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In a special Health Check programme, Claudia Hammond reflects on the enduring impact of Anna Freud's approach to observing children and their carers. By insisting on observation in her nurseries, she promoted the understanding of a child's perspective. Her continuing legacy can be seen in the way children are cared for in hospital and within the legal system today.
The only one of Freud's six children to follow him into the field of psychoanalysis, Anna started out as a teacher in 1920s Vienna and soon identified the toddler age as crucial to the child's future emotional development. After she fled to London with her father in 1938, she set up the Hampstead War Nurseries, the foundation for the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic. This became the Anna Freud Centre after her death in 1982.
Claudia meets Nick Midgley, a child psychotherapist at the centre and Dr Inge Pretorius, who is in charge of the Parent Toddler service. She also meets students training to be child psychotherapists. They are taught to observe in minute detail the interaction between children and carers, in the way Anna Freud pioneered.
Parents at the therapeutic parent toddler group explain what sets it apart from other groups, and Claudia discovers that today the Anna Freud Centre is breaking new ground with its Developmental Neuroscience Lab, which is using electroencephalography to further their understanding of the psychology of children and adolescents. Mary Target, co-director of the centre, believes Anna Freud would have approved, though many within psychoanalysis are sceptical of this approach.
Picture credit: Anna Freud, The Anna Freud Centre