Melanie Klein's first work, this book is the thoroughly worked-out result of her substantial clinical experience in applying psychoanalytic treatment to children. Though there had been other attempts to use psychoanalysis in treating children, notably Sigmund Freud's work with the father of Little Hans, reported in "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy" (1909), The Psychoanalysis of Children is free of adult-centered biases and is a pioneering work.
Klein's freedom of thought, in terms first of technique and then of theory, came from her discovery of a new methodology: the use of the play technique had opened a new field of investigation of the unconscious. She had observed that children's play expressed their fantasies and anxieties. Gradually, she realized that children's play could be situated within the framework of the ego's attempts to defend itself from instinctual conflicts in order to work them out. This led to her conception of symbolism, a psychic mechanism that is essential for development of the ego.
This book can be divided into two parts. The first and technical part is based on six lectures given by Klein in London at the invitation of Ernest Jones in 1925 and 1927. In these chapters, Klein emphasized the clinical signs indicative of children's transference fantasies, which, in her view, made it possible to interpret them in a way that was similar to analytic work with adults. In fact, she demonstrated the technical value of an early interpretation of the transference resistances of certain children, in order to facilitate the establishment of the therapeutic bond and a psychoanalytic process.
The second, more theoretical part of the book was written later. Here Klein developed her ideas on the early stages of the Oedipus complex, manifested in the phase of maximum sadism, where the child's aggressive instincts are directed toward parental part-objects: the mother's breast, the father's penis, and in particular the mother's body and its contents. Fixations of this kind can produce hypochondriacal fantasies about the child's own body, or else various inhibitions, especially in relation to toilet training. In Klein's conception, the early forms of the superego result from introjection of the persecutory breast and penis, which function as internal persecutors.
In this work Klein gradually became more oriented toward a theory of psychic conflict in which aggression plays the greatest role. The destructive omnipotence of aggressive fantasies stems from the child's immaturity in his or her struggle against the death instinct, as Klein argued in greater detail in her later theoretical work.
FRANCISCO PALACIO ESPASA
See also: British Psycho-Analytical Society; Childhood; Oedipus complex, early; Richard, case of; Technique with children, psychoanalytic.
Klein, Melanie. (1932). Die psychoanalyse des kindes. Vienna: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag; (1975). The psycho-analysis of children (Alix Strachey, Trans., and H. A. Thorner, Rev.). London: Hogarth.
Freud, Sigmund. (1909b). Analysis of a phobia in a five-year-old boy. SE, 10: 1-149.
Did this raise a question for you?