Melanie Klein (1882-1960)

Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein was an early 20th century psychologist who specialized in child psychology and helped popularize the theory of object relations. 

Early Life

Melanie Klein was born on March 30, 1882, in Vienna, Austria. In 1903, she married Arthur Klein and relocated to Budapest. They had three children, born in 1904, 1907, and 1914.

Klein's first personal experience in the field of psychoanalysis began when she sought treatment for herself after her mother died in 1914. Earlier in her youth, Klein’s siblings died: her brother died when she was 20, and her sister died when Klein was 4 years old. Klein was in treatment with Sandor Ferenczi between 1914 and 1917.

Professional Life

After her own encounter with psychoanalysis, Klein began studying and soon became a clinician, specializing in the treatment of children, beginning with her own. She became a member of the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society in 1919. She soon relocated to Berlin where she studied under Karl Abraham.

Over the coming years, Klein began to develop her own style of child therapy and she presented her findings in London in 1925. Her work was so well received that the prominent psychoanalyst Ernest Jones urged Klein to relocate to London. Klein moved in 1926 and continued her pioneering work with children and adults until she died in 1960. While Klein never completed her formal education, she impacted the field of psychoanalysis with her unique approach to the treatment of children.

Klein’s daughter, the renowned psychoanalyst Melitta Schmideberg, conflicted with her mother publicly while they were members of the British Psychoanalytic Society. The two became estranged and Schmideberg refused to reconcile with her mother. At the time of Klein’s death, Klein and Schmideberg remained estranged.

Contribution to Psychology

Klein was a pioneer in the treatment of children. She was among the first to use psychoanalysis on children and implemented several never-before implemented techniques and tools. She often used play and toys to help children discuss psychological issues.

Klein's approach to psychoanalysis conflicted with much of Sigmund Freud's work. Freud drew his ideas on child development from the recollections of his adult patients, but Klein worked directly with children and toddlers, giving her unique insight into the child development process. She defied Freud, arguing that the superego is actually present the moment a child is born, preceding the Oedipal complex. Klein also claimed that a primitive form of the Oedipal complex was present much earlier in development than Freud claimed, as a child becomes preoccupied with overwhelming parental authority.

In a series of lectures organized by the British Psychoanalytical Society, Klein argued with Anna Freud, who was also a child psychologist, and their disputes were published in a variety of papers that are sometimes referred to as the “Controversial Discussions.” These disagreements led the Society to establish three distinct schools of psychoanalysis: Kleinian, Anna Freudian, and “Other.”

Klein is recognized as one of the creators of object relations theory. Object relations theory emphasizes interactions between individuals; people are the “objects” in the theory. The theory places special significance on the relationship between a mother and her child, as well as the larger family unit. There is also a strong emphasis in object relations on the ways in which the past can affect the present.

Book by Melanie Klein 

  • The Writings of Melanie Klein, Volumes 1-4
  • Love, Guilt and Reparation And Other Works 1921-1945
  • The Psychoanalysis of Children  (1932)
  • Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963â��
  • Narrative of a Child Analysis: The Conduct of the Psychoanalysis of Children as Seen in the Treatment of a Ten-Year-Old Boy

References:

  1. Hinshelwood, Robert. (2005). Melanie Klein-Reizes. International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Biography In Context. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm
  2. Mason, A. (2003). Melanie Klein; 1882-1960. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(2), 241. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/220484768?accountid=1229

Last Update: 07-27-2015

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