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 analyst’s 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.

Reproduced from The New Dictionary of Kleinian Thought by Bott Spillius, E., Milton, J., Garvey, P., Couve, C. and Steiner, D. (Routledge, 2011)

See a list of key papers on Kleinian technique