To create a successful therapy for children, Anna Freud originally planned on using her father’s work as a guide, so that she could make a timeline and map out a normal rate of growth and development for children. That way, if certain developments, such as hygiene, for example, had been missing or lagging, a therapist could pinpoint the cause to a specific trauma and could then use therapy to address it.
However, Anna quickly came to realize that there were major differences between children and the adult patients her father had seen, and her techniques had to continually change. Whereas Sigmund Freud’s patients were self-reliant adults, Anna Freud dealt with children, for whom a major part of their lives involved the presence of their parents. Freud saw the importance of the parents early on; still, a major aspect of child therapy includes parents taking on an active role in the therapy process. For example, parents are generally informed of exactly what goes on during therapy so that they are able to apply the techniques from therapy in everyday life.
Anna Freud also saw the usefulness that a child’s play could have in therapy. Children could use playing as a means to adapt their reality or confront their problems, and could speak freely during therapy. While play may help a therapist identify a child’s trauma and treat it, it doesn’t reveal much from the unconscious mind because unlike adults, children have not learned to cover up and repress events and emotions. When a child says something, they mean it!
While she may have begun her career under her father’s shadow, Anna Freud proved that she too was an incredibly valuable asset to the world of psychology. Her contributions to her father’s work on defense mechanisms and, most importantly, the creation of child psychoanalysis remain extremely important and influential, and a great deal of what we understand about child psychology comes from her work.