Bruno Bettelheim

Bruno Bettelheim (August 28, 1903 - March 13, 1990) was a writer and child psychologist. When his father died, he had to leave university to take care of the family lumber business. After ten years he did go back however, and earned a degree in philosophy, writing a dissertation relating to the history of art. He was interested in psychology for much of his life, but never studied it formally.


Background and career

As a Jew in Austria, he was interned in Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps from 1938 to 1939, but his way was bought out, as was possible before World War II started. He arrived in the United States in 1939 and became a naturalized citizen in 1944. Here he eventually set himself up as a professor of psychology, teaching at the University of Chicago from 1944 until retirement in 1973. He was trained in philosophy (Ph.D. in ethetics) and analyzed by Viennese psychoanalyst Richard Sterba.

He spent the most significant part of his life as director of the Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago, a home for emotionally disturbed children. He wrote books on both normal and abnormal child psychology, and was well respected by many during his lifetime. His book The Uses of Enchantment recast fairy tales in terms of the strictest Freudian psychology.

He suffered from depression at the end of his life, and committed suicide in 1990, six years after his beloved wife died of cancer.

A controversial figure

After his suicide, evidence of Bettelheim's dark side emerged. His counselors at the Orthogenic School consider him a major figure of psychology, but after his suicide, three ex-patient questionned his work and to call him a cruel tyrant. In May 2005, more than 90 ex-counselors and ex-patients spontanously gathered in Chicago for a get-together, thus showing, more than 30 years after he retired, the importance of Bettelheim in their lives and training. Contrary to Bettelheim's opponents, who are very active in the media, they did not invite journalists to this gathering.

Bettelheim was convinced that autism had no organic basis, but was caused entirely by cold mothers (dubbed "refrigerator mothers", originally by Leo Kanner), and absent fathers. "All my life," he wrote, "I have been working with children whose lives have been destroyed because their mothers hated them." Other Freudian analysts, as well as scientists who were not psychiatrists, followed Bettelheim in blaming mothers for their child's autism. This view is now regarded as erroneous, even if neurology has made little if any progress in the matter of autism. Bettelheim wrote a book about autism entitled The Empty Fortress. His main legacy resides in three concept: the concept of "milieu-therapy", of "extreme situation", and of "empty fortress".

A movie appearance

Bruno Bettelheim, who had a lot of humor, accepted Woody Allen's invitation to appear as himself in his film Zelig (1983).

See also


Major works

  • 1943 "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations", Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 38: 417-452.
  • 1950 Love Is Not Enough: The Treatment of Emotionally Disturbed Children, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1954 Symbolic Wounds; Puberty Rites and the Envious Male, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1955 Truants From Life; The Rehabilitation of Emotionally Disturbed Children, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1959 "Joey: A 'Mechanical Boy'", Scientific American, 200, March 1959: 117-126. (About a boy who believes himself to be a robot.)
  • 1960 The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age, The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1962 Dialogues with Mothers, The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.
  • 1967 The Empty Fortress: Infantile autism and the birth of the self, The Free Press, New York
  • 1969 The Children of the Dream, Macmillan, London & New York (About the raising of children in kibbutz.)
  • 1974 A Home for the Heart, Knopf, New York. (About Bettelheim's Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago for schizophrenic and autistic children.)
  • 1976 The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Knopf, New York
  • 1979 Surviving and Other Essays, Knopf, New York (Includes the essay "The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank".)
  • 1982 On Learning to Read: The Child's Fascination with Meaning (with Karen Zelan), Knopf, New York
  • 1982 Freud and Man's Soul, Knopf, New York
  • 1987 A Good Enough Parent: A book on Child-Rearing, Knopf, New York
  • 1990 Freud's Vienna and Other Essays, Knopf, New York

Critical Review of Bettelheim (Works and Person)

  • Angres, Ronald: "Who, Really, Was Bruno Bettelheim?", Commentary, 90, (4), October 1990: 26-30.
  • Bersihand, Genevive : Bettelheim, R. Jauze, Champigny-sur-Marne, 1977.
  • Eliot, Stephen: Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School, St. Martin's Press, 2003.
  • Frattaroli, Elio: "Bruno Bettelheims Unrecognized Contribution to Psychoanalytic Thought", Psychoanalytic Review, 81:379-409, 1994.
  • Heisig, James W.: "Bruno Bettelheim and the Fairy Tales", Children's Literature, 6, 1977: 93-115.
  • Krumenacker, Franz-Josef: Bettelheim: Grundpositionen seiner Theorie und Praxis, Reinhardt/UTB fr Wissenschaft, Mnchen, 1998.
  • Marcus, Paul: Autonomy in the Extreme Situation. Bruno Bettelheim, the Nazi Concentration Camps and the Mass Society, Praeger, Westport, Conn., 1999.
  • Pollak, Richard: The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997.
  • Raines, Theron: Rising to the Light: A Portrait of Bruno Bettelheim, Knopf, New York, 2002.
  • Sutton, Nina: Bruno Bettelheim: The Other Side of Madness, Duckworth Press, London, 1995. (Translated from the French by David Sharp in collaboration with the author. Subsequently published with the title Bruno Bettelheim, a Life and a Legacy.)
  • Zipes, Jack: "On the Use and Abuse of Folk and Fairy Tales with Children: Bruno Bettelheim's Moralistic Magic Wand", in Zipes, Jack: Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1979.
  • -Author unknown-: "Accusations of Abuse Haunt the Legacy of Dr. Bruno Bettelheim", New York Times, 4 November 1990: "The Week in Review" Bettelheim

fr:Bruno Bettelheim ja:ブルーノ・ベッテルハイム pl:Bruno Bettelheim


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