Anna Freud

Subject: Gender Studies
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 13
Word count: 3612
Topics: Women Rights, Biography, Feminism, Psychoanalysis

This paper discusses feminist contributions to the field of psychology with a focus on Anna Freud. Anna was the last-born child of the originator of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. In a family of six siblings, it is only Anna who followed her father’s footsteps in the field of psychology. In psychoanalytic literature, there is significant mention of Sigmund Freud’s work; however, it is the efforts of Anna that ensured the legacy of her father is maintained in the realm of psychology, and particularly the growth and development of psychoanalysis theory over the years (Young-Bruehl, 2008). In the past, the society has overlooked the contribution of women in various areas including academics due to embedded traditions and beliefs such as patriarchy. However, the role of women in the society is important as evident in the case of Anna who worked hard to improve on psychoanalysis theory started by her father. Compared to Freud’s work that was rather tentative, Anna’s efforts improved on Freud’s work by developing a better understanding of the problems or challenges associated with early childhood experiences. For instance, Freud’ work was tentative in terms of relying on recollections of early experiences obtained from adults, while Anna observed children to have a better understanding of their experience. As a result, Anna’s contribution in the field of psychology stands out as the pioneer of the foundations that forms the basis child analysis today (Applefield, 2013). Additional efforts that give Anna prominence in the realm of psychology include introducing a number of psychological ego defense mechanisms that are playing an important role in helping psychologists and practitioners to develop a better understanding of their clients’ problem situations. As further pointed out by Applefield (2013), her devotion to improve her father’s work also contributed to the establishment of the school of psychoanalysis known as ego psychology. In the modern times, some of the proponents of ego psychology include, for instance, Erik Erikson. 

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Personal Background

Anna Freud, the last-born child of Sigmund Freud, was born in Vienna, Austria, on December 3, 1985. Anna Freud was the daughter of eminent psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud and Martha Freud. Her five siblings included Sophie, Oliver, Ernst, Mathilde and Jean Martin. With regard to cultural background, the existing literature does not mention the traditions that Anna embraced; however, her father was born in a Jewish tradition. Anna was an ardent follower of her father and may have adopted his beliefs and values. Anna received most of her education from her father, Sigmund Freud. However, she later completed her education at the Cottage Lyceum based in Vienna in the year 1912. Anna remained undecided about her career choice after completing her education in 1912. She later moved to England in 1914 with intentions to improve her English. As part of emulating her father’s works, Anna began taking an interest in her father’s work in 1910; however, it is until 1918 that Anna joined her father’s psychoanalysis work. Anna’s development as a psychoanalyst traces back to between 1918 to 1922 when her father analyzed her and the eventual presentation of the analysis to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Young-Bruehl, 2008). 

After the presentation, Anna became a member of the Society, which enabled her to start a private practice as a psychoanalyst, where she mainly worked with children. Two years later, she got a job to teach at the Vienna Psychoanalytical Training Institute. Additional accolades associated with Anna include serving as the General Secretary of International Psychoanalytical Association between 1927 to1934. In 1935, she served in her capacity as the Director of Vienna Psychoanalytical Training Institute. Anna also stands out when it comes to publications that formed the foundations of ego psychology. When the family migrated to England to escape Nazi invasion in 1938, Anna saw the need to set up an institution to provide foster care for young victims affected by the war. The experience she encountered contributed to her publications associated with how stress affects children and the need to established foster care for children orphaned by the war (Young-Bruehl, 2008).

According to Midgley (2007), the institute (The Hampstead War Nursery) she established in England started to offer courses in 1947, and she built a clinic to help children that presented with psychological needs. In the later years of her life, Anna mainly gave attention to lecturing and traveling to the United States on numerous occasions. Among the institutions that she conducted courses in the later part of her life include Yale Law School. On the other end of the spectrum, Anna also presented with a number of challenges growing up. In her childhood life, she had a strained relationship with her siblings, particularly her sister, Sophie. Their rivalry mainly emanated from both jostling for their father’s attention. The rivalry contributed to Anna’s parents sending her on a number of occasions to health camps during summers. Her parents also thought that the health camps would help Anna deal with her health problems that included depression and chronic eating disorders. Further, while Anna was close to her father, she felt rather distant from her mother (Young, 2008). 

