Melanie Klein: Biography and Work

Melanie Klein (1882-1960) was an Austrian psychoanalyst. Developed the Theory of Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud And was a pioneer in the creation of psychological therapies for children.

Klein formed her own theoretical school on child psychoanalysis and became the first European psychoanalyst to be part of the British Society of Psychoanalysis . Main opponent of the daughter of the same Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud .



Melanie Klein was born on March 30, 1882 in Vienna. His father, Moriz Reizes, son of a Jewish orthodox family, studied to be a doctor against the religious beliefs of his family.

Moriz married Libussa Deutsch, an attractive and intelligent woman from Slovakia twenty years younger than him. From this marriage four children were born; Emilie, Emmanuel, Sidonie and little Melanie.

Biographer Phyllis Grosskurth rescues in his book Melanie Klein , Some snippets of the famous psychoanalyst's life. In them, Melanie acknowledges that her arrival was unexpected but never felt that she received less love for it. In these fragments also speaks of how it affected to him the death of his sister Sidonie, when Melanie was only four years old.

Sidonie died at the age of eight scrofula , A type of tuberculosis. Little Melanie felt very attached to her sister, and always remembered with great admiration for having taught her reading and arithmetic skills.

In 1898, at the age of 16, Melanie passed her medical entrance exams, the career she had always dreamed of studying. These plans would be truncated soon, since the following year it knows its future husband Arthur Stevan Klein, a second cousin by part of mother who was studying chemical engineering in Zurich.

In 1900, his father, Moriz Reizes, died at the age of 72. In this same year his sister Emilie marries with Dr. Leo Pick. The death of Moriz Reizes triggered a crisis for Melanie and her family.

Two years later, in 1902 his brother Emmanuel died of a heart attack in Genoa, only 25 years old. This death marked Melanie for the rest of her life, since she was very close to her older brother.

Emmanuel was the one who encouraged Melanie to study Medicine and helped her to enter the Gymnasium in Vienna. In fact, Melanie felt guilty all her life from this death.

The book of Phyllis Grosskurth tells how Emmanuel was self-destructive before the incipient marriage of Melanie with Arthur. Emmanuel suffered from fevers as young as twelve, probably caused by previous tuberculosis.

These health problems led him to leave his academic studies to take a bohemian lifestyle, marked by the alcohol and the Drugs . Still, Melanie always felt responsible for the fate that took the life of her brother and thought that this was how he would have liked her to feel.

In 1903, at the age of 21, he finally married Arthur Klein. The bond between Arthur and Melanie Klein was an unhappy marriage. They had three children, Melitta, Hans and Erich.

The life of Melanie Klein was not easy, since it was marked by deaths of well-loved beings and numerous depressive episodes that they triggered in a problem of nerves.

He had to undergo psychoanalytic treatments on numerous occasions. However, it was this health problem that made him aware of his vocation, since among the professionals who treated it, they found Sándor Ferenczi or Karl Abraham .

In 1914, when she became interested in the discipline of Psychoanalysis, her husband marched to war and her mother Libussa died of cancer.

The personal environment never smiled. After several attempts at reconciliation, Melanie and Arthur Klein parted ways. She was not known to another stable couple, except for a lover, Chezkel Zvi Kloetzel, a married man who would end up fleeing to Palestine because of the violence that the anti-Semitic movement in Europe took.

The biggest blow at the family level would come later, from his own firstborn and only daughter, Melitta Schmideberg. Although at first he supported the principles of infant psychoanalysis established by his mother, he soon became an ally of Edward Glover. With it, he dedicated himself to boycotting his mother's theories at the meetings of the British Psychoanalysis Society. Mother and daughter never made peace.

In 1960 Melanie Klein was diagnosed with anemia And a few months later, colon cancer. Klein had to undergo an operation that, although a priori, seemed to have been successful, brought with it a series of complications. Finally, he would die on September 22 of that same year.

Budapest. His beginnings in Psychoanalysis

In 1914 World War I explodes and Arthur Klein is called to form rows. This same year Melanie Klein undergoes analysis with Sándor Ferenczi, an intimate friend of Freud.

In 1918 he listened to Freud read live for the first time with work Lines of Advance in Psychoanalytic Therapy . It is at the 5th Congress of Psychoanalysis at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest.

A year later, in July 1919, he presented the study on his five-year-old son, Erich, to the Hungarian Society of Psychoanalysis. She is later awarded membership to this organization.

In 1920 he attended an International Congress in The Hague, where he met Joan Rivière for the first time.

Transfer to Berlin. The analysis begins for children

In 1921, on the occasion of the antisemitic current that begins to invade Hungary, Klein moves to Berlin. It is from this transfer when Melanie begins her true career as a child psychoanalyst; Begins to treat children, attends international conferences and becomes a member of the Society of Psychoanalysis Berlin.

His friendship with the psychoanalyst Ernest Jones , Helped her in this professional promotion, especially when she published an article by Melanie Klein, The Development of a Child (Development of a Child) in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis . This article makes mention of it to the same Karl Abraham and Sigmund Freud.

During this stage, Melanie Klein befriends Alix Strachey. Thanks to her, her analyzes arouse interest in the British Society. Melanie Klein, then begins to give a series of readings in London with the support of Ernest Jones.

