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The Kleinian approach

The Kleinian approach

Melanie Klein was born in Vienna in 1882 and wished to become a doctor but her plans were disrupted when she married. This also seems to have been influenced by the tragic death of her beloved brother a year before. In 1911 the family moved to Budapest and Melanie was introduced to the work of Freud and was particularly fascinated by dream interpretation. She was a patient of the leading Hungarian psychoanalyst, Ferenczi, and this facilitated her ideas of utilising the process with children.

Melanie moved to Berlin to devote herself to her research and practice at the behest of the then President of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society  in 1921. Klein always practised a daily self-analysis and all her work was based on this and a comparison with her patients’ behaviours. In 1926 she moved to London where she lived and worked until her death in 1960.

Theoretical assumptions

The Kleinian approach to life is somewhat bleak, viewing it as a series of events that have to be endured and/or overcome. Klein looks at the environment in which the baby develops even before birth recognising that the parents already have established systems for living and the baby comes to this as in one way a blank page, but in another as a mass of instincts and drives focussed on survival.

Klein was the first to concentrate on pre-Oedipal layers of development.  She believed that a child brings into the world conflicting impulses, love and hate, and that this feelings are consistently at war and it is the child’s struggle to deal with this conflict. The world is both satisfying and frustrating and the outside influences, while to the baby they are not separate, have a huge impact.

Two important concepts are introjection and projection, but they are more complex than in Freudian therapy. Introjection refers to the process of internalising all that a person comes into contact with in the world. We introject experiences into our personalities and build a belief of self-reliance which can lead to the development of self-image and self-esteem, but if supportive processes are lacking this can go wrong.

Projection is the process of putting one’s aggressive and envious feelings out onto another, which they must be as they are too difficult to cope with unless alternatively they are repressed. Projective identification (a specifically Kleinian term) is complicated, but to simplify as much as possible, it is a process whereby a person forces another to act out the projections mad upon them. Lets take an example. If a person believes that women are cruel (maybe because his mother was cruel to him), he may lead a woman on, tease her, bully her and then when she rejects him, she confirms his original belief.

Splitting is another important concept in Kleinian counselling. It stems from the need for the child to split off the perceived bad mother and cling to the good. It is a normal process and one that is outgrown in normal development but can result in the sort of situation that needs parts integration!

Kleinian theory also contains two important “positions” that clients may take, the paranoid-schizoid position and depressive position. The former is characterised by anxiety of threat to the individual, the latter of threat to the object (mother).  In the first the child sees the mother as not only being the source of comfort but also pain, in the second it gradually feels that it has cut itself off from the loved mother and feels the associated guilt. Any of these processes that are not adequately negotiated can result in psychological disturbance.



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