Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein née Reizes (30 March 1882 – 22 September 1960) was an Austrian-British author and psychoanalyst who is known for her work in the world of developmental psychology. Her observation and novel therapeutic techniques for adolescents had a profound effect on child psychology as well as contemporary psychoanalysis.

Melanie Klein
Melanie Klein 1952
Melanie Klein in 1952
Born30 March 1882
Died22 September 1960 (aged 78)
London, England
Known forTherapeutic techniques for children
Coining the term 'reparation'
Klein's theory splitting
Projective identification
Scientific career
InfluencesSigmund Freud
Karl Abraham
InfluencedHerbert Rosenfeld
Otto F. Kernberg
Jacques Lacan
Cornelius Castoriadis
Donald Meltzer
Wilfred Bion


Melanie Klein c1900
Melanie Klein c. 1900

Born the fourth and final child of Jewish parents Moriz and Libussa Reizes,[1] Klein would spend most of her early life in Vienna Austria. Educated at the gymnasium, Klein much like her father before her, possessed aspirations of one day entering the medical field. More specifically the study of psychiatric medicine. Unfortunately her goal of entering medical school would be thwarted by a decline in her family's economic status.

At the age of twenty one she married industrial chemist Arthur Klein, and soon after gave birth to their first child Melitta. While she would go on to birth two additional children, Klein suffered from clinical depression, with these pregnancies taking quite a toll on her. This in conjunction with an unhappy marriage soon led Klein to seek out means of treatment. Shortly after her family moved to Budapest in 1910, Klein began a course of therapy with psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi. It was during their time together that Klein expressed interest in the study of psychoanalysis.

Encouraged by Ferenczi, Klein began her studies by the simple observations of her own children.[2] Until this point very minimal documentation existed on the topic of psychoanalysis concerning children, and Klein seized the opportunity by developing her play technique. Comparable to that of free association in adult psychoanalysis, Klein's play technique sought to interpret the unconscious meaning behind the play and interaction of children.

During 1921, in the wake of a dissolving marriage, Klein moved to Berlin where she joined the Berlin Psycho-Analytic Society under the tutelage of Karl Abraham. Although Abraham supported her pioneering work with children, neither Klein nor her ideas received much support in Berlin. As a divorced woman whose academic qualifications did not even include a bachelor's degree, Klein was a visible iconoclast within a profession dominated by male physicians. Despite this impediment, Klein's up and coming work possessed a strong influence on the developing theories and techniques of psychoanalysis, particularly in Great Britain.

Her theories on human development as well as defense mechanism were largely a source of controversy as they conflicted with Freud's theories on development, triggering a buzz in the world of developmental psychology. Around the same time Klein presented her ideas, Anna Freud was doing the very same. The two were unofficial rivals of sorts with the protracted debates between the followers of Klein and the followers of Freud. With these so-called 'controversial discussions', the British Psychoanalytical Society split into three separate training divisions: (1) Kleinian, (2) Freudian, and (3) Independent. These debates ended with an agreement on dual approach to instruction in the field of child analysis.

The school of Kleinianism was the first branch off the proverbial Freudian tree, to remain part of the psychoanalytic movement.

Contributions to psychoanalysis

Melanie Klein c1927
Melanie Klein c. 1927
A dinner to celebrate Melanie Klein's 70th birthday. Wellcome L0016246
A dinner to celebrate Melanie Klein's 70th birthday

Klein was one of the first to use traditional psychoanalysis with young children. She was innovative in both her techniques[3] (such as working with children using toys) and her theories on infant development. Strongly opinionated, and demanding the respect of those in the academic community, Klein established a highly influential training program in psychoanalysis.

By observing and analyzing the play and interactions of children, Klein built onto the work of Freud's unconscious mind. Her dive into the unconscious mind of the infant yielded the findings of the early Oedipus complex, as well as the developmental roots of the superego.

