Introducing Klein And The Kleinian Tradition

_A version of this paper was presented as the first in a series of public lectures, entitled Klein and the Kleinian Tradition held by the Sydney Branch, Australian Psychoanalytical Society in June 2005. _

I would like to draw attention to the fact that I have always been primarily a clinician. It has never happened that I arrived at a concept theoretically and then allowed this concept to guide my clinical work. It has always been the other way round. From time to time going over my psychoanalytic experience and observations, I have arrived at certain concepts . . . . (D17, 1299, 886-7 Melanie Klein Trust papers, Wellcome Library cited in Spillius 2004)

Melanie Klein (1882 1960) with her rather Gothic styled texts, rich in clinical detail and muddled, inconsistent theorizing, has inspired generations of clinicians with her profound and enduring clinical insights and constructs. Klein is one of the early women analysts who attempt to grasp the meaning of the first attachment relationship (Sayers, 1991). Roy Schafer puts the shift in understanding introduced by Klein in the following way:

In my view, Freud was so centred on his Darwinian conception of the struggle for survival and the continuation of the species that he developed what we may call an impersonal perspective on human existence . . .

Melanie Klein was not consciously giving up this perspective. But when she posited the centrality of relatedness with human content as being always at the very core of human existence, she was, I believe, promoting a view of human beings that was radically different from that of Freud (1994, p.364).

The late Stephen Mitchell considers that Klein is second to Freud in the significance of her impact on psychoanalysis (1995).

Yet, for all this, I think it is fair to suggest that amongst those outside the Klein group, Klein and the subsequent Kleinian tradition attracts at best an uneasy, not quite respectable reputation and at worst a hostile reception. This is in part due to what might be seen as Klein and her followers holding a darker vision of human nature than in most other psychoanalytic models and as having developed clinical stances that engage with this dark side of human functioning. This view leaves many of us, struggling with the tension between being repelled and being drawn to the challenge as to whether we dare to look at both others and ourselves from this perspective. It is a troubling and disturbing perspective. For example, Lynne Layton (2004), whilst simultaneously critiquing the Kleinian approach to aggression and hostility and attempting to deconstruct American niceness and optimism, does speculate that Kleinian ideas are taking root in American in recent times precisely because of their capacity to engage with aggression and as a counter to some of the difficulties experienced in the American self-psychological models in dealing with aggression. The debates around understanding aggression and destructiveness are central to assessing the Kleinian model and we return to this issue throughout the series of lectures.

The following quotation from Charles Spezzano wonderfully captures the ambivalent attitude to Klein:

Klein took the radical study of the unconscious that had been the soul of Freuds early work and ran it through a series of brilliant clinical and metapsychological tours de force into what finally became a bizarre image of human life as a malevolent psychic battle to the death between the generations fought out in the mind of each infant. Only the theoretical interventions of Bion and Winnicott in the 1950s and 1960s saved what was most useful in Kleins writing and took it beyond Klein toward a modern psychoanalytic psychology of affect, relationship, thinking and representation (1995, p.32).

In the above quotation, I think that we can see the conflict between the wish to discard this disturbing mother of psychoanalysis and the grudging recognition that her brilliant groundbreaking contributions provided a generative springboard for future developments.

The tradition that evolved from the work of Melanie Klein has at its core the central tenets introduced by Freud: unconscious motivation; psychic determinism; the meaning of human emotional attachments and desire; understanding the inner workings and structuring of the mind; and the ego capacity to split and be in opposition with itself. The Kleinian model represent one of three training models/ position housed within the British Society (the other two groups are Contemporary Freudians and the Independents). Today the distinctions are blurred and complicated due the cross-fertilisation of ideas and the differences between these models are sometimes difficult to discern, particularly for those of us outside Britain. This paper aims to provide an introduction to the work and life of Klein and the Kleinian tradition. The following areas are included: a brief sketch of Kleins life; a discussion of her early work with small children; an outline of the key constructs that underpin the Kleinian model; a description of her radical notion of positions; and a brief indication of the directions of subsequent developments


This sketch is based on the work of Kleins biographer, Phyllis Grosskurth (1985) (1). Klein was born in 1882 in Vienna and apparently felt unwanted as the youngest of four children. Her father 24 years older than her mother was a medical practitioner and died when Klein was 20. With her fathers death, Kleins ambition to study medicine was abandoned. It is said that her fathers approval was very important to Klein and she sought it via her professional ambitions: first her desire to study medicine and then in her career as a psychoanalyst (It is worth noting that psychoanalysis was one of the few professions available at that time to women and this raises some interesting side issues about the nature of psychoanalysis). Her relationship with her mother was problematic in that it seems characterized by dependency and intrusiveness

Two years after her fathers death and three months after the death of her much admired but sickly brother, Emanuel, she married Arthur Klein. Following the birth of first of her first two children, she suffered depression which was managed by travel and separation her from her family. In 1909, she had a two-month admission to a Sanatorium. In 1911, the family move to Budapest and Kleins difficult relationship with her mother apparently heightened during this time. In 1914, Kleins third child Erich was born, her mother died and she was separated from her husband who departed to join the fighting in WW1. Apparently Kleins marriage never recovered from this traumatic year.

