Anna was the youngest of Sigmund and Martha Freud’s children, born in 1895. She seems to have had a difficult childhood, in constant rivalry with her older sister Sophie, and slow to build friendships. Her father psychoanalysed her when she was in her teens, and she was throughout her life a staunch adherent and promoter of his analytic ideas.
Anna Freud studied medicine in Vienna, before being analysed by her father from 1918 until 1922, when she was accepted as a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. She specialised in child analysis, and was later to set up the Hampstead War Nursery in London, providing children with psychotherapeutic treatment and stability amidst the emotional traumas of the Second World War.
Having come to England in 1938, in flight from Nazi-occupied Vienna, Freud became a thorn in the side of Klein and her followers. She accused Kleinian theory of departing from true psychoanalysis – that is, classical Freudian analysis –, to the point where it should no longer be considered analytic at all, but rather mere metapsychology. The two front-women of psychoanalysis disagreed over the age at which you could begin to analyse a child – Klein believed children well under five-years-old could be successfully analysed, Anna Freud did not – the role of transference and counter-transference, the highly controversial (yet originally Freudian) death instinct, the dating of the Oedipal conflict, and many other pivotal theoretical areas. Klein considered Anna Freud too conservative and narrow, failing to grasp the necessity of developing and innovating analysis beyond the origins of her father’s theory. Freud thought Klein wildly speculative, unscientific, arrogant, and extreme. The battle between these two pioneering child analysts came to a head in 1942 with the dawn of the Controversial Discussions.
Anna Freud died in London in 1982, at the age of 87.