Klein's theoretical work incorporates Freud's belief in the existence of the "death pulsation", reflecting the fact that all living organisms are inherently drawn toward an inorganic state, and therefore, in an unspecified sense, contain a drive towards death. In psychological terms, Eros (properly, the life pulsation), the postulated sustaining and uniting principle of life, is thereby presumed to have a companion force, Thanatos (death pulsation), which seeks to terminate and disintegrate life. Both Freud and Klein regarded these biomental forces as the foundations of the psyche. These primary unconscious forces, whose mental matrix is the id, spark the ego—the experiencing self—into activity. Id, ego and superego, to be sure, were merely shorthand terms (similar to the "instincts") referring to highly complex and mostly uncharted psychodynamic operations.

Child analysis

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. While observing children play with toys such as dolls, animals, plasticine, pencil and paper, Klein documented their activities and interactions, then attempted to interpret the unconscious meaning behind their play. Following Freud she emphasized the significant role that parental figures played in the child's fantasy 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 fantasies of hate, envy, and greed in very young and disturbed children, Melanie Klein proposed a model of the human psyche that linked significant oscillations of state, with whether the postulated Eros or Thanatos pulsations 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.[4]

Klein's insistence on regarding aggression as an important force in its own right when analysing children brought her into conflict with Freud's daughter Anna Freud, who was one of the other prominent child psychotherapists 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 discussions. Battles were played out between the two sides, each presenting scientific papers, working out their respective positions and where they differed, during war-time Britain. A compromise was eventually reached whereby three distinct training groups were formed within the British Psychoanalytical Society, with Anna Freud's influence remaining largely predominant in the US.

Object relation theory

Portrait of Melanie Klein & A. Freud (cropped)
Melanie Klein and Anna Freud

Klein is known to be one of the primary founders of object relations theory.[5] This theory of psychoanalysis is based on the assumption that all individuals have within them a internalized, and primarily unconscious realm of relationships. These relationships are relative to not only the world around the individual, but more specially those other individuals that surround the subject. Object relation theory focuses primarily on the interaction individuals have with others, how those interactions are internalized, and how these now internalized object relations will affect ones psychological framework. The Object refers to typically another individual, and encompasses the intended facet that people outside of the self, are very much fluid and as such may be classified as objects. The use of the term object seeks to reference more the potential embodiment of fear, desire, envy or other emotional variations of such feelings in such a way that the object and the subject are separated[6] allowing for a more simplistic approach to addressing the deprived areas of need when used in the clinical setting.

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: the play suggests that Hans' death was a suicide and also reveals that Klein had analysed these two children. In the original production at the Cottesloe Theatre in London, Gillian Barge played Melanie Klein, with Zoë Wanamaker 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.[7] The play was broadcast on the British radio station BBC 4 in 2008 and revived at the Almeida Theatre in London in October 2009 with Clare Higgins as Melanie Klein.
    Melanie Klein 1950s-2
    Melanie Klein in 1950s
  • The indie band Volcano Suns dedicated their first record "The Bright Orange Years" to Klein for her work on childhood aggression.
  • Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith makes extensive use of Melanie Klein and her theories in his 44 Scotland Street series. One of the characters, Irene, has an obsession with Kleinian theory, and uses it to "guide" her in the upbringing of her son, Bertie.
Melanie Klein 1950s-2
Melanie Klein in 1950s


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.

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
  • Melanie Klein, 'The autobiography of Melanie Klein' ed. Janet Sayers with John Forrester, Psychoanalysis and History 15.2 (2013) pp. 127–63
  • 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
  • Rose, Jacqueline (1993). Why war?: psychoanalysis, politics, and the return to Melanie Klein. Oxford, UK Cambridge, Mass., USA: B. Blackwell. ISBN 9780631189244.
  • Herbert 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 1-85575-948-9
  • Ronald Britton: "Belief and Imagination", Publisher: Taylor & Francis LTD; 1998, ISBN 0-415-19438-5
  • Monique Lauret et Jean-Philippe Raynaud, "Melanie Klein, une pensée vivante", Presses Universitaires de France, 2008, ISBN 978-2-13-057039-4
  • Mitchell, Juliet (editor); Klein, Melanie (author) (1987). The selected Melanie Klein. New York: Free Press. ISBN 9780029214817.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)