In 1914, she commenced an intermittent analysis with Ferenczi and he encouraged her interest in observing children. She became his clinical assistant at the Association on Child Research. In 1919 she read her first paper entitled The Development of the Child to the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society. In 1921, Arthur Klein moved to Sweden for work and Klein moved to Berlin to pursue her psychoanalytic career. This coincided with the push to make psychoanalytic training more rigorous and she undertook a second training analysis with Abraham. Klein continued her work with children but her ideas about analysing children departed from the received wisdom of the day. Hermine Hug-Hellmuth, considered the expert of the day, believed that only older children and ones from non-disturbed families could be analysed. In contradistinction to this, Klein believed young children could be analysed and further that the play of young children equated with the free associations of adults.

In Berlin, Klein formed a friendship with Alix Strachey, a member of the famous Bloomsbury set who was also in Berlin for analysis with Abraham. In 1925, Klein was invited to present her ideas on child analysis to the British Psychoanalytical Society. At the same time Abraham died and Kleins support base in Berlin was tenuous. In 1926, Ernest Jones, President of the British Society invited Klein to participate in the work of the British Society and to analyse his two small children and subsequently his wife. Klein found acceptance in the British Society where there was both an interest in child analysis (notable figures included Susan Isaacs, Ella Freeman Sharp, and Donald Winnicott) and also for women analyst due to the presence of a strong suffragette contingent.

In 1927 a symposium on child analysis was held and Kleins views, which were at odds with Anna Freud, found considerable support. Notwithstanding the acerbic correspondence between Ernest Jones and Freud over the support for Kleins views rather than Anna Freuds views, Klein continued to find recognition and appreciation for her work. Kleins watershed work on child analysis was published in 1932 (Klein, 1932). In 1934, her son Hans died in a climbing accident (although there was speculation as to whether it was suicide. see the play, entitled Mrs Klein). In 1935, Kleins paper on the depressive position marked her departure from the Freudian model (Klein, 1935). During this time her daughter Melitta, also a psychoanalyst who was in analysis with Edward Glover began to attack Klein publicly.

In 1938, the Freud family moved to London as did number of other Jewish psychoanalysts fleeing from Nazi persecution. With this, a difficulty emerged within the British Society between those wanting to preserve a British inflected psychoanalysis and those wanting to consolidate classical Viennese- styled psychoanalysis. Tensions arose not only around scientific issues but also importantly around administrative and educational (the teaching and supervising of candidates) issues. These tensions culminated in the Controversial Discussions 1941 1945 (see King & Steiner, 1991). The outcome of these discussions, known as the Gentlemens agreement or more appropriately the Ladies Agreement, was that the British Society was divided into three training streams (Kleinian, Freudian, and Middle, later named Independents) and that members of each group were be represented on Society scientific, administrative and educational committees. After WWII, in 1946 Klein wrote her perhaps most significant contribution on the paranoid-schizoid position (Klein, 1946) and at the end of her life she wrote perhaps her most controversial work that regarding her views on envy (Klein, 1957). Klein died in 1960.

In the life and work of Melanie Klein, we have a story of woman whose life is marked by the untimely death of her father, brother and son. A woman who experienced depression and difficulties in mothering her first two children and this was a background of a hostile dependent relationship with her own mother. She had an unsuccessful marriage and experienced thwarted early career ambitions. On the one hand, this is a story not at all atypical of many women of her generation or our own for that matter. On the other hand she found her way to help via her analysis with Ferenczi and to being recognised for her capacity for acute observation of small children and her understanding that her observations were of significance. She was ambitious and determined, and this impressed others, for example Alix Strachey and Ernest Jones from the British Society and they supported her move to London. This is a story of a woman who knew what it was like to experience pain and depression and to struggle and fight to achieve her ambitions; a woman who produced a very significant body of work concerning the deep workings of the mind. Her scientific accomplishments were paradigm breaking and enduring. We can ask the question Why Klein, why this woman but I think understanding the relationship between a lived life and creative work of a person is always mysterious and speculative


Based on her clinical experience of working with very young children, Klein is concerned with some key controversial issues. First her starting point is the question: what does the infant and small child actually experience? Secondly she argues that through observation and analysis we can understand something of this early experience. Klein attempts in a very graphic way to put into words preverbal experiences by describing the ways bodily and sensory experiences are registered in the mind. Klein argues that from birth the human infants struggle with impulses of love and hate and experiences of fragmentation and anxiety; that unconscious concrete phantasies which are both inherent and generated from experience shape the infants reality; and that infant employs mental mechanisms of projection and introjection to manage their experience and psychic survival. Perhaps two of the more controversial of Kleins findings are first that children are not only actively thinking beings but capable of intense aggressive phantasies and ideas and secondly that girls have different phantasies from boys.

