Melanie Klein

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Klein, Melanie



The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (1882–1960), nee Reizes, was born in Vienna. Her father, brought up in a strictly orthodox Jewish family and originally trained to be a student of the Talmud, broke away from this tradition at the age of 37, studied medicine, and later practiced as a dentist. Her mother was the daughter of a rabbi. Melanie was the youngest of four children. Her only brother, five years her senior and an intelligent and gifted young man, had a deep influence on her, but he died when he was only 25.

At the age of 14, Melanie decided to study medicine, but she became engaged at 17 and gave up her plans for a medical career. She never lost her interest in medicine, however, and always regretted that she had not become qualified as a doctor. When she was 21, she married Arthur Klein, an industrial chemist; the marriage was not a happy one. They had three children, a daughter and two sons. A few years before World War I, the family moved to Budapest; there Melanie Klein came across one of Freud’s books, which immediately interested her greatly. Later, she started a personal analysis with Sándor Ferenczi, the principal Hungarian analyst at that time, and, encouraged by him, she began to think about the application of psychoanalysis to young children. In July 1919 she read her first paper, entitled “The Development of a Child” (1921), before the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society. Two years later, invited by Karl Abraham, the president of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society, she settled in Berlin with her children; her husband’s business interests took him to Sweden, and their separation eventually led to divorce.

From the time she moved to Berlin Melanie Klein devoted herself fully to psychoanalytical practice and research. She was deeply impressed and influenced by the work of Abraham—perhaps most notably by his work on the early stages of infantile development. Early in 1924 she went into analysis with him, but the analysis was terminated by his fatal illness in the summer of 1925. After his death she carried on regular daily self-analysis.

Soon after her arrival in Berlin she began to develop her technique of analyzing children. Her first contributions to the Berlin society aroused considerable interest as well as considerable controtroversy there and abroad, and in 1925 Ernest Jones, the president of the British Psycho-analytic Society, invited her to give a course of lectures in London. In 1926 she accepted an invitation from the British society to settle permanently in London. There her work developed, and her clinical and theoretical approach was widely accepted by other analysts. Indeed, the members of the British society were often referred to by analysts outside England as the “British school of psychoanalysis” to differentiate the work that was developing in London under Melanie Klein’s influence from that in other centers, particularly in Vienna.

The differences arose mainly from the significance for all later development that the British analysts attributed to early infantile anxieties and unconscious fantasies occurring in the first year of life and from their contention that these anxieties and fantasies can be explored in the transference situation. These differences were acknowledged by the British and the Viennese groups of analysts, and in 1936 exchange lectures (Riviere 1936; Waelder 1937) were arranged in order to clarify the different points of view. When in 1938 many Viennese analysts settled in London, the conflicts of opinion became more marked and threatened to cause a split within the British society. However, unity was preserved by the creation of two separate streams of training within the main teaching course. As the awareness of the importance of Melanie Klein’s work developed, an increasing number of students and analysts turned to her for training analyses and supervision, and there grew up round her a group of analysts who became close colleagues. Her views have greatly influenced psychoanalytic thinking both within and outside Great Britain, and in several countries groups have formed that have attempted to base their work on her views.

Child analysis. During the years from 1921 to 1934 Melanie Klein developed her technique of analyzing children (1955 a). Her aim was to create a psychoanalytic setting for children similar to that created by Freud for the treatment of adult patients, a setting in which the patient is free to develop a transference relationship to the analyst and to use free association, so that the therapeutic result depends purely on interpretative work. To achieve this she provided the child with a simply furnished room containing a box of small toys and other play materials. Since the child expresses him-self in play more than in words, she analyzed free play (1929), treating it as free association, and showed that one can achieve an analytical relationship with the child, using neither re-education nor reassurance. This approach distinguishes Melanie Klein’s work from other attempts at child analysis in which re-education and reassurance play an important part.

From the beginning her interest focused on the child’s anxieties and his defenses against them. This emphasis on anxiety led her ever deeper into the unconscious fantasy life of the child. She also insisted not only on interpreting the child’s positive transference but on uncovering and interpreting the negative transference which was hidden behind his anxieties. Her emphasis ran counter to the then current psychoanalytic tenet that interpretations should not go very deep and should not be given frequently (1955 a). Some of the main differences in approach were expressed in a symposium on child analysis held in 1927 (see 1927). Her technique led to the understanding of early infantile fantasies, anxieties, and defenses, all of which were at that time still largely unexplored.

When she was analyzing small children she found that many of the processes and structures described by Freud had their roots in much earlier periods of life than he had postulated. For instance, a little girl patient, only two years and nine months old, was found to have a strong superego, a structure that Freud believed was not built up until about the fifth year; and the same child had a complicated and long-standing triangular relationship to her parents (Oedipus complex), whereas Freud believed that the Oedipus complex did not come into being until about three or four years of age. In trying to understand anxiety Melanie Klein came to recognize that aggression and cruelty play a much greater role in the child’s mind than had been assumed by Freud. She found that the infant’s fantasies of sadistic attacks on the mother’s breasts and the inside of her body and the resultant paranoid fears of retaliation seem to dominate the infant’s relation to the mother during the first year. Her discoveries in this period culminated in the publication in 1932 of The Psycho-analysis of Children, in which she described her technique with three different age groups of children and elaborated her findings on the early anxiety situations of infancy and their effects on the development of the ego and superego, on the sexual development of boy and girl, and on other aspects of normal growth and neurotic illness.

