Daughter of Freud, mother of child psychoanalysis

June 1, 2008

Anna Freud's contribution to psychoanalysis, child development, and pediatrics in general.

Sigmund Freud, MD, of course, is the father of psychoanalysis. Dr. Freud was also the father of six children, including daughter Anna. Anna Freud was very close to her father, especially in the last years of his life, when she was his caretaker and protégé. After he died in 1939, she became torchbearer for Freudians for the next half-century.

Freud the father focused on the id: the childlike desires inside every person. Freud the daughter helped bring more attention to the ego: the mediator between the id and the authoritarian superego. Without her defining work on ego psychoanalysis, there would be no Erik "identity crisis" Erikson. That would be enough for most people, but Anna Freud was just getting warmed up.

After VE Day, the war nursery turned into the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic. Freud turned into a trainer, passing on what she had learned studying child behavior under stress. She held weekly case studies, examining how children made the move from being dependant on others to mature self-sufficiency. Despite her never receiving a doctorate, her work became a benchmark for child development.

As daughter of such a giant, Anna Freud could never have escaped Sigmund's shadow. She never distanced herself from him, though, and during her groundbreaking decades of child psychology, she focused on helping children rather than building her own reputation. While she collected uncountable honorary doctorates, she said they were awards for the field of study, not herself.

Such humility would make her protest what happened in 1986, three years after her death. London's Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic renamed itself the Anna Freud Centre, where hundreds of children each year receive treatment and are kept on the right developmental track.

Groundbreaking work continues there to this day. Studies on children of adoptions, genetic bases for psychological disorders, maternal-child mental health bonds, and other investigations are ongoing. The Centre also offers parent-infant and -toddler classes, family counseling, and teen depression activities. All services are available no matter one's insurance or financial status.

In addition, the Centre continues to offer training courses to child psychiatrists the world round, just as in Anna Freud's day. In the final analysis, she may ultimately be responsible for more mentally healthy adults than her father.