The first section of the book deals in detail with the discovery that the cure for hysteria could have been found within the patient's mind. The two authors postulate that the incident responsible for the condition was to be found in the patient's mind. However, it requires a professional psychoanalyst to bring such a memory to the fore of the patient's mind. Freud and his colleague observed that the symptoms were presented uniquely in each patient. For instance, they noted that the trigger for each incident of hysteria varied from patient to patient. Thus, they concluded that a unique incident in each individual was causing the hysteria. However, this incident had been repressed in the patient's subconscious. The authors noted that once the incident was brought to the patient's consciousness, all symptoms of the illness immediately disappeared.
In order to bring such an incident to the fore, a psychoanalyst had to use hypnosis. The hypnosis would consequently bring the incident to the fore. Consequently, the patient recalled the incident and was thus essentially able to treat himself or herself. By bringing it into the conscious mind, the doctor could by suggestion cause the event to cease from existing in the patient's mind.
The second section of the book begins with case studies to demonstrate what was stated in the first part. The first case study involves a patient of Breuer named Anna O. In this, the author demonstrates how amnesia and hysteria relate. Thus, they successfully demonstrated that there was another part of the mind, the unconscious mind, which exerted great control on an individual's everyday life. In order to access this unconscious mind, the psychoanalyst utilized the method of hypnosis. The psychoanalyst would get the patient to say whatever they felt was on their mind. Meanwhile, the doctor would sit quietly without interrupting the patient's seemingly mumble talk. When the patient was done with talking, the doctor would critically analyze what the patient just said to them.
However, in the presentation of these case studies it is important to note that hypnosis did not always work. Consequently, Freud began to doubt the effectiveness of this type of treatment. This would be one of the causes of his disagreement with Breuer and they would later part ways. However, throughout his career, Freud remained highly critical of hypnosis, dismissing it as being highly ineffective. In fact, in one of the case studies a patient named Miss Lucy R. was analyzed while fully conscious. This is because he was unable to hypnotize this patient. This only served to strengthen his belief in how ineffective hypnosis was. The case study of Katharina made Freud believe in most cases of hysteria having an origin in sexual trauma. The final case study presented was that of Fraulein Elisabeth von R. At the time, it was believed that she was suffering from a form of hysteria. However, this would today be diagnosed as a psychosomatic condition. The patient had lost use of both her legs in what was seen as a form pf paralysis. This was despite the fact that there was nothing physically wrong with her. In the book, the authors state that the patient had expressed her mental trauma in her legs. By allowing the patient's mind to recall the traumatic incident, the patient would regain the use of her legs.
The final part ends in a more detailed analysis of ideas presented in the opening first section. Freud and Breuer differed greatly with opinions of the time that hysteria had some origin in physiological causes. They thus stated that the mind was more complex than previously thought. They also discussed the importance of the subconscious mind in everyday life. In addition, the authors gave detailed in-depth look into how exactly mental trauma works. At the time, nobody had really bothered to check how various events in the past could manifest in the present. In addition, the authors note that the unconscious was adept to using symbolism when it needed to express themselves. For instance, they noted that a traumatizing event in a patient's life could manifest itself symbolically in the patient as sore through or something else.
This work undoubtedly lay the foundation of how mental illnesses are treated today. Indeed, it lay the foundation on which modern psychology is based today. Besides that, it was quite useful in revealing the mysteries of the unconscious. Before this work, nobody had bothered to give a detailed analysis of the unconscious mind. However, Freud and Breuer would later disagree on some fundamental issues. Firstly, Freud was completely against the use of hypnosis. He did not believe it had a role to play in the future of psychoanalysis. Secondly, Breuer disagreed with Freud on the role sexuality of individuals played in their mental development. While most doctors involved in treating mental illness did not see it as having a role, Freud would base most of his theories on it. This was especially outrageous, considering that all manner of sexual innuendo was considered taboo during his time. However, he saw as one of the causes why so many women of the time were suffering from hysteria. This work gives some fascinating insight into the working of the human mind.