Freud first came to the study of the unconscious mind through studying the effects of hypnosis. He did not care for the hypnosis of his day so he developed free association as a method of accessing the unconscious causes of neurotic symptoms. This method takes a long time and it is difficult to test experimentally.
(The developer of modern, conversational hypnosis was Dr. Milton Erickson. This is a more permission type of hypnosis that has found positive effects for many.)
But the main focus of Freud's is that the there is an unconscious mind as reveled in our dreams and in other ways. While therapists today may not subscribe to all of what Freud had to say, many accept the idea that the unconscious or subconscious mind has a lot to do with what ails people who present a variety of symptoms.