Melanie Klein

The Austrian psychotherapist and child psychologist Melanie Klein (1882-1960) developed methods of play technique and play therapy in analyzing and treating child patients.

Melanie Klein was born in Vienna on March 30, 1882. Raised in a Jewish middle-class family, she lacked both the academic background and the medical training usually found in those who choose psychoanalysis for a profession. She was a married woman with children when she began undergoing analysis about 1912. During her analysis she began to observe the behavior of a disturbed child relative and to interpret this behavior in the light of her own psychoanalytic experience. Her analyst, recognizing his patient's aptitude, encouraged her in her efforts at child therapy, a hitherto neglected area.

Originally trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst, Klein made observations and conclusions regarding child behavior that led her to views differing from those held by orthodox Freudian psychoanalysts. She was one of the first to engage in child analysis, beginning in 1920. She evolved a system of play therapy to supplement the usual psychoanalytic procedure, perhaps because the age of her clients indicated more appropriate methods than the exclusively verbal free-association technique then used with adult patients. Gradually she evolved a technique more suitable for probing the deep-layered recesses of the child's mind. By providing the child with small toys representing father, mother, or siblings, she was able to elicit the child's subconscious feelings. Her technique also used the child's free play and his spontaneous communications.

Applying her intuitive perception to the behaviors elicited by these new techniques, Klein made discoveries, especially about what goes on in the subconscious of the 2-year-old and of even an earlier age, called by psychoanalysts the preoedipal phases. Freudian theory had left somewhat of a gap regarding these first 2 years. She found that aggression and sadism play an even greater part in the child's mind than had been assumed by Freud. Her first paper, "The Development of a Child," was presented to the Budapest Congress of Psychoanalysis in 1919, the year in which she became a member of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society. In 1921 she went to the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute as the first child therapist.

In what has been called her second period, beginning in 1934, Klein theorized her previous observations on child behavior, arriving at conceptual conclusions based on them. She wrote now of her earlier findings, on the "depressive position" and the "schizoid-paranoid position," indicating possible ways in which these infancy states relate to psychotic processes in adults. In the 1930s she began to analyze adults as well as children. Her last child analysis terminated at the close of the 1940s. From then until her death on Sept. 22, 1960, she treated adults, analyzed students of psychoanalysis, taught, and wrote.

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Further Reading on Melanie Klein

For further information on Melanie Klein's work and thought see Hanna Segal, Introduction to the Work of Melanie Klein (1964). Ives Hendrick treats Mrs. Klein's work briefly in "Child Analysis and Child Psychiatry" in his Facts and Theories of Psychoanalysis (1934; 3d rev. ed. 1958). A useful study which surveys the field from 1933 on is Dieter Wyss, Depth Psychology: A Critical History, Development, Problems, Crises (1961; trans. 1966).

Additional Biography Sources

Segal, Julia, Melanie Klein, London; Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1992.

Grosskurth, Phyllis, Melanie Klein: her world and her work, Northvale, N.J.: J. Aronson, 1995.