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Anna Freud

Anna Freud (1895-1982) was the last daughter of Sigmund Freud, despite never attending university (Sayers, 1991) she presented her first paper at the age of 25 to the Vienna Psychoanalyst Society and became a lay analyst (Kardas, 2014). Freud later became analyst and started a practice sharing a waiting room with her father. Both were forced to leave Austria and relocate to London and Sigmund died a few months after the declaration of war (Kardas, 2014).

In 1935 she published The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence where Freud deviated from her father’s theory that defence mechanisms were associated with drives (such as Eros or Thanatos) and instead argued that ego employs specific defence (Midgley, 2012) mechanisms to counteract forms of anxiety (Freud, 1937). The work is important as it is the first text dedicated to defence mechanisms and was the basis for further research and theorising. It was also important because where her father had worked with adults and examined the development as a child Freud was working directly with children. She provides several case studies examining specific defence mechanisms in detail.

During the war, Freud ran a residential nursery for homeless children in Hampstead where she further explored psychoanalytical theory and children. She required that all members of the staff write notes on cards about the children’s behavior. Freud argued that the ego of infants is not developed enough to allow mourning, therefore, if an adequate caregiver can be provided there is nothing more than brief bouts of separation anxiety (Bretherton, 1992). She made observations that these children could also regard their peers as figures of attachment and effort was made to arrange the children into artificial families (Freud and Burlingham, 1943 and 1944). She also, from her observations during the war, introduced new ideas on the impact of the mother, through attachment, on the psychological well being of the child (Kardas, 2014). These ideas of attachment influenced (even if there was disagreement) in the work of both John Bowlby and May Ainsworth who developed further the concept of attachment theory (Kardas, 2014).

Anna Freud's legacy is not just psychological and psychiatric but also legislative. In 1965 he published Normality and Pathology in Childhood, which redefined stage development for childhood and adolescence (Freud, 1966). Her research led her to argue in the favour, not of the biological parent, but for the psychological parent. That in cases of custody, the interest, and their well being, should be paramount (Goldstein, Freud & Solnit, 1973; Kardas, 2014).

It is my opinion that the achievements Anna Freud are understated in the popular history of psychology. Often times, the achievements of Sigmund and Anna are presented together. She, in general, defended her father's ideas but amended them where her observations were counter to the theory. She made significant contributions to psychology in her d exploration of defence mechanisms. At the time, her application of psychoanalysis the children and adolescence was unique. She pioneered the use of children's drawings to explore their unconscious personalities and argued that adolescent presented specific challenges because they were by a parent not of their own free will. Beyond her legacy in psychology she impacted legislation regarding how child custody was implemented based on what was in the best interest (psychologically) of the child (Kardas, 2014).


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Benjamin, L. T. Jr. (2014) A Brief History of Modern Psychology (2nd Edition). Wiley: New Jersey

Bretherton, I. (1992) The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Development Psychology 28, 759 - 775.

Freud, A. (1937) The ego and the mechanisms of defence. Hogarth Press: London

Freud, A. (1966) Normality and pathology in childhood: assessments of development. New York: International Universities Press.

Freud, A. and Burlingham, D. (1943) War and Children. Medical Warbooks: New York

Freud, A. and Burlingham, D. (1944) Infants without Families. International Universities Press: New York

Goldstein, J. Freud, A. and Solnit, A (1973) Beyond the best interests of the child. The Free Press: Chicago

Kardas, E. P. (2014) History of Psychology: The Making of a Science. Wadsworth: London.

Midgley. N (2012) Reading Anna Freud. Routledge: New York

Sayers, J. (1991) Mothers of Psychoanalysis. W. W. Norton & Company: New York



Anna Freud, 1928. Sigmund Freud Foundation.

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