As mentioned above, Klein believes that a small childs play is equated with an adults free associative talking and this meant that children could be analysed. This is contrary to Freuds approach, which privileges the verbal domain. For example, in his account of Little Hans the emphasis of the intervention is on speech and conversation. Kleins approach differs from Freud. An example of Kleins approach is evident in her analysis of a four year-old boy, Dick who showed no affect or anxiety (1930). Today he would be diagnosed as autistic or at least, as having autistic spectrum disorder. Klein describes how in her first session with Dick he showed no emotional response to leaving his nurse and going with Klein and in the consulting room, he shows no interest in the toys. Klein takes the intuitive leap of placing the big toy train by the smaller one, she names them Daddy- train and Dick-train respectively. This arouses Dicks interest and he rolls the Dick train towards the window, saying Station. Klein interprets The station is mummy; Dick is going to mummy (p.225). He then leaves the train and runs into a dark space between the inner and outer doors, shuts himself in, saying dark and runs out again. This behaviour is repeated several times Klein interprets that It is dark inside mummy. Dick is inside dark mummy (p.225). As Kleins work with this child proceeds, his anxiety becomes more manifest and Klein is able to engage his interest and curiosity. Klein links this development to the decrease in latent anxiety. So by being able to help Dick with his underlying anxieties, Klein helps free up Dicks frozen development.

Contrary to popular belief, Klein, in most of her clinical descriptions of children, does make observations about the childs environment and actual family relationships. Of Dick, she writes

Possibly his development was affected by the fact that, though he had every care, no real love was lavished on him, his mothers attitude to him being from the very beginning over-anxious (1930, p.223).

Klein, however, does not, as we see in the Dick case study, theorize a causal relationship between a childs current functioning and his environmental circumstances Perhaps this is in part because her enduring focus is on the here and now clinical task of understanding the workings of the childs mind and because maybe the parents of the children are well- known to her psychoanalytic audience as in the case of Dick, who according to Grosskurth (1985), is the son of one of Kleins colleagues. The failure to theorize the role of the environment in the development of psychopathology is in part what Spezzano quoted above is referring to when speaks of Winnicott and Bion rescuing Klein. Elizabeth Spillius puts it this way Bions formulations show not just that the environment is important but how it is important (1983, p.323). These theoretical developments with their associated technical modifications are discussed in a subsequent paper.


The central assumptions that underpin Kleins work include internal object relations, unconscious phantasies and life and death instincts. Kleins work synthesises an instinct theory and an object-relations approach to the mind. Klein believes that she was following closely Freuds thinking.

Before discussing these concepts it is important to note some confusion in Kleins writings about whether she is speaking of an unconscious mind of a specific patient or whether she is making a theoretical claim. Kleins use of terms can usually be read simultaneously as describing subjective experience and as advancing new psychoanalytic concepts that define underlying principles. Kleins legacy of writing in which descriptive and conceptual levels are sometimes confused has led to the on-going slippages in this tradition, for example in thinking about notions of gender and sexuality.

** 1. Death Instinct **

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Freud writes his biologically speculative treatise concerning the Death Instinct in order to explicate the clinically observed phenomena, the compulsion to repeat rather than remember and negative therapeutic reactions. This marks an important shift in Freuds theorizing, that is the movement from a model that emphasized the primacy of desire to one concerned with the discharge of the drive in action and the capacity of the ego to cope with it. The notion of the Death drive that expresses itself through action rather than representation configures the limits of symbolic representation. Following Freuds dual instinct theory of Eros and the Death drive, Klein argues that the capacity of the ego to tolerate and manage anxiety generated by the operation of the Death Instinct (destructive impulses) is of crucial clinical and theoretical importance. Kleins account of drive theory, however, reformulates the Freudian account: Libido and aggression for Klein are not groups of component instincts but personal, directional emotions (Greenberg and Mitchell, 1983, p.139). The Death Instinct and negativity are foundational in the development of subjectivity for Klein. Following Kleins work on aggression and destructiveness, Kleinian analysts have developed a reputation for their capacity to think about and work with hard to reach patients (or more commonly labelled treatment resistant patients).

