Bruno Bettelheim Surviving And Other Essays About Love

Bruno Bettelheim (1950) Love is not enough: the treatment of emotionally disturbed children Glencoe IL: Free Press 0 02 903280 6 (reprint)

Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990) was an Austrian Jew who, before the Second World War, together with his wife, had fostered a girl whom he later described as autistic. He was one of many Jews rounded up and sent to concentration camps but then released in a public gesture in 1939, after which he emigrated to the US. His accounts of concentration camp life were initially vilified (1968) but he was eventually sufficiently accepted to obtain a post at the University of Chicago where he directed the Orthogenic School. Love is not enough (1950) was in effect his manifesto for the school and A home for a heart (1974) his retrospective on those experiences.

Key Ideas

–           Seriously disturbed behaviour is caused by a child’s prior experiences.

–           Only by using all aspects of a child’s environment can it be successfully treated.

–             Individual and group therapy can take place within the context of daily interactions.

–           Unconditional acceptance of behaviour is needed until the child has established

a primary relationship with their carer.

–           It is necessary to protect seriously disturbed children from their parents.


In the Introduction Bettelheim stresses that parenting is more complicated than just ‘loving’ your children and that the sources of many of the emotional problems in the lives of children lie in the day-to-day interactions between parents and their children in which the adult, not being sure of the appropriate way to behave, communicates this uncertainty to the child. So carers need to be clear where they stand on issues, and children need to be exposed to a range of adults who collectively can cover for each others’ hang-ups. Carers should be prepared to admit their mistakes and apologise where necessary while emotionally disturbed children need open relationships which allow them to develop relationships at their own pace rather than those with people with labels, for example ‘houseparent’, which are tied to a particular role in society.

In Chapter 1 The children, he stresses that children who have experienced abnormal behaviour may regard it as normal and first have to learn what is normal behaviour. This can best be explored in everyday settings; so the Orthogenic School in practice offers environmental therapy.

In Chapter 2 First encounter, he stresses the importance of allowing children to enter the school through engaging in its everyday activities rather than in discussions of their problems or emotions; if they do not wish to engage in particular activities, no pressure should be put on them to do so, not least because these may have been battlegrounds in the past. Ideally the child should be able to enter a functioning group whose last newcomer joined some time ago because children will more quickly trust the reactions of the children around them than any reassurances from adults.

In Chapter 3 Events in sequence, he argues that dealing with children’s concerns within the context of their day-to-day activities is far more effective than asking them to talk about them in therapy sessions, but that this process may take many days and many interactions to complete.

In Chapter 4 From dreams to waking, he discusses the process of waking up, particularly if that has been through a dream which some children may not be able to separate from reality (this was written long before our current understanding of REM sleep and dreams), and the importance of making it a gradual process through which they can deal with any anxieties they may have about daytime.

In Chapter 5 The in-between times, he discusses times and places that have no defined character, such as times between activities and spaces between rooms, in which many significant activities take place. These times and places may be more important to children if they have experienced frustration or disappointment around set times and places which a child may take years to get over.

In Chapter 6 The challenge of learning, he discusses fears not just of school but of the process of learning and how these can be allayed/overcome, noting that it may be a long time before the nature of a particular fear comes to be understood. Learning must be a shared experience in which other children can be involved and it can be intimately connected with a child’s emotional development.

In Chapter 7 Food: the great socializer, Bettelheim argues that making food freely available avoids the distraction of feelings of hunger in children, makes meal times a social rather than a purely physical event and symbolises emotional care for many children. Where food has been a bargaining tool or children have been more generally deprived, they have to experience it as freely given before they can begin to enter into normal relationships with people. Some may need to eat alone with a member of staff at first because they cannot enjoy a shared meal.

In Chapter 8 Rest and play, he discusses the importance of relaxation as a complement to activity; children who are unable to relax are often unable to engage in normal physical activity. Freedom to act is not always valuable but sometimes only by giving a disturbed child that freedom is it possible to learn what sort of help they really need. Sometimes constructive activity only follows a period of hostile or destructive activity; however, play is essential both to developing as a person and to developing a social network.

In Chapter 9 Alone and in the group, he says that, depending of the child’s needs, individual work may be with the person who cares for them on a day-to-day basis or with someone else in the establishment; group work is conducted within the children’s daily living groups who are often able to interpret behaviour and provide more acceptable control than if it came from an adult.

In Chapter 10 The world outside, he describes children’s reactions to the world outside the school and how these are managed.

In Chapter 11 In the bathroom, he discusses the anxieties and behaviour of children who have difficulties over being clean or dirty or who have been distressed about intimate behaviour or abused in intimate situations.

