"Dora" is the accepted nickname
first published case study, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria
. In fact, the name "Dora" is itself a moniker used to protect the identity of Freud's
actual patient, Ida Bauer.1
Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria was published in 1905, even though Dora's eleven week treatment occurred in October of 1900. Freud claimed to have written the case study immediately following the treatment, but left it unpublished for various reasons.1
As the title says, Dora was suffering from an acute case of hysteria. Hysteria was a general term physicians at the time used for unexplained manifestations of physical ailments, which they generally attributed to various maladies such as stress and overwork. It was also a diagnosis usually reserved for woman.2 As with other conditions based on gross conjecture and pseudo-scientific bullshit, it was widely misdiagnosed.
The Dora case itself reads like a cheesy soap opera, with affairs and counter-affairs and crushes and flirtations and all sorts of pathetic interrelations between a mind-twirling cast of characters.
It's all pretty boring.
The meat and potatoes is Freud's discovery of transference. At an advanced point in the treatment, Dora falls in love with Freud. However, Freud fails to recognize this and she misreads his physician's detachment as an emotional rejection, and summarily breaks off the treatment. Thus the Dora case ends in failure.
Afterwards Freud did a bump or two of cocaine3 and realized that transference had occurred. He goes on to state that it is an inevitable stage in psychoanalysis. Tranference is an affect of most power-based relationships, which is why it also occurs in pedagogy and politics.4
Much later still, Freud realized that transference can act like theatre for many patients - a free realm to act in ways they normally wouldn't. This is a good thing, because it allows deeply repressed traumatic memories to become conscious through repetition, or the acting out of an original, repressed memory in a present circumstance - like a player does in a play, acting out the same role over and over. Once the analyst recognizes this, it's up to them to guide the analysand toward making the connection between their new, acted out memory and the original trauma. They have to see the original pain. Once the connection is made, the repressed memory is safely released and the analysand is said to be cured. This is what the later Freud means when he says that psychoanalysis is about filling in the gaps - the gaps of memory.
In Dora's case, Freud speculated that her unconscious goal was to feel rejected by him so that she could then reject him in turn. In this way she would act out her original traumatic experience: she was molested by a family friend when she was 14 and then fell in love with the molester, only to be rejected by him. Hence, her falling in love with Freud was a repetition of her love for the molester (the man in power), and her subsequent rejection of Freud was a wish-fulfillment for revenge against the original rejecting molester.
Unfortunately Dora left treatment before realizing this connection, and hence went uncured.
1Publishing case studies was an ethical conundrum in Freud's time. While many valued its contributions to science, they also realized that any betrayal of the trusted doctor-patient confidence would erode their profession. It was such a heated issue that Freud felt compelled to open "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria" with a five-page explanation ("Prefatory Remarks"). He still drew considerable criticism despite using an assumed name for his patient ("Dora").
2For a vivid coeval account of a woman misdiagnosed with "hysteria," see Why I wrote the Yellow Wallpaper? and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
3I'm not kidding. He actually wrote a whole essay about his experiences with cocaine (On Cocaine). Ok, I was kidding about him using coke when he discovered transference. I really don't know if he did or didn't use it then.
4Ever wonder why your forty something professor turned you on so much? Or why politicians sleep with every intern in sight? It's all about the nature of the relationship, of transference and counter-transference.
Source: The Freud Reader, edited by Peter Gay.