Anna Freud Biography and Contributions to Psychology

Who Was Anna Freud?

  • Known For: Founder of child psychoanalysis and contributed to ego and adolescent psychology.
  • Born: December 3, 1895, in Vienna, Austria.
  • Died: October 9, 1982, in London, England.
  • Parents: Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays.
  • Contributions: Anna Freud became a major force in British psychology, specializing in the application of psychoanalysis to children. Among her best-known works are The Ego and the Mechanism of Defense (1936).
  • She established the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic (1952, now known as the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families).
  • She promoted parent guidance and school consultation as important functions of
    the child therapist.

Because of her lifetime work with children and insight into child psychology through theoretical and practice perspectives, Anna Freud is known as the founder of child psychoanalysis and also contributed to ego and adolescent psychology.

In her own words, she didn’t think “I”d be a good subject for biography, “not enough “action”! You would say all there is to say in a few sentences – she spent her life with children!”

Even in such a simple summary of her life, she greatly expanded her psychoanalytical thought. Her contribution to ego psychology consisted of describing various mechanisms of defense, including repression (the principal human defense mechanism), projection, and regression.

Her clinical experience and publications offered insight into children’s developmental stages, providing us with psychological techniques to treat children and to understand the existing differences between a child and an adult.

Early Life

Anna Freud was the Austrian-British founder of child psychoanalysis. She was the sixth and the youngest of Martha and Sigmund Freud’s children (Sigmund Freud Museum).

Similar to her father, Sigmund Freud, she contributed to the field of psychoanalysis but with a particular focus on children, revolutionizing the ways children are treated in many fields.

Throughout her work, she combined theoretical and practical perspectives into describing and refining child psychoanalysis.

Though Anna did not have a meaningful relationship with her mother and was jealous of her elder sister’s beauty, Anna was a lively child according to her father as shown in his letter to a friend in 1899 that “Anna has become downright beautiful through naughtiness” (Sigmund Freud Museum).

Anna Freud finished her education at Cottage Lyceum in Vienna in 1912 while uncertain of her career.

Therefore, she moved to England after two years to improve her English, but her time there was cut short due to World War I, resulting in her return to Vienna, where she began to
teach at her alma mater in 1917 (Sigmund Freud Museum).

Her further studies consisted of learning from her father’s psychoanalysis work and practical experiences. She became a child psychoanalyst without a medical degree.

Career: Timeline of Contributions


Anna Freud presented her first paper, Beating Fantasies and Daydreams, and became a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society (Sandler, 2015).

In her paper, she explained that “Daydreaming, which consciously may be designed to suppress masturbation, is mainly unconsciously an elaboration of the original masturbatory fantasies” (Fenichel, 1945, p. 232)


She established her psychoanalytic practice with children and became an instructor at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute.

During this time, Anna also began to nurse her father as he became a patient of cancer (Sigmund Freud Museum).


Anna became the Secretary of International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) and continued her child analyses while lecturing on the subject, organizing conferences and nursing

her father, as well as publicly representing him on various occasions, including award ceremonies (Sandler, 2015).

Anna’s work at the Training Institute resulted in her first book Introduction to the Techniques of Child Analysis, which consisted of lectures for teachers, parents, and others who came into contact with children.

Later, she was invited to present this publication in London, where she discovered her approach to be widely different from that of Melanie Klein.

Through a series of “controversial discussions,” their conflicting theories resulted in the formation of different schools of thought: Anna’s theories of child development and Melanie’s theory of object relations (based on the mother-infant relationship) (Taylor, 2009, p. 78).


Anna became the director of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute in 1935.

The following year, she expanded the psychoanalytic thought in ego and defenses with her publication of Das Ich and die Abwehrmechanismen (the Ego and the Mechanisms of Defenses, 1937), which became the founding work of ego psychology and still remains a standard text today.

In this book, she describes various mechanisms of defense and how ego unconsciously protect an individual from unpleasant feelings arising from both within and outside.


With the upheavals in Austrian political and economic situations in the 1930s, Anna integrated philanthropy into her psychoanalytic work.

She supervised Jackson Nursery (funded by Edith Jackson, an American child psychoanalyst) in Vienna for economically deprived children.

In this nursery, Anna and her friend Dorothy Burlingham continued their work by observing child behavior and experimenting with their feeding patterns.

In 1938, the nursery closed due to the arrival of Nazis in Austria, and Ernest Jones (former IPA President) helped in fleeing the Freud family to London (Sigmund Freud Museum).


Within a few months of the war, Sigmund Freud passed away. By this time, Anna had established her child psychoanalytic practice in London.


Anna, with her friend Dorothy Burlingham, established the Hampstead War Nurseries to provide foster care to children during the war.

