Melanie Klein: Wikis


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Melanie Klein (30 March 1882 – 22 September 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. She was a leading innovator in theorizing object relations theory.



Born in Vienna of Jewish parentage[1], 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.

Klein had a major influence on the theory and technique of psychoanalysis, particularly in Great Britain. As a divorced woman whose academic qualifications consisted of not even having earned a bachelor's degree, Klein was a visible iconoclast within a profession dominated by male physicians.

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 migrating to Britain. Following protracted debates between the followers of Klein and the followers of Anna Freud during the 1940s (the so-called 'controversial discussions'), the British Psychoanalytical Society split into three separate training divisions: (1) Kleinian, (2) Anna Freudian, and (3) independent. This division remains to the current time.

Apart from her professional successes, Klein’s life was full of tragic events. Allegedly 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.


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[2] (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 program in psychoanalysis. She is considered one of the co-founders of object relations theory.

Klein's theoretical work incorporates Freud's belief in the existence of the "death instinct", reflecting the fact that all living organisms are inherently drawn toward an inorganic state, and therefore, in an unspecified sense, contains a drive towards death. In psychological terms Eros (properly, the life instinct), the postulated sustaining and uniting principle of life, is thereby presumed to have a companion force, Thanatos (death instinct), which allegedly seeks to terminate and disintegrate life. Both Freud and Klein regarded these biomental forces as the foundations of the psyche. These were human instincts ("Triebe") unrelated to the animal instincts of ethology. These primary unconscious forces, whose mental matrix is the "id," sparked the ego—the experiencing self—into activity. Id, ego, and superego—to be sure—were merely shorthand terms (like the "instincts") referring to highly complex, mostly uncharted, psychodynamic operations. Freud and Klein never abandoned the terms or the conceptualizations despite protests and controversies by many of their adherents.

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 two 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. Following Freud she emphasised the significnat role that parental figures played the child’s phantasy life, and considered that the timing of Freud’s Oedipus complex was incorrect. Contradicting Freud, she concluded that the superego was present from birth.

After exploring ultra-aggressive phantasies 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 instincts were in the fore. She named the state of the psyche, when the sustaining principle of life is in domination, the depressive position. This is considered by many to be her great contribution to psychoanalytic thought. She later developed her ideas about an earlier developmental psychological state corresponding to the disintegrating tendency of life, which she called the paranoid-schizoid position.[3]

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 who was prominent in continental Europe but who moved to London in 1938 where Klein had been working for several years. Many controversies arose from this conflict, and these are often referred to as the controversial/scientific discussions. Batttles were played out between the two sides, each presenting scientific papers, working out their respective positions and where they differed, during war-time Britain. Anna Freud eventually left for the US where she was highly influential.

Today, Kleinian psychoanalysis is one of the major schools within psychoanalysis. Kleinian psychoanalysts are members of the International Psychoanalytical Association. Kleinian psychoanalysis remains a large and influential school of psychoanalysis within Britain, in much of Latin America, and to an extent in continental Europe. Within the United States of America, the Psychoanalytic Center of California is the major training center that follows the work of Melanie Klein. Kleinian psychoanalysis with adults is characterized by a "classical" analytic technique using an analytic couch and meeting four to five times a week. Kleinian analysis focuses on interpreting very "deep" and primitive emotions and phantasies.


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 L 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
  • Julia Segal: (1992). Melanie Klein. London: Sage. ISBN 0-8039-8477-4
  • 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
  • Monique Lauret et Jean-Philippe Raynaud, "Melanie Klein, une pensée vivante", Presses Universitaires de France, 2008, ISBN 13 9782130570394

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 original production at the Cottesloe Theatre in London, Gillian Barge played Melanie Klein, with Zoe Wannamaker and Francesca Annis playing the supporting roles. 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.[4] The play was broadcasted on the British radio station BBC 4 in 2008 and revived at the Almeida Theatre in London in October 2009 with Claire Higgins as Melanie Klein.

External links


  1. ^ Concise Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ Horacio Etchegoyen: The Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique, Karnac Books ed., New Ed, 2005, ISBN 185575455X
  3. ^ Robbins, B.D. & Goicoechea, J. (2006). It must be remembered that these two positions are highly complex chronological, developmental, and current states of mind that cannot be reduced to any simple formulation. The psychogenesis of the self and the emergence of ethical relatedness: Klein in light of Merleau-Ponty. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 25,(2), 191-223.
  4. ^ Ben Brantley,"Theater Review: Uta Hagen returns, tossing Wine," New York Times, October 25, 1995.


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