In Chapter 12 Bedtime, he describes the anxieties children may have about bedtime and how these can be managed through preparatory activities such as bedtime stories and individual work. In particular he considers some children’s sexual fears and fantasies and responding throughout the night including to bed-wetting.


Though Bettelheim draws heavily on Freudian ideas, many of his ideas about the interactions between parents and their children would not be out of place in a behaviourist or interactionist textbook. His argument that therapy is best offered in everyday settings rather than in formal interviews or groups is taken up in The Other 23 Hours (Trieschman et al., 1969).

Love is not enough is not a manifesto for good parenting and, unlike Neill (1962), Bettelheim never tries to draw conclusions about good parenting from his work. He is not concerned with children who have a secure attachment, to use modern parlance, nor with most of those who have an anxious/avoidant or insecure attachment but with a tiny minority whose relationships with adults have become so skewed that they do not know what a normal attachment might be. For these children, because they have no concept of a normal relationship within which the therapy can take place, individual therapy needs to take place as part of individual relationships within a functioning group in which the relationships between their peers will also give them an understanding of what a normal relationship might be like. The idea that children need to develop both individual and group relationships reflects our modern understanding of children’s needs (Ladd, 2005) but it was not so in Bettelheim’s time, which may be why he makes no claims about its application beyond disturbed children.

In the half century since he wrote, there has been a strong reaction against using group care for such work but the recent evidence that those damaged by abuse may benefit from group work (Sgroi and Sargent, 1993) suggests that this idea may be worth revisiting.

At times his account is burdened by the particular interpretations that he places on what he describes but none of the points he highlights are insignificant in caring for children and he shares with O’Neill (1981) the view that those working with a child can be baffled by a child’s behaviour but still have to continue working with the child in the belief that one day it will change in ways as yet unknown and often unexpected. He also argues that trying to explain a child’s behaviour to a child is normally counter-productive because we don’t really understand it anyway.

In that context unconditional acceptance serves the two purposes of avoiding replicating actions which the child may see as rejections and allowing the display of the behaviour which may eventually lead to the understanding that workers need in order to help the child more effectively.

In advocating separating children from their parents, though parents are allowed to write, he goes against what would now be regarded as good practice for most children, but his argument that this is necessary when children do not have normal relationships with their parents and need to develop normal relationships before resuming any form of relationship with them may be worth reconsidering in the light of Wiener and Wiener’s finding (1990) that the parents who had most harmed their children were often the most resistant to their children receiving appropriate care.


Bettelheim, B (1950) Love is not enough: the treatment of emotionally disturbed children Glencoe IL: Free Press

Bettelheim, B (1968) The ultimate limit Midway 9, 3-25 Autumn Reprinted in B Bettelheim (1979) Surviving and other essays London: Thames & Hudson

Bettelheim, B (1974) A home for the heart London: Thames & Hudson

Ladd, G W (2005) Children’s peer relations and social competence: a century of progress London: Yale University Press

Neill, A S (1962) Summerhill: a radical approach to education London: Victor Gollancz See also Children Webmag June 2009.

O’Neill, T (1981) A place called Hope: caring for children in distress Oxford: Blackwell See also Children Webmag May 2009.

Sgroi, S M & Sargent, N M (1993) Impact and treatment issues for the victims of childhood sexual abuse by female perpetrators In M Elliott (Ed.) Female sexual abuse of children: the ultimate taboo Chapter 2, pp. 15-38 Harlow: Longman

Trieschman, A, Whittaker, J & Brendtro, L (1969) The other 23 hours: child care work with emotionally disturbed children in a therapeutic milieu Chicago: Aldine

Wiener, A & Wiener, E (1990) Expanding the options in child placement Lanham MD: University Press of America

Categories Child Care History and Policy

Bruno Bettelheim (August 28, 1903 – March 13, 1990) was the director of the Orthogenic School for Disturbed Children at the University of Chicago from 1944 to 1973. After his death allegations of plagiarism, falsified credentials, and abusive treatment of students were raised and later substantiated.[2][3][4][5]

Bettelheim was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. Following the Nazi Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, Bettelheim was arrested in May because he was a Jew and an advocate of Austrian independence. He was imprisoned for ten and a half months in the concentration camps Dachau and Buchenwald until he was released in April 1939.[6] He then emigrated to the United States and participated in a wartime project sponsored by Rockefeller Foundation to help refugee scholars find new jobs. He first worked as a research assistant at the University of Chicago, then taught as a professor at Rockford College, and then returned to the University of Chicago to accept positions as both professor and director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for Disturbed Children.[7]

