Melanie Klein

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Melanie Klein

Template:Psychoanalysis Melanie Klein (March 30 1882September 22 1960) was an Austrian-born British psychoanalyst who devised novel therapeutic techniques for children that had a significant impact on child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis.

Born in Vienna of Jewish parentage[1], Melanie Klein first sought psychoanalysis for herself with Sandor Ferenczi when he was living in Budapest during World War I. There she became a psychoanalyst and began analysing children in 1919. In 1921 she moved to Berlin where she studied with and was analysed by Karl Abraham. Although Abraham supported her pioneering work with children, neither Klein nor her ideas received much support in Berlin. However, impressed by her innovative work, British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones invited Klein to come to London in 1926, where she worked until her death in 1960.

Melanie Klein had a major influence on the theory and technique of psychoanalysis, particularly in Great Brittain. After the arrival of Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalyst daughter, Anna, in London in 1938, Klein’s ideas came into conflict with those of Continental analysts who were immigrating to Britain. Following protracted debates between the followers of Klein and the followers of Anna Freud during the 1940’s, the British Psychoanalytic Society split into three separate training divisions: (1) Kleinian, (2) Anna Freudian, and (3) independent. This division remains to the current time.

As a divorced woman whose academic qualifications consisted of a teaching degree, Klein was a visible iconoclast within a profession dominated by male physicians. Although she questioned some of the fundamental assumptions of Sigmund Freud, Klein always considered herself a faithful adherent to Freud's ideas. Klein was the first person to use traditional psychoanalysis with young children. She was innovative in both her techniques (such as working with children using toys) and her theories in infant development. Strongly opinionated, and demanding loyalty from her followers, Klein established a highly influential training progam in psychoanalysis. She is considered one of the cofounders of object relations theory.

Today, Kleinian psychoanalysis is one of the major schools within psychoanalysis. Kleinian psychoanalysts are members of the International Psychoanalytic Association. In addition to London, the Psychoanalytic Center of California is the other major training center that follows the work of Melanie Klein. Kleinian psychoanalysis with adults is characterized by a very traditional technique using an analytic couch and meeting four to five times a week. Kleinian analysis focuses on interpreting very "deep" and primitive emotions and fantansies. A Kleinian analysis tends to be lengthier than other forms of psychoanalysis--often lasting many years.

Apart from her professional successes, Melanie Klein’s life was full of tragic events. She was the product of an unwanted birth - her parents showed her little affection. Her much loved elder sister died when Klein was four, and she was made to feel responsible for her brother’s death. Her academic studies were interrupted by marriage and children. Her marriage failed and her son died, while her daughter, the well-known psychoanalyst Melitta Schmideberg, fought her openly in the British Psychoanalytic Society. Mother and daughter were not reconciled before Klein's death, and Schmideberg did not attend Klein's funeral. Melanie Klein was also clinically depressed.

Klein's theoretical work gradually centered on a highly speculative hypothesis eventually accepted by Freud, which stated that life may be an anomaly, that it is drawn toward an inorganic state, and therefore, in an unspecified sense, contains a drive towards death. In psychological terms Eros, the postulated sustaining and uniting principle of life, is thereby presumed to have a companion force, Thanatos, which allegedly seeks to terminate and disintegrate life.

While Freud’s ideas concerning children mostly came from working with adult patients, Klein was innovative in working directly with children, often as young as 2-years old. Klein saw children’s play as their primary mode of emotional communication. After observing troubled children play with toys such as dolls, animals, plasticine, pencil and paper, Klein attempted to interpret the specific meaning of play. She realised that parental figures played a significant role in the child’s fantasy life, and considered that the chronology of Freud’s Oedipus complex was imprecise. Contradicting Freud, she concluded that the superego was present long before the Oedipal phase.

