Melanie Klein (1882-1960)
Background: Melanie Klein was born Melanie Reisez on March 30, 1882 in Vienna to father Moriz Reisez and mother Libussa Reisez (Deutsch). She was the youngest of four children. There was a considerable age difference between her parents, with her mother being younger, and their marriage was her father’s second. The family was mostly nonreligious, but Melanie still acknowledged her Jewish roots. The family endured some financial struggle until Melanie’s grandfather passed away and Moriz received the inheritance. Two of her siblings, Emmanuel and Sidonie, helped to educate Melanie when she was a child, but both died at a young age. Melanie’s father died when she was 18.
Melanie was educated at the gymnasium and aspired to study psychiatric medicine. She began studying Art History at Vienna University, but was married at age 21 before she could receive an academic degree. Melanie then travelled with her husband, Arthur Klein, and had three children. She experienced bouts of depressions throughout her pregnancies and early married life. The family moved to Budapest in 1910. Melanie was exposed to Freud’s work; initially his book On Dreams. She began to form a deep interest in psychoanalysis. Her initial analysis was done under Sandor Ferenczi who encouraged her to use the principles of psychoanalysis to analyze her own children. Her early work closely reflected Freud’s work, but while working with Karl Abraham Melanie began investigating psychoanalysis specifically pertaining to children. In 1922 as Melanie was still working with Abraham, she divorced Arthur Klein.
Melanie’s work in psychology only grew after her divorce. She began working in Berlin at a practice where she treated emotionally disturbed children. Melanie’s work was criticized in Berlin, but she found in England. She was able to give speeches in England that she later used to develop her major literary work The Psychoanalysis of Children (1932). In 1927 Melanie moved to England and also became a member of the British Psychoanalytic Society. Melanie’s daughter Melitta and Melitta’s husband became psychoanalysts who opposed Melanie’s work. In 1935 Melanie advances other psychological concepts when she reads her paper, “A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States.” This paper introduced the idea of the depressive position. In 1946 the British Society receives Melanie’s paper “Notes on some Schizoid Mechanisms.” This paper contributes her ideas of ego-splitting and projective identification. Her work continued to receive praise and criticism. Much of the criticism can be attributed to Ana Freud’s supporters because Ana held a position that children were unanalyzable. Melanie Klein died on September 22, 1960 from complications of a surgery meant to treat her cancer.
Melanie approached the challenges of psychoanalyzing children and developed the play technique to solve them. Melanie was interested in treating children like adults in psychoanalytic treatment, uncovering their unconsciousness, but instead of analyzing their dreams she analyzed their play. This was very important because before her technique was developed young children were considered untreatable. Melanie’s treatment approach is still used worldwide today; as relatively the same technique that she created. Another theoretical contribution is her concept of the depressive position. The depressive position states that because of a child’s development, they form a sense of self while forming a fragmented idea of their mothers. One can love, but also hate their mother. The way to overcome this and form a relationship with their mother is to view their mother as a whole. Some of Melanie’s beliefs were later used by others to form the object relations theory. Her influence can be seen on theories after her time.
Melanie faced many challenges along her journey of research, theory, and treatment, but her contributions are large. She was often criticized for having no formal education in medicine. Without her male mentors she had to work harder to pass on her knowledge; even moving from Berlin to England. Melanie even challenged Freud’s ideas which was brave as he was the dominate psychologist of the time. Her opposition and reforming of Freud’s ideas on development was essential to the growth of psychoanalysis, psychology as a whole, and treatment methods for children. She inspired many psychologists including John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott, and Joan Riviere and a grouped even formed to support Klein’s work opposed to Freud’s: the Kleinians. Melanie’s works have now been complied into four volumes of books. The Melanie Klein Trust is an organization founded in 1955 that celebrates her work by furthering her theory and techniques.
Written by Angela Contento