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Kernberg, O.F. (1969). A Contribution to the Ego-Psychological Critique of the Kleinian School. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 50:317-333.

(1969). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 50:317-333

A Contribution to the Ego-Psychological Critique of the Kleinian School

Otto F. Kernberg

In an effort to re-examine and update the ego-psychological critique of the Kleinian orientation, stressing the areas of potential convergence, I will begin with a review of the principal criticisms which authors from the ego-psychological approach have formulated regarding Kleinian theories.


Waelder (1937) questioned the possibility of obtaining the kind of knowledge regarding fantasies during the first year of life that Kleinian authors felt justified in assuming on the basis of their experience. He stated that fantasies obtained from children past the second or third year of life do not justify assuming a similar complexity of fantasy during the first few months of life. He also questioned the universality of strong inborn aggression as assumed by Melanie Klein and her use of the term 'superego' for what he would prefer to call the antecedent basis of the superego in the first few years of life. Waelder agreed that these early phases might also be called superego if acknowledgement was made that only in the fifth year of life a decisive step was taken in the development in the superego, namely its integration. He also criticized the relative neglect of reality factors in the child's life in contrast to the over-emphasis of its fantasy life in Melanie Klein's report about her case histories. Waelder warned against the misuse of the term 'psychotic' when referring to early anxieties and defensive operations of normal development, and stressed that psychotic phenomena represented not only regression to earlier stages of the ego but also regression to primitive modes of functioning which may have never had an independent place in ego development or even to new reaction formations by the damaged organism.

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