Keable (2011) stated that, when  Nazi Germany took over Austria, Anna faced the challenge of helping her family to flee the country despite her father’s ill health. While she was assisted by two of her siblings, Ernest and Jean Martin, she was the one who experienced the Nazi bureaucracy. She played a significant role in dealing with the processes necessary to ensure her family migrated to London. After settling in England, Anna noted that the country provides more space and freedom compared to the pressure they experienced back in Austria due to the dictatorship of Nazi Germany. Anna’s father died a few weeks after the outbreak of the war. While Anna had already established her practice in England, it appeared the field of child analysis was still new and untested by fellow psychologists. While Anna’s mentors in child psychology that included Siegfried Bernfeld and August Aichhorn were conversant with child analysis, Ann encountered rivalry from Melanie Klein. Klein had developed her own model for child analysis, which to an extent differed from Anna’s theory. In essence, the conflict between Anna and Klein almost caused the collapse of the British Psycho- Analytical Society. However, Keable (2011) further observed that both Anna and Klein resolved their rivalry by agreeing to the establishment of parallel training courses for the two separate theories. With regard to marriage life, Anna never married and there is no existence of any evidence to indicate her involvement is a sexual relationship. However, she was very close to her professional colleague, Dorothy Burlingham. In essence, Anna devoted most of her time in maintaining her father’s legacy (Applefield, 2013).

Contribution to Psychology

The contributions in the field of psychology that are associated with Anna include introducing psychological treatment for children that is different from that offered to adults. Anna emphasized that disruptions in formative years of life could lead to psychological disturbances later in adult life. Anna’s work focused mainly on studying children who were either abandoned by significant others or encountered bad experiences in their early life. The study ensured Anna established foundations for future research targeting early attachments. Initially, in Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual stages of development, he outline four stages (oral, anal, genital and phallic); however, these stages as posited by Freud lacked certainty and mostly relied on recollections of early experiences by adult participants (Malberg, 2013). Anna, on the other hand, worked directly with children, which allowed her to improve on her father’s psychoanalysis theories. In her works, she emphasized that the development of children involves distinct phases. Anna went ahead to improve her father’s ideas on psychological defense mechanisms (Robinson, 2015).

 In her publication (The Ego and the Mechanism of Defense), Anna pointed out various forms of defense mechanisms. In essence, some of these defense mechanisms are relied upon by the contemporary psychologists. On the same note, among the defenses outlined by Anna and used to date by a significant number of psychologists include, for instance, projection, displacement, repression among other defenses as posited in her publication. To date, Anna is recognized as the pioneer of child psychoanalysis (Midgley, 2012). Further, Anna’s contribution to psychology includes providing clarity with regard to “ego” as used in the psychology realm. While teaching at elementary school, Anna focused herself in observing children and their worldviews, which later influenced her interest in child psychology. Anna’s experience working with children further influenced her decision to establish The Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic. Additional contributions to psychology by Anna include laying foundation for the development of adolescent psychology, which was largely informed by her publication, The Ego and Mechanism of Defense (Malberg, 2013). 

Anna also influenced the establishment of foster care homes that play a role in helping with traumatic experiences to form attachments. Anna in her efforts to improve on ego theory that was first introduced by her father identified repression as the main defense mechanism that children tend to develop to subdue certain impulses they consider as harmful. As the pioneer of child analysis, Anna provided psychologists with a better way to not only examine the functions of ego, but also instinctual drives. Compared to adults, child analysis emphasized by Anna provides a better understanding on how children are likely to respond to their own internal pressures as well as external pressures. On the other hand, the establishment of the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic played an important role in providing training and treatment that focused on child analysis (Midgley, 2007). The institute other than being the largest globally was also among the first to offer counseling services and training a significant number of child psychologists as well as other practitioners. In addition, the institution also influenced the establishment of other similar centers across the world that used similar model introduced by Anna (Midgley, 2007). 

