• Melanie Klein is a renowned psychoanalyst and author who has contributed significant work to child psychology.
  • Klein was inspired by her meetings with her therapist (whom she met with after she became depressed) to observe her children and explore her interest in psychoanalysis.
  • This observation led to her creating a “play technique” of which involved assessing a child’s interaction with other children to better understand their unconscious selves.
  • She made other significant contributions to psychology, such as exploring the important role of parents and building on Sigmund Freud’s “death pulsation theory.”
  • While Klein may have run into a little bit of conflict (specifically with Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud) she is regarded as a major influence in developmental psychology.

Melanie Klein (1882-1960) was a psychoanalyst and author, who is best known for her accomplishments in developmental psychology. She focused on exploring and understanding how therapeutic techniques could help adolescents, and in turn, had a significant impact on the realm of child psychology. So, thank you, Melanie Klein! And a very happy birthday to you today, March 30th.

History and Background

Klein was born in Vienna Austria, where she spent the majority of her early life. At a young age, she hoped to one day study medicine; however, her family’s economic and financial decline put this plan on pause. Klein went on to marry her husband and have three kids—but she experienced another bump in the road, as she developed clinical depression after her first child. She also struggled in her relationship with her husband and finally decided it was time to seek treatment. It’s here where she began to again explore her interest in psychoanalysis.

With the support of her therapist, Klein leaned into this revived interest in psychoanalysis by first observing her own children. In doing so, she developed a “play technique” which helped to better understand a child’s unconscious being through their interactions with other children. She also went on to develop theories on human development and defense mechanisms.

Notable Contributions to Psychology

Before Klein, young children didn’t typically undergo psychoanalysis. She, however, used traditional psychoanalytic as well as innovative techniques that proved instrumental to understanding and helping this age group. To be more specific, Klein capitalized on Sigmund Freud’s work and looked into the child’s unconscious mind, of which we mentioned above, by assessing their playing and interacting with other kids. Additionally, Klein…

  • Founded object relations theory, which says that all individuals unconsciously internalize their relationships with others. This theory looks primarily at how we interact with others, how we internalize these interactions, and how these internalized relationships affect us psychologically.
  • Highlighted the important role that parents play in their child’s imagination. Ultimately, she concluded that the superego is present even at birth.
  • Built on the theoretical work of Freud, specifically in regards to his belief of “death pulsation.” This theory claims that all living things are pulled toward an “inorganic state” or death (Thanatos). The opposite force (Eros) is the life pulsation, or the sustenance of life. Like Freud, Klein believed these to two forces to be foundations of the human mind.
  • Insisted that aggression is a significant force, in her assessment of children. This led her to directly disagree with Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna Freud, another important child psychotherapist in continental Europe. Today, they’re referred to as the “controversial discussions.”

Influential Quotes

Klein was clearly an influential psychologist and author, and therefore has an impressive bank of influential quotes. The following serve to inform and inspire:

“One of the many interesting and surprising experiences of the beginner in child analysis is to find in even very young children a capacity for insight which is often far greater than that of adults.” 

“Feelings of love and gratitude arise directly and spontaneously in the baby in response to the love and care of his mother.”

“The anxiety arising from the perpetual activity of the death instinct, though never eliminated, is counteracted and kept at bay by the power of the life instinct.” 

“Feminism freed my mind. Yoga freed my body. It’s one thing to intellectualize self-love and another to embody it.”

“The highly ambitious person, in spite of all his successes, always remains dissatisfied, in the same way as a greedy baby is never satisfied.”

 “It is an essential part of the interpretive work that it should keep in step with fluctuations between love and hatred, between happiness and satisfaction on one hand and persecutory anxiety and depression on the other.”