Psycho-Analytical Treatment of Children, The

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This book brings together three works written during the years 1926-1945. It thus offers a longitudinal and dynamic view of Anna Freud's basic theoretical positions regarding the technique of child analysis and, in Anna Freud's own words, "attempts to summarize some of the advances in the understanding and evaluation of the infantile neurosis which the author has made in the [last] nineteen years of work on the subject" (p. ix). Inevitably, this volume reflects the controversies and conflicts that opposed the author's approach to that of Melanie Klein, who is in fact cited repeatedly throughout.

The first part of The Psycho-Analytical Treatment of Children is comprised of four lectures given at the Vienna Institute of Psycho-Analysis in 1926 under the general title "Introduction to the Technique of the Psycho-Analysis of Children." Here Anna Freud exposes her views of that time on the preparatory phase of child analysis (Lecture 1), on technique (Lecture 2), on the role of transference (Lecture 3), and on the relationship between the analysis of children and their upbringing (Lecture 4). The second part of the book, "The Theory of Children's Analysis," a paper read to the Tenth Psycho-Analytical Congress at Innsbruck in 1927, takes up the same theme, while the third part, the latest, is mainly concerned with indications for the psychoanalytic treatment of children.

Three main themes can be identified in this work. The first concerns the techniques used in child analysis, where, in contrast with adult analysis, free association does not play a central role; nor does dream interpretation, which in the case of children is therefore not the "royal road" to the unconscious. Play and drawing are considered to be indispensable tools, though she conceives of them far more as techniques for "observing" the child than as sources of directly interpretable material. Indeed the analyst is described by Anna Freud as an "observer," very close to the child, who relies on the words of the parents and their wish for the child to be treated. The child is not considered capable of being conscious of its illness, nor, therefore, of asking for help, whence the need for the analyst actively and deliberately to induce the young patient to accept "a tie between us which must be strong enough to sustain the later analysis" (p. 11).

The issue of the child's participation in the analysis raises the problema central one in the dispute between Anna Freud and Melanie Kleinof the child's ability to establish a transference during analytic treatment, and this question is the second essential theme of this book. Despite some evolution in her thinking, and even if she acknowledged the possibility of some manifestations of transference with children, Anna Freud always maintained that it was impossible for a childhood neurosis to be supplanted by a transference neurosis, that is, by a new neurotic formation in which the analyst replaces the "original objects" in the child's emotional life, namely the parents (p. 34). Inasmuch as the child continues to experience its parents as love-objects in reality, the analyst can play a role only as an addition to, and not as a replacement for, those relations.

The third and last main theme here, dealt with mainly in the last part of Anna Freud's book, in her discussion of the indications for child analysis, concerns the distinction between normal and pathological development, between transient symptoms and real obstacles to development, between the equilibrium of defense mechanisms and the overwhelming of those mechanisms, and, finally, the relations between infantile neurosis and the formation of the ego. These are matters also discussed elsewhere by Anna Freud, as for example in The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936) or Normality and Pathology in Childhood (1965), along with, notably, the idea of "lines of development." Anna Freud thus contributed to the attenuation of an over-mechanical view of the Freudian "stages" of emotional development, laying the stress instead on a more dynamic and less linear vision of the child's mental functioning. She also emphasized the part played by reality in the psychoanalytic treatment of children, notably the importance of an alliance with the parents and of their evolving attitudes and support during the course of their child's treatmentideas that have lost none of their present-day relevance.

FrÉdÉrique Jacquemain

See also: British Psycho-Analytical Society; Freud, Anna; Great Britain; Technique with children, psychoanalytic.

Source Citation

Freud, Anna. (1946 [1926-45]). The psycho-analytical treatment of children. (Parts 1 and 2; Nancy Procter-Grigg, Trans.). London: Imago; New York: International Universities Press.


Freud, Anna. (1937 [1936]). The ego and the mechanisms of defence (Cecil Baines, Trans.). London: Hogarth.

(1965). Normality and pathology in childhood. Assessments of development. London: Hogarth/Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

King, Pearl H. M., and Riccardo Steiner. (1991). The Freud-Klein controversies 1941-1945. London/New York: Tavistock/Routledge.

Further Reading

Cohen, J. (1997). Child and adolescent psychoanalysis: research, practice, and theory. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 78, 499-520.

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Psycho-Analytical Treatment of Children, The

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