Manic-depressive states. Beginning in 1934, Melanie Klein’s contributions were increasingly influenced by her work with adult patients. Her views on early anxiety situations were clarified and extended. She made an important contribution to the psychopathology and treatment of manic-depressive states by elaborating on the nature of depression and the relation of manic defenses to the depressive conflict (see 1937). In addition, she presented a detailed reconstruction of infantile phases of development in the first year, an under-standing of which she regarded as basic for the comprehension of psychotic illnesses in adult life. She introduced the concept of the paranoid and of the depressive position. In the paranoid position, extending over the first three to four months, the infant perceives his mother mainly as a part object (breast) that is either very good or very bad, and the anxiety situations have a paranoid character. The depressive position begins to develop in the fourth or fifth month. During the depressive position the whole relationship to the mother undergoes significant changes that are important for normal development: the infant begins to recognize that the good, satisfying mother and the bad, frustrating mother are the same person. He also sees her as a whole object on whom he can depend. When he experiences anger in situations of frustration, he becomes afraid of destroying and losing her as a good object. Therefore, the anxiety experienced has a depressive character. Guilt feelings for harm done to the love object make their appearance and assist the drive for reparation. Normally, most of the anxieties and mechanisms of the early paranoid phase become modified during the depressive position. Melanie Klein believed that the development of the capacity to love and establish normal object relations depends on the ability to reach and work through the depressive position. These ideas were further elaborated on and related to the subject of mourning in a paper of 1940, in which she also extended her research into manic states and manic defenses. In 1945, in a detailed clinical and theoretical paper, she related her work on the paranoid and depressive positions to the Oedipal conflicts of both the boy and girl.

Projective identification. The discovery of the depressive position as a phase on which normal development depends increased Melanie Klein’s interest in studying in greater detail the factors in very early development that may lead to a failure to work through the depressive position. In 1946 she read a paper, “Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms,” before the British Psycho-analytic Society, an important milestone in her work. She presented there a detailed investigation of the earliest infantile position, which she now renamed the paranoid-schizoid position. She confirmed her previous observations that paranoid anxieties and the splitting of objects are characteristics of this phase, but she also introduced the concepts of ego splitting and projective identification. Projective identification, a more complicated mechanism than projection as described by Freud, is a process by which good or bad parts of the self are split off and projected into an object, initially the mother, who then be-comes identified with these parts of the self. This results not only in the ridding by the self of un-wanted parts but also in a sense of depletion of the personality. It is likely to lead to paranoid anxieties about being invaded by the object into whom the projection had taken place. Excessive projective identification can lead to severe difficulties in establishing both one’s own identity and normal relations with others. The concepts of ego splitting and projective identification have thrown new light on the understanding of the psychoses, particularly schizophrenia, and have profoundly stimulated psychoanalytic research into these conditions. Melanie Klein described the mechanism of projective identification in some detail in 1955, using a novel by Julian Green to illustrate its operation (see 1955 b).

Melanie Klein was always concerned with the origin of the conscience, or superego, maintaining that it is built up from the beginning of life by the introjection of objects into the ego. As these internal objects are colored by the child’s projection of his impulses, particularly his destructive ones, the superego has at first mainly a persecutory character. Melanie Klein’s work on the depressive position showed how guilt feelings develop because of a change in the character of the internal objects representing the superego, namely a lessening of their persecutory quality. In 1948 she wrote a paper, “On the Theory of Anxiety and Guilt” (see 1948 a), in which she linked the views of Freud and Abraham on the superego with her own investigation into paranoid and depressive anxieties and their relation to guilt. In 1952 she published an account of her work on the emotional life of the infant, in which she described the two infantile positions and their relation to one another, and a further paper on infant observation.

Envy. In 1955 Melanie Klein read a paper, “Envy and Gratitude,” to the International Congress of Psycho-analysis in Geneva; she later published this in an enlarged version as a book (see 1957). She had always emphasized the importance of the sadistic, envious feelings in the relationship of the infant toward his parents. However, in 1955 she deepened and widened her original concept of envy as the primary source of aggression, directed initially against the mother and her breast. She now stressed that aggressive envy is capable of interfering from the beginning in the development of good and satisfying object relations and may severely inhibit the development of the capacity to love, which in turn is linked with the capacity to feel gratitude. The concept of envy has important theoretical and clinical implications in that it illuminates infantile states of confusion and increases our understanding of splitting processes, particularly projective identification. In addition, Melanie Klein illustrated how excessive envy interferes in the therapeutic process: primary envy is one of the main causes of the negative therapeutic reaction—the tendency to relapse repeatedly after some progress in treatment has been made.

