Anna Freud’s Role in the History of Psychology

Anna Freud, born in 1895, was the daughter of Sigmund Freud, the well-known founder of psychology and the psychoanalytic theory. Anna Freud’s work with her father and his friends and associates as well as her own personal studies, curiosities, and analyses lead her to cofound psychoanalytic child psychology. An appealing woman who did not have much of a formal education, Anna Freud, had an extensive background in psychology, an interesting theoretical perspective, and many contributions to the field. The daughter of Sigmund and Martha Freud, Anna Freud, was the sixth and last child.

Born in Vienna, Austria on December 3, 1895, Anna grew up very close to her father, Sigmund. However, she did not develop much of a bond with her mother or five siblings, especially her sister, Sophie. Research indicates that Anna was jealous of her sister Sophie because Sophie was the most attractive child and was a threat for the affection of their father. In any case, Anna was a vivacious child who became quite mischievous. Her father “wrote to his friend Fliess in 1899, ‘Anna has become downright beautiful through naughtiness…’” (Freud Museum Publications, 1993, p. ). Sigmund Freud had a deep admiration for Anna and used her for research in his psychology field. First, he began to study her dreams when she was 14 years old for his book of dream interpretations. In later years, he used her for analysis for his theory of psychoanalysis. Anna spent much time with Sigmund and became very intrigued by her father’s work. Research has indicated that she did not learn much from her schooling but from her father, his associates, his books and research, and the conferences she would attend with him.

Anna’s respect for her father and her fascination of his work lead her to follow his path and begin work in the field of psychoanalysis. After Anna Freud finished school in 1912, she became an apprentice at the school she attended and later a teacher. “One of her pupils later wrote: “This young lady had far more control over us than the older aunties’. ” (The Freud Museum, 2008, p 1). In 1922, Anna presented the paper on her dreams her father interpreted called, “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams” to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. This gave her the opportunity to become a member.

In 1923, she began her own practice of psychoanalyzing children and not much later, she was teaching at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute on the techniques of child analysis she had developed. This same year her father, Sigmund began suffering from cancer. Therefore, from 1924-1929 Freud spent most of her time taking care of her ill father as well as taking over his professional career. While taking care of her father, during the 1930s, Anna and her lifetime friend, Dorothy Burlingham began working in a nursery school for children of the poor.

Here the two friends were able to work closely with the children, observe infant behavior, and experiment with the feeding patterns of the children. However, this nursery had to close after Nazis took over Austria and the Freuds, ill father and all, had to flee to London. In London Anna continued caring for her father, her work of psychoanalyzing children, and lecturing on child psychology. Unfortunately, in September of 1939, war broke out and Sigmund Freud died a few weeks later. However, Anna, determined in her field, used the war to her advantage and started the Hampstead War Nursery along with Dorothy Burlingham.

The Hampstead Nursery provided foster care to over 80 children and allowed her and Dorothy to publish studies of these children under stress from loss of parents in Young Children in Wartime (1942) and Infants without Families (1943). Regrettably, the Hampstead Nursery closed in 1945 however; Freud created the Hampstead Child Therapy Courses in 1947 and added a clinic for children five years later. Anna became director of this clinic and remained director from 1953-1982. Although Anna Freud followed in her father’s path, she definitely was her own person with her own areas of concentration and theories.

She took what she learned from her father, expanded on it, and altered it to be relevant for children. Anna believed that children’s symptoms were different from that of adults and often related to developmental stages. Anna also differed from her father’s theories in that she concentrated more on the ego of the id, ego, and superego. These ideas contributed to her founding of ego psychology. Anna found that the ego deserved much more study than previously given and wrote the book, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense in 1936.

This book on defense mechanisms was to give quite a clear depiction of how the defenses work. Anna and her ego psychology had an influential impact on Erik Erikson. Erik later went on to work in and expand the field of ego psychology and psychoanalysis leading to more contributions in the field. Anna continued through the years to expand on her work with children and used her work in various clinics to come up with her theories and techniques. She believed that therapists too often tried to put traditional labels on children and children should not receive labels in this manner.

Because children’s problems are more at present, Anna thought to put them on a developmental time-line. Therefore, if a child were at the same pace as far as eating behaviors, play styles, relationships, and hygiene with other children about their same age they were to be considered healthy or normal. However, if a child’s development was lacking, the clinician could gather that there was a problem of some sort and could describe the child by what was lacking not a label. Anna Freud influenced research in Freudian psychology as well.

She added to the field with her observations from various outlets, her long-term case studies of developing children from early childhood to adolescence, and the use of natural experiments. These natural experiments were careful analyses of groups of children who suffered from similar disabilities, such as blindness, or early traumas and were of much use to the research. Anna’s method of pooling observations done in a nursery or similar setting was quite useful in this time as well. This pooling provided the staff a better understanding of the children and their needs when the observed material was gradual.

Another valuable approach Freud created was the ‘double approach’. This approach combined direct observation with analytic reconstruction. Anna believed that as important as direct observations were it was also valuable to use it with reconstructed data. This still has a great extent to offer as a method of both psychoanalytic research and education today (Midgley, 2007). Anna Freud contributed to the field in psychology in many ways. Through her creation of child psychoanalysis and child psychology, she has been an inspiration to many other psychologists in the field.

This inspiring has lead to more experiments, discoveries, and theories over the years and an improved understanding of child psychology. Anna used her life to learn all that she could about children’s psychology and wrote many books on the subject including, War and Children (1943) and Psychoanalysis for Teachers and Parents (1928). She also served as a chair, the secretary, and vice-president of the Vienna Psycho-Analytic Society for several years. Almost everything Anna Freud involved herself in throughout her life influenced the field of child psychology in some way.

She played a vital role in the appearance of this field and had a remarkable career. Anna Freud, much like her father, did not consider awards she had obtained as a measure of herself but because of her dedication to her work, she felt them to be an honor to the field of psychoanalysis. After her death in London in 1982, the Hampstead Clinic was renamed the Anna Freud Centre in 1984 and her home in London of 40 years was transformed into the Freud Museum in 1986, as she had wanted for many years (The Freud Museum, 2008).

These changes were sure to guarantee her, as well as her father’s, remembrance for the mark she made in the history of psychology as well as her vast contribution to the understanding of child psychology. Anna Freud’s entire life went into the field of child psychoanalysis and was a constant search for useful social applications of psychoanalysis, above all in treating, and learning from children. “I don’t think I’d be a good subject for a biography,” she once commented, “not enough action! You would say all there is to say in a few sentences- she spent her life with children! (The Freud Museum, 2008, p. 2). References Freud Museum Publications. (1993). About Anna Freud. Retrieved July 2, 2010, from The Anna Freud Centre: www. annafreud. org Midgley, Nick. (2007). Anna Freud: The Hampstead War Nurseries and the role of the direct observation of children for psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis,4  88, 939-959. Retrieved July 7, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID: 1314617391). The Freud Museum. (n. d. ). Life and Work of Anna Freud. Retrieved July 2, 2010, from The Freud Museum: www. freud. org. uk