Melanie Klein , born on March 30, 1882 in Vienna, Austria and died on September 22, 1960 in London, England, was a British psychoanalyst known for her work with young children, devised new therapeutic techniques for children that influenced psychology Childhood and Contemporary Psychoanalysis . She was an innovative leader in object relationship theory.
The life of Melanie Klein
Born in Vienna of Jewish heritage, her father, raised 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. His mother was the daughter of a rabbi. Melanie was the youngest of four children, her only brother, five years older than her and a smart and talented young man, had a profound influence on her, but she died when she was only 25 years old.
At the age of 14, Melanie decided to study medicine, but got 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 qualified as a doctor. When she was 21, she married Arthur Klein, an industrial chemist; the marriage was not happy but 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, he began a personal analysis with Sándor Ferenczi, the leading Hungarian analyst at the time, and, encouraged by him, began to think about the application of psychoanalysis to young children.
Apparently, two of the first children he analyzed were his son and daughter. In 1921 she moved to Berlin, where she studied and was analyzed by Karl Abraham. Although Abraham supported his pioneering work with children, neither Klein nor his ideas received much support in Berlin. Yet impressed by her groundbreaking work, British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones invited Klein to London in 1926, where she worked until her death in 1960.
Klein had a great influence on the theory and technique of psychoanalysis, particularly in Great Britain. As a divorced woman whose academic qualifications didn’t even include a bachelor’s degree, Arthur was a visible iconoclast within a profession dominated by male physicians.
After the arrival of Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalyst daughter, Anna Freud, in London in 1938, Klein’s ideas came into conflict with those of continental analysts emigrating to Britain. After lengthy debates between followers of Klein and followers of Anna Freud during the 1940s (the so-called “controversial discussions”), the British Psychoanalytic Society split into three separate training divisions: Kleinian, Anna Freudian, and Independent.
In addition to his professional successes, Klein’s life had several tragic events. She was the youngest of four children, her beloved older sister died at the age of eight, when she was four, and she felt responsible for her brother’s death. His academic studies were interrupted by marriage and children. Their marriage failed and their son died in a climbing accident, which may have been a suicide , while his daughter, whom Klein had analyzed as a child, the well-known psychoanalyst Melitta Schmideberg, openly fought her in the British Psychoanalytic Society.
His daughter’s analyst at the time, Edward Glover, openly challenged Klein at British Society meetings. Mother and daughter were not reconciled before Klein’s death, and Schmideberg did not attend the funeral. He was an atheist, but he never forgot his Jewish roots.
The psychology of Melanie Klein
Klein was the first person to use traditional psychoanalysis with young children. She was innovative in her techniques (such as working with children who use toys) and her theories about child development. Established a very influential training program in psychoanalysis, she is considered one of the co-founders of the theory of object relations.
Klein’s theoretical work incorporates Freud’s belief in the existence of the ‘death pulsation’, reflecting the fact that all living organisms are intrinsically attracted to an inorganic state, and therefore in an unspecified sense , contain an impulse towards death. In psychological terms, Eros (appropriately, the pulsation of life), the postulated principle of sustaining and uniting life, is presumed to have a companion force, Thanatos (pulsation of death), which seeks to terminate and disintegrate life.
Both Freud and Klein considered these bi-mental forces as the bases. These primary unconscious forces, the mental matrix of which is the id, triggers the ego and experience without doubt, were simply shorthand terms (similar to “instincts”) referring to highly complex and mostly unexplored psycho-dynamic operations. Freud and Klein never abandoned the terms or the conceptualizations, despite protests and controversies among many of their adherents.
While Freud’s ideas about children came primarily from working with adult patients, Klein was innovative in working directly with children, often as young as two years old, she saw children’s play as her primary mode of emotional communication. After observing troubled children with toys such as dolls, animals, play dough, pencil, and paper, Klein tried to interpret the specific meaning of the game. Following Freud, he emphasized the important role that parental figures played in the child’s fantasy life, and considered the timing of Freud’s Oedipus complex to be wrong.
