International Women’s Day: Melanie Klein

I asked my sister which women or female figures have influenced her in life. She said it’s difficult – most of the people who influenced her through her teenage years, and even now, have been men. But there were a few exceptions – Alanis Morissette, Anne Frank, Judy Blume, Joni Mitchell and Melanie Klein.

Who the frack is Melanie Klein?

melanie klein

Most people have heard of Sigmund Freud, many have heard of Carl Jung, and some will now perhaps recognise Sabina Spielrein as an early, yet somewhat overlooked, psychoanalytic theorist as a result of the film A Dangerous Method. Much of Spielrein’s theories had been forgotten or hidden until the 1970s – even now she is more famous for her possible affair with Carl Jung, not her work which was on a par with her male contemporaries.

In fact it was some of Spielrein’s work, primarily on child development, that influenced Klein when she witnessed a talk given by Spielrein at the Psychoanalytic Congress in 1920.

melanie klein and granddaughter

Melanie Klein (30 March 1882 – 22 September 1960) was a post-Freudian psychoanalyst. She was born in Vienna to Jewish parents, and became influenced by psychoanalytic therapy during the First World War in Budapest. After receiving little support in Berlin for her work in the field, she was invited by British neurologist and psychoanalyst Ernest Jones to work in Britain in 1926. She was a strong follower of Freud, who with Ernest Jones’ help, also moved to Britain in 1938 with his family to escape Nazi persecution.

Klein was the first person to apply psychoanalytic therapy to children, using Freud’s theories on the stages of childhood development, as a basis for her own – such as the object relations theory. She is probably best known for her therapeutic technique of play therapy. But this is where the British Psychoanalytic field divided, as although Klein believed that children could be psychoanalysed, Anna Freud – Sigmund Freud’s daughter – thought the opposite.

She stood out in society. Though she was a woman who was divorced with children, and worked in a field of men, she had an immense impact on psychology and psychotherapy – with play therapy still widely applied today.

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