Anna Freud’s Contributions Psychology


Anna Freud is the daughter of the respected psychologist, Sigmund Freud and his wife Martha. She was born in Vienna, Austria in 1895. The family dynamics that existed within the Sigmund family made her experience moments of depression at a tender age but she adjusted by creatively devising a mechanism to deal with her beautiful sister and badly behaved cousin. She became naughty and highly perceptive, a quality that made her learn from her father more than her siblings. Her participation in academic activities in school was below average (Young-Bruehl1988, pp. 23-27). The only other source that explains her proficiency in psychology is her father; who at the time of her schooling was the most outstanding psychoanalyst.

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Due to her lack of concentration in school, she followed her father’s footsteps in psychology. She concentrated on the psychology on children and used her father’s developmental analysis to understand how children developed through the stages. She later joined the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society after convincing them that she had learned enough material to be admitted into this exclusive group. The disturbances that arose due to the crackdown on Jews by the hateful army of Hitler and the Second World War made her and her family relocate to England where she furthered her research on the psychoanalytical dimension of child development. The experiences of orphaned children during the war served to highlight the factual nature of most of her earlier findings. Anna never got married. She also did not have any children.

Theoretical Perspective

Anna pursued a path that was completely different from the one that her father had pioneered. This is why the people who tried to dismiss her as a dependent girl who copied her father hit a dead end. She is credited with pioneering the field of ego behavior and the ways in which it initiates defense mechanisms. This is in complete contrast to her father whose attention was focused on the Id and not the ego (Coles 1992, pp.23-27). Her interest lay in trying to understand how the ego gets affected by the conflicting signals it receives from the other two areas; namely the superego and the Id. She also wanted to understand how the reactions of the ego affect the behavior of children (Young-Bruehl 1988, pp. 45-47). Her findings led to groundbreaking conclusions that are crucial in child psychoanalysis in modern psychology. For example through her work, it was discovered that moderated foster care can lead to balanced lives for children. The care she gave to orphaned Jewish children whose parents had died as a result of the war was instrumental in this and other discoveries she made during her studies.

Contribution to the Field Of Psychology

Anna Freud made outstanding contributions to the field of psychology. Together with a friend called Melanie Klein, Anna Freud studied the psychoanalytical process of children. This is a wing of psychology that had remained untouched for a long time (Peters, 1985, pp. 11-14).Her father paid more attention to adults and this may have been the reason why she decided to pursue a path that was totally different from her father’s. The elements of their study focused on how the minds of children functioned and how the various environmental elements that affected adults affected children. For example they had interest in knowing the effect of denying children some items or conditions.

Apart from the above, Anna Freud served as the secretary of the International Psychoanalytical Association during its formative years (Young-Bruehl 1988, pp. 23-24). The period when she did this crucial job has been given as being between 1925 and 1934.Her ability to focus on professionalism made the organization carry out thorough research on a number of areas that had remained unexplored for a long time. This research enhanced the standing of psychology as a discipline. It is therefore justifiable to argue that psychology is at its current prestigious position due to the secretarial services of Anna Freud between 1925 and 1934.

Still under leadership, Anna Freud served as the director of the Vienna Psychological Training Institute in the year 1935.This is a position she took immediately after she left her secretarial position at the International Psychoanalytical Association. The leadership that she brought to this important organization helped in the advancement of the study of psychology in Austria. Her father, Sigmund Freud, who is credited with the discovery of psychology as a professional undertaking benefitted greatly from his daughter’s leadership during this time. The problem is that this benefit was not long lived given that Sigmund became ill around this time, and the looming Second World War together with the anti-Semitic spirit in Eastern Europe made the Freuds to escape to England.

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Besides the above, Anna performed enormous research that often culminated in outstanding papers that laid the ground for modern child psychology and ego analysis. Her most recognizable papers that came at the beginning of her career include: the Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense and the means by which the ego wards off displeasure and anxiety. As noted elsewhere in this paper, Anna did extensive research together with Melanie Klein on psychoanalytic child psychology. It is difficult to discuss issues in these fields without touching on an issue that was explained by Anna Freud during her studies (Peters 1985, pp.56). This is due to the extensive and solid nature of research she carried out on these areas.