See also


  1. ^ "melanie klein trust". Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  2. ^ "Biography of Melanie Klein". Retrieved 2018-11-30. External link in |website= (help)
  3. ^ Horacio Etchegoyen: The Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique, Karnac Books ed., New Ed, 2005, ISBN 1-85575-455-X
  4. ^ Dillon, M. C. (1978). "Merleau-Ponty and the Psychogenesis of the Self". Journal of Phenomenological Psychology. 9: 84. doi:10.1163/156916278X00032.
  5. ^ "Biography of Melanie Klein". Retrieved 2018-12-01. External link in |website= (help)
  6. ^ Patricia., Berzoff, Joan. Flanagan, Laura Melano. Hertz,. Inside out and outside in : psychodynamic clinical theory and psychopathology in contemporary multicultural contexts. ISBN 9781442236837. OCLC 1026414592.
  7. ^ Ben Brantley,"Theater Review: Uta Hagen returns, tossing Wine," New York Times, 25 October 1995.

Further reading

External links

Adrian Stokes (critic)

Adrian Stokes (27 October 1902 – 15 December 1972) was a British art critic with a speciality in early Renaissance sculpture and the aesthetics of stone-carving. He helped to turn the traditional Cornish fishing-port of St. Ives into an internationally acclaimed centre of modern art.

Anna Freud

Anna Freud (3 December 1895 – 9 October 1982) was an Austrian-British psychoanalyst. She was born in Vienna, the sixth and youngest child of Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays. She followed the path of her father and contributed to the field of psychoanalysis. Alongside Melanie Klein, she may be considered the founder of psychoanalytic child psychology.Compared to her father, her work emphasized the importance of the ego and its normal "developmental lines" as well as incorporating a distinctive emphasis on collaborative work across a range of analytical and observational contexts.After the Freud family were forced to leave Vienna in 1938, with the advent of the Nazi regime in Austria, she resumed her psychoanalytic practice and her pioneering work in child psychology in London, establishing the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic in 1952 (now renamed the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families) as a centre for therapy, training and research work.

Betty Joseph

Betty Joseph (7 March 1917 – 4 April 2013), was a British psychoanalyst and writer, and a follower of the work of Melanie Klein. According to her obituary in The Daily Telegraph, she "was widely considered to be one of the great psychoanalysts of her day".

British Psychoanalytical Society

The British Psychoanalytical Society was founded by the British psychiatrist Ernest Jones as the London Psychoanalytical Society on 30 October 1913.

Clare Winnicott

Clare Winnicott (née Britton; 1906-1984) was an English social worker and psychoanalyst, who helped establish the profession of social worker. Besides publishing some sixteen articles in her own right, she worked with, inspired, married, and edited the writings of D. W. Winnicott.

Donald Meltzer

Donald Meltzer (1922–2004) was a Kleinian psychoanalyst whose teaching made him influential in many countries. He became known for making clinical headway with difficult childhood conditions such as autism, and also for his theoretical innovations and developments. His focus on the role of emotionality and aesthetics in promoting mental health has led to his being considered a key figure in the "post-Kleinian" movement associated with the psychoanalytic theory of thinking created by Wilfred Bion.

Eva Rosenfeld

Eva Marie Rosenfeld (5 January 1892 – 17 August 1977) was a Jewish-German-British psychoanalyst, an analysand of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein.

Although born in New York City, Eva Rosenfeld spent her youth in Berlin where her father Theodor Rosenfeld was a theater producer, one of the members of the Freie Bühne theatre. When Eva was 15 years old, her father died and she left school to begin her career as a social worker. In 1911 she married her cousin, the lawyer Valentin Rosenfeld (1886–1970). Valentin studied in Vienna and attented the lectures held by Freud. Through her husband, Eva first became aware of psychoanalysis. When they married, they settled in Vienna.

