Melanie Klein was born on March 30, 1882, in Vienna, Austria. Her first personal experience in the field of psychiatry began during World War I, when she sought treatment for herself. After her own encounter with psychoanalysis, she began studying and soon became a clinician, specializing in the treatment of children. In the early 1920’s, Klein relocated to Berlin where she studied under Karl Abraham. Klein began to develop her own style of child therapy, and was noticed by Ernest Jones. The prominent psychoanalyst urged Klein to join him in London, and Klein continued her pioneering work with children in London until she died in 1960.
Klein never received her docterate, or even a master’s in psychology, but impacted the field of psychoanalysis with her unique approach to the treatment of children. She was a leading force in the development of three distinct divisions of the British Psychoanalytical Society:
Klein is known not only for her undeniable influence on psychology, but also her tragic and often public circumstances. As a child, Klein lost both her only brother and only sister and was often made to feel as if she was responsible for their deaths. Additionally, she did not complete her formal education, but halted her studies abruptly to marry her husband. The marriage ended in divorce. Her only son died, and her 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. Klein is recognized as one of the creators of object relations theory. She recognized play as an effective and paramount language for children. Klein tried to dissect the language and dialect of play and focused on understanding troubled children and their method of communicating by playing with toys. By observing the fantasies present in extremely young and emotionally disturbed children, Klein came to believe in what she called a depressive position, the state of the psyche in which the guiding force of life is control and domination. This theory diverged from Freudian thinking and later led to many conflicts with Anna Freud. Their widely discussed opinions became known as the Controversial Discussions, and spearheaded the division of the British Psycho-Analytic Society into three distinct training schools. Kleinian analysis is deemed a classic style, implementing a traditional couch setting and focusing on addressing intensely deep behavioral and emotional conditions.