Freud's Study

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Aim

  • To report the findings of the treatment of a 5-year-old boy for his phobia of horses
  • To find evidence for Freud's theories of psychosexual development and the Oedipus complex

Procedure/Method

  • Case study
  • Carried out by Little Hans' father, who was a friend and supporter of Freud. He wrote down conversations that he had with Hans about his dreams and fantasies.
  • Reported to Freud via correspondence, with Freud giving Hans' father directions as to how to deal with the situation based on his interpretations of the father's reports.

Findings

Little Hans and his 'widdler'

At the age of 3, he developed an active interest in his 'widdler', and also those of other people. E.g. he asked "Mummy, have you got a widdler too?"

Throughout this time, the main theme of his fantasies and dreams was widdlers and widdling. When he was about 3 and a half years old, his mother told him not to touch his widdler or else she would have to call the doctor to come and cut it off.

The fear of horses

When Hans was almost 5, Hans' father wrote to Freud about Hans, stating: 'He's afraid a horse will bite him in the street, and this fear seems somehow connected with him being frightened by a large penis'. This led to such a level of anxiety that Hans was unable to go out of the house. Hans had mentioned some similar fears, and to make them feel less frightened his mother had let him sleep in her bed with her. Freud suggested that this had left Hans in a state of intense sexual excitement directed towards his mother ('A little Oedipus') and this was shown by attempts to seduce her. An example of this was as follows:

This morning Hans was given his usual daily bath by his mother, and afterwards dried and powdered. As his mother was powdering round his penis and taking care not to touch it,

Hans said: "Why don't you put your finger there?"     

Mother: Because that would be piggish                                              

Hans: What's that? Piggish? Why?

Mother: Because it's not proper

Hans (laughing): But it's great fun.

Hans was introduced to some therapy for his phobia and after he got better he recalled an incident to his father about an incident where he had overheard a father and daughter and the father warned the child, "don't put your hand to the white horse or it will bite you". The words 'don't put your finger to' sounded very like the warning he had been given about masturbating and his parents came to the conclusion that his fear of being bitten by a horse actually symbolised a fear of indulging his urges.

Freud argued that Hans, who enjoyed getting into bed with his mother, had a repressed longing for her, and had focused his libido (sexual energy) on her.

The Giraffe Dream

Hans told his father: 'In the night there was a big giraffe in the room and a crumpled one:

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