On the subject of aggression, Klein writes:

. . . there was a time when I felt very badly because my work on bringing out the problem of aggression [led to the result] that there was nothing but aggression. [I] was quite despairing. Whatever I heard in seminars, in the Society, it all was aggression, aggression, aggression. . . . the point is that aggression can only be tolerated [when it is] modified, mitigated, if we are able to bring out the capacity for love (C72, 1531, 719, Melanie Klein Trust papers, Wellcome Library cited by Spillius, 2004).

From reading Klein, it is evident that she does make reference to both the capacity for love and hate and importantly the issue of making reparation for destructiveness toward ones loved ones. This gives the Kleinian account a moral dimension (see Rustin, 1991)

** 2. Theory of internal objects**

The object relational account has its starting points in Freuds On Narcissism (1914) and Mourning and Melancholia (1917) where the ego is described as becoming the object of libidinal desire. In Mourning and Melancholia Freud describes the melancholic persons relationship to the lost object, which is preserved via the process of identification. Freud poignantly writes, Thus the shadow of the object fell upon the ego (1917, p.258). This form of identification with the lost object works to deny separateness and to restore omnipotently the object in the inner world (Ogden, 2002). Kleins thinking is both a continuation of and departure from the Freudian model. For Freud the process of internalisation and representation is based upon absence whereas for Klein it is presence (and also absence). As stated above, Klein stresses the underlying and enduring importance of the infants attachment to the mother and she argues that object-relations exist from the beginning of life for both the boy and the girl (Klein 1946). The relationship to the mother constitutes the formative primary psychological experience in which human subjectivity is developed. In this respect Kleins theory and practice is intersubjective. However, this is not the same way the term is usually used in the North American context where it refers to the dynamic interplay of subjectivities, rather than two distinct psychological entitles as in mother/ baby or analyst/ analysand in the Kleinian model. (See Keylor, 2003).

The baby, then, has a rudimentary capacity to relate to an object both in external reality and in phantasy. Hanna Segal (1999) describes an object in the following terms:

I think an object in the psychoanalytic sense is someone, or something, that has an emotional meaning for the person. It is needed or loved, hated or feared. Of necessity, it is an object of perception; you cannot relate to what you do not perceive (1999, p.96).

The internal object is a subjective experience, as Hanna Segal indicates above; but it is also a theoretical conceptualisation of a relational process. The relational process, however, does not replicate an actual interpersonal interaction but an internal relationship between objects. Klein writes:

Here I referred to the fact that external relations and external objects or situations are not simply to be translated into internal ones, or the other way around, but that they have a nature of their own, do not simply coincide, that they are always interrelated (C68, Melanie Klein Trust papers, Wellcome Library cited by Hinshelwood, 1997, p.885).

** 3. Unconscious Phantasy**

For Klein, the raw material of subjectivity is the infants inherent bodily sensations, impulses, and experiences, especially feeding experiences, which are elaborated through unconscious phantasies in relation to the mother. Psychic pain initially arises out of negative and uncomfortable bodily experiences, which are represented by unconscious phantasies. The issue of unconscious phantasies was a central scientific topic during the Controversial Discussions (King and Steiner, 1991). The definitive paper however concerning the nature of unconscious phantasies was written by Susan Isaacs (1948) not Klein. Isaacs defines phantasy as primary content of unconscious mental processes (1948, p.81) and the mental corollary, the psychic representative, of instinct (1948, p.81). The Kleinian position, as set out by Isaacs, views unconscious phantasy as an inevitable part of psychic life and its presence per se does not implicate mental dysfunction. Rather, the ways of expressing unconscious phantasy in relationship to external reality is the determining issue for mental functioning. Unconscious phantasy organizes the way reality is perceived rather than representing an alternative to reality as in Freuds notion of fantasy (sic) as wish fulfilment. According to Spillius, the Kleinian notion of unconscious phantasy is really synonymous with the content of the unconscious mind (2001, p.369). According to Sillius, there have been very limited changes to the definition and use of the concept of unconscious phantasy within the Kleinian tradition. She identifies three minor revisions, which include more emphasis on the relationship between phantasy and the development of thought, the use of less concrete language to describe phantasies to patients and more emphasis on the enactment of phantasies in the analytic encounter.(Spillius, 2001)

In summary, for Klein, the unconscious mind of the infant is organized through the ego defence mechanisms of introjection and projection, first in relation to part objects (for example, the breast, vagina, penis) and second through the whole objects. Put simply, Klein suggests that inherently destructive and good impulses are projected onto an external object; the object is split into good and bad; and the introjection of those (part) objects takes place, forming ego-object relations within the psyche.

