Biography of Psychologist Melanie Klein

Creator of the Play Therapy Technique

"One of the many interesting and surprising experiences of the beginner in child analysis is to find in even very young children a capacity for insight which is often far greater than that of adults. " -- Melanie Klein

Early Life

Melanie Klein, best known for play therapy and object relations, was born on March 30, 1882, and she died on September 22, 1960. Born Melanie Reizes in Vienna, Austria, her initial ambition was to attend medical school. She later married Arthur Klein at age 21 and had two children, Melitta (1904) and Hans (1907). The family traveled frequently due to her husband's job, but they eventually settled in Budapest in 1910. She had her third child, Erich, in 1914.


While in Budapest, she began studying with and receiving treatment from psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi, who encouraged her to psychoanalyze her own children. Out of Klein's work, the technique known as 'play therapy' emerged and is still used extensively today in psychotherapy.

She met Sigmund Freud for the first time at the 1918 International Psychoanalytic Congress in Budapest, which inspired her to write her first psychoanalytic paper, "The Development of a Child." The experience reinforced her interest in psychoanalysis. In 1921, she moved to Berlin and began working with noted psychoanalyst Karl Abraham. Her unhappy marriage to Arthur Klein would dissolve four years later in 1925.

Klein's play technique ran counter to Anna Freud's belief that young children could not be psychoanalyzed. The dispute led to considerable controversy within psychoanalysis, leading many within the psychoanalytic community to take sides in the debate. Freud openly criticized Klein's theories and lack of a formal academic degree.

Klein struggled with depression throughout her life and was significantly affected by the early deaths of two siblings and the 1934 death of her eldest son. She wrote several psychoanalytic papers on the topic, attributing depression to unresolved childhood issues.

Contributions to Psychology

Melanie Klein had a significant impact on developmental psychology, which focuses on human growth throughout the lifespan. Childhood is obviously a time of tremendous change, but people also continue to grow and develop during the early adult, middle age, and senior years.

Klein's play therapy technique is still widely used today. Her emphasis on the role of the mother-child and interpersonal relationships on development also had a major influence on psychology.


  • The Psychoanalysis of Children (1932)
  • Contributions to Psychoanalysis, 1921-1945 (1948)
  • Narrative of a Child Analysis (1961)
  • Our Adult World and Other Essays (1963)
1 Source
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  1. The Melanie Klein Trust. The beginnings of child analysis.

Additional Reading

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."