History of Modern Psychology: Anna Freud

04 Apr 2018

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Male visionaries dominated in the philosophical contributions to the psychology as a formal discipline; however, many prominent women pioneered major roles in psychology history between 1850 and 1950 (Goodwin, 2005). Freud Sigmund was not only among the Freudian to build credibility in psychology field, this is because Anna Freud-her youngest daughter took career in psychology and made important contributions in the history of psychology. The paper will discuss the background of Anna, her theoretical perspective, and the contributions she made to the field of psychology.

Anna’s Background

Martha and Sigmund had six children, the youngest was Anna born in December 1895. Anna was a mischievous girl who had great admiration the work of her father (Young-Bruehl, 1988). However, she grew separate from her siblings and her mother. Sigmund Freud reciprocated Anna’s adoration and at one time, he wrote of her stating, “Anna has turned absolute beautiful through naughtiness…” (Boeree, 1998, pg 64) Frequently, Anna spoke of her competition feelings against her sister Sophie- the beautiful child of Freud and Anna the brains of Freud family. There was a strained bond between Anna and her mother Martha and the other siblings because their nanny, Jose Cihlarz, took care of them. Anna finished her education at Cottage Lyceum in Vienna in 1912 and was not sure about her future path of career. Anna travelled to Britain in 1914 to grow her English skills but retuned to Vienna after a declaration of war. She got the credentials of teaching and started teaching at her former school. She showed great interest in the field of child psychology after taking much of her time teaching and observing her pupils. Anna decided to abandon being only a teacher to help the children and pursue a career in the footsteps of her father of psychoanalysis.

Sigmund developed the interest of Anna in psychology filed at a young age of 14 years when he allowed Anna to read his works and writings about psychoanalysis. In addition, Sigmund began to analyze the dreams on Anna nighttime in 1918, and Anna accompanied her father to the 1920 International Psychoanalytic Congress. Anna met many of Sigmund’s friends and colleagues, including Lou Andreas-Salome, the psychoanalyst. Later on Lou became a confident of Anna. Vienna Psychoanalytic Society accepted Anna as a member after she presented her Daydreams and Beating Fantasies (Young-Bruehl, 1988). Anna kept on attending meetings of psychoanalytic, followed the publications and the works of her father, analyzed patients, and translated papers. Anna had developed her role as an important contributor to the child psychology field when she began her practice in psychoanalysis with young children. Anna taught seminars at Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute and she published her first work, Technique of Child Analysis. Her father-Sigmund became very ill after he was diagnosed with cancer and went through several surgical operations. Sigmund needed regular nursing to get well. Anna never wanted to leave the side of her father and gave him full-time care of nursing. Nevertheless, Anna managed to continue with her with the children. Unfortunately, Sigmund passed away due to his illness in 1913, almost the same time WWII began (Coles, 1992). Anna followed the footsteps of her father with psychoanalysis, but put her emphasis and focus on improving the techniques of learning children instead of adults. She became fully immersed in designing efficient and effective mechanisms to psychoanalyze children. Modern child psychology and ego psychology still use the techniques developed by Anna (Young-Bruehl, 1988).

Theoretical Perspective and Contributions of Anna

Anna was the successor of her father with her work and research in child psychology and ego psychology (Coles, 1992). She remained honest to her father’s core ideas and themes of psychodynamic theory even though some of the followers of her father abandoned his beliefs. However, she mainly focused on psyche dynamics instead of psyche structures. Anna wrote and published The Mechanisms of Defense and The Ego that gave a description how defenses work and apparently showed the ego is the observation seat from where people observe and works for the concept and the unconscious and superego, and study deserves in its mandate. Ego psychology usually represents the followers of Anna and Sigmund Freud teachings (Coles, 1992). Present day ego psychology is loyal to Freud’s work with a foundation of psychoanalysis, although it is more ordinary and practical of the ego in the application of psychoanalysis. Anna Freud mentored Erikson Erik, who is popular for his expansion works in ego psychology field and psychoanalysis (Goodwin, 2005). The mentorship of Anna influence Erik professional and academic career in psychology. Anna and Erik when he was tutoring children in Heitzing School managed by Dorothy Burlingham, a longtime friend of Anna. Anna saw the skillful manner of Erikson with the children and showed her interest in guiding Erik to study more regarding child psychology.