Bettelheim remained director of the school from 1944 to 1973 and during the 1960s and 1970s had an international reputation in such fields as autism, child psychiatry, and Freudian analysis.[5][8] After his death in 1990, it was discovered that he had substantially misrepresented his background and credentials.[3][9] For example, he had never been a candidate at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and had only taken three introductory courses in psychology.[4] His one Ph.D was in either art history or philosophy (aesthetics).[3][10] Bettelheim's theories on autism, for which he blamed parents and primarily mothers in The Empty Fortress (1967), raised controversy in his lifetime[11] and are now considered to be discredited.[12]

After his death, it was further revealed that Bettelheim often used violence against students at the school even though he wrote against corporal punishment. Counselors tended to merely perceive corporal punishment, whereas some but not all students perceived rage and out-of-control violence.[8][2][13][14]

Chicago-area psychiatrists were later criticized for knowing at least some of what was occurring and not taking effective action.[15][16] The University of Chicago was also criticized for not providing their normal oversight during Bettelheim's tenure.[8][17]

Background in Austria[edit]

Bruno Bettelheim was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, on August 28, 1903. When his father died, Bettelheim left his studies at the University of Vienna to look after his family's sawmill. Having discharged his obligations to his family's business, Bettelheim returned as a mature student in his 30s to the University of Vienna.[citation needed] He earned a degree in philosophy, producing a dissertation on Immanuel Kant and on the history of art.

Bettelheim's first wife, Gina, took care of a troubled American child, Patsy, who lived in their home in Vienna for seven years. There is disagreement among sources regarding whether or not Patsy was autistic.[10][17][18]

In the Austrian academic culture of Bettelheim's time, one could not study the history of art without mastering aspects of psychology.[citation needed] 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 Nazi invasion and Anschluss (political annexation) of Austria on March 12, 1938, the Nazi authorities sent Bettelheim, other Austrian Jews and political opponents to the Dachau and Buchenwaldconcentration camps where they were brutally treated, and tortured or killed. In Buchenwald, he met and befriended the social psychologist Ernst Federn. Bettelheim was arrested on May 28, 1938, was imprisoned in both these camps for ten and half months being released on April 14, 1939.[6][19] As a result of an amnesty declared for Hitler's birthday (April 20, 1939), Bettelheim and hundreds of other prisoners regained their liberty. Bettelheim drew on the experience of the concentration camps for some of his later work.

Life and career in the United States[edit]

Bettelheim arrived by ship as a refugee in New York City in late 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, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1944, and married an Austrian woman, Getrude ('Trudi') Weinfeld, also an emigrant from Vienna.

The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored a wartime project to help resettle European scholars by circulating their resumes to American Universities. Through this process, Ralph Tyler hired Bettelheim to be his research assistant at the University of Chicago from 1939-1941 with funding from the Progressive Education Association to evaluate how high schools taught art. Once this funding ran out, Bettelheim found a job at Rockford College, Illinois, where he taught from 1942-1944.[7][8][20]

In 1943, he published the paper "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations" about his experiences in the concentration camps, a paper which was highly regarded by Dwight Eisenhower among others.[5] Bettelheim claimed he had interviewed 1,500 fellow prisoners, although this was unlikely.[5][21]

Through Ralph Tyler's recommendation, the University of Chicago appointed Bettelheim as a professor of psychology, as well as director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for emotionally disturbed children.[8] He held both positions from 1944 until his retirement in 1973. He wrote a number of books on psychology and, for a time, had an international reputation for his work on Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis, and emotionally disturbed children. He stated that the Viennese psychoanalyst Richard Sterba had analyzed him, as well as implying in several of his writings that he had written a PhD dissertation in the philosophy of education. His actual PhD was in art history, and he had only taken three introductory courses in psychology.[4]

At the Orthogenic School, Bettelheim made changes and set up an environment for milieu therapy, 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 in 1971.[22] After retiring in 1973, he and his wife moved to Portola Valley, California, where he continued to write and taught at Stanford University. His wife died in 1984.[23]

Bettelheim analyzed fairy tales in terms of Freudian psychology in The Uses of Enchantment (1976). He discussed the emotional and symbolic importance of fairy tales for children, including traditional tales at one time[clarification needed] considered too dark, such as those collected and published by the Brothers Grimm. Bettelheim suggested that traditional fairy tales, with the darkness of abandonment, death, witches, and injuries, allowed children to grapple with their fears in remote, symbolic 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 stories, children would go through emotional growth that would better prepare them for their own futures. In the United States, Bettelheim won two major awards for The Uses of Enchantment: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism[24] and the National Book Award in category Contemporary Thought.[25] However, a 1991 article in The Journal of American Folklore charged that Bettelheim had engaged in plagiarism by unacknowledged borrowing from a number of sources, primarily Julius Heuscher's A Psychiatric Study of Fairy Tales (1963), although Heuscher himself stated he was not bothered.[26][27]

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.[28]

