Anna Freud: Biography & Theories

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  • 0:04 Who Was Anna Freud?
  • 0:46 Biography
  • 2:33 Psychoanalysis: A Background
  • 4:15 Anna's Contributions
  • 5:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

This lesson focuses on Anna Freud, daughter of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Like her father, Anna worked in the field of psychology most of her life. Her theories and papers form a body of work that still underlies modern psychology and psychoanalysis.

Who Was Anna Freud?

Most people are familiar with Sigmund Freud's work in psychology, even if they're not psychologists. Lay people might not be familiar with exactly what Freud's work and theories were, but they might rightly suspect it has something to do with talking to a therapist. Some might even mention psychoanalysis, which was Freud's process of allowing the therapist to recognize unconscious patterns in the patient's conversation during these therapy conversations. Freud believed that discovering these patterns would enable a therapist to help a patient in a way a patient would not be able to help himself. Most people, however, do not know that one of Freud's daughters, Anna, also contributed to psychology and, in some cases, continued to develop his theories.


Anna Freud was born December 5th, 1895. She was Sigmund Freud's youngest daughter, and her early life was shaped by a strong rivalry with her older sister, Sophie. She was educated in Vienna, and she followed along with her father's work independently before she began her own work in psychoanalysis in 1918. Her understanding of her father's work allowed her to present papers at conferences, and she was able to join the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society in 1922. In 1927, she became general secretary of the International Psychoanalytic Association, a post that she held until 1934. In 1937, Anna founded a school for disadvantaged children with her friend, Dorothy Burlingham. Unfortunately, that school closed the next year because of developments in WWII.

Living in England with his family, Sigmund Freud died on the 23rd of September, 1939. After his death, Anna stayed busy with academic matters and opened the Hampstead War Nurseries for children of single parents. Also, she debated technical matters of psychoanalysis with Melanie Klein, a British colleague with her own techniques and research. The two engaged in a series of debates that led to the creation of different training methods for those following either set of theories. Anna expanded her work from the nursery into the Hampstead Child Therapy Courses, and built a clinic there in 1952. There, she worked with children and taught the next generation of psychotherapists. She traveled frequently later in life, giving lectures in such places as Yale Law School on topics like crime and its impact on the family. She passed away on October 9th, 1982. The Hampstead Clinic, where she had done much of her work, was renamed the Anna Freud Centre in 1984.

Psychoanalysis: A Background

Now, let's go over a brief primer on psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic therapy is the stereotypical therapist's office with patient on a couch and the therapist sitting nearby, speaking only rarely. This therapy is designed to let the therapist see patterns in the patient's experiences, mannerisms, and thoughts, in an attempt at getting to the patient's unconscious mind. Psychoanalysts focus on the unconscious, as they believe that it is the unconscious that can develop in such a way that it causes problems for the patient. Early life experiences and relationships are important, such as the patient's early relationships with parents, peers, and authority figures. Psychoanalysts believe that the unconscious is shaped by these experiences and relationships, and that discoveries of harmful experiences or patterns as a result of these relationships can help patients to recover from mental ailments.

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