Eva and Valentin Rosenfeld had four children, but three of them died in young age. The loss of children — especially the 15-year-old daughter Rosemarie in 1927 — shadowed the later life of Eva Rosenfeld.

After World War I Rosenfeld opened a school for girls. Eva Rosenfeld and Anna Freud became close friends sometime in 1924 through Siegfried Bernfeld. In 1927 Rosenfeld and Anna Freud founded (together with Dorothy Burlingham) a school in Vienna where most of the students underwent psychoanalysis, usually with Anna Freud.

Eva Rosenfeld was a patient of Sigmund Freud from 1929 until 1931. After her divorce she returned to Berlin in 1931 and assisted Ernst Simmel at a psychoanalytical sanatorium. Her formal education as a psychoanalyst was completed in Berlin. In 1936 she moved to England, where she worked the rest of her life as a psychotherapist and supervising analyst; her analysands include Benjamin B. Rubinstein, Nina Coltart and Maria W. Piers. She was further analyzed by Melanie Klein in 1938–1941 and this damaged her relations with the Freud family.

Hanna Segal

Hanna Segal (born Hanna Poznanska; 20 August 1918 – 5 July 2011) was a British psychoanalyst and a follower of Melanie Klein. She was president of the British Psychoanalytical Society, vice-president of the International Psychoanalytical Association, and was appointed to the Freud Memorial Chair at University College, London (UCL) in 1987. James Grotstein considered that "Received wisdom suggests that she is the doyen of "classical" Kleinian thinking and technique." Sue Lawley described her as "one of the most distinguished psychological theorists of our time,"

Herbert Rosenfeld

Herbert Alexander Rosenfeld was a British psychoanalyst. He was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1910 and died in London in 1986.

Rosenfeld made seminal contributions to Kleinian thinking on psychotic and other very ill patients; while his emphasis on the role of the analyst in contributing to potential impasses in the analytic encounter has had a wide impact on analysts both in Britain and internationally.

Joan Riviere

Joan Hodgson Riviere (28 June 1883 – 20 May 1962) was a British psychoanalyst, who was both an early translator of Freud into English and an influential writer on her own account.

Marguerite Aucouturier

Marguerite Derrida (née Aucouturier) is a French psychoanalyst and the wife of philosopher Jacques Derrida from 1957 until his death in 2004.

Aucouturier was Michel Aucouturier's daughter, one of Derrida's friends at the École normale supérieure. She met her future husband in 1953 in a village in Haute-Savoie. They married on 9 June 1957 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Her family came from a Slavic-speaking background and she has translated several books by Melanie Klein in addition to Morphology of the Folktale by Vladimir Propp.4

Object relations theory

Object relations theory in psychoanalytic psychology is the process of developing a psyche in relation to others in the environment during childhood. It designates theories or aspects of theories that are concerned with the exploration of relationships between real and external people as well as internal images and the relations found in them. It also maintains that it is the infant's relationship with the mother that primarily determines the formation of his personality in his adult life. Particularly, the need for attachment is the bedrock of the development of the self or the psychic organization that creates the sense of identity.

Oedipus complex

The Oedipus complex (also spelled Œdipus complex) is a concept of psychoanalytic theory. Sigmund Freud introduced the concept in his Interpretation of Dreams (1899) and coined the expression in his A Special Type of Choice of Object made by Men (1910). The positive Oedipus complex refers to a child's unconscious sexual desire for the opposite-sex parent and hatred for the same-sex parent. The negative Oedipus complex refers to a child's unconscious sexual desire for the same-sex parent and hatred for the opposite-sex parent. Freud considered that the child's identification with the same-sex parent is the successful outcome of the complex and that unsuccessful outcome of the complex might lead to neurosis, pedophilia, and homosexuality.Freud rejected the term "Electra complex", which was introduced by Carl Gustav Jung in 1913 in his work, Theory of Psychoanalysis in regard to the Oedipus complex manifested in young girls. Freud further proposed that the Oedipus complex, which originally refers to the sexual desire of a son for his mother, is a desire for the parent in both males and females, and that boys and girls experience the complex differently: boys in a form of castration anxiety, girls in a form of penis envy.