Her conception of envy has become one of the major controversial aspects of her work, even though many analysts see it as making severe mental conditions accessible to the psychoanalytic approach.

During the last years of her life she concentrated largely on reconstructing, from detailed notes taken after each session, the analysis of a child whom she had treated in 1941 for four months. Although this narrative (1961) does not make use of some of her later discoveries, it is a unique ex-ample of her work as a practicing analyst.

Melanie Klein’s contributions on infantile development have thrown a new light on the understanding of normal and abnormal mental states and so have made a major contribution to psycho-analytic theory and therapy. Apart from her revolutionizing influence on psychoanalysis, her work has directly and indirectly exerted a profound influence on psychiatry, psychology, child upbringing, and infant care, and, more remotely, on such disciplines as sociology, anthropology, and art criticism.

Herbert A. rosenfeld

[For the historical context of Klein’s work, see the biographies ofAbraham; Ferenczi; Freud; for discussion of the subsequent development of her ideas, seeDepressive disorders; Developmental psychology; infancy; Mental disorders, article onchildhood mental disorders; Paranoid reactions; Psychoanalysis, article onego psychology.]


(1921) 1948 The Development of a Child. Pages 13–67 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 1 of Imago.

(1927) 1948 Symposium on Child-analysis. Pages 152–184 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 8 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

(1928) 1948 Early Stages of the Oedipus Conflict. Pages 202–214 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psychoanalysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 9 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

(1929) 1948 Personification in the Play of Children. Pages 215–226 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 10 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

(1930 a) 1948 The Importance of Symbol-formation in the Development of the Ego. Pages 236–250 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 11 of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.

(1930 b) 1948 The Psychotherapy of the Psychoses. Pages 251–253 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 10 of the British Journal of Medical Psychology.

(1932) 1959 The Psycho-analysis of Children. 3d ed. London: Hogarth. → First published as Psychoanalyse des Kindes.

(1933) 1944 The Early Development of Conscience in the Child. Pages 64–74 in Sandor Lorand (editor), Psychoanalysis Today. New York: International Universities Press.

(1937) 1948 A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic–Depressive States. Pages 282–310 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 16 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

(1940) 1948 Mourning and Its Relation to Manic–Depressive States. Pages 311–338 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 21 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

(1945) 1948 The Oedipus Complex in the Light of Early Anxieties. Pages 339–390 in Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 26 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

(1946) 1952 Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms. Pages 292–320 in Developments in Psycho-analysis, by Melanie Klein et al. Edited by Joan Riviere. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 27 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

(1948 a) 1952 On the Theory of Anxiety and Guilt. Pages 271–291 in Developments in Psycho-analysis, by Melanie Klein et al. Edited by Joan Riviere. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 29 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

1948 b Contributions to Psycho-analysis: 1921–1945. International Psycho-analytic Library, No. 34. London: Hogarth.

1952 a Some Theoretical Conclusions Regarding the Emotional Life of the Infant. Pages 198–236 in Developments in Psycho-analysis, by Melanie Klein et al. Edited by Joan Riviere. London: Hogarth.

1952 b On Observing the Behavior of Young Infants. Pages 237–270 in Developments in Psycho-analysis, by Melanie Klein et al. Edited by Joan Riviere. London: Hogarth.

1955 a The Psycho-analytic Play Technique: Its History and Significance. Pages 3–22 in Melanie Klein, Paula Heimann, and R. E. Money-Kyrle (editors), New Directions in Psycho-analysis. London: Tavistock.

1955 b On Identification. Pages 309–345 in Melanie Klein, Paula Heimann, and R. E. Money-Kyrle (editors), New Directions in Psycho-analysis. London: Tavistock.

1957 Envy and Gratitude. New York: Basic Books.

1961 Narrative of a Child Analysis. London: Hogarth. → Published posthumously.


Riviere, Joan (1936) 1952 On the Genesis of Psychical Conflict in Earliest Infancy. Pages 37–66 in Developments in Psycho-analysis, by Melanie Klein et al. Edited by Joan Riviere. London: Hogarth. → First published in Volume 17 of the International Journal of Psycho-analysis.

Waelder, Robert 1937 The Problem of the Genesis of Psychical Conflict in Earliest Infancy. International Journal of Psycho-analysis 18:406–473.

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Klein, Melanie (1882–1960)

Controversial psychoanalyst whose revolutionary technique of "play analysis" and insights into early childhood development made an important and lasting contribution to the practice of psychoanalysis. Born Melanie Reizes in Vienna, Austria, on March 30, 1882; died in London, England, on September 22, 1960; daughter of Moriz Reizes (a medical doctor) and Libussa (Deutsch) Reizes (a shopkeeper); married Arthur Klein, in 1903 (divorced 1923); children: Melitta Klein ; Hans Klein; Eric Klein.

