Anna Freud, Founder of Child Psychoanalysis

Psychiatrist Anna Freud at Her Desk

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Anna Freud was the daughter of Sigmund Freud. While her father was a giant in the field of psychology, Anna Freud was an accomplished psychologist in her own right. She was the founder of child psychoanalysis and extended and further refined her father’s ideas about defense mechanisms.

Fast Facts: Anna Freud

  • Known For: Founding child psychoanalysis and work on ego’s defense mechanisms
  • Born: December 3, 1895 in Vienna, Austria
  • Died: October 9, 1982 in London, England
  • Parents: Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays
  • Key Accomplishments: Chairman of the Vienna Psycho-Analytic Society (1925-1928); Honorary President of the International Psychoanalytical Association (1973-1982); Founder of the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic (1952, now known as the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families)

Early Life

Anna Freud was born in 1895 in Vienna, Austria. She was the youngest of six children born to Sigmund Freud and his wife, Martha Bernays. She did not have a good relationship with her mother and was distant from her five siblings, especially her sister Sophie, who she felt was a rival for her father’s attention. However, she was close to her father.

Sigmund Freud Dining with Family
Sigmund Freud, fourth from left, sits at an elegant dining table with the rest of his family, including his daughter Anna, far right. Corbis/VCG via Getty Images / Getty Images

Anna Freud graduated from Cottage Lyceum in 1912. While she didn’t go on to higher education, she claimed that she learned more at home from her father and his colleagues than she ever did at school. And, of course, Anna Freud had unparalleled access to information on psychoanalysis, which would eventually enable her to become an important voice in the field.

Career

In 1917, Anna Freud took a job as a primary school teacher. She also started to undergo psychoanalysis with her father—a practice that would be considered unusual today but was more common at the time.

In 1923, Anna Freud started her own psychoanalytic practice focusing specifically on children. This was also the year that her father was diagnosed with cancer and Anna became his caretaker. Shortly afterwards, Anna Freud started teaching at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute. Then in 1927, she became the Secretary for the International Psychoanalytic Association, and in 1935, the director of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute. The following year she published her best-known work, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, which expanded on her father’s ideas about defenses and the ways the ego works to protect itself.

In 1938, when the Nazi threat became too great, Anna and Sigmund Freud fled Vienna and settled in London. World War II started there in 1939. Sigmund Freud died a few weeks later.

Freud In Paris
Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) (second right) arrives in Paris after leaving Vienna en route to London, Paris, France, June 1938. He is accompanied by his daughter Anna (1895 - 1982) (left), wife of Prince George of Greece, Marie Bonaparte (1882 - 1962) (second left), and her son Prince Peter of Greece (1908 - 1980) (right). Pictorial Parade / Getty Images

During her early years in England, Freud found herself in conflict with Melanie Klein, another psychoanalyst who was also formulating techniques to use with children. Freud and Klein differed on key points about child development, which led to their different approaches to analysis. In order to resolve the disagreement, they engaged in a series of “Controversial Discussions” that ended with the British Psychoanalytical Society forming training courses for both perspectives. 

In 1941, Anna Freud opened The Hampstead War Nurseries with her friend Dorothy Burlingham. There, they cared for children who had been separated from their families due to the war and documented the children’s responses to the stress of being separated from their parents. After closing the nursery at the end of the war, Freud founded the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic in 1952. She was its director until her death in London in 1982. 

Contributions to Psychology

Freud was a pioneer of child psychoanalysis. She developed new techniques to help children, as she found they required different psychological treatments than adults. She also pointed out that the symptom’s exhibited by children varied from those displayed by adults. She suggested this was a result of children’s developmental stages.

In addition, her work on the ego’s defense mechanisms is still considered seminal. It was a major contribution to both ego psychology and adolescent psychology. Freud said repression, the unconscious suppression of impulses that could be problematic if they were acted upon, was the principle defense mechanism. She also detailed a number of other defense mechanisms, including denial, projection, and displacement.

Key Works

  • Freud, Anna. (1936). The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense.
  • Freud, Anna. (1965). Normality and Pathology in Childhood: Assessments of Development.
  • Freud, Anna. (1966-1980). The Writing of Anna Freud: 8 Volumes.

Sources