Anna is also responsible for ensuring her father’s work exists up to date. When her father died, she gave herself the responsibility of conserving her father’s legacy. The letters and papers from Sigmund Freud that were maintained by Anna later influenced the works of the modern day psychoanalysts or neo-Freudians. Anna’s devotion in the field of psychoanalytic treatment process is also evident in her development of research instruments that include, for instance, the Hampstead Profile. This instrument improved the assessment of the ego functioning as well as the object relations of clients seeking therapy. Her idea to improve on the structural model and her father’s revised model of anxiety and to ensure both resonate with a more superior emphasis on ego and its related functions contributed to her considerations for problems that included, for example, “choice of neurosis” and “ motives” for defense respectively (Robinson, 2015). Further, among the motives for defense against drives that Anna went ahead to differentiate include guilt (superego anxiety), children’s objective anxiety, anxiety associated with the strength of drive and anxiety created by conflicts emanating from aims that are mutually incompatible. Anna is also associated with developing the idea of developmental lines. The concept has played a role in permitting clinical researchers to look for important developmental changes from formative years to adolescent stage (Applefield, 2013). To this end, Anna’s contributions to the field of psychology are enormous, particularly in the area of child psychoanalysis, which has influence on child psychology to date. Her efforts have also paid in terms of introducing a number of techniques that psychologists are using today to treat children presenting with psychological disturbances.

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Critical Discussion

In the arena of child psychology, Midgley (2007) noted that Anna is an important figure who pioneered the use of child analysis. Expanding on her father’s work whose theory was rather tentative and involved recollections of early experiences by adults, Anna worked directly with children. Her direct observation of children helped her develop various techniques used in therapy and counseling of young children and adolescence respectively. The basic tenets of psychoanalysis are that experiences that one undergoes in early life tend to have an impact on later life. Working with children during the war period, Anna realized that children who were separated from their parents or significant others lacked attachment which affected their normal growth and development. As a result, she brought about the idea of creating a foster care to help children with such problem situations to form attachments. Today, foster care homes are all over the world and are based on the model of child analysis posited by Anna (Midgley, 2007). Further, Anna’s efforts contributed to the establishment of an association in the field of psychoanalysis known as ego psychology. Among the proponents of ego psychology in the modern era include, for instance, Erik Erick Eriksson (Cramer, 2015). 

In The Ego and the Mechanism of Defense, Anna formulated a number of defense mechanisms that a many contemporary psychologists apply in their practice. For instance, some of the defense that Anna outlines includes repression that deals with the subduing thoughts that provoke anxiety. She also mention projection, which as a defense mechanism entails an individual projecting his or her failures in another person. Displacement, on the other hand, as defense mechanism associated with Anna as the originator denotes transferring feelings of anger onto another person. Additional defense mechanism that Anna introduced in the field of psychoanalysis is regression, which involves individuals reverting to an early stage of development (Schachter & Target, 2009). 

Anna’s efforts on improving on her father’s psychological ego defense mechanism has laid foundations for psychologists and practitioners to understand where their client’s worldviews or where they are “coming from”. Most problems situations that individuals experience later in their adult life are as a result of repressed experiences in early childhood. In essence, one of the key defense mechanism that formed the basis of Anna’s work to improve child analysis was repression. In the formative years, the life that children experience plays an important role shaping their normal growth and development (Midgley, 2011).  However, situations may arise where children encounter traumatic experiences in their early life. In essence, such experiences if not address may have a negative impact on a child’s later life as an adult. In her analysis, Anna observed that children who encounter traumatic experiences are likely to suppress such experiences in their subconscious mind. However, the suppressed traumatic experiences are likely to re-emerge in later life thus contributing to presentation with psychological disturbances. The school of ego psychology that traces its origin from Anna’s efforts to improve her father’s work has laid a foundation for psychologists and practitioners to focus on the root cause of the problem situation to find better interventions for their respective clients (Penman, 2013). 

The techniques that Anna outlines in her works in the field of psychoanalysis can be used to address various social ills inflicting the contemporary society such as intimate partner violence, and alcohol and drug abuse.  In addition, psychoanalysis techniques started by Sigmund Freud and improved by Anna has also shaped the various intervention that psychologists and practitioners apply with clients presenting with different psychological disorders. Psychoanalysis as advanced by Anna mainly focuses on the root cause of the problem to find suitable interventions for clients. While a significant number of social ills are addressed using techniques developed by behavioral theorists, a significant number of social ills emanates from early experiences in life. For instance, a child who grew up in a home where domestic violence was prone is likely to become aggressive in later life. Similarly, a child who grew up watching his or her parents’ abuse alcohol and drugs is likely to do the same in adult life (Redekop, Luke, & Malone, 2017). Conversely, a number of psychological disorders are caused by repressed experiences, which may have occurred in early life. The normal growth and development of children depends on a number of factors, which are necessary to ensure they lead a positive and product adult life. As the pioneer of child analysis, Anna introduced to the world a new way of understanding children’s worldviews. In her works, she noted that children undergo various developmental changes from their formative years to the adolescent stage. She brings into the fore the need for socializing agents in a child’s life to ensure the psychological needs of the child are met at each developmental stage, which are important for their normal growth and development as they prepare for adult life (Goldstein & Suzuki, 2015).