Began analyzing children in Budapest (1919); moved to Berlin (1921); elected a full member of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society (1923); developed the technique of "play analysis" (1921–23); moved to London (1926); became first European analyst elected to the British Psycho-Analytical Society (1927); analyzed last child patient (late 1940s).


The Psycho-Analysis of Children (1932); Contributions to Psycho-Analysis, 1921–1945 (1948); Envy and Gratitude (1957); (published posthumously) Narrative of a Child Psycho-Analysis (1961).

If the first page in the history of the psychoanalysis of children belongs to Sigmund Freud, whose 1909 "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy" is the earliest published case of a child analysis, much of the rest of the story belongs to Melanie Klein. For more than 40 years, she was a highly original and controversial figure in the psychoanalytic community, who wrote, taught and conducted research in the field of child psychology. Her revolutionary techniques and theories about infantile sexuality and child development, outlined in four books and numerous published papers, evoked widespread admiration and respect, as well as shock and controversy. The fact that her theories continue to arouse strong reactions, debate and discussion is a testament to the lasting mark she has left on the practice of psychoanalysis.

There is little doubt that her work not only had a profound influence in technique but that it contributed to a change in the psychoanalytical approach to the understanding of the mind.

—Hanna Segal

Melanie Klein's lifelong passion for learning was formed early by the intellectually charged household in which she was raised. Born in Vienna on March 30, 1882, she was the youngest of four children of Dr. Moriz Reizes and Libussa Deutsch Reizes . Her father, though unsuccessful in his medical practice, was a brilliant, intellectually formidable man who read widely and taught himself ten European languages. His wife, 15 years his junior, was a beautiful woman who shared and supported his devotion to learning. Due to financial pressures early in the marriage, she operated a successful shop that sold exotic plants and animals. Though Klein preferred her loving mother to her remote father, there is little doubt that she was deeply influenced by him. His burning commitment to education and knowledge stoked the fires of her own intellectual ambitions.

Klein's early life was also tragically marked by the illnesses and deaths of two of her siblings. Her sister Sidonie, four years her senior, died at the age of nine of scrofula. Her brother Emanuel, to whom she was devoted, suffered from a rheumatic heart condition from which he eventually died in early adulthood. That Klein and her eldest sister, Emilie Reizes , were never close, made the illnesses and deaths of her two beloved siblings even more traumatic.

Klein made the decision to study medicine at the age of 14. With the help of Emanuel, who coached her in Greek and Latin, she passed the entrance exam to the Vienna Gymnasium, at that time the only school that prepared girls for university. But at the age of 19, she became engaged to Arthur Klein, an industrial chemist. Dazzled by his brilliance, she shelved her own plans to study medicine and during the period of their engagement studied art and history instead at the University of Vienna. They married when she was 21.

The following years were not satisfying ones for Klein. Her husband's work took them from one small industrial town to another. Despite the joy brought by the birth of two children, Melitta in 1904 and Hans in 1907 (a third child, Eric, would be born in 1914), she longed for the intellectual world she had left behind in Vienna.

In 1910, the family settled in Budapest, marking an important turning point for Klein. By chance, she picked up the book On Dreams by Sigmund Freud, and her intellectual life was reborn. Klein immediately embarked on a study of the new science of psychoanalysis and in 1914 entered analysis with Sandor Ferenczi, who became her first mentor. It was under his tutelage that she began analyzing children in 1919. Klein presented her first paper on child development to the Budapest Psychoanalytic Society on July 19, 1919. (The paper was expanded and published as "The Development of a Child.") Later that year, she was elected a member of the Budapest Psychoanalytic Society.

Klein met Karl Abraham, who was deeply impressed with her work, while attending the 1920 meeting of the Psychoanalytic Congress in The Hague. When Abraham invited her to practice in Berlin, Klein separated from her husband in January 1921 (they divorced in 1923) and moved there with her three children. The five years that Klein worked and studied in Berlin were important ones. It was here, under the auspices of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society and with the support of Karl Abraham, that she began developing new therapeutic techniques and clinical insights that would affect the study of early childhood development forever.

From the time that Klein began analyzing her first patient, five-year-old "Fritz," she observed that children expressed fantasies and mastered their anxieties through play. She theorized that the elements of juvenile play were similar to the symbolic language of dreams. Accordingly, Klein began to apply the same technique of free association to children that Freud had used to uncover the unconscious in adults. By analyzing and interpreting play, she believed she could gain access to the child's unconscious. Thus her revolutionary technique of "play analysis" was born.

Until the time that Melanie Klein began constructing her theories, analysts had been unsure how to apply psychoanalytic techniques to children. As Klein herself realized, many of the mental conditions normally necessary for psychoanalysis seem to be absent in children. Yet it was precisely these differences in the infantile mind and the adult mind that led her to develop the technique of play analysis. As Klein wrote:

By means of Play Analysis we gain access to the child's most deeply repressed experiences and fixations and are thus able to exert a radical influence on its development. … The whole kaleidoscopic picture, often to all appearances quite meaningless, which children present to us in a single analytic hour—the content of their games, the way in which they play, the means they use … and the motives behind a change of game … all these things are seen to have method to them and will yield up their meaning if we interpret them as dreams. … For play is a child's most important medium of expression.