Due to these nurseries, she was able to observe the impact of separation from families on children’s normal development. Written detailed observations of children’s daily behavior in the nurseries became pivotal practical perspectives for Anna and Dorothy in their work and helped refine the child’s normal and pathological development.

Later, they recounted these observations in three publications: Young Children in War-Time (1942), War and Children (1943), and infants Without Families


With Kate Friedlaender (a female psychoanalyst), Anna established Hampstead Child Therapy Courses and later founded a children’s clinic.

At this clinic, Anna and her staff gained insight into children’s development through weekly case studies by tracking theoretical normal growth “from dependency to self-reliance” and using diagnostic profiles to identify abnormal and normal factors in child development (Sigmund Freud Museum).

Anna began working and analyzing children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and was committed to sharing her analytical work with those who work with children, such as parents, teachers, and pediatricians.

She also traveled to the United States and explored the application of psychoanalytical ideas on family and crime at Yale Law school. This participation resulted in two publications:  Before the Best Interests of the Child (1973) with Joseph Goldstein and Beyond the Best Interests of the Child (1973) with Joseph Goldstein and Albert Solnit (Sandler, 2015).

Anna published Normality and Pathology in Childhood (1965), which explained all stages of child development from infancy to adolescence and used her personal observation at children’s clinics and other child and adult analyses as evidence.

Anna Freud began to receive honorary doctorates from various universities, including Harvard University and Vienna University. In 1973, she became the Honorary President of the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) until her death in 1982.


On October 9, 1982, Freud passed away in London. After her death, Hampstead Clinic was renamed to Anna Freud Center as a tribute and her home in London became the Freud Museum (Sigmund Freud Museum).

She has been recognized by many in her life, but she always dedicated the awards to the field of psychoanalysis rather than herself.

Critical Evaluation

Anna Freud established the field of child psychoanalysis and she work contributed greatly to the theory of child psychology. She developed different techniques to treat children, and noticed that children’s symptoms different from those of adults and were often related to developmental stages.

Anna Freud provided clear explanations of the ego’s defense mechanisms in her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936), including displacement, sublimation, and Regression.

Anna Freud Melanie Klein
Implemented storytelling in therapeutic settings. As child expresses himself, the therapist assist in interpreting and understanding feelings. Klein felt that young children could bear the full weight of her analytical interpretations and so she did not hold back or sugar-coat them (see her famous case study Narrative of a Child Analysis, 1961).
Used play as a means to build a positive relationship between the child and therapist, thus allowing the therapist better access to a child’s inner thoughts and emotions. Klein believed

play provided insight into a child’s unconscious, and used it as an analytic tool.

Focused on simple (less symbolic) interpretations of children’s play. She helped
children to consciously understand why their thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Emphasizing the role of free association through play, and as the vehicle to making interpretations directly to even
very young children’s unconscious.
Anna emphasized the ego more in child analysis than when treating adults. Klein focused on pre-Oedipal development.
Many of the noted problems in young children are related more to short-term experiences than long-term experiences. Present behavior is caused by the past (e.g. childhood).


“Anna Freud”. (February 27, 2009). Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia .

Fenichel, O. (1945). The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. New York: W. W. Norton.

Klein, M. (1961). Narrative of a child analysis: The conduct of the psychoanalysis of children as seen in the treatment of a ten year old boy (No. 55). Random House.

Reuters. (October 10, 1982). Anna Freud, Psychoanalyst, Dies in London at 86. New York Times Archive.

Sandler, A. M. (2015). Anna Freud. Institute of Psychoanalysis: British Psychoanalytical Society.

Sigmund Freud Museum. (n.d.). Anna Freud: 1895-1982. Sigmund Freud Museum Vienna.

Taylor, E. (2009). The Mystery of Personality: A History of Psychodynamic Theories. New York:

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (December 02, 2019). Anna Freud. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. .

Key Publications

Freud, A., & Clark, L. P. (1928). Introduction to the technic of child analysis (No. 48). Nervous and Mental Disease.

Freud, A. (1936). The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. International Universities Press, Inc.

Freud, A., & Burlingham, D. T. (1947). Infants Without Families: Reports on the Hampstead Nurseries, 1939-1945. International Universities Press.

Freud, A. (1954). The widening scope of indications for psychoanalysis discussion. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 2 (4), 607-620.

Freud, Anna. (1966). Normality and Pathology in Childhood: Assessments of Development. International Universities Press, Inc.

Freud, A. (1971). Problems of Psychoanalytic Training, Diagnosis, and the Technique of Therapy, 1966-1970 (Vol. 7). International Universities Press, Inc.

Freud, A. (1982). Psychoanalytic psychology of normal development, 1970-1980 (No. 112). Vintage.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education.

Iqra Noor

Teaching Fellow

B.A., Neurobiology & Linguistics, Harvard University

Iqra Noor is a member of the Class of 2023 at Harvard University.