Josef Breuer  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Josef Breuer (January 15, 1842June 20, 1925) was an Austrian physician whose works lay the foundation of psychoanalysis, best-known for his Studies on Hysteria, co-written with Sigmund Freud.

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.


Anna O.

A close friend and collaborator with Sigmund Freud, Breuer is perhaps best known for his work with "Anna O." (Bertha Pappenheim) – a woman suffering with symptoms of paralysis, anaesthesias, and "disturbances of vision and speech." (Zangwill)

Breuer noted that her symptoms were reduced or disappeared after describing them. Anna O. described this procedure humorously as "chimney sweeping", and she is also famed as the inventor of the term - the "talking cure" - widely seen as the basis of Freudian psychoanalysis. (Peter Gay, Freud: A life for our time, pp.65-66)

The discussions of Anna O. between Freud and Breuer were documented in their "Studies in Hysteria" and became "a formative basis of Freudian theory and psychoanalytic practice; especially the importance of fantasies ..., hysteria ..., and the concept and method of catharsis which were Breuer's major contributions." (Zangwill)

Other work

Breuer, working with 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.[1]

Breuer also established the function of the semicircular canals in the ear, and their role in maintaining balance. And in 1894 he was recognized as one of the eminent physicians in Vienna, and was elected to the Viennese Academy of Science.


Breuer married Matilda Altmann in 1868, and they had five children. His daughter Dora later committed suicide rather than be deported by the Nazis. Likewise, one of his granddaughters died at the hands of the Nazis.

In fiction

A series of meetings between Josef Breuer and Friedrich Nietzsche was fictionally recreated in the book When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom.

The 1968 TV film Prescription: Murder, which introduced the character of Columbo, begins with the murderer (Gene Barry), an arrogant psychiatrist, stumping party guests in a game of Botticelli by choosing Josef Breuer.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Josef Breuer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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