At the end of his life, Bettelheim suffered from depression. He appeared to have had difficulties with depression for much of his life.[28] 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 as a result of self-induced asphyxiation by placing a plastic bag over his head.[29][30] He died on March 13, 1990, in Maryland.[31]

Currently, many of Bettelheim's theories in which he attributes autism spectrum conditions to parenting style are considered to be discredited, not least because of the controversies relating to his academic and professional qualifications.[12][32][33]

Misrepresented credentials[edit]

As early as November 1990, the Chicago Tribune raised questions about Bettelheim's credentials. Different people seemed to believe different things about his background and credentials. Bertram Cohler and Jacquelyn Sanders at the Orthogenic School believed Bettelheim had a PhD in art history. In some of his own writings, Bettelheim implied that he had written a dissertation on the philosophy of education. Ralph Tyler, who brought Bettelheim to the University of Chicago, assumed that Bettelheim had two PhDs, one in art history and the other in psychology.[8] A related perception is provided by biography of Tyler which states, "Tyler assumed, mistakenly, that Bettelheim had received formal certification in psychoanalysis, a matter on which Bettelheim never set Tyler straight."[20]

A lot of information came out following the publication of two biographies, Bruno Bettelheim, Une vie (Bruno Bettelheim: A Life and a Legacy) (1995) by Nina Sutton, originally in French,[34][35][36] and The creation of Dr. B: A biography of Bruno Bettelheim (1997) by Richard Pollak.[37][38]

These somewhat competing biographies, especially Pollak's more critical biography, seemed to motivate journalists to look into the matter in greater depth. Richard Pollak's biography begins with a personal account, for his brother was a resident at Bettelheim's school. While home one summer and playing hide-and-go-seek in a hay loft, the brother fell through a chute covered with hay, hit the concrete floor on the level below and died. Years later Pollak, hoping to get some information about his brother's life, sought out Bettelheim. As Pollak recounts, "Bettelheim immediately launched into an attack. The boys' father, he said, was a simple-minded 'schlemiel.' Their mother, he insisted, had rejected Stephen at birth forcing him to develop 'pseudo-feeble-mindedness' to cope." He went on to angrily ask, "What is it about these Jewish mothers, Mr. Pollak?" Bettelheim insisted the brother had committed suicide and made it look like an accident.[10][39]

A January 1997 review in the Baltimore Sun states, "The stance of infallibility over matters Pollak knew to be untrue prompted him to wonder about the foundation of Bettelheim's commanding reputation."[3] Pollak would go on to work as a journalist and magazine editor for close to two decades before attempting his biography of Bettelheim.[40]

A number of reviewers didn't praise Pollak's writing style, commenting that his book was motivated by "Vengeance, not malice"[10] or that his book was "curiously unnuanced,"[5] but they still largely agreed with his conclusions.[2][5] For example, in a New York Review of Books article, Robert Gottlieb describes Pollak as a "relentlessly negative biographer," but Gottlieb still writes, "The accusations against Bettelheim fall into several categories. First, he lied; that is, he both exaggerated his successes at the school and falsified aspects of his background, claiming a more elaborate academic and psychoanalytic history in Vienna than he had actually had. There is conclusive evidence to support both charges." He goes on to say that Bettelheim arrived in the United States as a Holocaust survivor and refugee without a job nor even a profession. Gottlieb writes, "I suspect he said what he thought it was necessary to say, and was then stuck with these claims later on, when he could neither confirm them (since they were false) nor, given his pride, acknowledge that he had lied." This is Robert Gottlieb's judgment call for why Bettelheim lied.[28]

A review in The Independent (UK) of Sutton's book stated that Bettelheim "despite claims to the contrary, possessed no psychology qualifications of any sort,"[41] A review of Pollak's book in the New York Times stated "when all is said and done, Bettelheim seems to have re-enacted the archetypal American success story of inventing a false past, concocting a new formula for snake oil and selling it to the public with flummery. Under Mr. Pollak's magnifying glass, Bettelheim is seen in a new, harsh light, and stands exposed as a brilliant charlatan."[9] Another review in the New York Times by a different reviewer stated that Bettelheim "began inventing degrees he never earned."[5] A review in the Chicago Tribune stated "as Pollak demonstrates, Bettelheim was a snake-oil salesman of the first magnitude."[10]

When Bettelheim applied for a position at Rockford College in Illinois, he claimed in a résumé that he had earned summa cum laude doctorates in philosophy, art history, and psychology, and he made such claims that he had run the art department at Lower Austria's library, that he had published two books on art, that he had excavated Roman antiquities, and that he had engaged in music studies with Arnold Schoenberg. When he applied at the University of Chicago for a professorship and as director of the Orthogenic School, he further claimed that he had training in psychology, experience raising autistic children, and personal encouragement from Sigmund Freud. In a 1997 Weekly Standard article Peter Kramer, clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University, summarized: "There were snatches of truth in the tall tale, but not many. Bettelheim had earned a non-honors degree in philosophy, he had made acquaintances in the psychoanalytic community, and his first wife had helped raise a troubled child. But, from 1926 to 1938, -- the bulk of the '14 years' at university -- Bettelheim had worked as a lumber dealer in the family business."[18]

