate very highly the credit due to

P. Janet in the explanation of neurotic symptoms, because he saw in them the expression of subconscious ideas (idées incon scientes) with which the patients were obsessed. But since then Janet has expressed himself most conservatively, as though he wanted to confess that the term "subconscious" had been for him nothing more than a mode of speech, a shift, "une façon de parler," by the use of which he had nothing definite in mind. I now no longer understand Janet's discussions, but I believe that he has needlessly deprived himself of high credit.

The neurotic symptoms then have their meaning just like errors and the dream, and like these they are related to the lives

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