Melanie Klein

Klein, Melanie (1882-1960) was an Austrian-born psychoanalyst who pioneered the field of child psychoanalysis and devised some of the first techniques of play therapy. Her work opened the door to the analysis of very young children.

Melanie Reizes was born in Vienna, Austria. She had aspirations to study medicine, but financial difficulties and her marriage in 1903 to Arthur Klein, a cousin, prevented her from continuing her studies. Around 1914, while she was living in Budapest, Hungary, and unhappy in her marriage, Klein entered into psychoanalysis with Sandor Ferenczi, a colleague of Sigmund Freud, and became interested in pursuing a career in analysis herself. At the time, Freud and his colleagues had worked mainly with adult patients, and analysis with children had been very limited. With encouragement from Ferenczi, and later from analyst Karl Abraham, Klein explored applying psychoanalytic techniques to children.


Although she had no formal education in the field, Klein used the understanding gained in her own therapy as the basis of her analysis of her 5-year-old son Erich. In 1919, she presented a paper detailing his analysis and was accepted into the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Society.

Klein's techniques of play therapy originated in her belief that children express their anxieties, fantasies, and conflicts clearly through their free use of toys. Sometimes provoking controversy, she advanced the idea of the role of the mother in a child's development, whereas Freud before her had emphasized the role of the father.

Klein visited England in 1925 on the invitation of physician and psychoanalyst Ernest Jones to lecture at the British Psychoanalytical Society. She emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1926 and spent the remainder of her career there, analyzing children as young as 3 years old and publishing numerous books. Her first book, The Psychoanalysis of Children (1932), laid out techniques of child analysis that were subsequently widely adopted by analysts throughout Europe and North America. The Melanie Klein Trust in London, established in 1955, promotes training and research in the principles and practices she developed.