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melanie klein trust

Melanie Klein Trust

Furthering the psychoanalytic theory
and technique of Melanie Klein

Kleinian technique


Technique is a set of prescribed procedures for analyst and patient designed to facilitate making the unconscious conscious. Consistency and regularity of setting, time boundaries and frequency of sessions are emphasised, together with the importance of the analyst maintaining a receptive but discriminating attitude of mind.

Throughout her writing Klein stresses that her work, including her technique, is based on that of Freud, who describes his essential method with adult patients as involving sessions five or six times a week, use of the couch and asking patients to 'free associate', that is, to say to the analyst as best they can what they think and feel, without censorship. His complementary injunction to the analyst is that he should maintain 'evenly suspended attention' and should avoid looking in the patient's material for what he hopes to find (Freud, 1912).

Klein stresses Freud's concept of transference, meaning the conscious but also unconscious expression of past and present experiences, relationships, thoughts, phantasies and feelings, both positive and negative, in relation to the analyst. She particularly emphasises the importance of the negative transference, which she thinks can be usefully worked with provided it is recognised and understood by the analyst. She emphasises the role in the transference of the 'total situation' of the patient's past and present experiences. Like Freud she emphasises the importance of the patient's defences against the recognition of psychic reality. She also stresses the patient's anxiety as the starting point for the analyst's understanding of the patient's unconscious phantasies and she regards the analyst's interpretation as the main tool of analytic therapy.

Although Klein agrees in general with Freud's idea of the life and death instincts, in her technical approach she is more concerned with the specific content of instinctual drives than with their abstract conceptualisation. Clinical observation is her starting point and her special gift. In her work, observation and ideas interact with each other to engender new observations and further theories. Thus for Klein technique and clinical content are closely linked and interactive, and she does not attempt to describe technique in purely abstract terms without accompanying clinical content.

Further developments in technique have been made during and since Klein's work by Strachey, Racker, Rosenfeld, Bion, Segal, Joseph and others. There have been two main types of change. First, there is the increased focus on the analyst-patient relationship as the main source of information about the patient, in contrast to the former view as the patient as an isolated entity who could be observed from an outside 'objective' perspective. Second, in contrast to Freud and Klein there has been a developing view that the analysts countertransference can in certain circumstances be a useful source of information about the patient. These two main trends of change in technique have been accompanied by other less major changes, including a number of useful terminological distinctions.

Key papers

For full references for Melanie Klein's works visit the 'Melanie Klein's publications' section.

1932 Klein, M. The Psychoanalysis of Children. The climax of Klein's early theory of child development, including the play technique (see Child analysis).

1934 Strachey, J.'The nature of the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 15: 127-159; (1969) International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 50: 275-292. Very influential paper on the analyst/patient relationship and role of the 'mutative interpretation' in psychic change.

1943 Klein, M. 'Memorandum on technique' (not published until 1991). Succinct statement about importance of transference; first mention of 'situations'.

1950 Heimann, P. 'On counter-transference', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 31: 81-84. A description of the analyst's countertransference as 'the patient's creation'.

1952 Klein, M. 'The origins of transference'. Klein's technique with adults; transference based on infantile object relations; idea of 'total situation'.

1956 Money-Kyrle, R. 'Normal counter-transference and some of its deviations', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 37: 360-366; republished in The Collected Papers of Roger Money-Kyrle. Strath Tay: Clunie Press (1978). Further description and ideas about analyst-patient relationship and role of countertransference in it.

1962 Bion, W. Learning from Experience. Heinemann. Theory of container/contained.

1964 Rosenfeld, H. 'On the psychopathology of narcissism: A clinical approach', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 45: 332-337; republished in _Psychotic States. Hogarth Press (1965). Differentiates 'libidinal' from 'destructive' narcissism and describes ways of analysing the destructiveness of both.

1967 Bion, W. 'Notes on memory and desire', Psycho-Analytic Forum. 2: 272-273, 279-280; republished in E. Spillius (ed.) Melanie Klein Today, Vol. 2. Routledge (1988). Focus on memory and desire detracts from attention to immediate interaction between patient and analyst in the present.

1971 Rosenfeld, H. 'A clinical approach to the psychoanalytic theory of the life and death instincts: An investigation into the aggressive aspects of narcissism', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 52: 169-178; republished in E. Spillius (ed.) Melanie Klein Today, Vol. 1. Routledge (1988). Differentiates 'libidinal' from 'destructive' narcissism and describes ways of analysing the destructiveness of both.

1985 Brenman Pick, I. 'Working through in the countertransference', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 66: 157-166; republished in E. Spillius (ed.) Melanie Klein Today, Vol. 2. Routledge (1988). Work to develop understanding of own countertransference is essential for understanding the patient.

1985 Joseph, B. 'Transference: The total situation', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 66: 447-454; republished in E. Spillius (ed.) Melanie Klein Today, Vol. 2. Routledge (1988); and in Psychic Equilibrium and Psychic Change. Routledge (1989). Definition of 'total situation' with illustrations.

1987 Rosenfeld, H. Impasse and Interpretation. Tavistock. 'Thin-skinned' and 'thick-skinned' narcissistic patients.

1989 Britton, R. 'The missing link: Parental sexuality in the Oedipus complex'. R. Britton, M. Feldman and E. O'Shaughnessy (eds.) The Oedipus Complex Today: Clinical Implications. Karnac. Concept of 'triangular space'.

1989 Joseph, B. Psychic Equilibrium and Psychic Change. Routledge. Joseph develops strong focus on the immediate relationship between patient and analyst in the present.

1992 O'Shaughnessy, E. 'Enclaves and excursions', International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 73: 606-611. Need for analysts to analyse relationships with patients that create enclaves or excursions, which avoid tackling the psychic situations that need to be analytically addressed.

1993 Steiner, J. 'Problems of psychoanalytic technique: Analyst-centred and patient-centred interpretations'. Psychic Retreats. Routledge.