Anna Freud: a Biography

Elizabeth Young-Bruehl is a professor at Haverford College and a member of the Philadelphia Association for Psychoanalysis; this psychological background is very much evident in her writing. Young-Bruehl’s obvious knowledge of psychoanalysis, often times made reading Anna Freud: a Biography difficult. For example, the book covered many of Anna Freud’s theories and this being a biography and not a psychology textbook it was difficult to comprehend without previous knowledge of her theories. An entire chapter of the book dealt with the conflicting views Anna Freud and Melanie Klein had regarding the Oedipus complex. But I never caught on to what the different views were, so the importance of that chapter was somewhat lost. The book is also written with great attention to detail that it just becomes overwhelming, are difficult to follow. One other problem I had with the book was that there were so many names mentioned that it was difficult to remember who did what and what their significance was.

The beginning of the book, Young-Bruehl provides some background information on the Freud family, before Anna is born, particularly Sigmund. In fact, the first fifth of the book deals more with Sigmund Freud than it does with Anna. However, it is important to discuss her father, because was the founder of psychoanalysis and had a huge impact on her life. Most of her life seemed to be based around him. Every since Anna was little, she craved her father’s love and attention. This is why she began to take an interest in psychoanalysis in the first place because it allowed the two of them to spend lots of time together, which pleased Anna. She was the youngest of the six Freud children and had felt excluded from her siblings and ignored by her father, during her youth.

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I found it rather disturbing the way she lived her life so much for her father instead of for her self. And being exposed to this knowledge early on tainted my opinion of Anna for the remainder of the book. Her father was involved with every aspect of her life, including her love life. Sigmund Freud once wrote to his friend concerning his daughter’s suitor, Hans Lampl, that although he was very fond of Lampl, he was “not interested in having Lampl as a son-in-law when the courtship became more serious”. And undoubtedly Anna could sense her father’s desire, and was influenced by him. In a letter Anna writes to her father she says, “I am often together with Lampl in a friendly relationship, but I also have the daily opportunities to confirm our judgment of him from last year and to rejoice that we judged correctly”(96). When she wrote this letter Anna was twenty-six years old. By this age children should live for themselves and should no longer need approval by one’s parents. She should be making decisions on her own, especially concerning her love life. It was examples such as this that made me angry and wanted to discredit Anna’s achievements.

However, just because her personal choices upset me they do not discredit her contribution to the child psychoanalysis. Throughout her father’s life Anna basically just studied and agreed with his theories, but she did not come up with many original thoughts on her own. It wasn’t until after Sigmund’s death in 1939, that Anna truly made any significant contributions to the Psychoanalytical Society. Anna opened up the Hampstead War Nursery, where they cared for children during the wartime. This nursery allowed Anna to address two of her main concerns: “to have an evacuation residence organized and ready to receive children from the London homes, and to be able to care for babies, the most vulnerable population”(246). While they cared for these children, they observed them. Anna recorded the children’s eating, sleeping and play pattern, as well as, the emotional development of the children. Much of her child psychoanalysis came from the observations she made in the nursery. This nursery was such a good idea that years later after the war was over she received grants to open up another clinic. The clinic was not a refuge for children of war but rather a place to observe normal, neurotic, disturbed and blind children, as well as an establishment that advised young mothers how to accommodate their babies physical and emotional needs. The clinic was also where Anna’s student analysts worked, since observation and actual interaction with one’s patient is the basis of psychoanalysis.

Anna Freud is credited for making substantial contributions to the field of child psychoanalysis. Her father, the founder of psychoanalysis, is recognized for his revolutionary thinking. Anna on the other hand was able to get more personal and is recognized with her ability to empathize with her patients. She really tried to see things from the viewpoints of her patients.

Young-Bruehl’s book was very informative and it really gave an insight into Anna Freud that was unexpected. I incorrectly assumed that psychologists are people that have their lives pretty figured out and are able to live a happy and fulfilling life. But, Anna Freud certainly did not fit my stereotypical psychologist. She seemed to have some pretty heavy issues herself. I wonder if she was truly satisfied with her career or if it was just the life she choose because it made her father proud and this acceptance from father was all she really wanted out of life. An interesting book, even though Anna’s weakness of character and her dependency on her father was a disappointment.

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Anna Freud: a Biography. (2018, Jun 18). Retrieved from