on 25 March 2014
It's hard to rate a work that has assumed the status of a historical milestone. Completed shortly before her death, this text is one of the most complete case histories we have from one of the great early psychoanalysts.
It comprises descriptions of ninety four sessions that Klein undertook with 10 year old "Robert", a child described as highly anxious, over a four month period during the Second World War. The detail is intended to show the reader how Klein's developed Freud's theories so that they could be used with children. In part, this meant a practical change, providing toys and drawing materials rather than relying exclusively on talk. Klein also developed the theory and in this account gives especial emphasis to the working out of the "Oedipal Complex".
The early psychoanalysts were keen to describe their work as a scientific enterprise, and to persuade a sceptical audience that their novel - and often shocking - theories were based not upon their own fevered imaginations, but on the material brought to them by their patients. So a case study like Robert should provide the ideal demonstration of how Klein's theories deepen and develop in response to a child's presentation.
The shocking thing for a present day reader is that "Narrative of a Child Analysis" shows Klein systematically imposing "interpretations" onto her patient that he not only finds disturbing and incomprehensible, but that, by her own account, she persists in doing so in every session, right from session 1. Her preoccupation with the Robert's supposed "phantasies" about the sexual lives of his mother and father and, indeed, of her own, is startling, and it is blindingly obvious that it has little to do with anything that Robert says or does during th sessions. It is, in other words, a construct that has arisen not from her observation of this child (or, one soon suspects, any child) but from her own personal preoccupations.
The structure of each session hardly varies. Robert engages in some play - typically manouevering warships or looking at maps of Europe so as to comment on the course of the war. Klein then "interprets" his actions as some abstruse and convoluted symbol of Robert's confusion about his sexual desire for his mother. Robert at no point concedes to Kleins sexualised view of him, but this doesn't stop Mrs K. Instead, she sees this as "resistance" and presses on with further bizarre, sexualised "interpretations". Here's a typical example - which occurs as early as the fifth session:
"[Richard] looked at the map upside-down and commented what a 'funny' shape Europe had when looked at that way. He said it was 'not proper' and seemed 'muddled and mixed up'. Mrs K linked this with his parents, 'muddled and mixed up' in sexual intercourse...so mixed up that the bad Hitler-penis inside Mummy remained in her...this was what he meant by 'not proper'......Richard showed anxiety. He got up from his chair and looked around the room...he found a postcard stuck inside a screen...he admired the picture and said it was a charming little robin; he wuld like to be a robin himself, he had always liked them. Mrs K interpreted that the robin stood for the good penis, also for a baby, and that he wished to make babies and t replace Mr K and Daddy. His interest [in the picture frame] (with its two sides opening like legs) stood for his desire for sexual intercourse with Mrs K and Mummy. Richard made no reply to most of these interpretations. He only said that he once had a robin and fed it, but it flew away and did not return. Then he looked at the clock and wanted to know if the time was up."
And who could blame him?
In short, this book is a very helpful insight into the development of Kleinian psychotherapy, and it doesnt look good.