** Clinical vignette**

A young mother with a history of significant postnatal disturbance after the birth of her first two children begins therapy around the time of third pregnancy. When her third baby is three months of age, she again experiences a difficult and frightening two-week period. While describing a very difficult weekend and her fear that she might end up in hospital again, she makes the following observations regarding the relationship between her baby, Mary and herself and the functioning of her baby. She says that when she is anxious Mary is unsettled and stresses that she really saw this connection on the weekend. Secondly, she observes that something strange happens for her baby, when she starts to feed her. Mary looks at and fixes upon a particular spot in the room (away from mother), she then smiles and makes gurgling sounds as if someone is there. After a few moments she then nestles into feed. The mother then remembers that her older daughter Sarah used to do the same thing, fixing on a spot on the ceiling but it stopped when I bonded with her when she was about fourteen months.

In Kleinian terms we might wonder about this vignette, from the point of view of the mothers observation, in the following way. The baby splits her object and in phantasy, it appears that the good part projected onto the room where she engages with it (she smiles). She is then able to re-introject it and with this in her mind is able to use it to manage at that moment her distressed anxious bad mother and is thus to settle sufficiently to feed. Survival function of splitting and other primitive mechanisms allow the baby to hold onto the good in face of adversity. Baby Mary does thrive.


The above discussion indicates some central Kleinian concepts, notably unconscious phantasy, internal objects and life and death instincts, which underpin the Kleinian theoretical framework. Kleins account of object related internal objects, unconscious phantasies and mental mechanism are constellated around two categories of functioning, called positions. Kleins conceptual framework of positions, her notion of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, emerge to form the centrepiece of her theory of the nature of psychic life.

** The Concept of Positions**

Kleins work on positions, starting around 1934, marks her point of departure from Freudian theory. As stated, her paper A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States (1935) is a watershed publication. Klein in her account of the workings of the infantile mind is describing a development, which is independent of, and ontologically prior to, the Oedipal period and all linguistically based constructions. There are for her two positions, the paranoid-schizoid (1946) and the depressive (1935, 1940). They represent both a linear phase of development (diachronic/ developmental) and a specific configuration of object-relations, anxieties and defences, which persists throughout life (Segal, 1973, p.ix), that is, a synchronic structure or psychological organisation. The position that dominates at any moment in time determines the attitudinal response to external reality and the attribution of meaning to experience. Ogden (1992) argues that the positions represent poles of a dialectical process through which the subject is constituted. The dialectical nature of positions involves the interplay of synchronic and diachronic features allowing a conceptual space for both the developmental significance of critical periods of maturation and the synchronic primitive dimension of structure.

** The Paranoid-Schizoid Position**

In a linear sense this position covers the first three to four months of life. In this position, the main anxiety is paranoid, that is, fear and terror dominate subjective experience, and the predominant defence is splitting which is a consequence of the processes of introjection and projection. Klein states that: In early infancy anxieties characteristic of psychosis arise and drive the ego to develop specific defence mechanisms (1946, p. 1). Kleins description of this position has led to a mistaken belief that she is asserting that all infants are psychotic. She refutes this interpretation of her work directly in her 1946 paper. The mind is conceptualised as inherently split and based on the earliest object-relations, which are part-object relations. The prototypical part-objects are the good and the bad breast, which form the basis of all future gratifying and frustrating internal objects (1952). At the earliest stages of development the good and bad aspects of the breast and love and hate are largely kept apart by the splitting processes (which include such mechanisms as denial, projection and projective identification). In this state of mind, the inevitable breakdown of good and bad is experienced as overwhelming and threatening to ones equilibrium and stability. The result of these processes is the subjective experience of confusion, fragmentation and fear. For the infant, then, persecutory anxieties inevitably arise from destructive impulses. But importantly these anxieties can be either reinforced or diminished through the interplay of projective and introjective mechanisms interacting with the external (or environmental) figures. The paranoid-schizoid position is characterized by splitting mechanisms. Splitting is seen not necessarily as a negative or pathological mechanism but rather as an attempt to organize the inevitable chaotic contents of the psyche. Splitting is both the precursor of the later capacity to discriminate good and bad, and the precursor of psychotic breakdown due to fragmentation of the ego (Klein, 1946). Ogden (1992) argues that the destabilizing effects of the paranoid-schizoid position which persists throughout life hold the potential to effect psychic change.