Far from the above, Anna Freud made a landmark contribution to psychology upon her arrival in England through the opening of the Hampstead War Nursery. In this institution, she carried out numerous functions (Midgley 2007, pp. 543-546). These included taking care of children whose parents had died in the war, carrying out her research on the psychoanalytical process of children and later on teaching others on how to deal with children who had gotten into problems due to environmental conditions such as war (Kohut 1968, pp.548-554). This institution was instrumental in supporting the initial research that took place in the 1940s and 1950s in the field of child psychology. It still exists to this day and carries on the good work of studying the developmental stages of children. It is known as the Anna Freud Center, a name it was given in honor of the founder. This was a critical contribution that Anna Freud made to the field of psychology.

Apart from the above, the contribution Anna Freud made towards the understanding of the dynamics that make various members of the family engage in crime. Her thorough understanding of human emotions, the nature of the ego and the general inclinations of human behavior made her a favorite speaker in learning institutions around the world. Her frequent addresses to the scholarly community at Yale University are well documented. She collaborated with other leading members of the family law and crime section to write a very influential book entitled Beyond the Best Interests of the Child. The co-authors were Albert Solnit and Joseph Goldstein. The book seeks to make clear the psychological perspectives that are necessary in understanding the behavior of children. The influences of the environment on the behavior of children and how these influences can be utilized for the benefit of the society is a major focus of the book (Goldstein, Solnit & Freud 1973, pp. 34-36).With the publication of this book, law enforcement agencies had a material that explained the underpinnings of crime that had proved to be difficult for a long time. Aspects such as parental influence, the impact of peers, pressures from society, and absence of intervention found their way to the mainstream in addressing crime. This was a new phenomenon given that earlier on, the poverty of ideas made law enforcement officers think that the people involved in crime were genetically inclined to do so.

With all these contributions, it is important to consider the voice of critics who tried to dismiss her Anna as someone who never had a voice of her own; but instead tried to do everything that her father did. Is this a voice that can be listened to? This will depend on the angle from which the argument is examined. From a professional point, it is possible that Anna copied much from her father and this is why she ended up as a psychologist and not an engineer or a lawyer. But the fact that she pursued a different path within the field of psychology and achieved much success makes her independent. This therefore makes her achievements credible.

In conclusion, it is evident that Anna’s background had a role to play in her interest in psychology; given that her father was the founder of psychology. Her theoretical perspective leaned towards demystifying the nature of the ego and the initiation of defense mechanisms. Her contributions to the field of psychology include serving in leadership positions in psychological organization at global and country level as secretary for the international psychoanalytical association and the Vienna psychological training institute respectively. She also researched and presented scholarly papers on psychoanalytic child psychology and studied the ego in a deeper sense. Also, she established the Hampstead War Nursery for taking care of children and collaborated with Joseph Goldstein and Albert Solnit in explaining the nature of crime in relation to the family. This work was instrumental in the field of family law.

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  1. Coles, R. (1992). Anna Freud: The Dream of Psychoanalysis. Reading: Addison-Wesley.
  2. Goldstein, J,Freud, A& Solnit, A. (1973). Beyond The Best Interests of the Child. New York: The Free Press.
  3. Kohut,H. (1968).The Evaluation Of Applicants For Psychoanalytic Training,The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis And Bulletin of the International Psycho-Analytical Association, (49),pp.548-554.
  4. Midgley, N.(2007).Anna Freud: The Hampstead War Nurseries And The Role Of The Direct Observation Of Children For Psychoanalysis, The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis And Bulletin of the International Psycho-Analytical Association, (48),pp.542-556.
  5. Peters, U. (1985). Anna Freud: A Life Dedicated to Children. New York: Schocken Books.
  6. Young-Bruehl, E. (1988).Anna Freud: A Biography (2nd ed.).Ann Arbor: Sheridan Books
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