Melanie Klein and the Psychoanalysis of Children

Melanie Klein (1882 - 1960)

Melanie Klein (1882 – 1960)

On March 30, 1882, AustrianBritish psychoanalyst Melanie Reizes Klein was born. Klein is known for her work with young children, in which observations of free play provided insights into the child‘s unconscious fantasy life, enabling her to psychoanalyze children as young as two or three years of age. She was a leading innovator in object relations theory.

When Melanie Klein was about 16 years old, she decided to study psychiatric medicine. She became a psychoanalyst and began analysing children in 1919. It is believed that the first children she analyzed were her son and daughter. In 1921, Klein moved to Berlin studying with the German psychoanalyst, and a collaborator of Sigmund Freud,[6,7] Karl Abraham. Despite the support by AbrahamKlein was never really able to increase her influence in Berlin.

When the British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones contacted Melanie Klein, impressed by her pioneering work with children, Klein moved to London and remained there for the rest of her life. However, when Sigmund and Anna Freud arrived in London in 1938, Melanie Klein‘s theories came into conflict with those of Continental analysts who were migrating to Britain. Following the debated between their followers, the British Psychoanalytical Society split into three separate training divisions: (1) Kleinian, (2) Anna Freudian, and (3) independent.

Melanie Klein was one of the first psychoanalysis to work with younger children. She innovated several techniques like the integration of toys when working with children and developed theories on infant developmentKlein also established a training program in psychoanalysis and became known as one of the co-founders of object relations theory. She managed to extend Sigmund Freud’s understanding of the unconscious mindKlein analyzed children‘s play and explored the mind of infants, for instance, finding an early Oedipus complex and the earliest roots of the superego. Melanie Klein was able to make significant theoretical contributions to psychoanalysis, most notably the ‘paranoid-schizoid position’ and the ‘depressive position‘. She further showed how these primitive mental states impact on the adult.

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