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Melanie Klein Revisited

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While much writing has been devoted, predominantly by contemporary Kleinian adult psychoanalysts, to the Kleinian and post Kleinian development of Klein's work, comparatively little has recently been written about the ongoing importance and character of Klein's clinical work for contemporary psychoanalytic psychotherapy or analysis with very small children (2 - 6 year olds). Little attention now seems to be paid to the revolutionary character of her work from the start (in the early 1920s) with this age group and its challenges, still relevant today, or to her recognition of the importance of mother-infant relations in the period long before World War II brought investigation into and understanding of problems of attachment, separation and loss. This book addresses these issues and re-explores Klein's work in these (and other) areas. This book is concerned primarily with Klein's work with pre-latency children and aims to give these small children more of the voice today that Melanie Klein herself discovered. Among important new sources are the treatment notes published in Claudia Frank's seminal book Melanie Klein in Berlin (trans. 2009, Routledge), a rare exception to the current trend of publication for those interested in Klein's child work.This book is relevant to professionals working in a wide range of contexts from a range of professional bases, as well as child psychoanalytic psychotherapists and analysts. It will also be of interest to those concerned with the history and development of child psychoanalysis and especially those interested in Melanie Klein's work in the UK and abroad.

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10 Chapters

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1 - Early Background

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This chapter aims to give the reader a brief review of relevant biographical data on Melanie Klein's upbringing, cultural background, education, and life prior to her career in psychoanalysis. It also outlines what might be called the pre-history of child analysis and the reasons behind its slow development.

The sources for Klein's early childhood and adolescence consist of some surviving family letters, oral tradition (later colleagues’ anecdotes and reported conversations), and some 48 pages of autobiographical notes (PP/KLE/A.50) dictated by Klein, at the age of 77, in November 1959. This chapter uses the latter but first discusses their character and en passant some debateable use of them by Grosskurth, Klein's only biographer to date (Grosskurth, 1986).

In the catalogue of Klein's archives, cogently, this item is annotated “dictated incomplete autobiography”, possibly suggesting a title added after Klein's death and recognizing the incomplete character of the surviving document, which comprises 48 pages of the old 10 × 8 inch typing paper. It is in no way a finished work but selected reminiscences of themes from Klein's life: family and cultural background, sibling group, education, career in psychoanalysis, marriage, children, divorce, and her professional life and work resettled in England. It is repetitive and rather rambling (possibly the effect of dictation, as well as being “unfinished”). The manuscript comprises clearly selective (and mainly positive) notes on her life, as tends to be characteristic of an autobiographical genre. Associated papers reveal that part of the impetus for recording such matters was from American academics’ requests for information about Klein's life and career while she was still alive (see O'Shaughnessy, 1987, and below). Grosskurth's practice of constantly referring to this manuscript as Klein's Autobiography is rather misleading, implying a finished product and one intended as a sort of official autobiography. Moreover, Grosskurth's tendency to psychoanalyse her subject, without reliable evidential support, has been open to criticism (see Ingleby, 1987; O'Shaughnessy, 1987; Segal, 1986, p. 50).

 

2 - Controversy and Challenges in Pioneering the Analysis of very Young Children in the 1920s

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This chapter explores the fierce row that Klein faced in the 1920s over the analysis of young children (Frühanalyse or “early analysis”)—superficially a puzzle, since Klein had been encouraged to analyse pre-latency children by the psychoanalysts Ferenczi in Budapest and Abraham in Berlin. The ramifications of this early controversy have perhaps been underestimated in some recent works (e.g., J. Segal, 1992; Likierman, 2001); this chapter gives a fresh evaluation of the contemporary politics, in-fighting, and theoretical and therapeutic challenges. Important too are the contemporary stances, in a paternalistic society, over parental authority and a consequent uncertainty—understandable in the face of a new treatment—about what to do with parents if a very young child were to be analysed by a non-parent, even a stranger (see also chapter 9).

Analysis and becoming an analyst

Melanie Klein's first analyst was, as is well known, the Hungarian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, in Budapest. The analysis lasted from about 1914 to 1919, though the exact start date is unknown (Klein says around 1914: see below). Ferenczi's wartime service duties outside Budapest will have caused some interruptions to its continuity (Stanton, 1991, p. 182). Klein described in retrospect what was to prove the spring-board for her career as the psychoanalyst of small children, when she was evidently hungering for a fulfilling career:

 

3 - Klein's Early Pre-School and Young Child Cases: The Invention and Development of a Technique for Child Analysis

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No mere description, I feel, can do justice to the colour, life and complexity which fill the hours of play analysis, but I hope I have said enough to give the reader some idea of the accuracy and reliability of the results which we are able to attain by these means. [Klein, 1932b, p. 34]

This chapter explores Klein's development both of an analytic technique for work with very young children and of new theoretical ideas evolving from these cases (challenging current views); she was gradually to account for the clinical phenomena with eventually more formal theorization of the significance of the data she had encountered. This chapter, in conjunction with chapters 5–8, aims to present the evidence for Klein's relatively speedy development of her child analysis technique in the 1920s, highlighting certain of her new theoretical views from this period, especially her innovatory approach to dealing with the phenomenon of the negative transference. The chapters give evidential support from Klein's papers, with relevant vignettes of her child patients, illustrating their varied reactions in the setting of young-child analysis (e.g., transference interpretation, comment, play).