In 1946, Klein introduces the radical concept of projective identification. This is a particular form of identification, which arises when hatred against parts of the self is directed towards the mother. Klein refers to this situation as the prototype of an aggressive object-relation (1946). This concept, conceptualising an object-related process, is crucial to the construction of the notion of a two-person psychology as it shows how ego mechanisms such as splitting, projection and introjection function in relation to the outer world. Klein also argues that good feelings and parts of the self can be projected in this way. These processes of splitting and projection are crucial in normal as well as abnormal development. Excessive projections of either good or bad parts of the self weaken the ego as these projected parts of the self are experienced as lost or absent. This occurs, for example, when loving parts of the self or the potent parts related to aggression are projected. This leaves the subject dependently bound to the object into which these parts are expelled: In so far as the mother comes to contain the bad parts of the self, she is not felt to be a separate individual but is felt to be the bad self (Klein, 1946, p.8). The development of this concept of the paranoid-schizoid position has major and radical implications for not only the concept of subjectivity but also for psychoanalytic practice. The consequences of this position for the nature of subjectivity include the denial of separateness between self and object, a depletion of personal resources, and distorted perception. The self can no longer be viewed as a unitary structure. Whilst projective identification has become the Kleinian trademark, Klein herself was very ambivalent about this concept (see Spillius, 1983; 2004).
The Depressive Position**

Although, in a developmental sense, the depressive position follows from the paranoid-schizoid position, Kleins published work on the concept of the depressive position precedes her account of the paranoid-schizoid position. This position concerns the fate of the object inside the mind. In the depressive position, depressive anxieties, guilt and ambivalence are experienced in relation to the mother and her breast. The depressive position signals an important developmental advance because in the context of good object relations integration can occur. Klein sees the working through of this position as the central task of childhood (1935, 1940). The onset of the depressive position occurs sometime after three to four months of age when the infant comes to realize that the bad breast mother and the good breast mother are one and the same. Thus, destructive impulses directed towards the bad mother are felt to endanger the good mother. This leads to feelings of loss, guilt and remorse and sets in progress the process of mourning. The intrapsychic process of mourning facilitates the working through of the loss of the idealised all good mother and the coming to terms with an actual mother with her inevitable vulnerabilities, imperfections and limitations. The successful working through of these feelings brings about the internalisation of whole objects and the restoration of the mother to a valued and loved state, via the intrapsychic process of reparation. The mother is now recognized as a whole person, having separate thoughts and feelings of her own. This facilitates the development of symbol formation (which is necessary for creativity) and a move away from concrete modes of thinking that are characteristic of the paranoid-schizoid position. Importantly the infants guilt over the way that her own aggression has destroyed the good objects in phantasy leads to the desire to make reparation and to a sense of gratitude (Klein, 1957). In the Kleinian account, reparation forms the basis of creativity.
Clinical illustration**

I want to present a session with a very young boy called James aged 2 years and eleven months to illustrate the ways Kleinian thinking may help elucidate the meaning of the little boys communications about his representations and phantasies concerning himself and others. James, like many children whose parents are unable to care for them adequately because of their own difficulties in functioning, has a very sad history. Just before his second birthday, James was removed from the care of his mother. I meet James after he has been in care for about one year. His care arrangements have not worked out well for James and he is now living in the home of his fourth carer. He has been with this family for about three months and has had no contact visits with his mother for about two months at this time. He does have some contact with his father but this is a relatively recent arrangement and he does not know his father very well.

The material that I will present comes from the second of two assessment sessions. Jamess carer, Mr Robert S again accompanies James to the appointment. When I meet James in the waiting room he appears to recognise me from the previous occasion but he is not able to separate from Mr S. We all proceed to the consulting room as per the previous occasion. On entering the room James goes to the play table directing Mr S to sit close to him. James initiates attempting to use the scissors to cut at the paper but as in the first interview, is not able to manage it himself and seeks my assistance to hold the paper. James begins to cut at the paper with increasing vigour and I have to be careful to avoid being cut. James s awareness that I need to be careful to avoid being hit by the scissors appears to increase his excitement and the intensity of his activity. Mr S comments that James has started day care this week and we ask James about it but he requires some assistance from Mr S to have some sense of where he has been (is attending). I comment that perhaps yesterday at playgroup James missed Mr S whereupon James says not sad and returns to cutting in an aggressive fashion, directing his actions at me. (I have to be careful to avoid my hand being scratched by the scissors). I attempt to talk to James about being worried and angry about my talking to him but he is too aroused to really hear anything at this point.

He can be, however, distracted with drawing. He is able to draw an approximation of a circle and make some marks inside and outside the circle. At first, he says it is a face but it soon changes to a jellyfish. I ask him to name the marks inside and outside the circle and they are randomly assigned parts of the face - nose (outside the circle), mouth (above the eyes) and eyes (below the mouth). We talk about fish and James agrees that he has seen fish but is very confused as to where. Mr S says that James has been to the Aquarium (a visit arranged by the care agency in the recent school holidays) and that when James was placed on the bus, he cried. I say that James was sad on the bus and cried. James replies not sad and then moments later, he says, I cried. James then becomes distressed and unsettled and climbs onto Mr Ss knee. As James is doing so, Mr S asks that James be careful of his knee, which has a band-aid across it. Mr S explains that he had tripped that morning while dropping his children at school. I ask about how James feels when Mr S falls down and he denies any feelings.

