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Spensley, S. (2014). The Kleinian Tradition. Brit. J. Psychother., 30(2):169-180.

(2014). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 30(2):169-180

The Kleinian Tradition

Sheila Spensley

This paper traces the history of the Kleinian contribution to psychoanalysis, from Melanie Klein's first controversial developments of Freudian theory to the paradigmatic shift of clinical focus introduced by Wilfred Bion. A major advance in psychoanalytic theory was initiated by Klein's discovery of more primitive roots of the anxiety which Freud had identified as crucial to the formation of the superego. Whereas Freud attributed considerable significance to parental influences in the early formation of the superego, Klein accorded greatest pathogenic significance to projective and introjective processes, which she saw as rooted in the biological functions of the organism: biologically determined, internal patterns of relationship thus laid down, like a blueprint, as the shapers of all subsequent personal relationships. In the theory of projective identification, Bion found a tool with which to investigate the nature of human thinking. His aim was to formulate a unifying theory, which would account for neurotic and psychotic pathology. He added a new dimension to Klein's ideas about the significance of early infantile experience, by signalling the critical importance of the early infantile capacity to tolerate frustration. Tolerance of primitive frustration is critical in allowing thought to precede action and determines psychotic or non-psychotic developmental pathways. Two clinical vignettes illustrate the use of these constructs in my clinical work.

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