An illustration of Klein's technique is contained in her account of the analysis of three-year-old Peter, a child who was strongly fixated upon his mother and difficult to manage. During the first hour, Peter "took the toy carriages and cars and put them first one behind the other and then side by side, and alternated this arrangement several times. He also took a horse and carriage and bumped it into another, so that the horses' feet knocked together, and said: 'I've got a new brother called Fritz.'" She then recounted how the child bumped two horses together, laid them down, covered them up with bricks and declared "Now they're quite dead; I've buried them." The child proceeded to play aggressively, knocking down the cars and horses and carriages. Klein interpreted the child's initial placement of the cars end to end as symbolizing his father's powerful penis. The horses bumped together represented parental intercourse, and the death of the horses symbolized the rage he felt at having on occasion witnessed his parents' coitus. The repeated falling over of the toys represented the child's own feelings of impotency.

Based on such clinical observations, Klein began to construct a theory of early childhood psychological development. From the beginning, she was interested almost exclusively in the internal conflicts and mechanisms affecting development, paying little attention to external factors such as home life and school life. (This exclusiveness remains a strong criticism of her work.) Her insights into infantile sexuality were, however, remarkable, and over the course of her life she continued to modify and expand them.

Klein traced childhood anxieties back to the infant's primitive ambivalent relationship with the mother, in particular a part of the mother's body, the breast. Early on, Freud had noted that an infant's first relationship is to the breast. Klein elaborated this point by attaching even greater significance to the development of object relations. She observed, for example, that in small children object relations (both real and fantasy objects) play an important role in the structure of the child's self.

According to Klein, an infant's relationship to its mother, who represents its whole world during the first months of life, is from the start one of both love and hate. The mother is the sole source of contact, comfort and food, and the child therefore demands her continuous presence and exclusive love. That its demands are not satisfied is a source of frustration which eventually leads to feelings of persecution and gives rise to aggression which is expressed through the desire to bite or devour cannibalistically. These hostile feelings in turn produce anxiety, which the child attempts to minimize through a process of introjection, projection, and splitting—a stage of development Klein termed the "persecutory phase."

Klein believed that a child introjects parts of the parents' bodies (first the breast and later the penis and other parts) into himself, often splitting them into ideal and persecutory objects, e.g. a gratifying "good breast" and a frustrating "bad breast." The child's relation to these internalized parts is extremely complex, involving elements of reality and fantasy. The goal for the child is to retain the introjected "good" parts, thus creating an idealized internal object, and project the "bad." She believed these processes were an important and natural part of a child's development and that they "participate in the building up of an ego and superego that prepare the groundwork for the onset of the Oedipus complex." Her views came to be known as "an object relation theory" due to the importance she placed on external and internal objects.

Klein's theory of "part objects" was, to some extent, a modification of Freud's theory of the superego. Freud described an internal object created when a child introjects his father, making him a part of himself. This internalized figure, the superego, is a figure of conscience responsible for self-observations and criticism, punishment and setting up goals. Klein's theory of part objects pointed to a superego that appeared much earlier and was far more complicated. Klein departed from Freud's belief that the construction of the superego occurred as a consequence of the Oedipus complex, insisting instead that the superego was a part of the Oedipus complex and was even evident in children much younger than five or six years of age, the period to which Freud ascribed the onset of the Oedipus complex. In fact, Klein came to believe that even a child under the age of a year could begin to experience and exhibit anxiety brought on by the beginning of the Oedipus complex.

In 1923, Klein analyzed her youngest patient, two-and-a-half year old "Rita," a child who suffered from pavor nocturnus (night terrors) and obsessive behavior. In Rita, she traced the source of her night terrors to the child's fantasies of parental intercourse and the Oedipal attacks she made toward her mother which, for the child, culminated in a terrifying fantasy of maternal retribution. It was precisely Klein's insistence that

very young children have a rich, often sadistic, fantasy life that ignited the controversy that would always surround her work. Many analysts continued to believe in the innocence of early childhood and were reluctant to attribute to children such complex and sophisticated perceptions.

During Klein's years in Berlin, her theories and investigations into early childhood anxiety increasingly evoked dissention and controversy. Though she received sharp criticism, the influence of her discoveries was far-reaching. Karl Abraham, still one of Klein's most vocal advocates, declared at a meeting in 1924 that "the future of psychoanalysis lies in play techniques." Earlier that year, she had persuaded Abraham to take her on as a patient, and with him she continued the analysis she began with Ferenczi. However, 14 months later, Abraham died. Klein was deeply affected by the loss of her friend and mentor. More important, the loss of his support found Klein increasingly at odds with members of the Berlin Psycho-Analytic Society.

In 1925, at the invitation of Ernest Jones, Klein spent three weeks in London delivering a series of lectures to members of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. Here she found a more receptive audience for her ideas. In 1926, when Jones invited her to move to England and work in the British Psychoanalytic Society, she accepted. Klein became the first continental European analyst admitted to the Society. With the support of Jones, her work flourished, and she began to train and supervise other analysts eager to learn her techniques.