According to Young-Bruehl, (1988) the main passion of Anna was child psychology. Anna devoted most her energy and time analyzing and studying children suffering traumas, majorly from the effects of the war. Most of the children were predisposed to lasting traumas, while others were blind or handicapped. Anna normally stated that she was happy she did not have her own children, despite the years on her life she devoted to help children she barely knew. Sigmund had focused entirely on adults that sorted through the recollections of childhood instead of current events. The desire of Anna was to work with children suffering from current traumas to prevent any psychological challenges in adulthood (Boeree, 1998). Anna learned children and their own surrounding and became a dependable therapist in dealing with the transference challenges. Reports showed that Anna was a caring adult and was not a substitute guardian, playmate, or parent during the sessions of therapy. The technique of Anna enabled a trusting and stable relationship between the child, the parents, and the therapist (Coles, 1992). The biggest challenge in the cancelling of Anna was communication among the therapist and the children. It is easy for adults to convey their thoughts, beliefs, ideas and emotions verbally whereas young children are inept to act so with accordance. She was unable to use her father’s cure of talking with the children, due to their incapability to verbalize their ideas and thoughts. Children seem to express their feelings and emotions more differently than the adults do. This influenced Anna to develop techniques particularly made to help the children.

Anna Freud had the responsibility of putting up a war nursery at Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic. She and Dorothy Burlingham run the clinic and motivated the children at the nursery to create attachments to manage war trauma. Working hand in hand with the children influenced her to publish many studies and research concerning children in stress during wartime, such as, Infants without Families, War and Children, and Young Children in Wartime (Boeree, 1998). She was able to improve her observation of parental deficiency in young children during traumatic period when orphans from concentration camps were put in Bulldogs Bank home (Boeree, 1998). Anna reported, analyzed and observed her outcomes in an experiment in a group upbringing that gave report of the children’s natural capabilities to create close relations with peers as a substitute of parents. In 1945, Hampstead nursery closed due to the end of the war. Shortly after this closure, Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic and Course opened under Anna’s management. The clinic offered analytic therapy, counseling, and a training in child treatment and analysis (Coles, 1992). The clinic became largest and comprehensive facility devoted the worlds to the treatment and analysis of children. Anna worked as the director, consultant and training analyst of the clinic from 1952 until her passing in 1982. New York Times gave a quote by Anna about her significant work with the children: I begun as a teacher of an elementary school. I changed from teaching to child analysis field. Henceforth, I moved continually back and forth, from the theoretical research of these challenges to their application practically. It is a fact that a person can have special luck to do this, and that many people don not have this luck (Goodwin, 2005).


Freud Anna was born 1895 and passed 1982 (Young-Bruehl, 1988). In those years, Anna made important contributions in the psychology field. Her professional and academic career shows her leaps and bounds in comprehending the nature of humans, mental processes, emotions and behaviors in present psychology (Coles, 1992). She endured being called Sigmund daughter to become a prominent female psychologist in a field and period where the men dominated publications and research. Anna is a true successor of her father and influenced the psychology field as a formal discipline with innovative therapeutic and observation techniques. The works of Anna are historical and worthy discussion, despite of some modern day psychologist agreeing or disagreeing with any of the Freudian perspectives.


Boeree, G. C. (1998). Anna Freud. Personality Theories. Retrieved from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/annafreud.html

Coles, Robert (1992). Anna Freud: The dream of psychoanalysis. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Goodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2nd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley

Young-Bruehl, E. (1988).Anna Freud: A biography. New York: Summit Books

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