After exploring ultra-aggressive fantasies of hate, envy, and greed in very young, very ill children, Melanie Klein proposed a model of the human psyche that linked significant oscillations of state, with whether the postulated Eros or Thanatos drive was in the fore. She named the state of the psyche, when the sustaining principle of life is in domination, the depressive position. The psychological state corresponding to the disintegrating tendency of life she called the paranoid-schizoid position.

Melanie Klein's insistence on regarding aggression as an important force in its own right when analysing children brought her into conflict with Freud's own daughter, Anna Freud, who was one of the other prominent child psychotherapists working in England at that time. Many controversies arose from this conflict.


Melanie Klein's works are collected in four volumes:

  • "The collected Writings of Melanie Klein"
    • Volume 1 - "Love, Guilt and Reparation: And Other Works 1921-1945", London: Hogarth Press.
    • Volume 2 - "The Psychoanalysis of Children", London: Hogarth Press.
    • Volume 3 - "Envy and Gratitude", London: Hogarth Press.
    • Volume 4 - "Narrative of a Child Analysis", London: Hogarth Press.

Other books on Melanie Klein:

  • Robert Hinshelwood, Susan Robinson, Oscar Zarate, Introducing Melanie Klein, Icon Books UK 2003
  • Robert Hinshelwood, A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought, Free Association Books UK 1989
  • Robert Hinshelwood, Clinical Klein, Free Association Books UK 1993
  • Mary Jacobus, "The Poetics of Psychoanalysis: In the Wake of Klein", Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-19-924636-X
  • Julia Kristeva, Melanie Klein (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism) tr. Ross Guberman, Columbia University Press, 2004
  • Donald Meltzer (Information in French) "The Kleinian Development (New edition)", Publisher: Karnac Books; Reprint edition 1998, ISBN 1-85575-194-1
  • Donald Meltzer : "Dream-Life: A Re-Examination of the Psycho-Analytical Theory and Technique" Publisher: Karnac Books, 1983, ISBN 0-902965-17-4
  • Meira Likierman, "Melanie Klein, Her Work in Context" Continuum International, Paperback, 2002
  • Hanna Segal (Information in French):
  • John Steiner (Information in French) : "Psychic Retreats" (...) relative peace and protection from strain when meaningful contact with the analyst is experienced as(...), Publisher: Routledge; 1993, ISBN 0-415-09924-2
  • C. Fred Alford, Melanie Klein and Critical Social Theory: An Account of Politics, Art, and Reason Based on Her Psychoanalytic Theory, Yale UP 1990
  • Phyllis Grosskurth, Melanie Klein: Her World and Her Work, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1986, ISBN-1-56821-445-6
  • Jacqueline Rose, Why War?-- Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Return to Melanie Klein, Blackwell Publishers 1993
  • Herbert A Rosenfeld (Information in French): * "Impasse and Interpretation: Therapeutic and Anti-Therapeutic Factors in the Psycho-Analytic Treatment of Psychotic, Borderline, and Neurotic Patients", Publisher: Tavistock Publications, 1987, ISBN 0-422-61010-0
  • Ronald Britton: "Sex, Death, and the Superego: Experiences in Psychoanalysis", Publisher: Karnac Books; 2003, ISBN 1-855-759489
  • Ronald Britton: "Belief and Imagination", Publisher: Taylor & Francis LTD; 1998, ISBN 0-415-194385

In popular culture

Melanie Klein was the subject of a 1988 play by Nicholas Wright, entitled Mrs. Klein. Set in London in 1934, the play involves a conflict between Melanie Klein and her daughter Melitta Schmideberg, after the death of Melanie's son Hans Klein. The depiction of Melanie Klein is quite unfavorable. In the 1995 New York revival of the play, Melanie Klein was played by Uta Hagen, who described Melanie Klein as a role that she was meant to play.[2]

External links


  1. Concise Dictionary of National Biography
  2. Ben Brantley,"Theater Review: Uta Hagen returns, tossing Wine," New York Times, October 25, 1995.

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