The years from 1926 to 1936 were productive ones for Klein. In London, there was lively interest in the early stages of development, and her work was generally held in high esteem. In the early 1930s, Klein began analyzing adults as well. She found immense value in analyzing adults and children simultaneously, and much of her later theoretical conclusions were influenced by her work with adults. Her book The PsychoAnalysis of Children, published in 1932, elicited excitement and praise from her colleagues. In an enthusiastic review published in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Edward Glover wrote: "In two respects her book is of fundamental importance for the future of psychoanalysis. It contains not only unique clinical material gathered from first-hand analytic observations of children, but lays down certain conclusions which are bound to influence theory and practice of analysis for some time to come."

In 1935, Klein introduced the concept of the "depressive position" which marked a crucial development in her theories. In the depressive position (a stage which follows the persecutory phase), the child begins to see and love the mother as a whole and separate object, rather than as part-objects. Thus, the child undergoes an important process of integration. The mother is now seen as an integral, external figure who embodies positive as well as negative traits. The growing integration of the ego is necessary so that the infant can begin to distinguish the external world and understand its contradictory nature. The anxiety produced is of a depressive nature as "the synthesis between the loved and hated aspects of the complete object gives rise to feelings of mourning and guilt."

By the mid-to-late 1930s, Klein's theories dominated the Society causing some members to view her work with increasing suspicion and hostility. At the same time, an influx of German-Jewish analysts from the Continent (first from Berlin, then Vienna) poured into London, including an ailing Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna. Anna Freud had begun analyzing children around the same time as Klein. However, she and Klein had distinct differences in technique and theory. Klein maintained that the most effective method of analyzing children was to reproduce the classic technique used with adults, and that close attention must be paid to the child's transference of negative impulses to the analyst. Anna Freud strongly believed, on the contrary, that standard psychoanalytic technique should be modified in the case of children and that the analyst should exert an educational influence over the young patient as well as work to gain the child's confidence. Moreover, Anna Freud dismissed the possibility of the transference situation occurring with a child since she regarded its emotional attachment to its parents as too complete. Their theoretical disputes widened the rift at the institute. A group of pupils, who became known as the "Kleinians," flocked to Klein championing her work with an almost fanatical zeal. An oppositional group formed, polarizing the institute. Ernest Jones, in an attempt to diminish the raging professional disagreements, initiated a series of discussions at the British Psycho-Analytical Society aimed at clarifying Klein's views. These occurred in 1943 and 1944 and came to be known as the "Controversial Discussions."

Despite the controversy raging around her, Klein continued to work feverishly in these years, producing some of her most important works. In 1942, she had introduced the term "paranoid-schizoid position" for the first time in an article entitled "Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms." The term denoted a further definition of the part-object phase of infantile development and emphasized the fact that the process of splitting and persecutory anxiety during the first few months of life coexisted with the mechanism of introjecting part objects. Klein believed that paranoia and schizophrenia in adulthood originates in this early period of development when persecutory anxiety interferes with the gradual formation of the ego.

Melanie Klein analyzed her last child patient in the late 1940s, but continued to treat adults and train students at the British Psycho-Analytical Society. In 1957, at the age of 75, she wrote Envy and Gratitude, her last major contribution to psychoanalytic theory. The book is an important study in early oral envy and the mutual interactions of envy, jealousy and greed. Shortly afterwards, she began work on one of her most ambitious works, "Narrative of a Child Analysis," a day-by-day account of her 1941 psychoanalysis of "Richard," a ten-yearold boy suffering from acute anxiety and depression. Klein believed that by presenting such a complete analytical record she could illustrate her therapeutic techniques more clearly and thus lay to rest certain misconceptions that she believed surrounded her work. Published posthumously, it remains a fascinating, detailed account of the process of psychoanalysis.

Melanie Klein remained actively engaged in intellectual debates, in writing, teaching and research even as her health began to decline. Following surgery to remove a malignancy, she died of a pulmonary embolus on September 22, 1960, at age 78.

sources and suggested reading:

Alexander, Franz, Samuel Eisenstein, and Martin Grotjahn, eds. Psychoanalytic Pioneers. NY: Basic Books, 1966.

Gross-Kurth, Phyllis. Melanie Klein: Her World and Her Work. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Klein, Melanie. Contributions to Psycho-Analysis: 1921–1945. London: Hogarth Press, 1948.

——. Envy and Gratitude. London: Tavistock, 1957; NY: Delacorte, 1975.

——. Narrative of a Child Psycho-Analysis. London: Hogarth Press, 1961; NY: Delacorte, 1975.

——. The Psycho-Analysis of Children. London: Hogarth Press, 1932; NY: Delacorte, 1975.

Segal, Hanna. Melanie Klein. NY: Viking Press, 1979.


