Bruno Bettelheim

Bruno Bettelheim

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Bruno Bettelheim'
Start a new discussion about 'Bruno Bettelheim'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Bruno Bettelheim was an Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n-born American child psychologist and writer
Writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

. He gained an international reputation for his work on Freud, psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

, and emotionally disturbed children.

Background


When his father died, Bettelheim left his studies at the University of Vienna
University of Vienna
The University of Vienna is a public university located in Vienna, Austria. It was founded by Duke Rudolph IV in 1365 and is the oldest university in the German-speaking world...

 to look after his family's sawmill. Bettelheim and his first wife Gina took care of Patsy, an American child whom he later described as autistic. Patsy lived in the Bettelheim home in Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 for seven years. Having discharged his obligations to his family's business, Bettelheim returned as a mature student in his 30s to the University of Vienna. He earned a degree in philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, producing a dissertation on Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

 and on the history of art
History of art
The History of art refers to visual art which may be defined as any activity or product made by humans in a visual form for aesthetical or communicative purposes, expressing ideas, emotions or, in general, a worldview...

.

In the Austrian academic culture of Bettelheim's time, one could not study the history of art without mastering aspects of psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

. Candidates for the doctoral dissertation in the History of Art in 1938 at Vienna University had to fulfill prerequisites in the formal study of the role of Jungian archetypes in art, and in art as an expression of the Freudian subconscious.

Though Jewish by birth, Bettelheim grew up in a secular family. After the merging of Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 into Greater Germany (April 1938), the authorities sent him with other Austrian Jews to Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps for 11 months from 1938 to 1939. In Buchenwald he met and befriended the social psychologist Ernst Federn. As a result of an amnesty declared for Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

's birthday (April 20, 1939), Bettelheim and hundreds of other prisoners regained their freedom. Bettelheim drew on the experience of the concentration camps for some of his later work.

Life and career in the United States


Bettelheim arrived by ship as a refugee in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 in the fall of 1939 to join his wife Gina, who had already emigrated. They divorced because she had become involved with someone else during their separation. He soon moved to Chicago and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1944 and remarried to an American.

The University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 appointed Bettelheim as a professor of psychology and he taught there from 1944 until his retirement in 1973. He had trained in philosophy, but stated also that the Viennese psychoanalyst Richard Sterba had analyzed him.

Bettelheim also served as Director of the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

's Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School
Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School
The Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, also known simply as the Orthogenic School or informally as the O'School, is a residential treatment center and therapeutic school for children and adolescents typically classified as emotionally disturbed or as having a socio-emotional disorder...

, a home that treats emotionally disturbed children. He made changes and set up an environment for milieu therapy
Milieu Therapy
Milieu Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves the use of therapeutic communities. Patients join a group of around 30, for between 9 and 18 months. During their stay, patients are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves and the others within the unit. Milieu therapy is thought to...

, in which children could form strong attachments with adults within a structured but caring environment. He claimed considerable success in treating some of the emotionally disturbed children. He wrote books on both normal and abnormal child psychology and became a major influence in the field, widely respected during his lifetime. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 1971.

Among numerous other works, Bruno Bettelheim wrote The Uses of Enchantment
The Uses of Enchantment
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales is a 1976 work by Bruno Bettelheim in which the author analyses fairy tales in terms of Freudian psychology....

, published in 1976. In this book he analyzed fairy tale
Fairy tale
A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features such folkloric characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories refer to fairies...

s in terms of Freudian psychology. The book won the U.S. Critic's Choice Prize for criticism in 1976 and the National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

 in the category of Contemporary Thought in 1977. Bettelheim discussed the emotional and symbolic importance of fairy tale
Fairy tale
A fairy tale is a type of short story that typically features such folkloric characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. However, only a small number of the stories refer to fairies...

s for children, including traditional tales at one time considered too dark, such as those collected and published by the Brothers Grimm
Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm , Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm , were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors who collected folklore and published several collections of it as Grimm's Fairy Tales, which became very popular...

. Bettelheim suggested that traditional fairy tales, with the darkness of abandonment, death, witches, and injuries, allowed children to grapple with their fears in remote, symbol
Symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ic terms. If they could read and interpret these fairy tales in their own way, he believed, they would get a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Bettelheim thought that by engaging with these socially-evolved
Social evolution
Social evolution is a subdiscipline of evolutionary biology that is concerned with social behaviors that have fitness consequences for individuals other than the actor...

 stories, children would go through emotional growth that would better prepare them for their own futures.

His writings covered a wide range of topics, beginning shortly after he arrived in the United States with an essay on concentration camps and their dynamics. He long had a reputation as an authority on these topics.

At the end of his life Bettelheim suffered from depression
Clinical depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities...

. He appeared to have had difficulties with depression for much of his life.
In 1990, widowed, in failing physical health, and suffering from the effects of a stroke which impaired his mental abilities and paralyzed part of his body, he committed suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

 as a result of self-induced asphyxiation by placing a plastic bag over his head.

Political controversy


Bettelheim became one of the most prominent defenders of Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt was a German American political theorist. She has often been described as a philosopher, although she refused that label on the grounds that philosophy is concerned with "man in the singular." She described herself instead as a political theorist because her work centers on the fact...

