Monday, February 28, 2011

Women in Psychology

Women in Psychology

Anna Freud never took a course in psychology nor did she refer to herself as a psychologist (Fine, 1985). According to R. Fine (1985), there is little information on the personal life of Anna Freud because from a young age, her own identification was obscured by the strong and overpowering life and work of her father. In presenting Anna's life work, it is virtually impossible to separate her from the omnipresent and most influential presence in her life - Sigmund Freud (Fine, 1985). She was his daughter, confidante, student, and most loyal and ardent follower (Fine, 1985).

Birth, Family, and Education

The youngest of Sigmund's six children, and the only family member to follow in her father's celebrious footsteps, it is difficult to speak of Anna without including her father as the prevailing presence in her life (Midgeley, 2007). Anna Freud's experience with psychoanalysis is considerably more personal and unlike that of any other significant contributor to modern day psychology (Midgeley, 2007). She studied under his tutelage, experienced his historic life, and was steeped in an understanding that was close to Freud's innermost sanctum as he guided, directed, and even coerced her every step (Fine, 1985; Midgeley, 2007). The abundance and experience of her life and work is almost palatable, as is evident in contemporary theories of children and young adults dealing with the remnants of physical and psychological abuse (Midgeley, 2007).

At age 23 Anna attended her first meeting of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, and it was during this time that she obtained her psychoanalytic training, which she later described as disorganized and untraditional (Fine, 1985). Although neither admitted to the allegation, many peers thought that she received most of her training under her father's tutelage (Fine, 1985). Prior to her training, she had worked in the classroom for five years, and by the time she was 27, she began to develop theories and an approach to child analysis (Midgeley, 2007).

Love for the field of Psychoanalysis

Anna Freud had a distinct and loyal love for her father's psychoanalytic theory which is currently embraced by the psychodynamic perspective (Midgeley, 2008). As previously mentioned, Anna never referred to herself as a psychologist - she was a psychoanalyst, and her decided love was psychoanalysis (Midgeley, 2008). Although always overshadowed by her father, she did make significant contributions to psychology including her classic work The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, which was, and is considered a major contribution to the psychodynamic perspective of psychology (Midgeley, 2007). Utilizing the Freudian perspective, many peers considered Anna her father's alter ego, and because of her close, almost unusual ties to her father, she became fixated on him and never married nor had children of her own (Midgeley, 2007).

Contributing Influences to Anna Freud's Work

The Influence of Sigmund Freud

Despite the horrors of World War I Anna emerged from her studies at an energetic time consumed with ideas of creating a better society (Midgeley, 2007). It was also an important time for psychoanalytical ideas with the recent use of observational techniques and the new concept of child studies (Midgeley, 2008). After the war, Anna's father was developing a new model of child rearing according to his psychoanalytic perspective (Midgeley, 2007). This time was perhaps one of the most exciting for both he and Anna as they theorized neuroses and other mental disturbances could be avoided by introducing new ideas to the care and raising of children (Midgeley, 2007). Sigmund Freud wrote about the application of these new models and excited a considerable amount of interest in its practical application in educational models (Midgeley, 2007). He and Anna ran seminars for teachers and parents, and their application spurred many new books on the subject (Midgeley, 2008). Anna helped to establish two different experimentally designed schools according to Freud's theories (Midgeley, 2008).

Influences of War-Torn Europe

Both of these projects were interrupted, however, by the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany, when Freud and his family were forced to flee to London (Fine, 1985). Anna was significantly influenced by Hitler's movement and directly experienced his atrocities in Germany that took the lives of her father's four sisters at Auschwitz (Fine, 1985). She narrowly escaped Vienna with her father before they too, were victims of this time (Midgeley, 2007). Had it not been for Hitler's atrocities and the ensuing World War, Anna Freud may never have had the direct observational experience of children that her wartime endeavors provided (Midgeley, 2007).

