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Anna FreudReview - Anna Freud
A View of Development, Disturbance and
by Rose Edgcumbe
Routledge, 2000
Review by Talia Welsh
Aug 7th 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 32)

To most people Anna Freud's name is only recognizable because it brings to mind her father: Sigmund Freud. Last summer, I toured Freud's house in London. I was struck at how, despite the fact that she lived there from 1938 until her death in 1982, her father's things dominated the house. The famous couch, the desks, the artifacts all remained. Only one room seemed uniquely hers-her weaving room. Sigmund Freud himself only lived in the house for less than two years. (They fled Vienna in 1939. He died in the house in 1939) On a video of her father in the backyard of the house, Anna Freud narrated who was in the video and spoke of her father's fondness for the dogs and interest in his grandchildren. One couldn't help wondering about Anna. Wouldn't she want to make the house her own? Why did she live with him? Didn't she want to have her own place? Didn't she want to promote her own research in child psychoanalysis as unique? At a superficial glance, her life seemed to reflect a pathological devotion, not normal daughterly love.

Rose Edgcumbe does not ask or answer any of these questions. She makes no attempts to psychoanalyze the psychoanalyst. Instead, she presents the substance of Anna Freud's theory and clinical technique. In so doing, she demonstrates the uniqueness of Anna Freud's contribution to psychoanalytic theory and practice. The work is of particular interest to readers interested in child therapy and education. It is also worthwhile to those interested in the history of post-Freud British psychoanalytic theory.

Edgcumbe focuses on Freud's contributions to child psychoanalysis. Of course, child psychoanalysis presents unique problems since the analyst cannot depend upon "the talking cure." Instead, child analysis must be based upon serious observation and integration of many different techniques (observation, play, interaction with the parents and educational framework). In many respects, Anna Freud did not differ greatly from her father's psychoanalytic theory. In principle, she often would not classify her work with children as truly psychoanalytic because of the differences in technique (she understood the psychoanalytic technique laid out by her father as necessary for the clinical session). Edgcumbe notes that instead of viewing this deference to her father's theory as negative, it allowed Anna Freud to expand "non"-psychoanalytic techniques and comment upon the larger issues at play such as education, institutionalization, and hospitalization.

The differences raised with children called for substantial differences in technique. During the war, Anna Freud worked in war nurseries. The separation of children from their parents and their subsequent searching for alternative parents in the nurses provided fertile ground for understanding defense mechanisms, one of the pillars of her theory. In Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham's 1944 book Infants without Families and Reports on the Hampstead Nurseries (as well as in The Ego and Mechanisms of Defense (1936) and Normality and Pathology in Childhood (1965)), Anna Freud highlighted the importance of observation of children with their parents or substitute parents. The development of the ego and super-ego took place "as one watched," so to speak. Thus, conflicts are inevitable for all children during this period of development. The question naturally follows, "when does a child need analysis?" Freud's position is that, if the child is in an educational/parental situation that is aware of psychoanalytic knowledge (to avoid negative responses to the child's conflicts), then therapy is only needed in extreme cases of behavior. This contrasted Freud from Melanie Klein who argued that psychoanalysis would benefit all children. Edgcumbe does not delve into the debate between Klein and Freud, but Freud's highlighting of the need for educators to be aware of psychoanalytic theory is one of her unique contributions to psychoanalytic theory.

Anna Freud's theory also depended upon the importance of children's ego formation. Such a focus often put Anna Freud in the camp of "Ego Psychologists." Anna Freud never suggested that ego development should be the sole goal of therapy, however, she did write extensively about the importance of not forgetting the ego and super-ego (elaborated in her theory of childhood defenses) in the quest for the workings of the id.

The book's extensive research on Anna Freud makes it impossible to comment on all the various aspects of Anna Freud's theory. Rose Edgcumbe makes a powerful case for a more sophisticated understanding of the uniqueness of Anna Freud's theory and technique, and the contributions it offers for child psychoanalysis.

© 2001 Talia Welsh

Talia Welsh is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She is writing a dissertation on Merleau Ponty's psychology.

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