 

4 - Restoring Klein's Concept of Reparation in her Early Work

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A current view (e.g., Grosskurth, 1986; Likierman, 2001; Meltzer, 1978; Pétot, 1979) maintains that Klein's work can be divided into her “early” work (up to 1937) and her later work, the former being characterized by its negative focus on sadism, hate, and so on, often emotively described by critics and sometimes generalized to the point of caricature. This chapter argues that such a view is an oversimplification. First, it is clear in Klein's early publications—such as the papers of the 1920s and early 1930s collected in Love, Guilt and Reparation (1975) and The Psycho-Analysis of Children (1932b)—as well as other cases now accessible, that she recognized in her small patients the emotions of love and a wish for reparation: termed both “restitution” (original German, Wiederherstellung) and, most frequently, “reparation” (original German, Wiedergutmachung). Second, the misinterpretation has been compounded by the fact that the undeniable place of “reparation” in Klein's original German text Die Psychoanalyse des Kindes (1932a) has been lost in the English version owing to Alix Strachey's translation of Wiedergutmachung—Klein's word for “reparation”—almost exclusively as “restitution” (Wiederherstellung). The characterization of her early work as negative is thus, to a large extent, a consequence of this elimination of her developing concept of reparation in the English translations of her early writings, and therefore of her patients’ emergent capability of gradually experiencing more constructive emotionality.

 

5 - The Negative Transference and Young Children in Analysis: New Dimensions

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The project of young-child analysis seemed to raise qualms in psychoanalysts of adults about what was later to be termed the “therapeutic alliance”: that is, the agreement that there were problems to treat, the patient's consent to be treated, and the patient's capacity to forge such an alliance (see chapters 2, 3). How could this apply to very young children? How could a transference and an analytic situation be established? This chapter explores further Klein's ground-breaking development in the decade from the early 1920s, especially in engaging her young patients analytically, in spite of—or even because of—strong negative transferences, inventing and shaping a technique for, and understanding of, the negative transference and its many forms.

This chapter emphasizes how Klein's analysis of very young children brought totally new dimensions to the concept of the negative transference and modes of resistance. Scenarios that would have been unacceptable in adult psychoanalysis were tolerated and thought about, and the meaning of a child's enactments gradually understood and modified. It is the treatment notes in particular that detail most graphically the varieties of difficult behaviours Klein faced from her small child patients, as yet without a verbal language for their feelings and difficulties or a capacity to put these into words: sudden terrible rages, fits of aggression in the form of spitting (literally “spitting with rage”), hitting, kicking, punching, and throwing objects to hurt Klein, setting fires, flooding, running out of the consulting room, manic states, and sexualized behaviour. Apart from such enactments, verbal abuse with the weapons of scorn, contempt, hatred—or fake friendliness—abounded (especially with older children), all mightily challenging for the analyst. Such difficult but familiar therapeutic reactions are of contemporary interest to all child psychotherapists and other professionals working psychoanalytically with small and often very disturbed children. How Klein gradually understood and analysed such enactments is traced in this chapter, using extracts from case notes and unpublished lectures (in English) in the same resource, as well as vignettes from cases published in Klein's early work. The majority of the cases referred to are children Klein treated in Berlin (1921–1926), plus a few from Klein's early days in England.

 

6 - The Early Stages of Young-Child Analysis: Grete on the Couch

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This chapter and the two that follow use Frank's seminal publication, Melanie Klein in Berlin (1999, published in English in 2009) of the treatment notes of a few of Klein's Berlin cases (particularly Grete, Rita, and Erna) in order to continue to delineate Klein's development of her play technique, along with the challenges imposed by the transference situation, especially the negative transference. These chapters survey, in addition to Klein's focused—and selective—published accounts of these cases, the significant contribution of the treatment notes, following the chronological order of the analyses of these three young child patients in order to trace Klein's evolving technique: Grete (below), Rita (chapter 7), and Erna (along with Peter, chapter 8). A fourth case, that of Inge, is referred to as relevant.

In this chapter, the treatment notes themselves are discussed. The particular light they shed on fairy tales and storytelling in Klein's analyses of these young children is then described, focusing on Grete in particular, but also on Rita and Erna. Grete's case, which features only very briefly in Klein's published works, demonstrates how the treatment notes illuminate matters of developing technique and Klein's evolving understanding of play and the transference situation.

