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Little Hans is the name commonly given to a case study by Sigmund Freud, of which the full title is 'Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy', first published in 1909. The real name of the patient was Herbert Graf (1903-1973). The analysis lasted for about two months (March-May 1908).

Freud did not analyze the child himself, but rather supervised the child's father (Max Graf) who carried out the analysis and sent extensive notes to Freud. In the published version, Hans' father's account is abridged and punctuated by Freud's own comments. According to Freud in his introduction to the case, he had in the years prior to the case been encouraging his friends and associates, including the parents of Little Hans, to collect observations on the sexual life of children in order to help him develop his theory of infantile sexuality.[1] Thus Hans's father had been sending notes about the child's development to Freud before he developed his nervous illness.

Hans's illness takes the form of a phobia of horses (equinophobia) and of certain types of cart that they pull. It began one day apparently quite suddenly during a trip to the local park with the family maid when Hans was a little under 5 years old. Hans's father initially attributes the illness to 'sexual over-excitement caused by his mother's caresses'.[2] and to fear caused by the large penises of horses. While not rejecting these explanations, Freud gradually encourages the father also to understand Hans' disorder in terms of the anxiety caused by the arrival of his younger sister and an inadequately satisfied curiosity as to the origin of babies. Although a number of sexual and excretal fantasies and anxieties (such as Oedipal wishes and castration anxiety) are explored during the case history, Freud does not ultimately explain the case in terms of these factors, and on occasion reproaches Hans's father for sticking too dogmatically to a rigidly Oedipal understanding of his son's anxiety.[3]. Freud also regrets the parents' unwillingness to tell Hans the truth about coition. [4]

Hans's analysis falls into two distinct stages, the first concerning the fear of horses themselves, and the second of the boxes and containers that they transported around Vienna. In the first phase, Hans is afraid that a white horse will bite him or come into his room, or will collapse and fall over. Freud identifies this with a fear of the father, fear that the father will punish him for his desires over the mother and to act aggressively towards the father. Since Hans's father was acting as analyst, Freud conjectures that this fear is impeding the progress of the treatment, something which he resolved by inviting Hans to see him (Freud) personally and explaining this fear to him:

With this explanation I vanquished the most powerful resistance in Hans to conscious recognition of his unconscious thoughts, since it was his own father who was taking the role of his physician. From this moment on we had conquered the summit of his condition, the material flowed abundantly, the young patient showed courage in communicating the details of his phobia and soon intervened independently in the course of the analysis.[5]

Following this, Hans becomes pre-occupied with excrement, which Freud and Hans's father help him to associate with the birth of babies. The carts and omnibuses are associated with the boxes which, according to the theory of reproduction that Hans has been given, storks use to bring new babies. Hans fears the arrival of more babies as this will further reduce the attention he receives from his mother, and expresses the wish that his baby sister should die. He also expresses the wish to have children of his own (with his mother) with his father elevated to the role of grandfather.

Hans's treatment is taken to be complete when he expresses two new fantasies: one which shows that he has overcome his castration anxiety, and one which consciously acknowledges his desire to be married to his mother. These fantasies coincide with the disappearance of his phobia.

Freud follows the case history with a 40-page assessment of the case in which he links it to his theory of sexuality. He claims that he has learned nothing from this case that he had not already deduced from his analysis of adults, but he is nonetheless "tempted to claim a typical and exemplary importance" for the case in view of the direct and immediate proof of his theories that it appears to provide. [6]

In 1922, Freud wrote a short postscript to the case study, in which he reported that "Little Hans" had appeared in his office as a "strapping youth of nineteen", who "was perfectly well and suffered from no troubles or inhibitions". Minor revisions and additions to the case material were made in 1923-4.


  1. Sigmund Freud, The 'Wolfman' and Other Cases, trans. Louise Adey Huish, Penguin 2002, p. 4
  2. Ibid. p. 18
  3. cf. Ibid, p.34
  4. p. 117
  5. Ibid. p.101-2
  6. Ibid. p.118; p.4

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