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Anna Freud: A Brief History

Anna Freud was born on December 3, 1895. (Freud Museum, n.d.) She was born in Vienna Austria to Sigmund Freud and his wife, Martha. (The Adoption History Project [TAHP], 2007) Freud was the youngest of six children. (TAHP) While her relationship with her mother and her siblings were strained at best, she was very close to her father. (Webster University [WU], n.d.) Freud also had a rivalry with her sister Sophie for the attention of their father. (WU)

Freud had bouts of depression, and the depression led her to also suffer from anorexia. (WU) Freud’s father considered her to be lively child, with a mischievous side. (WU) Freud started private school in 1901. She did however; feel she learned more from her father’s guests at home than she did at school. This earned her the nickname “Black Devil” (WU, p. 2). Freud had an uncanny ability to pick up languages very quickly. From her experiences with her father’s colleagues she learned Hebrew, German, English, Italian, and French. (WU) Freud finish school in 1912 and moved to her grandmother’s home in Italy. (WU) While there, she began translating her father’s works into German. Her love of psychology began with this work. (Freud Museum) Perhaps her desire for her father’s attention is another major reason she was so drawn to his work. (Reuters, 1982) In 1914, Freud returned to Austria to teach at her old school, the Cottage Lyceum. (Freud Museum)

Sigmund Freud started his psychoanalysis of his daughter in 1918 thus giving Anna Freud the opportunity to become seriously involved in father’s work. When her analysis was completed in 1922 she became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society by presenting the paper “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams,” the paper written about her. (Freud Museum, n.d.) Freud began her own practice in 1923 starting with adults but quickly changing to work mainly with children. (Freud Museum) She began this work even though she had not received a medical degree. (Reuters, 1982) She continued to work with children for many years. Freud’s first book entitled “Introduction to the Technique of Child Analysis” which was composed of lectures for teachers and parents. (Freud Museum)

Sigmund Freud became very ill in 1923. Anna Freud was the one who took on the task of his care. At this time, he had the first of several surgeries to remove cancer from his jaw. (WU, n.d.) Freud remained faithful to her father’s care until his death. That same year Freud began her private practice of psychoanalysis of children in Vienna. (Van Wagner, 2008) In 1925, just two years later, Freud began teaching at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute, sharing her methods with others at the institute. She was the Secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association from 1925 to 1934. (Freud Museum, n.d.) She became the director of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute in 1935. Approximately one year after this accomplishment, Freud published “The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense.” This established her as a pioneering theoretician. (Freud Museum)

The outbreak of the war brought about significant change in the life of Anna Freud. The Germans took over Vienna. The Freud family was held for ransom. (Reuters, 1982) Once the ransom was paid, the family fled Austria. (Reuters) Before her family left Austria, Freud was questioned by the Gestapo. (Van Wagner, 2008) The Germans also forced Sigmund Freud to make a written statement that his family was treated well. (Reuters) Anna Freud took on the responsibility of organizing the emigration of her family to London. (Freud Museum, n.d.) She was aided in this endeavor by Ernest Jones and Princess Marie Bonaparte, who helped her to obtain the papers necessary to emigrate. (Freud Museum) Once in London, Anna Freud was instrumental in settling her parents into their new home. (Reuters) Shortly after the family immigrated to London, Freud’s father died.

The war gave Freud the opportunity to study the behaviors of children who had lost their parents. She opened the Hampstead War Nursery, which she closed in 1945. Later in 1947, Freud and Kate Friedlaender created the Hampstead Child Therapy Courses. To this clinic was added a children’s clinic in 1952. (Freud Museum, n.d.) At this facility Freud was not only treating children, she was training English and American child therapists. Freud wrote of her work at this clinic as well as several others, in her book “Normality and Pathology in Childhood.” (Freud Museum) Anna Freud spent the remainder of her life traveling in order to teach and lecture. During her final years, she received several honorary doctorates. These include one from Clark University in 1950, in 1972 one from the Vienna University, and one from Harvard University in 1980. (Freud Museum) She also was given a C.B.E. from Queen Elizabeth II in 1967. (Freud Museum) Anna Freud died at her family’s home in London in 1982 at the age of 86. (Reuters, 1982)

Anna Freud believed that the emotional development of children is accomplished through several stages: the oral, the anal, the urethral, and the phallic sexual. (Reuters, 1982) A few psychologists of the time agreed with this theory while others did not. Freud believed that the infancy of a child was a prologue to a greater maturity. One of her principles was that children were best served by protective, supportive, and educational attitudes of therapists. (Reuters) Freud also theorized that in observing the unconscious mind, the ego was the “seat of observation.” (Boeree, 1998) One of Freud’s best known books, “The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense” supports her theory of the ego. (Boeree) Another of Freud’s theories is that the relationship between a therapist and a child is not the same as the relationship between that of a therapist and an adult. (Boeree) She dealt with this “transference problem” by being a caring adult to the child, not a playmate and not a parent. (Boeree) Freud also theorized that because children live in the moment, their problems are closer to the surface than those of adults. (Boeree) According to Freud’s theories, children’s development moves along a time line. If a child is lagging behind any of these milestones, then the problem needs to be addressed. (Boeree) Anna Freud’s theories concerning children helped to create the foundations of child psychoanalysis, and continue to benefit children today.

Anna Freud has made countless contributions to the field of psychology. She further elaborated her father’s theory of the defense mechanism. (Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence [ECA], 2008) Humans use these defense mechanisms in an attempt to cope with stress in their lives. Using these mechanisms is not always beneficial to humans because the cause of the stress is hidden and not dealt with. Several defense mechanisms exist, including: “denial, repression, suppression, projection, displacement, reaction, formation, regression, fixation, identification, introjection, rationalization, isolation, sublimation, compensation, and humor.” (ECA, p. 3)

Another contribution of Anna Freud is the concept of developmental lines. Using this concept, the development of humans from infancy to adulthood is measurable long a continuum. (Paris, 2007) Freud theorized that children accomplish the steps along this continuum in their own individual ways. The accomplishments of each child are also based on the child’s environment, experiences, and on the child himself. (Paris) If a child falls behind on this continuum, then evidence exists that attention in the area is needed.

Freud also taught the world a great deal in the field of adoption sciences. She also determined the effects of separations from parents on children. (TAHP, 2007) She opened Hampstead Nurseries for children who had lost their parents during World War II. (TAHP) These nurseries later became Hampstead Child Therapy Training Course and Clinic. Freud treated orphaned children at this facility. She also used this facility to train children’s psychoanalysis’s. (TAHP) Many people have benefited from the contributions of Anna Freud to the field of psychology.

Anna Freud was a dynamic individual. The daughter of Sigmund Freud, she was destined for greatness. Her life could be described as a life dedicated to children. She made many contributions to the field of psychology. Freud’s life impacted the world in a positive manner, and the effects can still be seen today.

Boeree, C. G. (1998). Anna Freud. Personality Theories. Retrieved from
Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence (2008). Defense Mechanisms. Retrieved 07/05/08, from http//
Freud Museum (n.d.). Life and Work of Anna Freud. Retrieved 07/02/08, from
Paris, D. (2007). Towards Meeting the Developmental Needs of Preschoolers in the Classroom. Retrieved 07/05/08, from
Reuters, (1982, October 10, 1982). Anna Freud, Psychoanalyst, Dies in London at 86. New York Times. Retrieved from
The Adoption History Project (2007). Anna Freud. Retrieved 07/01/08, from
Van Wagner, K. (2008). Anna Freud Biography (1895-1982). Psychology. Retrieved from
Webster University (n.d.). Anna Freud. Retrieved 07/02/08, from