's book Eichmann in Jerusalem
Eichmann in Jerusalem
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil is a book written by political theorist Hannah Arendt, originally published in 1963...

. He wrote a positive review for The New Republic
The New Republic
The magazine has also published two articles concerning income inequality, largely criticizing conservative economists for their attempts to deny the existence or negative effect increasing income inequality is having on the United States...

. This review prompted a letter from the writer Harry Golden, who alleged that both Bettelheim and Arendt suffered from "an essentially Jewish phenomenon…self-hatred".

Theoretical controversy


Bettelheim's work on autism
Autism
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their...

 has proven controversial. Initially Bettelheim believed that autism
Autism
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their...

 did not have an organic basis, but resulted when mothers withheld appropriate affection from their children and failed to make a good connection with them. The most extreme expression of this concept suggested that mothers literally did not want their children to exist. Bettelheim also blamed absent or weak fathers. One of his most famous books, The Empty Fortress (1967), contains a complex and detailed explanation of this dynamic in psychoanalytical and psychological terms. He derived his thinking from the qualitative investigation of clinical cases. He also related the world of autistic children to conditions in concentration camps. In A Good Enough Parent, published in 1987, he had come to the view that children had considerable resilience and that most parents could be "good enough" to help their children make a good start.

Bettelheim subscribed to and became a prominent proponent of the "refrigerator mother
Refrigerator mother
The term refrigerator mother was coined around 1950 as a label for mothers of children diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia. These mothers were often blamed for their children's atypical behavior, which included rigid rituals, speech difficulty, and self-isolation.The "refrigerator mother" label...

" theory of autism
Autism
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their...

: the theory that autistic behaviors stem from the emotional frigidity of the children's mothers, a view that enjoyed considerable influence into the 1960s and 1970s in the United States . However, some indications suggest that he later changed his thinking. Bettelheim's 1967 book The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self, which promoted the "refrigerator mother" theory of autism, enjoyed wide success, especially in the popular press. The book played a key role in ensuring that the "refrigerator mother" theory soon became the accepted explanation for autism in popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 and, to a considerable extent, in professional circles.

Subsequently, medical research has provided greater understanding of biological bases of autism and other illnesses. Scientists, most notably Bernard Rimland
Bernard Rimland
Bernard Rimland, PhD was an American research psychologist, writer, lecturer, and advocate for autistic children, ADHD, learning disabilities, and mental retardation.Based in San Diego, California since 1940, Dr...

, have largely discredited Bettelheim's views on autism, although the "refrigerator mother" theory still retains some prominent supporters.

Personal controversy


In addition to reassessment of Bettelheim's psychological theories, controversy has arisen related to his history and personality. He had a prominent reputation as a compassionate man who had made a career of healing others and as an expert on the dynamics of the concentration camps.

After Bettelheim's suicide in 1990, detractors claimed that Bettelheim had a dark side. They alleged that he exploded in screaming anger at students, and went beyond firm treatment to corporal punishment
Corporal punishment
Corporal punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable...

 or child abuse
Child abuse
Child abuse is the physical, sexual, emotional mistreatment, or neglect of a child. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Children And Families define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or...

. Three former patients questioned his work and characterized him as a cruel tyrant. Roberta Carly Redford, a student at the Orthogenic School from age 16 to 23, claims in her book Crazy: My Seven Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogeneic School that she was "beaten regularly, emotionally abused, and subjected to a variety of humiliations. Bettelheim himself was a key part of this treatment." Other former patients wrote or spoke publicly to tell how much Bettelheim had helped them, so there seemed to be no consensus.

Two biographies published in the 1990s revealed evidence that Bettelheim had lied about or exaggerated many parts of his background. These included wartime experiences, family life, academic credentials and the use of corporal punishment at the Orthogenic School. While Richard Pollak's biography
expressed a strongly negative view of Bettelheim, that by Nina Sutton
offered a different interpretation of some of the material. Gaps emerged between the public reputation Bettelheim had established in the US and some of the facts revealed during this controversy, but some commentators made charges that related to Bettelheim's personality.

The resulting discussions and controversy called into question whether the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 had screened
Background check
A background check or background investigation is the process of looking up and compiling criminal records, commercial records and financial records of an individual....

 Bettelheim closely enough, although appointments to administrative positions such as director of the school do not require an academic appointment. Many parents who had children at the school claimed that his treatment had helped their children and continued to consider him a compassionate man.

Bettelheim on the impact of bodily experience


According to Bettelheim, children — when treated with loving care — will internalize the care and love experienced in childhood respecting their bodies and their own person. The loving attitude of the parents towards the body of their child and its actions will transform into the child's holding its own body in high esteem, wishing to care for and protect it.

Popular culture


In 1974 a four-part series featuring Bruno Bettelheim and directed by Daniel Carlin appeared on French television — Portrait de Bruno Bettelheim.