Sources disagree whether Bettelheim's one PhD was in art history[4][3] or in philosophy (aesthetics).[10][9] He claimed he had met Freud and that Freud that stated he (Bettelheim) was "just [or, "exactly"] the person we need for psychoanalysis to grow and develop."[39][21] Bettelheim had never met Freud.[5][21] He had not been accepted as a candidate for membership in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.[4] A posthumous review of his transcript showed that Bettelheim had only taken three introductory classes in psychology.[4]

Bettelheim's first wife, Gina, took care of a troubled American child, Patsy, who lived in their home in Vienna for seven years. Although Bettelheim later claimed he himself had taken care of the child, there is general agreement that his wife actually provided most of the child care. There is disagreement, however, among sources regarding whether or not Patsy was autistic.[10][17][18] Bettelheim later embellished the story claiming there had been two or even several autistic children.[5][21]

In his 1997 review of Pollak's book in the Baltimore Sun, Paul McHugh, then director of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins, stated "Bettelheim – with boldness, energy and luck – exploited American deference to Freudo-Nietzschean mind-sets and interpretation, especially when intoned in accents Viennese."[3]

In his book Unstrange Minds (2007), Roy Richard Grinker wrote that Bettelheim was "simply too good a writer, and with his Viennese accent—the sign of an authentic expert in psychology—too good a self promoter." [42][43]

Plagiarism in Bettelheim's Uses of Enchantment[edit]

For his book The Uses of Enchantment (1976), which applied Freudian psychology to fairy tales, Bettelheim won the 1976 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism and the 1977 National Book Award in category Contemporary Thought.[24][25]

However, within a year of his death, an article in the winter 1991 edition of The Journal of American Folklore presented a case that he had engaged in plagiarism by borrowing without acknowledgement from a number of sources, including author Alan Dundes' 1967 paper on Cinderella, although primarily from Dr. Julius E. Heuscher's book A Psychiatric Study of Fairy Tales (1963, 1974 enlarged and rev. edition). A Los Angeles Times article stated, "Alan Dundes, a widely published expert on folklore and a 28-year veteran of Berkeley's anthropology department, details what he says is 'wholesale borrowing,' not only of 'random passages' but also of 'key ideas' in Bettelheim's 1976 book." Heuscher himself was gracious about the charges, stating "We all plagiarize. I plagiarize. Many times, I am not sure whether it came out of my own brain or if it came from somewhere else. . . . I'm only happy that I would have influenced Bruno Bettelheim. I did not always agree with him. But that does not matter. Poor Bruno Bettelheim. I would not want to disturb his eternal sleep with this" [ellipsis as it appeared in Los Angeles Times article].[26][27][44]

Jacquelyn Sanders, who worked with Bettelheim and was the director of the Orthogenic School in 1991, states that she had read Dundes' article but did not believe many people would agree with his conclusions. She said, "I would not call that plagiarism. I think the article is a reasonable scholarly endeavor, and calling it scholarly etiquette is appropriate. It is appropriate that this man deserved to be acknowledged and Bettelheim didn't. . . . But I would not fail a student for doing that, and I don`t know anybody who would" [Ellipses in Chicago Tribune article].[45]

Heuscher wrote in 1963: "While one must never 'explain' the fairy tales to the child, the narrator's understanding of their meaning is very important. It furthers the sensitivity for selecting those stories which are most appropriate in various phases of children's development and for stressing those themes which may be therapeutic for specific psychological difficulties."[27]

Bettelheim wrote in 1976: "One must never 'explain' to the child the meaning of fairy tales. However, the narrator's understanding of the fairy tale's message to the child's preconscious mind is important. . . . It furthers the adult's sensitivity to selection of those stories which are most appropriate to the child's state of development and to the specific psychological difficulties he is confronted with at the moment" [ellipsis as it appeared in Los Angeles Times article].[27]

In reviewing Richard Pollak's The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim (1997), Sarah Boxer of the New York Times wrote, "Mr. Pollak gives a damning passage-for-passage comparison of the two. [Heuscher's 1963 book and Bettelheim's 1976 book]"[5]

Abusive treatment of students[edit]

