On This Day … 30 March

People (Births)

  • 1882 – Melanie Klein, Jewish Austrian-English psychologist and author (d. 1960).

People (Deaths)

  • 1873 – Bénédict Morel, Austrian-French psychiatrist and physician (b. 1809).

Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein (née Reizes; 30 March 1882 to 22 September 1960) was an Austrian-British author and psychoanalyst known for her work in child analysis. She was the primary figure in the development of object relations theory. Klein suggested that pre-verbal existential anxiety in infancy catalysed the formation of the unconscious, resulting in the unconscious splitting of the world into good and bad idealisations. In her theory, how the child resolves that split depends on the constitution of the child and the character of nurturing the child experiences; the quality of resolution can inform the presence, absence, and/or type of distresses a person experiences later in life.

Contributions to Psychoanalysis

Klein was one of the first to use traditional psychoanalysis with young children. She was innovative in both her techniques (such as working with children using toys) and her theories on infant development. Gaining the respect of those in the academic community, Klein established a highly influential training program in psychoanalysis.

By observing and analysing the play and interactions of children, Klein built onto the work of Freud’s unconscious mind. Her dive into the unconscious mind of the infant yielded the findings of the early Oedipus complex, as well as the developmental roots of the superego.

Klein’s theoretical work incorporates Freud’s belief in the existence of the death pulsation, reflecting the notion that all living organisms are inherently drawn toward an “inorganic” state, and therefore, somehow, towards death. In psychological terms, Eros (properly, the life pulsation), the postulated sustaining and uniting principle of life, is thereby presumed to have a companion force, Thanatos (death pulsation), which seeks to terminate and disintegrate life. Both Freud and Klein regarded these “biomental” forces as the foundations of the psyche. These primary unconscious forces, whose mental matrix is the id, spark the ego – the experiencing self – into activity. Id, ego and superego, to be sure, were merely shorthand terms (similar to the instincts) referring to highly complex and mostly uncharted psychodynamic operations.

Benedict Morel

Bénédict Augustin Morel (22 November 1809 to 30 March 1873) was a French psychiatrist born in Vienna, Austria. He was an influential figure in the field of degeneration theory during the mid-19th century.

Morel received his education in Paris, and while a student, supplemented his income by teaching English and German classes. In 1839 he earned his medical doctorate, and two years later became an assistant to psychiatrist Jean-Pierre Falret (1794-1870) at the Salpêtrière in Paris.

Morel’s interest in psychiatry was further enhanced in the mid-1840s when he visited several mental institutions throughout Europe. In 1848 he was appointed director of the Asile d’Aliénés de Maréville at Nancy. Here he introduced reforms towards the welfare of the mentally ill, in particular liberalisation of restraining practices. At the Maréville asylum he studied the mentally handicapped, researching their family histories and investigating aspects such as poverty and childhood physical illnesses. In 1856 he was appointed director of the mental asylum at Saint-Yon in Rouen.

Morel, influenced by various pre-Darwinian theories of evolution, particularly those that attributed a powerful role to acclimation, saw mental deficiency as the end stage of a process of mental deterioration. In the 1850s, he developed a theory of “degeneration” in regards to mental problems that take place from early life to adulthood. In 1857 he published Traité des dégénérescences physiques, intellectuelles et morales de l’espèce humaine et des causes qui produisent ces variétés maladives, a treatise in which he explains the nature, causes, and indications of human degeneration. Morel looked for answers to mental illness in heredity, although later on he believed that alcohol and drug usage could also be important factors in the course of mental decline.

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