Personal papers of Melanie Klein under the control of the Melanie Klein Trust are located at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine.

related media:

Mrs. Klein (play), opened on Broadway in Autumn 1995, starring Uta Hagen , Laila Robins , and Amy Wright , written by Nicholas Wright.

Suzanne Smith , freelance writer and editor, Decatur, Georgia

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Klein, Melanie (18821960)

Born Melanie Reizes into a middle-class, Jewish family in Vienna, Austria, where she received a grammar-school education, Melanie Klein married Arthur Klein in 1903 and had three children before the family moved to Budapest in 1910. In 1914 she began treatment for depression with the Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi, who encouraged her intellectual interest in psychoanalysis. Klein began by psychoanalyzing her own children, and she presented one of the earliest papers on child analysis to the Budapest Psychoanalytic Society in July 1919 when she became a member.

In 1921 Klein left her husband and took their children to Berlin, where she joined the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society. With the support of its president, Karl Abraham, Klein developed her method of child analysis: the psychoanalytic play technique, which treated children's play activity as symbolic of unconscious fantasies. When Abraham died suddenly in 1926, Klein lacked professional support in Berlin, so she moved to London to join the British Psychoanalytical Society. Its members were very enthusiastic about her play technique, and most took Klein's side in her 1927 debate about child analysis with Anna Freud, another pioneer in the field. In that debate, Klein and her followers advocated a deep analysis of Oedipal fantasies, while Anna Freud argued that analysis should instead seek to strengthen the child's ego.

Klein's psychoanalysis of children led her to develop theories that challenged the Freudian account of child development; for example, she proposed the existence of an early infantile superego and an innate aggressive drive. Her most important contribution, however, was the idea that an infant has a primary object relationship with its mother. Freud had asserted that the infant feels love for its mother only because she satisfies its basic physiological needs. On the other hand, Klein argued in her 1932 book The Psychoanalysis of Children that the infant is predisposed to seek a relationship with its caregiver independent of any other needs, and that this relationship is represented within the psyche as a complex world of objects. Klein and her followers developed this idea into object-relations theory, which emphasizes the importance of the mother-infant bond in shaping adult personality. These ideas later influenced the British developmental psychologist John Bowlby, who trained with Klein, to form his theory of infant attachment.

Klein also proposed the existence of two fundamental phases in child development: the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions. The concept of the paranoid-schizoid position, which suggests that the infant mind is dominated by psychotic defense mechanisms such as splitting, sparked a second debate with Anna Freud in the early 1940s who, as a new and powerful member of the British Psychoanalytical Society, argued that Klein's ideas were incompatible with traditional psychoanalysis. The so-called Controversial Discussions were resolved when the Freudians and Kleinians agreed to separate training programs for their groups. Klein's famous 1961 case study Narrative of a Child Analysis was published shortly after she died of cancer in 1960. Her papers were placed in the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London.

See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Child Psychology.


Grosskurth, Phyllis. 1986. Melanie Klein: Her World and Her Work. New York: Knopf.

Hinshelwood, Robert D. 1989. Dictionary of Kleinian Thought. London: Free Association Books.

King, Pearl, and Ricardo Steiner, eds. 1991. The Freud-Klein Controversies 194145. London: Routledge.

Segal, Hanna. 1979. Klein. London: Karnac.

Gail Donaldson

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Melanie Klein

The Austrian psychotherapist and child psychologist Melanie Klein (1882-1960) developed methods of play technique and play therapy in analyzing and treating child patients.

Melanie Klein was born in Vienna on March 30, 1882. Raised in a Jewish middle-class family, she lacked both the academic background and the medical training usually found in those who choose psychoanalysis for a profession. She was a married woman with children when she began undergoing analysis about 1912. During her analysis she began to observe the behavior of a disturbed child relative and to interpret this behavior in the light of her own psychoanalytic experience. Her analyst, recognizing his patient's aptitude, encouraged her in her efforts at child therapy, a hitherto neglected area.

Originally trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst, Klein made observations and conclusions regarding child behavior that led her to views differing from those held by orthodox Freudian psychoanalysts. She was one of the first to engage in child analysis, beginning in 1920. She evolved a system of play therapy to supplement the usual psychoanalytic procedure, perhaps because the age of her clients indicated more appropriate methods than the exclusively verbal free-association technique then used with adult patients. Gradually she evolved a technique more suitable for probing the deep-layered recesses of the child's mind. By providing the child with small toys representing father, mother, or siblings, she was able to elicit the child's subconscious feelings. Her technique also used the child's free play and his spontaneous communications.

Applying her intuitive perception to the behaviors elicited by these new techniques, Klein made discoveries, especially about what goes on in the subconscious of the 2-year-old and of even an earlier age, called by psychoanalysts the preoedipal phases. Freudian theory had left somewhat of a gap regarding these first 2 years. She found that aggression and sadism play an even greater part in the child's mind than had been assumed by Freud. Her first paper, "The Development of a Child," was presented to the Budapest Congress of Psychoanalysis in 1919, the year in which she became a member of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society. In 1921 she went to the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute as the first child therapist.