James is now sitting with Mr S and I encourage him to return to the table to draw, which he does. He asks me to draw cars and this is repeated about 6 or more times. James seems quite involved in directing me where on the paper to draw. At this point I suggest that Mr S might wait outside like last time. James looks distressed and says no, not stay and moves to climb on Mr Ss lap and then the arm of the chair. I explain to James that he is visiting me that he will not be staying with me and he will go home to Mr Ss place. James then says to me who are you? I ask if he remembers my name and he lists some names, finally settling on Ben (who is apparently a neighbour of Mr S). I again explain a little of my role. Mr S then asks James to be careful so as not to fall (he is perched precariously on the arm of the chair). James says no Robert fall and then begins a game of blowing at Mr S who pretends to fall down and after a moment James includes me in the game, so Mr S and I pretend to fall down over and over again. James begins laughing very spontaneously and joyously as we play this game. The session continues.

The above clinical vignette illustrates the shift from a persecutory frame of mind to one in which some thinking and separateness is possible as represented by the who are you? With this shift James is more able to represent in play his desperate anxieties about his mind and world falling apart as seen in the falling over game. In the first part of the session, James is angry and trying to cut off or out his own experience his play with the scissors. My mentioning the word sad creates a moment of danger for James. At first he denies it saying not sad but this is not sufficient to protect him from overwhelming disintegrating anxiety. He needs to increase the vigour of his cutting and to discharge his feelings in action. In this, he communicates violently his need to cut off any contact his me.

Next he draws a face, which turns, into a jellyfish. This seems to express his terrible uncertainty regarding his objects and their constancy - what is a face but a cold fish. He appears watchful of me. Again, when I say sad, he first denies it and then says, I cried. Perhaps, he is able to acknowledge to himself and to me his sense of loss and grief because I persist with trying to stay in some emotional contact with him and he feels that someone is interested in knowing about his experience. In this material there is a movement from the bizarre scattered representation of a human in the drawing to something different, something more poignant, a child who acknowledges his vulnerability.

Following this, he needs to shield himself and he has me drawing cars. He shows a need to control me, which is you will function as I want. He needs to protect himself by reversing the situation between us. In phantasy and in our interaction, he pushes me around so that I am not a frightening object who pushes him around. There is another chaotic moment in the session when I introduce a threat to his precarious control by suggesting that the carer leave the room. I talk to James about this and he asks who are you which I feel marks a very important moment in the session, as mentioned above. The who are you question is said not from a paranoid place but rather a curious more separate place. This position that allows a space for another, for a you permits this little boy to ask crucial questions who are and what is the nature of the people in his life? His capacity to ask this question suggests he retains a sense of curiosity and is not shut down or a closed system as there is a place in his mind for another. Again I talk with him regarding his anxiety about not being able to trust and his fear of losing his carer. Then comes the fall down game and he demonstrates that he is able to play a little. The play is light and enjoyable. He completely alters. The three of us are together as a co-operative threesome and not falling apart or attacking and destroying each other. In this vignette we see a little boy who is enormously anxious regarding the stability and trustworthiness of his objects. His objects are fragile and changeable. But, when his anxiety is recognised he demonstrates his capacity for real emotional availability.


The little boy discussed above, illustrates Kristevas argument (2001) that it is the very workings of negativity that leads to the development of a thinking subject. Kristeva writes:

Because Klein understood anxiety, that conduit of pleasure, more deeply than did anyone else, she turned psychoanalysis into the art of caring for the capacity for thought (Kristeva, 2001, p.14).

This is because the progressive elements implicated in the shift from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive position enable a movement towards the possibility of a more integrated subject with a capacity to perceive others as separate psychological entities and to accept responsibility and experience guilt for ones actions in relation to self and others. In Kleinian theory neither the paranoid schizoid nor the depressive position and the associated states of mind are ever fully worked through; to a greater or lesser extent both co-exist throughout life. Ogden (1992) argues that the subject exists in this dialectical tension between positions. Likierman (2001) warns that there are risks involved in taking together Kleins completed work of two positions (as here in this chapter) because:

When viewed together, the Kleinian positions invite us to impose a linear developmental order on them, and this has led some thinkers to view them as a move from inferior, sadistic and psychotic paranoid-schizoid, to a progressive, developmental desirable and sane depressive position (2001, p.115).

