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Listen to the latest edition of Case StudyWednesday 11:00-11:30,
7 May - 28 May 2008
Claudia Hammond presents a series on case studies that have made a significant contribution to psychological research.
11 - 11.30am
28 May 2008
Sigmund Freud
A phobia of horses developed by a small boy living in Vienna in 1904 seems unlikely evidence for the Oedipus complex. But for Sigmund Freud, Little Hans' anxiety was the proof he'd been waiting for.

Without a few unusual people, human behaviour would have remained a mystery. These individuals were not doctors and scientists, but ordinary people whose extraordinary circumstances provided researchers with the exceptions that proved behavioural rules. Claudia Hammond turns the pages of psychology textbooks to find the classic case studies that have advanced psychological research over the past 200 years and visits the individuals who have helped unravel the complex workings of the mind, delving beneath the brief textbook descriptions of these unique cases to uncover the whole story, while bringing the research that the case kick-started up to date.

In the final programme of the series, Claudia re-visits the first ever recorded case of child psychoanalysis: Little Hans. And she investigates its legacy, visiting one of the centres run by Childhood First, which deals with some of the most disturbed and damaged children using a model informed by psychoanalysis.

Considering that Freud's theories were based on childhood experiences and fantasies, it's perhaps surprising that Little Hans is the only child he analysed. And even then, only in a supervisory role, since it was left to the child's father, musicologist and member of Freud's circle, Max Graf, to observe and listen to the child, reporting his observations back to Freud.

When Little Hans (or Herbert, to give him his real name) began to refuse to leave the house for fear that a horse might bite him, under Freud's supervision the conclusion was eventually drawn that Herbert's fear in fact related to his father, who might castrate him because Herbert wanted to sleep with his mother.

While today many would dismiss this interpretation of the little boy's distress, the case of Little Hans, with its detailed recording of a how a child makes sense of the world, continues to provide rich pickings for all who are interested in child development. And, as the first case of child psychotherapy, it was the starting point from which a valuable discipline has evolved.

Further reading:

Classic Case Studies in Psychology, by Geoff Rolls,
Publisher: Hodder Arnold (30 Jun 2005) ISBN-10: 0340886927 ISBN-13: 978-0340886922 

Little Hans: A Centennial Review and Reconsideration  by Harold P. Blum,
Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Vol. 55, No. 3, 749-765 (2007)


Jerome Wakefield

Childhood First

Association of Child Psychotherapists

Windsor Park Equestrian Club 
The Anna Freud Centre
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