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What Freud Allowed the Hysteric to Teach him

The Letter, Issue 66/67, Autumn 2017/Spring 2018, Pages 37 - 45


WHAT FREUD ALLOWED THE HYSTERIC TO TEACH HIM[1]

Stephanie Metcalfe


This paper aims to look at how, through working with hysterical patients, Freud developed the revolutionary technique of psychoanalysis which allowed the patient to both make sense of her symptom and enabled her to find a way of resolving it through speech. The way is paved for a relief through speaking because, as Freud demonstrates, each symptom is constituted symbolically. His humility of approach and willingness to learn from his patients is striking. Lacan follows in Freud’s footsteps and impresses on us the importance of listening to what in the patient is struggling to be heard. In this way, in attempting to deal with the past, we are given the opportunity to approach the future differently, having transformed the Imaginary via the Real through working in the Symbolic.

Keywords: Symptom; hysteria; psychoanalysis; symbolism; transference; he hustera

‘…[T]he first to consent not to look away nor to investigate elsewhere, the first not to attempt to hide it in psychiatric theory that more or less harmonised with the rest of medical knowledge; the first to follow its consequences with absolute rigour.’ [2] So says Michel Foucault of Freud in Madness and Civilisation. The question posed by today’s conference brings us back to the beginnings of psychoanalysis. Before we can address what it was that enabled Freud to take those first steps along a different path I intend to retrace those beginnings in order to remind ourselves of what the hysteric and her symptom taught Freud; a lesson most succinctly expressed in A Question of Lay Analysis, ‘one cannot run away from oneself’.’[3]


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