In summary, the Kleinian subject is inherently split, continuously moving between states of fragmentation and integration. Klein (1946) examines subjectivity from the perspective of human destructiveness related to the earliest attachment. This marks a shift from the humanist position of psychic unity. The concept of projective identification links parts of the self; self and other; the inside and outside, and describes how they are continually acting on and shaping each other (Klein, 1946).


I think Kleins writings on the aims on psychoanalysis are quite revealing in terms of her extraordinary and unconventional mind. In her relatively short communication concerning the criteria for terminating an analysis, Klein (1950) underscores the central importance of reducing and modifying persecutory and depressive anxieties. Perhaps glancing in the direction of the received analytic wisdom of the day, she argues first that her criteria are linked to the usual criteria:

The question arises how far the approach I am suggesting is related to some of the well-known criteria, such as an established potency and heterosexuality, capacity for love, object relations and work, and certain characteristics of the ego which make for mental stability and are bound up with adequate defences (1950, p.45).

Next in her discussion, she emphasizes her own thinking which extends her understanding of the well-known criteria when she writes in relation to ego development:

Two features are usually emphasized in this connection, growth in stability and in the sense of reality, but I hold that expansion in the depth of the ego is essential as well. An intrinsic element of a deep and full personality is wealth of phantasy life and the capacity for experiencing emotions freely (1950, p.45-46).

Elsewhere Klein argues:

Many apparently well-balanced people have no strength of character. They make life easy for themselves by avoiding inner and external conflicts. As a consequence they aim at what is successful or expedient and they cannot develop deep-rooted convictions (1960, p.269).

For Klein strength of character is associated with capacity to experience affects deeply and passionately. These developments are contingent upon the working through of the depressive position; thus enabling the beginnings of symbolic thought (Klein, 1935; also see H. Segal, 1957).

Finally, issues that represent some areas for further discussion and review include:


According to Hanna Segal (2001), Rosenfeld, Bion and Segal are Kleins most frequently quoted followers. For the purposes of our explication in these lectures, their extensions and reformulations of Kleins thought can be considered as first generation developments (see Sayers, 2000; Bell, 1997; Bleandonu, 1994; Rosenfeld, 1987). The clinically based thinking associated with the contemporary Kleinians of London can be considered second generation developments. The term the contemporary Kleinians of London is coined by Schafer (1997) to refer to a group of analysts that includes Ronald Britton, Michael Feldman, Betty Joseph, Ruth Malcolm, Edna OShaughnessy, Irma Brenman Pick, Priscilla Roth, Elizabeth Spillius and John Steiner (2) (see Spillius 1988a, 1988b; Bronstein 2001; Hargreaves & Varchevker, 2004). Schafer (1997) prefaces his edited collection by noting that their work is not hidebound; that is, they have introduced significant refinements and reformulation to Kleins initial propositions and that their work has aroused worldwide interest. This interest arguably arises not only from the conceptual shifts to the Kleinian paradigms that they have introduced but also from their arresting clinicallybased papers and presentations which have earned them a reputation for being clinicians par excellence.


Contemporary Kleinian clinical accounts emphasize emotional contact and relatedness as it is experienced moment-to-moment in the clinical encounter. For them, understanding is in a continual state of flux, always at risk from the operations of primitive mechanisms that distort the perception of reality but are always potentially capable of being transformed through containment and interpretation. Interpretations that put into words the patients unconscious enactments are crucial. This approach places great importance on the capacities of the analyst to understand the transference-countertransference matrix.

Spillius (1983) identifies four key areas in the development of Kleinian thought. They are: the concept of projective identification; the extension of Kleins idea regarding the epistemophillic instinct to encompass a theory of thinking; the use of projective identification in analysing the transference; and refinements in the analysis of the life and death instincts.

  • The early ego how active is it?
  • Role of aggression frustration - and questions of causation
  • Role of reparation moral dimension
  • Place of the external world, especially vis--vis the move particularly in North American to emphasize the conscious narrative
  • Transformational theory and questions concerning analytic interaction and the degree to which the transference/ countertransference is discovered or co-constructed


Melanie Klein, as the quotation cited at the beginning of the paper suggests, saw herself as a clinician who through observation and experience arrived at certain conceptualisations. This rather circumscribed and modest self-assessment belies the person OShaughnessy describes as rare (1987, p.135) and whose scientific discoveries opened up new areas of psychoanalytic thinking. It is clear, whatever personal viewpoint one forms or comes to form regarding Kleinian psychoanalysis, Klein is a remarkable woman whose influence on psychoanalytic theories of development, psychopathology and technique has been immeasurable.