Dreaming for Freud

Written by Sheila Kohler
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

During an eleven-week period in 1900, Sigmund Freud treated an eighteen-year-old girl for hysteria and wrote about his treatment in one of the most famous psychological case studies ever published. In Dreaming for Freud, Kohler brings us into the minds of Freud and his patient, who is never named in the novel. The patient, who is suffering from leg pains and a debilitating cough, has considered suicide. She is angry at her parents who do not believe her story of a sexual assault on her by a family friend. The girl shares her story with Freud, sometimes telling the truth, sometimes half-truths, and sometimes lying. Freud listens to her story, understanding her only as much as he can through his own prejudices.

The story shifts time periods like a dream, moving between the treatment time period and flashbacks by both the patient and the doctor. The movement feels dreamlike but isn’t always easy to follow, especially as the text is pronoun-heavy. I found myself rereading in many places, trying to discern who “he” or “she” was. Despite these small difficulties, the story is a fascinating read. Kohler stays faithful to the historical information about both Freud and his patient, while imagining what they may have been thinking and feeling, about each other, and about the “truth” that they both seek.