A Kleinian Appreciation

Over the last month I’ve been reading through Melanie Klein’s published works in Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works 1921-1945. Tonight I had the joy of reading her paper “Symposium on Child-Analysis” (1927) which is a response to Anna Freud’s critique of Klein’s play technique with children. I wanted to describe some of Klein’s intriguing arguments and then describe how Kleinians have a radically different way of approaching analysis for patients from all populations: children, adult neurotics and psychotics.

In this paper Melanie Klein argues that the technique of Hug-Hellmuth (an early analyst who adapted psychoanalysis to treat children) as well as Anna Freud’s approach to treat children is inadequate because it does not go “deep enough” into the child’s internal world. Klein’s major technical innovation was to recognize that the play of children is analogous to the verbal associations of adults in analysis. Klein created a situation in treatment where she provided toys and various playthings in her office, which the child would then use to symbolically communicate his/her internal world. In this paper, Klein is particularly critical of Anna Freud who argues that the analysis of children necessitates an educative component which Klein believes is incompatible with psychoanalysis. Klein believes that one of Anna Freud’s mistakes is assuming that children and adults are so radically distinct such that a more supportive/educative approach is needed. Instead, Klein argues for continuity between children and adult patients and she believes “Anna Freud puts the Cs [conscious] and the ego of the child and the adult in the foreground, while we…surely have to work and foremost with the Ucs [unconscious]” (p. 143). Klein suggests that children are more dominated by their unconscious than are adults because their ego is still developing. She interprets these unconscious phantasies rather than bypass them because the making of the unconscious conscious is what is ultimately mutative in psychoanalysis. With regards to the transference, Anna Freud encourages the cultivation of the patient’s positive transference and the stamping out of any manifestations of negative transference. In contrast to this very conservative approach, Klein argues that the interpretation of both positive and negative transference is necessary for a complete analysis. In fact, she argues that Anna Freud’s reliance on education is likely a sign of the incomplete analysis of the child’s transference to the analyst (and, although she does not make this explicit, education implicitly appeals to the patient’s ego not the ucs) . Klein recognizes that one of the reasons Anna Freud shies away from such an analysis is that she fears that it will make the child detach from his/her important objects and withdraw for his/her environment. Klein convincingly argues that an analysis of negative transference allows the child to adapt better to his/her environment and promotes positive feelings in the long run. This is clearly the case, especially in the treatment of adults. If one ignores the patient’s unconscious and repressed hostility towards important figures in their lives, the clinician does not facilitate more fulfilling relationships with these objects. Only a willingness to explore the patient’s hostile and aggressive feelings can truly promote loving and accepting relationships which demands that the clinician explore the patient’s negative transference.

What I’ve always appreciated about Kleinians is their absolute commitment to classic analytic theory and practice. If one reads the Kleinian literature on psychosis in the 1950’s and 60’s (e.g. Segal, Bion, Rosenfeld) one finds that all these analysts advocate a full analysis that demands a lifting of repression and interpretation of unconscious content and negative transference. In stark contrast, Paul Federn, a prominent ego psychologist who treated psychotic individuals, argued that negative transference (particularly paranoid transference) should be avoided at all costs and that the analyst needs to help re-repress the patient’s unconscious material that is oozing to the surface rather than lift repression (which is the goal with neurotics). In a 1950 paper, Hanna Segal writes, “the only way of attacking the roots of a mental illness…is, not to strengthen the defense mechanisms of the patient but to bring them into the transference and analyze them” (1950, p. 278). I think here is where both Kleinians and Lacanians can agree: the ego and its defenses are the enemy of analysis. Although Kleinians and Lacanians have a different view of the unconscious and the technique for promoting the exploration of the unconscious, both camps can agree that the unconscious has to take center stage in analysis. One of the major disagreements in the 1940’s between Kleinians and ego psychology occurred because Anna Freud argued that an over-commitment to free association gave undue attention to unconscious/id and did not sufficiently address the patient’s ego (the Kleinians and obviously Lacan disagree). What would old man Freud have to say about all of this? Of course, this depends on who you ask and what period of Freud’s work one is reading: in the pre-structural theory (before 1923) Freud has a much more pessimistic view of the conscious ego whereas the later Freud with his structural theory [id-ego-superego] assumes a more positive view of the ego’s role in analysis. However, I did come across this wonderful quote of Freud that he wrote in one of his letters to Jung in 1911, “In reality the ego is like the clown in the circus, who is always putting in his oar to make the audience think that whatever happens is his doing.” (p. 400). I’ve always preferred the early Freud myself.