After Bettelheim's suicide in 1990, some students claimed that Bettelheim exploded in screaming anger and hit students, although he preached against corporal punishment. A November 1990 Chicago Tribune article states: "Of the 19 alumni of the Orthogenic School interviewed for this story, some are still bitterly angry at Bettelheim, 20 or 30 years after leaving the institution. Others say their stays did them good, and they express gratitude for having had the opportunity to be at the school. All agree that Bettelheim frequently struck his young and vulnerable patients."[8]

Some but not all counselors at the Orthogenic School tended to see Bettelheim merely as using corporal punishment, while many but not all students saw rage and out-of-control violence on his part.[13][14][47][48][49][50]

Alida Jatich, who lived at the school from 1966 to 1972 from ages twelve to eighteen, wrote in an initially anonymous April 1990 letter to the Chicago Reader, "Bettelheim told the children over and over how lucky they were to be at his school, and that if they didn't do as they were told, they would end up in a state mental asylum where they would be given drugs and shock treatments. . . . . I lived in fear of Bettelheim's unpredictable temper tantrums, public beatings, hair pulling, wild accusations and threats and abuse in front of classmates and staff. One minute he could be smiling and joking, the next minute he could be exploding." Ms. Alida Jatich publicly revealed her name and the years she was at the school in another letter a year later.[13][51]

In an August 1990 letter to the Washington Post, Charles Pekow wrote, "Bettelheim had standard lines he gave us all: we were considered hopelessly 'crazy' by the outside world and only he could save us from lives in mental institutions or jail. 'You get better here or you go to a nut house,' I heard him routinely tell school-aged children. . . . . Once, after a boy returned from a visit home, Bettelheim spent five minutes slapping him in the face, hitting him in the sides with fists and pulling his hair. Midway through, he revealed why: The lad had told his brother to 'do well in school.' He had no right to 'push' his brother around. To be sure, the blows he struck, though often painful and humiliating, did not physically damage people. But I often saw Bettleheim drag children across the floor by their hair and kick them. He even hit autistic children who couldn't speak clearly."[14]

As an example of a counselor viewing Bettelheim's behavior as more legitimate corporal punishment, David Zwerdling, who was a counselor at the school for one year in 1969-70, wrote a Sept. 1990 response to the Washington Post in which he stated, "I witnessed one occasion when an adolescent boy cursed at a female counselor. Incensed upon learning of this, Dr. Bettelheim proceeded to slap the boy two or three times across the face, while telling him sternly never to speak that way to a woman again. This was the only such incident I observed or heard of during my year at the school, and it should be noted that until fairly recently, the near-consensus against corporal punishment in schools did not obtain." However, Zwerdling also noted, "He also was a man who, for whatever reasons, was capable of intense anger on occasion."[14]

In an October 1990 essay in Commentary magazine, former student Ronald Angres wrote, "For all of those years, they [my parents] too endured his insulting and intimidating theatrics. But from his behavior they never drew the obvious conclusion about his character, nor did they ever pause to consider how he must be treating those whom he had totally in his power. It did not seem to occur to them that in his 'total therapeutic milieu,' the professional distance they sought had been delegated to people who raised us, educated us, disciplined us, and controlled us far more completely than any parentand kept our real parents in the dark. Indeed, Bettelheim's constant verbal abuse of the parents with whom he dealt, and whom he refused to allow past the visitors' area—combined with his well-publicized assertion that it was parents who caused mental illness in their children—systematically destroyed their will to stand up for themselves or their children."

Roberta Carly Redford, who was a student at the Orthogenic School from age 16 to 23 (1967 to 1974), stated in a 1990 letter to the New York Times, "Unlike most of the other kids there, I was beaten only once. Bettelheim knew how to find people's Achilles' heels. Alida Jatich, whom you quote, he beat up often, knowing that her parents had done so and that was what would cause her the most grief. He also did to me what my parents had done -- stripped me of my self-esteem, caused me constantly to doubt myself and verbally abused me. He told me I was a slut, I was a failure at life, and only by abiding by his rules would I ever be fit to live in society again."[50]

In a July 1990 letter to the Chicago Reader, a former counselor at the school writing anonymously stated, "At that time, in the late forties, I probably had more experience upon which to assess the adjustment of the children than most of the counselors at the school. By age 22, when I worked there, I had spent fully a third of my life in group living with a variety of youngsters under stress; four years in an orphan home followed by three and a half years in the wartime army. I understood that the stream of human normality was very wide, and that time healed many wounds without human intervention. It amazed me that Bettelheim, a man from another culture, could look at the same child as I and see a 'schizophrenic' while I saw another rambunctious American kid. What did a forty year old Viennese intellectual really know about the inner (or outer for that matter) life of a ten-year-old West Side, Chicago Irish kid who had no one to care for him?"[52]

Richard Pollak's 1997 biography states that two separate women reported that Bettelheim fondled their breasts and those of other female students at the school while he was ostensibly apologizing to each for beating her.[2][18]

