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Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein, a pioneer of play therapy who made important discoveries about children’s emotional development, fought with Anna Freud over the differences between their theories of child psychology. Melanie Reizes married Arthur Klein in 1903, but was deeply unhappy until she began undergoing psychoanalysis in 1912 with Sándor Ferenczi. Fascinated by the possibilities of analysis, she began studying psychology with Ferenczi’s encouragement, and in 1919 wrote a detailed account of her son’s curiosity about where babies come from for the Budapest psycholanalytic society. She moved to Berlin in 1921 and joined the Berlin Psychoanalytical Society, treating children by interpreting their play behavior the same way Freudians interpreted dreams. After her divorce, she moved to London in 1926 and perfected her theories of developmental psychology, but when Sigmund and Anna Freud fled Vienna for London in 1938, Anna Freud challenged Klein’s theories of child development. After two years of fierce debate from 1942–1944, the British Psychoanalytic Society fractured into three schools of thought for child psychology, Freudian, Kleinian, and Independent. Although Klein retained a number of loyal students and followers, Klein’s daughter Melitta, herself a psychologist, joined the Freudian camp, which Klein saw as a betrayal. Some of her most important work following the controversy focused on the power of envy and gratitude in human relationships.

Melanie Klein as a child
Full image
A photograph of Melanie Klein in 1890. Klein would go on to be a pioneer in child psychology. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Date of Birth
March 30, 1882
Place of Birth
Date of Death
September 22, 1960

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Melanie Klein." (Viewed on March 25, 2019) <https://jwa.org/people/klein-melanie>.


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