On the other end of the spectrum, not knowing the contributions of Anna, particularly in the field of child psychology may deny a significant number of child psychologists and practitioners the use of some of the best techniques to address various problem situations presented by their clients. The problems that children present in most cases are different from those affecting adults.  Most of the theories that inform psychotherapy and counseling mainly target adult clients. In this respect, not knowing Anna’s work in child analysis may limit psychologists and practitioners’ use of alternative psychotherapy techniques that are specifically tailored to address problem situations affecting children (Kapoor, 2014). Further, overlooking Anna and her work in the modern day world can lead to social ills since most of the behavioral problems exhibited in adult life are because of early childhood experiences. Without Anna’s work as one of the techniques used to help children and adolescents to deal with unresolved issues, the society would have to deal with an increase in incidents of moral decadence. Further, ignoring ego psychological started by Sigmund Freud and improved by Anna would deny psychologists and practitioners an opportunity to understand how human psyche operates (Kapoor, 2014). On another note, learning about the work of Anna Freud in the field of psychology has provided me with an insight into one of the major techniques used to address client’s problem situations, psychoanalysis. Reading Anna’s work that she inherited from her father, one point that stands out is that most problems that people present with in later life have their origins in earlier life. As such, I have learnt that psychoanalysis as a therapeutic technique plays an important role in exploring the root cause of a problem to ensure the interventions provided leads to long-term solutions for clients’ problem situations.

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Anna Freud as a feminist psychologists stand outs in terms of her contributions in the school of psychoanalysis. Born in a family of six siblings, and the last-born child of Sigmund Freud and Martha Freud, Anna was the only child who followed into the footsteps of her father. She began to follow her father’s work early in her life and her efforts over the years ensured the legacy of Sigmund Freud as the originator of psychoanalysis was conserved. Her main contribution in the field of psychology was in the area of child analysis. Having spent some time observing children, Anna was able to relate to their experiences thus leading to her development of therapeutic techniques used to address problem situations presented by children. Anna’s main focus was children and adolescents, where she maintained that the experiences they undergo through have an impact in their later life.  As a result, she reiterated the importance of understanding problems that may occur at different developmental stages of a child’s life as a way of preparing them for a positive adult life. As a psychoanalyst, Anna pointed out that the traumatic experiences that children are likely to go through in their early life are often suppressed. However, in adult life these subdued experiences are likely to emerge thus the adult children to present with problem situation that is root in traumatic experiences as a child. In this respect, Anna has laid down foundations for child analysis that is informing psychologists and practitioners on the psychoanalysis techniques to use when working with children presenting with problem situations. Other than learning about feminist contribution to the field of psychology, would also like to learn about women’s contribution in the fight for affirmative action.

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  2. Cramer, P. (2015). Defense mechanisms: 40 Years of empirical research. Journal of Personality Assessment, 97(2), 114-122.
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  9. Midgley, N. (2012). Peter Heller’s a child analysis with Anna Freud: The significance of the case for the history of child psychoanalysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 60(1), 45-70.   
  10. Penman, A. B. (2013). ‘There has never been anything like a classical child analysis’: Clinical discussions with Anna Freud, 1970-1971. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 67, 173–193.
  11. Robinson, K. (2015). Review of correspondence 1904–1938: Sigmund Freud and Anna Freud. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 31(2), 267–269.  
  12. Redekop, F., Luke, C., & Malone, F. (2017). From the couch to the chair: Applying psychoanalytic theory and practice in counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, 95(1), 100-109.
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  14. Young-Bruehl, E. (2008). Anna Freud: A biography (2nd ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 
  15. Young, E. (2008). Anna Freud. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.  
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