The above Nov. 1990 Chicago Tribune article listed the following accounts of abusive treatment of students at the 'Orthogenic School':[8]
• "[Ronald Angres] recently wrote in Commentary magazine, 'I lived for years in terror of his beatings, in terror of his footsteps in the dorms-in abject, animal terror.'"
• "would pull an adolescent girl out of a shower, then hit and berate her in front of dormitory mates. Yet Alida Jatich says he did just that"
• "another former student, Roberta Redford, recalls being summoned from a toilet stall for a similar thrashing,"
• "Orthogenic School patient Charles Pekow had allergies, but was not allowed to take medication, even when overcome by asthmatic attacks. Bettelheim thought allergies were psychologically induced—a theory largely laid to rest by subsequent medical research,"
• "Richard Younker, a photojournalist in Chicago, remembers how he and a dormitory mate, both Cub Scouts, decorated their wall with a plaque illustrating how to tie knots. 'Dr. B said to the whole dorm: "Look, the two boys who are so twisted up inside show the whole world by putting knots on the wall,"' Younker says."

On the other hand, Karen Zelan, who worked at the school from 1956 to 1964 recalls Bettelheim taking personal responsibility for a badly dehydrated five-year-old girl and nursing her back to health when other staff members could not get her to take nourishment.[8]

Jacquelyn Sanders, who started as a counselor, left to pursue her PhD, and later became director of the Orthogenic School, thinks it may have been a case of too much success coming too soon. She said, ``Dr. B got worse once he started getting acclaim. He was less able to have any insight into his effect on these kids.``[8]

Richard Younker said, "I think these things happened to me the way I describe them. If you made the most innocent joke to the man, he exploded. He was out of control."[49]

In her April 1991 letter to the Chicago Reader, Alida Jatich wrote, "I suspect that the main reason why it's so hard to talk about the Bettelheim tragedy is this: in one way or another, he induced all of us to act in ways that we feel sick to think about now. This includes kids, parents, staff members, students and faculty at the University of Chicago, colleagues, and so forth."[13]

Three former students have written books about their experiences at the school:
•Tom Lyon's The Pelican and After: A Novel about Emotional Disturbance, a roman à clef novel in which the head of the school is a "Dr. V," published in 1983.[53]
• Stephen Eliot's memoir Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenics School, published in 2003.[54]
•Roberta Carly Redford memoir Crazy: My Seven Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogeneic School, published in 2010.[55]


A September 10, 1990 Newsweek article stated: "Patients were not the only ones who knew of Bettelheim's explosive temper. There are indications that at least the local psychiatric community knew exactly what was going on, and did nothing. Chicago analysts scathingly referred to the doctor as 'Beno Brutalheim.'"[15][16]

In an April 4, 1991 letter to the Chicago Reader, former student Alida Jatich asked, "Who are these analysts? Why didn't they warn the university and our parents? Why are they still keeping silent?"[13]

A November 1990 article in the Chicago Tribune reported that the University of Chicago's official biographical sketch of Bettelheim listed him as having a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) but did not specify the field.[8]

In a January 1997 Los Angeles Times review of Richard Pollak's biography The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim, Howard Gardner wrote, "When I began to discuss this biography with clinicians, several of them said in effect, 'Oh, we all knew this about Bettelheim. We did not believe his claims and figures; we knew he was a bastard.' I asked myself--and then I started to ask others--'Why did no one expose this fraud, this pretending saint who was tainted with evil? Did their silence encourage Bettelheim's excesses?' Answers varied from fear about Bettelheim's legendary capacity for retribution to the solidarity needed among the guild of healers to a feeling that, on balance, Bettelheim's positive attributes predominated and an unmasking would fuel more malevolent forces."[2] Howard Gardner is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who is perhaps best known for his theory of multiple intelligences.

In a June/July 1997 article in First Things, Molly Finn wrote, "it is deplorable that the institution [University of Chicago] supported Bettelheim's work without ever setting up the oversight committee or board of visitors it usually appointed."[17]

Richard Pollak, author of The Creation of Dr. B (1997), states that popular media played along from the start. He said, "They never asked the questions, never asked to see any kind of support for the claims he was making. He'd appear on Dick Cavett and the Today Show, and they all sat there slack-jawed and threw softball questions."[56]

Autism controversy[edit]

Autism spectrum conditions are now currently regarded as perhaps having multiple forms with a variety of genetic, epigenetic, and brain development causes influenced by such environmental factors as complications during pregnancy, viral infections, and perhaps even air pollution.[12][57][32][33][17][9][58]

