Main content


The first ever recorded case of child psychoanalysis; a small boy living in Vienna in the early 20th century, whose phobia of horses was used by Freud as evidence of his Oedipus Complex theory

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 had been waiting for.
Today we are used to the idea that what happens to you as a child can affect your life as an adult, but when Sigmund Freud first suggested this, it was revolutionary.

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. She 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.

Claudia re-visits the first ever recorded case of child psychoanalysis; Little Hans. 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 is perhaps surprising that Little Hans is the only child he analysed. And even then, it was only in a supervisory role. The child's father Max Graf, musicologist and member of Freud's circle, was left to observe and listen to the child and then report 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, Freud concluded that Herbert's fear 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. As the first case of child psychotherapy, it was the starting point from which a valuable discipline has evolved.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Sat 26 Mar 2011 05:32GMT