London. Consolidation of your career

In 1926 he moves to London and begins to treat children, among them, the children of the Jones family and his own young son, Erich.

In 1927, its main detractor Anna Freud writes to the Society of Psychoanalysis Berlin with the subject of the technique of analysis in children. His presentation is an attack on Melanie Klein's approach to psychoanalysis. In response, Ernest Jones organizes a symposium in the British Society with the same theme. Sigmund Freud comes to take this response as a personal attack on him and his daughter.

Anna-freud-melanie-klein Melanie Klein with Anna Freud

In London it is when Melanie consolidates like psychoanalyst and international reference in this matter. At the International Congress of Youth in Innsbruck that would take place in September he presented his article Early Stages of the Oedipus Complex (Early stages of the Oedipus Complex).

Klein is elected member of the British Society of Psychoanalysis on October 2, 1927. In 1932. He published his greatest theoretical work, T The Psychoanalysis of Children (Psychoanalysis of Children), published simultaneously in English and German.

During this time, Melanie Klein attends Congresses in which she presents the development of her theory, explaining such important concepts the Depressive position .

World War II. Freud vs. Klein

With the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, Sigmund and Anna Freud settled in London.

On February 25, 1942, the first extraordinary meeting of the British Society of Psychoanalysis took place. The enmity between its members is evident and the members of the committee are divided into two groups, Freudian and Kleinian.

During these years, the Freudian sector headed by Anna Freud and followed among others by Melitta, the daughter of Melanie Klein, is dedicated to attack theories of this one. They even come to question their training as a psychoanalyst.

The differences between one theory and another will not be solved until 1946. A middle group is formed within the Society, which seeks to harmonize the differences between Freud's and Klein's theory. In 1947, John Rickman, a member of this group is elected president.

Key aspects of Melanie Klein's theory

Hannah Segal, in her book Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein , Divides the theoretical work of Melanie Klein into three phases:

1st Phase: Bases of child analysis

Begins with the publication of your article The development of a child And culminates with The Psychoanalysis of Children . In these works, Melanie Klein states that the Oedipus complex And the superego develop in very early stages of child development.

2nd Phase: Definition of the concept of depressive position

This concept explains it in his works A contribution to the Psychogenesis of the Manic Depressive States (1934) and Mourning and its Relation to Manic Depressive States (1940).

Phase 3: Definition of the concept schizo-paranoid position

This idea Develops it in its article Notes on some Schizoid Mechanisms (1946) and in his book Envy and Gratitude (1957)

Melanie Klein's main contributions to the Theory of Psychoanalysis

The Oedipus Complex and the superego manifest themselves at an early age

Melanie Klein shares with Sigmund Freud the concept of the Oedipus Complex, whereby the child wants to take the place of the same-sex parent, establishing a partner with his or her other parent.

Freud states that this phase occurs between three and five years. Klein, on the other hand, believes that this complex occurs before Freud establishes, with a first stage in which the child fantasizes with a body in which the sexual attributes of the father and the mother are united.

The child shows cruel characteristics related to the oral, anal, etc., as a consequence of the projections of his own sexuality.

According to Melanie Klein, the frustration of children in the process of weaning or incorporating foods into their diet, other than the mother's breast, plays an important role in this process.

The superego, according to Freudian theory, represents the ethical thoughts acquired by culture, once the Oedipus complex has been overcome. Melanie Klein adds some modifications to this concept, since she believes that the superego is present in children from birth or since they are infants. In addition it affirms, that the superego has to do with the feeling of guilt that occurs during the complex of Oedipus.

Development of the concept of depressive position

In summary, it can be said that it is a recurrent thought in the child. It manifests for the first time to the first year and a half of life and has to do with the anxiety that occurs in the child because of the fear of losing the beloved being-object, which is usually the mother.

Development of the concept of schizo-paranoid position

It is the stage before the depressive position. It occurs in the first months of the baby's life, although it may reappear in later episodes of the child's development. The child conceives of the mother as a part centered on her breast, which she perceives as"good breast"when feeding her and"bad breast"when not.

At this stage, the baby's concern is due to worrying about his or her own survival, rather than the fear of losing the mother as in the depressive position. At this stage the baby begins to conceive as a being separated from the mother.

You can delve deeper into the concepts of Melanie Klein's Theory by tapping here .

Technique of Kleinian Psychoanalysis

Although the technique of Melanie Klein is based on that of Sigmund Freud, there is an essential difference: clinical observation. Unlike Freud, it is based more on observation than on the abstraction of concepts.

Main Works

The main works of the Melanie Klein Theory on psychoanalysis are grouped into four volumes.

- Love, Guilt and Reparation and other works 1921-1945 ("Love, guilt and reparation and other works 1921-1945")

This publication contains articles on children's concerns, the Oedipus complex, and other subsequent work on depressive states.

- The Psychoanalysis of children ("The psychoanalysis of children")

Published in 1932. Collects the technique of child analysis carried out by Melanie Klein.

- Envy and Gratitude and other works 1946-1963 ("Envy and Gratitude and other works 1946-1963")

Here the concept of schizo-paranoid position is collected.

- Narrative of a Child Analysis ("Story of a Child's Psychoanalysis")

This volume was published posthumously in 1961. In it, Melanie Klein gathers psychoanalysis sessions with a ten-year-old boy.

You can see other works of Melanie Klein in the page of its Foundation .

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