(1895—1982) Austrian/British psychoanalyst
Anna Freud, the founder of child psychoanalysis, was born in Austria but accomplished much of her work while living in England. Her father, Sigmund Freud (1865-1939), introduced her to his theories about the human mind, which influenced Anna Freud’s work with children. She believed that children developed psychologically through various stages, and that understanding those stages—which were discernible through observation—was essential in treating them. Unlike Sigmund Freud, whose work stressed the unconscious side of the human mind, Anna Freud focused on the practical implications of the ego, or the conscious mind, and its development in children. Some psychologists today argue that Anna Freud’s work in what is now called ego psychology is the type of psychoanalysis that is the most influential and widely practiced today.
Born on December 3, 1895, in Vienna, Austria, Anna Freud was the youngest of Sigmund and Martha Freud’s six children. She finished her education at the Cottage Lyceum in Vienna in 1912; she had no other formal schooling. Like many traditional Victorian-era families, the Freuds did not believe in higher education for girls (ironically, Freud did encourage his daughter’s career in psychoanalysis). In 1914, Anna traveled to England to improve her English, but World War I (1914-18) interrupted her plans. The Austro-Hungarian ambassador to England accompanied her back to Vienna (at the time, Austria and Hungary were one country; the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I ended the dual monarchy). Back in Vienna, Freud began teaching at her old school, the Cottage Lyceum.
Anna had been reading Sigmund Freud’s work, including his famous The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) since she was 15 years old. In 1918, Sigmund Freud began psychoanalyzing his daughter. Anna had told her father that she, too, wanted to become a psy-choanalysist, and he insisted that all practitioners of psychoanalysis should themselves undergo analysis.
Sigmund Freud created psychoanalysis as a technique to better understand the human mind. In the course of his work, he developed a psychodynamic theory of how the human mind works. The ego, or conscious mind, mediates between the id (instinctual desires) and the superego (morality); all three struggle to dominate the mind. Psychoanalysis—free association and dream interpretation—is used by the analyst to uncover the patient’s repressed desires and other aspects of his or her unconscious mind.
Freud’s theories of infantile sexuality shaped Anna Freud’s work with children. According to Sigmund Freud, humans are sexual beings from the time they are born, not when they reach adolescence. Freud believed that the repression of infantile sexuality causes neuroses in adults. For example, he argued that children—especially male children—between the ages of three and five develop an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex, and an accompanying fear of the same-sex parent’s jealousy. (He called this phenomenon the Oedipal complex, after the Greek myth about king Oedipus, who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother.)
Anna Freud began her career in psychoanalysis in 1922, when she presented her paper, “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams,” to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. The society subsequently granted her admission. In 1923, she began treating children on her own, and two years later she began teaching a seminar at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute on using psychoanalysis in the treatment of children. Her first book, Introduction to the Technique of Child Analysis (1927), resulted from her practice and her seminars. As she noted later, her work in the field of child psychoanalysis was “as if a whole new continent was being explored.” From 1927 to 1934, Anna Freud was the general secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association; in 1935, she became director of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute. In 1937, she published her best-known book, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense.
In 1938, the Anschluss, or annexation, of Austria by Nazi Germany meant that the Freuds, who were Jewish, had to leave. Friends helped them obtain emigration papers, and the family relocated in London. Soon after the war broke out in 1939, Sigmund Freud died. Anna Freud quickly established a new practice and began lecturing on child psychology in English. In 1950, she received an honorary doctorate from Clark University in the United States, where her father had lectured in 1909.
Anna Freud developed diagnostic profiles for children that standardized the treatment of children among psychoanalysts. She encouraged both the pooling of observations from multiple analysts and long-term studies of the development of children from early childhood through adolescence. Unlike other psychoanalysts, Freud combined her work in psychoanalysis with charitable work. She, and others, funded a nursery school for poor children in Vienna. She helped to found the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic in London in 1947, which specialized in the treatment of children and the training of child therapists. The site included the Hampstead War Nursery for children traumatized by wartime experiences. She died in London on October 9, 1982.