Hampstead House and the War Nurseries: Anna Freud's Finest Hour

Anna's finest work was in the creation of the Hampstead House for children suffering the horrific effects of World War II, not only because of the safety it provided for war-torn children, but also because it began the establishment of Anna Freud's approach. After the death of her father, and the beginnings of the war, Anna submersed herself in her work. She recognized the need to provide shelter for children and families ravaged by the raging war. Along with her lifelong companion, Dorothy Burlingham, Anna opened the Hampstead War Nurseries, a series of nurseries for children orphaned by the German's attacks on London. As the need for asylum escalated with the war's destructive power, her temporary plans for shelter took shape and grew rapidly (Midgeley, 2007).

Although Anna's primary goal was the safety and protection of the children, she quickly realized that the opportunity to observe their reactions to the effects of the war was critical (Midgeley, 2007). She recognized that the opportunity to observe the psychological needs of children and their consequential reactions to the war's effects was a profound by-product of her charitable war efforts (Midgeley, 2007). The Hempstead Nurseries became known as Anna's greatest professional achievement and eventually became a fully functioning facility for the treatment of children, research, education, and training (Midgeley, 2007).

Anna Freud's Challenge

Anna's constant challenge was engaging others to teach and instill in them an understanding of the grave importance of her undertakings (Midgely, 2007). Although she had the opportunity to employ and collaborate with superior psychological and philosophical minds of her time, it was often a challenge to instill the focus of her work in others, and the importance she believed it held for her students (Midgeley, 2008). Always advocating for the children, she spent many years teaching and supplementing the education of her comrades to ensure their activities with the children were accurate and appropriate according to her psychoanalytical approach (Fine, 1985). It was her fervent belief that the more accurately she employed her father's model in the schools, the more likely that each child would continue to thrive despite personal trauma (Fine, 1985).

Anna Freud as Mentor

In all of Anna's endeavors, she championed the child in every aspect (Midgeley, 2007). She understood that an effort to save children from psychological distress served to save them from later destruction in their adult lives (Midgeley, 2007). Anna Freud's psychoanalytical work was of ultimate importance, but her work for children gave her meaning and produced the intrinsic personal value of her work (Fine, 1985). According to R. Fine (1985), "Anna gave up ordinary gratifications for the sake of her father and her scientific work" (p. 3). She was authentically involved with all that she did, and although some of her peers find fault with her lack of original contributions to psychoanalytic theory, her primary interest was in furthering her father's work, not in fulfilling her own ideas (Fine, 1985). Anna's leadership has inspired generations of psychoanalysts who understood the powerful use of careful, dedicated, and thoughtful observation as a model for scientific analysis (Midgeley, 2008). The whole of Anna Freud's life was a reflection of her expertise and love for teaching (Midgeley, 2008), and the authentic nature of her ability to give to others, will provide exceedingly adequate mentorship for students of any psychological perspective.


Anna Freud was a phenomenal woman, although always understated by the looming shadow of her father (Fine, 1985). Although she was burdened by her father's illness and death, the frontlines of ravaging war, and her emigration from her homeland, she was resilient, and never doubted the immense purpose of her undertakings (Fine, 1985). She stood for those who could not stand for themselves (Midgeley, 2007). She, like her father, was well aware of the difficulties and defects of the human condition, and regarded herself as no different from her fellows (Fine, 1985). Anna Freud's mentorship would present itself as an education in psychoanalytic thought as well as one of appreciation of the human condition, its desire to serve, and ability to heal.


Fine, R. (1985). Anna Freud (1895 - 1982). American Psychologist, 40(2), 230-232. doi:

Midgley, N. (2007). Anna Freud: The Hampstead War Nurseries and the role of the direct
observation of children for psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis,
4 88, 939-959. Retrieved August 17, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals.
(Document ID: 1314617391).

Midgeley, N. (2008). The 'Matchbox School' (1927-1932): Anna Freud and the idea of a
'psychoanalytically informed education'. Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 34(1), 23-42.
doi: 10.1080/00754170801895920

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