Hanna Bratt was a teacher who also founded and ran the Ericastiftelse, which became the first Swedish academic institution to train child psychotherapists.
Hanna Bratt was born in Karlsborg in 1874, as Ellen Nanna Johann Bratt, to John Christian and Jenny Maria Christina. Her father was a colonel and at the time of Hanna’s birth he was head of the regiment in Karlsborg. He was also a politician and a member of Kungliga Vetenskaps-och Vitterhets-Samhället (the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences) in Gothenburg. The family thus enjoyed a privileged social standing. Hanna Bratt’s sister Hedvig, who was two years her senior, was an “åldfru”, a kind of housekeeper at Stockholm castle. Hanna Bratt never married.
Having completed her service as director of the Fernander school in Örebro, in 1933 Hanna Bratt undertook a study trip to the Institute of Child Psychology in London, run by Margaret Lowenfeld. This institute ran clinical activities for children, which was quite unusual at the time. As a result of her interest in non-authoritarian education and social and psychological approaches to working with children, along with what she had learned at the Institute of Child Psychology, Hanna Bratt established the Ericastiftelse in 1934, in collaboration with the doctor and psychoanalyst Gunnar Nycander. Initially lacking their own capital they obtained a 1000 kronor loan, which enabled them to run their business from a single room in Hanna Bratt’s apartment. Subsequently they moved the enterprise to various smaller apartments in Stockholm, but had to face complaints from their neighbours about “noisy children”. After having rented two different houses in Bromma they received funding from a donation and another loan which allowed them to buy their own house on Odengatan in the late 1940s. In 1936 they had also opened an advice centre for parents and in 1937 they set up a medical educational programme. Many contemporary teachers, doctors and others who worked with “nervous and hard to raise children” actively sought out their training programme. In addition to clinical activities Hanna Bratt and Gunnar Nycander sought to disseminate expertise and new trends within child rearing to parents and to the wider public through radio programmes and by publishing articles in the weekly press. For many years the Ericastiftelse also offered lectures on prophylactic approaches to child rearing for teachers and other interested groups.
At the time it was relatively unusual for medical science to collaborate with other disciplines in health matters. Hanna Bratt and Gunnar Nycander ensured that both social workers and researchers became associated with the institute to underline the serious nature of their work. They were also keen to have their clinical activities benefit from the protection and insight of Medicinalstyrelsen (which later became the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare).
During her visit to the Institute of Child Psychology in London Hanna Bratt was impressed by the use of games and sandboxes when communicating with children. This approach was known as the “World Technique”: children were encouraged to metaphorically construct their own worlds. The game was seen as a method to understand children whilst also aiding them in their development and healing. Hanna Bratt transferred these impressions to the Ericastiftelse and introduced the method in 1942. This inspired the so-called Erica method, which was later developed by doctor and psychologist Gösta Harding and child psychologist Allis Danielson, amongst others. The Erica method involves allowing children to express themselves by using a standardised collection of 360 toys in a sandbox containing both wet and dry sand. The method also enables communication with children who have difficulties in expressing themselves verbally for any kind of reasons. An aim during development of the method was to be able to offer more than the intelligence tests which tended to be the basis of diagnostics and recommendations at the time. The method was researched by the Ericastiftelse and is still used today. In addition to Gösta Harding and Allis Danielson, Gudrun Seitz, the first Swedish child psychotherapist, was also an important colleague of Hanna Bratt’s at the Ericastiftelse.
Hanna Bratt also authored pedagogical books on child psychology. Reading her books the image of a person greatly concerned with public education emerges. For instance, in her book Där vetenskap och kärleksbud mötas, 1946, she provides an accessible and pedagogical explanation of the otherwise relatively thorny psychoanalytical concept of “the unconscious”. Her book Psykologien upptäcker människan, 1945, reveals Hanna Bratt’s conviction that children with learning difficulties or other forms of psychological difficulties must be understood, and that the child must be seen within his or her social and relational context. She worked on the fringes of pedagogy, social work, health care and psychology, reflecting that neither psychology nor social work were fully established subjects by the mid-1900s. Hanna Bratt believed that professions which focused on people should see not only the difficulties but also the development possibilities in both children and youth. She was interested in the intersection between a child’s inner life and how it was expressed through behaviour and play, as well as how children were affected by those who raised them. The Ericastiftelse had been named after her favourite flower, the cross-leaved heath, which is both hardy and delicate, and whose Latin name is Erica tetralix.
Hanna Bratt died in 1959 and is buried in the family grave at Norra cemetery in Solna.