Paranoid anxiety

Paranoid anxiety is a term used in object relations theory, particularity in discussions about the Paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. The term was frequently used by Melanie Klein, especially to refer to a pre-depressive and persecutory sense of anxiety characterised by the psychological splitting of objects.

Penis envy

Penis envy (German: Penisneid) is a stage theorized by Sigmund Freud regarding female psychosexual development, in which young girls experience anxiety upon realization that they do not have a penis. Freud considered this realization a defining moment in a series of transitions toward a mature female sexuality and gender identity. In Freudian theory, the penis envy stage begins the transition from an attachment to the mother to competition with the mother for the attention, recognition and affection of the father. The parallel reaction of a boy's realization that women do not have a penis is castration anxiety.

Freud's theory on penis envy was criticized and debated by other psychoanalysts, such as Karen Horney, Ernest Jones, Helene Deutsch, and Melanie Klein, specifically on the treatment of penis envy as a fixed operation as opposed to a formation constructed or used in a secondary manner to fend off earlier wishes.

Projective identification

Projective identification is a term introduced by Melanie Klein to describe the process whereby in a close relationship, as between mother and child, lovers, or therapist and patient, parts of the self may in unconscious fantasy be thought of as being forced into the other person.While based on Freud's concept of psychological projection, projective identification represents a step beyond. In R.D. Laing's words, "The one person does not use the other merely as a hook to hang projections on. He/she strives to find in the other, or to induce the other to become, the very embodiment of projection". Feelings which can not be consciously accessed are defensively projected into another person in order to evoke the thoughts or feelings projected.Projective identification may be used as a type of defense, a means of communicating, a primitive form of relationship, or a route to psychological change; used for ridding the self of unwanted parts or for controlling the other's body and mind.

Psychological projection

Psychological projection is a defence mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.

Splitting (psychology)

Splitting (also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking) is the failure in a person's thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism. The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual's actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).

Splitting was first described by Ronald Fairbairn in his formulation of object relations theory; it begins as the inability of the infant to combine the fulfilling aspects of the parents (the good object) and their unresponsive aspects (the unsatisfying object) into the same individuals, instead seeing the good and bad as separate. In psychoanalytic theory this functions as a defense mechanism.

Wilfred Bion

Wilfred Ruprecht Bion DSO (; 8 September 1897 – 8 November 1979) was an influential British psychoanalyst, who became president of the British Psychoanalytical Society from 1962 to 1965.Wilfred Bion was a potent and original contributor to psychoanalysis. He was one of the first to analyze patients in psychotic states using an unmodified analytic technique; he extended existing theories of projective processes and developed new conceptual tools. The degree of collaboration between Hanna Segal, Wilfred Bion and Herbert Rosenfeld in their work with psychotic patients during the late 1950s, and their discussions with Melanie Klein at the time, means that it is not always possible to distinguish their exact individual contributions to the developing theory of splitting, projective identification, unconscious phantasy and the use of countertransference. As Donald Meltzer (1979, 1981), Denis Carpy (1989, p. 287), and Michael Feldman (2009, pp. 33, 42) have pointed out, these three pioneering analysts not only sustained Klein’s clinical and theoretical approach, but through an extension of the concept of projective identification and countertransference they deepened and expanded it. In Bion’s clinical work and supervision the goal remains insightful understanding of psychic reality through a disciplined experiencing of the transference–countertransference, in a way that promotes the growth of the whole personality.

'Bion's ideas are highly unique', so that he 'remained larger than life to almost all who encountered him'. He has been considered by Neville Symington as possibly "the greatest psychoanalytic thinker...after Freud".

Notable theorists
Clinical applications

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