Woody Allen
Woody Allen
Woody Allen is an American screenwriter, director, actor, comedian, jazz musician, author, and playwright. Allen's films draw heavily on literature, sexuality, philosophy, psychology, Jewish identity, and the history of cinema...

 included Bettelheim as himself in a cameo in the film Zelig
Zelig
Zelig is a 1983 American mockumentary film written and directed by Woody Allen, and starring Allen and Mia Farrow. Allen plays Zelig, a curiously nondescript enigma who is discovered for his remarkable ability to transform himself to resemble anyone he's near.The film was shot almost entirely in...

(1983).

A BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 Horizon documentary about Bettelheim was screened in 1986.

Two former patients wrote about their experiences at the Orthogenics School, one in a novel and one in a memoir. Tom Lyons' novel The Pelican and After appeared in 1983. Stephen Eliot's brought out his memoir, Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenics School, in 2003.

Major works by Bettelheim

  • 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 a kibbutz
    Kibbutz
    A kibbutz is a collective community in Israel that was traditionally based on agriculture. Today, farming has been partly supplanted by other economic branches, including industrial plants and high-tech enterprises. Kibbutzim began as utopian communities, a combination of socialism and Zionism...

     environment.)
  • 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
    The Uses of Enchantment
    The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales is a 1976 work by Bruno Bettelheim in which the author analyses fairy tales in terms of Freudian psychology....

    , Knopf, New York. ISBN 0394497716
  • 1979 Surviving and Other Essays, Knopf, New York (Includes the essay "The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank
    Anne Frank
    Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank is one of the most renowned and most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Acknowledged for the quality of her writing, her diary has become one of the world's most widely read books, and has been the basis for several plays and films.Born in the city of Frankfurt...

    ".)
  • 1982 On Learning to Read: The Child's Fascination with Meaning (with Karen Zelan), Knopf, New York
  • 1982 Freud and Man's Soul, Knopf, 1983, ISBN 0394524810
  • 1987 A Good Enough Parent: A Book on Child-Rearing, Knopf, New York
  • 1990 Freud's Vienna and Other Essays, Knopf, New York
  • 1994 Bettelheim, Bruno & Ekstein, Rudolf: Grenzgänge zwischen den Kulturen. Das letzte Gespräch zwischen Bruno Bettelheim und Rudolf Ekstein. In: Kaufhold, Roland (ed.) (1994): Annäherung an Bruno Bettelheim. Mainz (Grünewald): 49–60.

Critical reviews of Bettelheim (works and person)

  • Angres, Ronald: "Who, Really, Was Bruno Bettelheim?", Commentary, 90, (4), October 1990: 26-30.
  • Bernstein, Richard: "Accusations of Abuse Haunt the Legacy of Dr. Bruno Bettelheim", New York Times, 4 November 1990: "The Week in Review" section.
  • Dundes, Alan: "Bruno Bettelheim's Uses of Enchantment and Abuses of Scholarship". The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 104, N0. 411. (Winter, 1991): 74-83.
  • Ekstein, Rudolf (1994): Mein Freund Bruno (1903–1990). Wie ich mich an ihn erinnere. In: Kaufhold, Roland (ed.) (1994): Annäherung an Bruno Bettelheim. Mainz (Grünewald), S. 87–94.
  • Eliot, Stephen: Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School, St. Martin's Press, 2003.
  • Federn, Ernst (1994): Bruno Bettelheim und das Überleben im Konzentrationslager. In: Kaufhold, Roland (ed.) (1999): Ernst Federn: Versuche zur Psychologie des Terrors. Gießen (Psychosozial-Verlag): 105–108.
  • Fisher, David James: Psychoanalytische Kulturkritik und die Seele des Menschen. Essays über Bruno Bettelheim (co-editor: Roland Kaufhold), Gießen (Psychosozial-Verlag)
  • Fisher, David James: Bettelheim: Living and Dying. Amsterdam, New York, NY, 2008 (Rodopi)
  • Frattaroli, Elio: "Bruno Bettelheim's 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.
  • Kaufhold, Roland (ed.): Pioniere der psychoanalytischen Pädagogik: Bruno Bettelheim, Rudolf Ekstein, Ernst Federn und Siegfried Bernfeld, psychosozial Nr. 53 (1/1993)
  • Kaufhold, Roland (Ed.): Annäherung an Bruno Bettelheim. Mainz, 1994 (Grünewald)
  • Kaufhold, Roland (1999): „Falsche Fabeln vom Guru?“ Der “Spiegel“ und sein Märchen vom bösen Juden Bruno Bettelheim, Behindertenpädagogik, 38. Jhg., Heft 2/1999, S. 160-187.
  • Kaufhold, Roland: Bettelheim, Ekstein, Federn: Impulse für die psychoanalytisch-pädagogische Bewegung. Gießen, 2001 (Psychosozial-Verlag).
  • Kaufhold, Roland/Löffelholz, Michael (Ed.) (2003): “So können sie nicht leben” - Bruno Bettelheim (1903–1990). Zeitschrift für Politische Psychologie 1-3/2003.
  • 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.
  • 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
    Jack Zipes
    Jack David Zipes is an American retired Professor of German at the University of Minnesota, who has published and lectured on the subject of fairy tales, their evolution, and their social and political role in civilizing processes...

    : "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.

External links