After exploring ultra-aggressive fantasies of hatred, envy and greed in very young and disturbed children, Melanie Klein proposed a model of human psychology that linked significant oscillations of state, with the postulation of the pulsations of Eros or Thanatos in the foreground. She named the state of psychology, when the life-sustaining principle was in dominance, the depressive position. This is considered by many to be his great contribution to psychoanalytic thought . Later she developed her ideas about an earlier developmental psychological state corresponding to the disintegration tendency of life, which she called the paranoid-schizoid position.
Klein’s insistence on viewing aggression as an important force in its own right when analyzing children led her into conflict with Freud’s own daughter, Anna Freud, who was one of the other prominent child psychotherapists in continental Europe but who became moved to London in 1938 where Klein had been working for several years. Many controversies arose out of this conflict, and these are often referred to as controversial debates. The battles were carried out between the two parties, each presenting scientific documents, resolving their respective positions and where they differ, during the Great Britain of the war.
Eventually a compromise was reached whereby three distinct training groups were formed within the British Psychoanalytic Society, with the influence of Anna Freud being predominantly predominant in the United States.
Today, Kleinian psychoanalysis is one of the main schools within psychoanalysis. Kleinian psychoanalysts are members of the International Psychoanalytic Association, so it remains a large and influential school of psychoanalysis in Great Britain, much of Latin America, and to some extent in continental Europe.
Within the United States of America, the California Psychoanalytic Center is the only major training center that follows the work of Melanie Klein. Kleinian psychoanalysis with adults is characterized by the traditional method of using an analytical couch and meeting four to five times a week. Unlike Freudian psychoanalysis, which focuses on the patient’s ego, Kleinian analysis focuses on the interpretation of very “deep” and primitive emotions and fantasies from the very beginning of treatment.
In popular culture
Melanie Klein was the subject of a 1988 play by Nicholas Wright, titled Mrs. Klein. Set in London in 1934, the play involves a conflict between Melanie Klein and her daughter Melitta Schmideberg, after the death of her son, Hans Klein. The description of Melanie Klein is quite unfavorable: the work suggests that Hans’ death was a suicide and also reveals that Klein had analyzed these two children.
In the original production at the Cottesloe Theater in London, Gillian Barge played Melanie Klein, with Zoë Wanamaker and Francesca Annis playing supporting roles. In the play’s New York revival in 1995, Melanie Klein was played by Uta Hagen, who described her as a role she had to play.
The play was broadcast on the British radio station BBC 4 in 2008 and revived at the Almeida Theater in London in October 2009 with Clare Higgins as Melanie Klein. The independent band Volcano Suns dedicated their first album “The Bright Orange Years” to Klein for his work on child assault. 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 raising her son, Bertie.
Last years of Melanie Klein
Klein’s ideas on schizoid defense mechanisms sparked a fierce debate within the British Society, which held a series of controversial Discussions during the war years to decide whether ‘Kleinianism’ as it was now known was really psychoanalysis or whether it diverged too much from Freud’s original theory.
The debate resulted in an agreement to teach two schools of thought: Kleinianism and Freudianism. Thus, Klein was the first psychoanalyst to challenge Freud’s account of psychic development and remain within the psychoanalytic movement.
By this time, Klein was a powerful figure within the British Society: she was a member of the Training Committee, a training analyst, and leader of the Kleinian group, which for a time included John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott. However, her victory came at a cost: her daughter Melitta had opposed her during the controversial Arguments and they remained estranged until the end of Klein’s life.
Faced with the loss of two of her children, she found comfort in her work. He went on to develop his ideas on schizoid defense mechanisms, including division and the role they play in boundary conditions. Her final work explored the themes of envy, gratitude, and repair in the mother-child relationship, themes that were so important to her own experiences as a daughter and a mother. His last major book, Narrative of a Child Analysis (1961/1984), a detailed history of the analysis of a child during the war, was published after his death from colon cancer in 1960.
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