Josef Breuer bigraphy, stories - Psychologists

Josef Breuer : biography

January 15, 1842 - June 20, 1925

Josef Breuer (January 15, 1842 – June 20, 1925) was a distinguished Austrian physician who made key discoveries in neurophysiology, and whose work with a patient known as Anna O. developed the talking cure and laid the foundation to psychoanalysis as developed by his protégé Sigmund Freud.

Early life

Born in Vienna, his father, Leopold Breuer, taught religion in Vienna's Jewish community. Breuer's mother died when he was quite young, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother and educated by his father until the age of eight. He graduated from the Akademisches Gymnasium of Vienna in 1858 and then studied at the university for one year before enrolling in the medical school of the University of Vienna. He passed his medical exams in 1867 and went to work as assistant to the internist Johann Oppolzer at the university.


Breuer, working under Ewald Hering at the military medical school in Vienna, was the first to demonstrate the role of the vagus nerve in the reflex nature of respiration. This was a departure from previous physiological understanding, and changed the way scientists viewed the relationship of the lungs to the nervous system. The mechanism is now known as the Hering–Breuer reflex. at

Independent of each otherHawkins, J.E. and Schacht, J. (Part 8 of "Sketches of Otohistory") in "Audiology and Neurotology," April 2005. in 1873, Breuer and the physicist and mathematician Ernst Mach discovered how the sense of balance (i.e., the perception of the head’s imbalance) functions: that it is managed by information the brain receives from the movement of a fluid in the semicircular canals of the inner ear. That the sense of balance depends on the three semicircular canals was discovered in 1870 by the physiologist Friedrich Goltz, but Goltz did not discover how the balance-sensing apparatus functions.

Anna O.

Breuer is perhaps best known for his work in the 1880s with Anna O. (the pseudonym of Bertha Pappenheim), a woman suffering from "paralysis of her limbs, and anaesthesias, as well as disturbances of vision and speech."O. L. Zangwill, in Richard Gregory ed, The Oxford Companion to the Mind (Oxford 1987) p. 118. Breuer observed that her symptoms reduced or disappeared after she described them to him. Anna O. humorously called this procedure chimney sweeping. She also coined the more serious appellation for this form of therapy, talking cure.Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for our Times (London 1988) p. 65. Breuer later referred to it as the “cathartic method”.

Breuer was then a mentor to the young Sigmund Freud, and had helped set him up in medical practice. Ernest Jones recalled, "Freud was greatly interested in hearing of the case of Anna O, which [...] made a deep impression on him";Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud (London 1962) p. 204. and in his 1909 Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud generously pointed out, "I was a student and working for my final examinations at the time when [...] Breuer, first (in 1880-2) made use of this procedure. [...] Never before had anyone removed a hysterical symptom by such a method."Sigmund Freud, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Penguin 1995) p. 1–2 and p. 10.

Freud and Breuer documented their discussions of Anna O. and other case studies in their 1895 book, Studies on Hysteria. These discussions of Breuer's treatment of Anna O. became "a formative basis of psychoanalytic practice, especially the importance of fantasies (in extreme cases, hallucinations), hysteria [...], and the concept and method of catharsis which were Breuer's major contributions."Zangwill, Companion p. 118. Louis Breger has observed that in the Studies, "Freud is looking for a grand theory that will make him famous and, because of this, he is always fastening on what he thinks will be a single cause of hysteria, such as sexual conflict...Breuer, on the other hand, writes about the many factors that produce symptoms, including traumas of a variety of kinds. He also gives others, such as Pierre Janet, credit and argues for “eclecticism”; he is open to many different ways of understanding and treating hysteria." (2010)

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