 

7 - Rita: The First Very Young Child in Psychoanalysis

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I was very doubtful about how to tackle this case since the analysis of so young a child was an entirely new experiment. [Klein, 1955b, p. 124]

Rita's case, the “entirely new experiment”, was integral to Klein's development of her analytic play technique. Of her publications on Rita, it was only Klein's retrospective paper on the play technique, quoted above, that marked the historic and uncharted character of Rita's analysis in this characteristically frank statement.

Rita, 2¾ years old, was analysed from 6 March to 6 October 1923 (Frank, 2009, p. 65, no. 8). There are clear continuities with Grete's case in Klein's practice with regard to the negative and positive transference—for example, her continuing interpretation in the here-and-now of the negative transference (and the referral back to the original object), but new insights too: particularly the importance of interpreting the negative transference early, as she emphasized a few years later in her disagreement with Anna Freud (see chapter 2). Rita's case merits attention—even more now that we have her treatment notes—for two main reasons: first, because of Klein's development of a technique of analysis and mode of interaction suitable for very young children, and, second, because of the new clinical discoveries that Rita's case facilitated, which were of crucial importance in understanding the psychic development and internal world of the under-5s.

 

8 - Erna and her Siblings: Young-Child Analysis in the Consulting Room

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Erna (5¾ years old) and Peter (3¾ years old) are among the first young child patients Klein treated with the play technique in her consulting room in Berlin, after the experiment of seeing Rita at the family home. Erna's treatment ran from 9 January 1924 to 15 April 1926 (470 sessions), and Peter's in two phases, first from 18 February to 29 June 1924 and then from 8 January 1925 to 27 January 1926 (284 sessions). The break was probably due to his parents’ separation during his treatment (for the latter, see Klein, 1927c, p. 178; 1932b, p. 17). Forerunners in Klein's consulting room include 6-year-old Ernst (seen from 2 February to 5 June 1923, overlapping with Rita) and 7-year-old Inge (seen from 18 September 1923 to 5 July 1924 and subsequently from 3 February to 1 May 1926: Frank, 2009, p. 65 nos. 7, 10).

It seems important to keep Klein's analysis of Peter in mind when exploring her play technique, and especially her handling of the transference situation in Erna's case, rather than see the latter in isolation, as Frank tends to do; for that reason, Peter's case is detailed first in this chapter. Erna's history and presentation are then summarized, followed by an account of the main themes of Klein's use of the case in her publications. Finally, the treatment notes on Erna are discussed to show how they enrich the briefer published account, illuminating KIein's understanding of the case and the further development of her play technique.

 

9 - Klein's Work with Parents

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This chapter explores the evidence on another neglected aspect of Klein's work. A usual assumption is that Klein paid little attention to the role of the parents with regard to their children's problems, perhaps tied up to the old dogma that Klein gave minimal space to the external—or privileged almost exclusively the internal world of the child (and its dynamics). The chapter is set in the historical context of work with children in the era before the widespread development of the child guidance movement in the United Kingdom under the impact of the Second World War, and the later practice of separate psychotherapeutic/support work with parents as the norm, or at least a standard of good practice, in UK NHS child psychotherapy settings. Systemic family therapy was also yet to be born, quite apart from the tsunami of parenting programmes of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries; and attachment theory was yet to be developed. Relevant, too, to any evolving concept of work with parents is that in the 1920s and 1930s, understanding of the force of projections and projective identification was still in its early stages, as was the recognition of the potential power of parental projections into a child. From very early on, as has been seen, Klein expounded a clear view of the way in which a child's internal images and projections could affect his or her actual relations with a parent or parents, a factor that she developed in her theory of the very early superego.

 

10 - Endings and Outcomes

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“Outcomes” are a very familiar topic—and source of research and controversy—for twenty-first-century evidence-based practice and practitioners. This chapter examines the considerable, hitherto largely unexplored attention that Klein paid to the outcomes of her cases from early on, setting this in the context of the then controversial young-child analysis and the importance of monitoring outcomes to show that it helped young—even very young—child patients, and so to help validate it. Monitoring outcome was also, of course, something done systematically from the mid-1940s by Anna Freud and her colleagues at the Hampstead Clinic (now the Anna Freud Centre) (Pretorius, 2014).

This chapter also explores changes, as Klein's experience developed, in the duration of child analyses, the complexity of treatment and its limitations, and her views about the timing of endings. Klein's recognition of the importance of developmental stages for child analysis and her practice of ending some analyses and then offering “follow-up treatment” at later stages, such as ending during latency and following up in adolescence, are examined. This recognition of the importance of developmental stages and the appropriateness of further input at later stages is, of course, now integral to psychoanalytic psychotherapy work with children and young people.

 

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