In what has been called her second period, beginning in 1934, Klein theorized her previous observations on child behavior, arriving at conceptual conclusions based on them. She wrote now of her earlier findings, on the "depressive position" and the "schizoid-paranoid position," indicating possible ways in which these infancy states relate to psychotic processes in adults. In the 1930s she began to analyze adults as well as children. Her last child analysis terminated at the close of the 1940s. From then until her death on Sept. 22, 1960, she treated adults, analyzed students of psychoanalysis, taught, and wrote.

Further Reading

For further information on Melanie Klein's work and thought see Hanna Segal, Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein (1964). Ives Hendrick treats Mrs. Klein's work briefly in "Child Analysis and Child Psychiatry" in his Facts and Theories of Psychoanalysis (1934; 3d rev. ed. 1958). A useful study which surveys the field from 1933 on is Dieter Wyss, Depth Psychology: A Critical History, Development, Problems, Crises (1961; trans. 1966).

Additional Sources

Segal, Julia, Melanie Klein, London; Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1992.

Grosskurth, Phyllis, Melanie Klein: her world and her work, Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson, 1995. □

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Klein, Melanie (1882–1960) An Austrian-born, second-generation psychoanalyst, trained under Sandor Ferenczi in Budapest and Karl Abraham in Berlin. She moved to London in 1926 and became a major figure in British and world psychoanalysis, the founder, within the British Psychoanalytic Society, of the Kleinian school.

Her innovations in technique were to analyse young children, substituting play for verbal free-association; to explore the importance of counter-transference—the analyst's feelings about the client; and to undertake the analysis of psychotics. She developed a more elaborate theory of the emotional life of the young baby than did Sigmund Freud. Her argument was that all infants progress through two positions: a paranoid-schizoid position, where bad feelings are projected into the external world, which is then felt to be threatening; and a depressive position, when these feelings are reintegrated into the personality. Thus everybody has the experience of, and at least the distant possibility of regressing to, madness. She gave a clinical meaning to Freud's concept of the death instinct, dealing with it as destructive envy (hatred), and emphasized the role of unconscious fantasy.

Over recent years her work has been drawn on for purposes of social criticism. For example, her analysis of the early stages of development can be used to understand characteristics of the modern personality (see C. Lasch , The Minimal Self, 1984
), and her concern with the play of love and hate has been used to supplement critical theory (see C. F. Alford , Melanie Klein and Critical Social Theory, 1989
). Her most important papers can be found in Juliet Mitchell ( ed.) , The Selected Melanie Klein (1986)

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Klein, Melanie (1882–1960)

Austrian-born psychoanalyst. Born Melanie Reizes in Vienna, Austria, Mar 30, 1882; died in London, England, Sept 22, 1960; dau. of Moriz Reizes (medical doctor) and Libussa (Deutsch) Reizes (shopkeeper); m. Arthur Klein, 1903 (div. 1923); children: Melitta Klein; Hans Klein; Eric Klein.

Controversial psychoanalyst whose revolutionary technique of "play analysis" and insights into early childhood development made an important and lasting contribution to the practice of psychoanalysis; began analyzing children in Budapest (1919); moved to Berlin (1921); elected a full member of Berlin Psychoanalytic Society (1923); developed technique of "play analysis" (1921–23); moved to London (1926); became 1st European analyst elected to British Psycho-Analytical Society (1927); analyzed last child patient (late 1940s); for more than 40 years, wrote, taught and conducted research in field of child psychology; writings include The Psycho-Analysis of Children (1932), Contributions to Psycho-Analysis, 1921–1945 (1948), Envy and Gratitude (1957) and (published posthumously) Narrative of a Child Psycho-Analysis (1961).

See also Phyllis Gross-Kurth, Melanie Klein: Her World and Her Work (Knopf, 1986); Hanna Segal, Melanie Klein (Viking, 1979); Mrs. Klein, play by Nicholas Wright, starred Uta Hagen (1995); and Women in World History.

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Melanie Klein, 1882–1960, British psychoanalyst, b. Vienna. She became a psychoanalyst after seeking therapy from Sandor Ferenczi, a colleague of Sigmund Freud, who encouraged her to pursue her own studies with young children. She served as a member (1921–26) of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, using psychoanalytic techniques with emotionally disturbed children. She moved to London in 1926, on the invitation of psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, to continue her practice and to expand on areas of psychoanalysis such as the death instinct and the Oedipus complex. In her later work, Klein's theories came into conflict with those of other psychoanalysts, particularly Anna Freud. Kleinian theory is still influential as a distinctive strain of psychoanalytic theory. Her writings include The Psychoanalysis of Children (1932) and Narrative of a Child Analysis (1961).

See biography by P. Grosskurth (1987).

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Klein, Melanie (1882–1960) Austrian psychoanalyst who developed therapy for young children. In The Psychoanalysis of Children (1932), she presented her methods and ideas of child analysis; she believed play was a symbolic way of controlling anxiety and analysed it to gain insight into the psychological processes of early life.