The two biographies by Sutton (1995) and Pollak (1997) awakened interest and focus on Bettelheim's actual methods as distinct from his public persona.[17][9][5] Bettelheim's theories on the causes of autism have been largely discredited, and his reporting rates of cure have been questioned, with critics stating that his patients were not actually suffering from autism.[10][17][59] In a favorable review of Pollak's biography, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times wrote, "What scanty evidence remains suggests that his patients were not even autistic in the first place."[9]

Bettelheim believed that autism 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. 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. These views were disputed at the time by mothers of autistic children and by researchers.[11] He derived his thinking from the qualitative investigation of clinical cases.[citation needed] 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.[60]

Prior to this, Bettelheim subscribed to and became an early prominent proponent of the "refrigerator mother" theory of autism: the theory that autistic behaviors stem from the emotional frigidity of the children's mothers. He adapted and transformed the Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago as a residential treatment milieu for such children, who he felt would benefit from a "parentectomy". This marked the apex of autism viewed as a disorder of parenting.[58][61]

A 2002 book on autism spectrum stated, "At the time, few people knew that Bettelheim had faked his credentials and was using fictional data to support his research."[62]Michael Rutter has observed, "Many people made a mistake in going from a statement which is undoubtedly true—that there is no evidence that autism has been caused by poor parenting—to the statement that it has been disproven. It has not actually been disproven. It has faded away simply because, on the one hand, of a lack of convincing evidence and on the other hand, an awareness that autism was a neurodevelopmental disorder of some kind."[63]

In a 1997 review of two books on Bettelheim, Molly Finn wrote "I am the mother of an autistic daughter, and have considered Bettelheim a charlatan since The Empty Fortress, his celebrated study of autism, came out in 1967. I have nothing personal against Bettelheim, if it is not personal to resent being compared to a devouring witch, an infanticidal king, and an SS guard in a concentration camp, or to wonder what could be the basis of Bettelheim's statement that 'the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent's wish that his child should not exist.'"[17]

Although Bettelheim foreshadowed the modern interest in the causal influence of genetics in the section Parental Background, he consistently emphasised nurture over nature. For example: "When at last the once totally frozen affects begin to emerge, and a much richer human personality to evolve, then convictions about the psychogenic nature of the disturbance become stronger still."; On Treatability, p. 412.

The rates of recovery claimed for the Orthogenic School are set out in Follow-up Data, with a recovery good enough to be considered a 'cure' of 43%., ps. 414–415.

Subsequently, medical research has provided greater understanding of the biological basis of autism and other illnesses. Scientists such as Bernard Rimland challenged Bettelheim's view of autism by arguing that autism is a neurodevelopmental issue. As late as 2009, the "refrigerator mother" theory retained some prominent supporters,[29][64] including the prominent Irish psychologist Tony Humphreys.[65] His theory still enjoys widespread support in France.[66][dubious– discuss]

Political controversy[edit]

Bettelheim became one of the most prominent defenders of Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem. He wrote a positive review for The New Republic.[67] This review prompted a letter from a writer, Harry Golden, who alleged that both Bettelheim and Arendt suffered from "an essentially Jewish phenomenon … self-hatred".[68][69] Richard Pollak's biography, The Creation of Dr. B, portrays Bettelheim as a clear anti-Semite even though he was raised in a secular Jewish household, and asserts that Bettelheim criticized in others the same cowardice he himself had displayed in the concentration camps.[2]

In popular culture[edit]

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

Woody Allen included Bettelheim as himself in a cameo in the film Zelig (1983).

A BBCHorizon documentary about Bettelheim was televised in 1986.[70]


Major works by Bettelheim[edit]

  • 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 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, Knopf, New York. ISBN 0-394-49771-6
  • 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, 1983, ISBN 0-394-52481-0
  • 1987 A Good Enough Parent: A Book on Child-Rearing, Knopf, New York
  • 1990 Freud's Vienna and Other Essays, Knopf, New York
  • 1993, Bettelheim, Bruno and Rosenfeld, Alvin A, "The Art of the Obvious" Knopf.
  • 1994 Bettelheim, Bruno & Ekstein, Rudolf: Grenzgänge zwischen den Kulturen. Das letzte Gespräch zwischen Bruno Bettelheim und Rudolf Ekstein (de). In: Kaufhold, Roland (ed.) (1994): Annäherung an Bruno Bettelheim. Mainz (Grünewald): 49–60.

Critical reviews of Bettelheim (works and person)[edit]

  • Angres, Ronald: "Who, Really, Was Bruno Bettelheim?", personal essay, Commentary, 90, (4), October 1990: 26–30.
  • Bernstein, Richard: "Accusations of Abuse Haunt the Legacy of Dr. Bruno Bettelheim", New York Times, November 4, 1990: "The Week in Review" section.
  • Bersihand, Geneviève (1977). Bettelheim [Bettelheim]. Champigny-sur-Marne: R. Jauze. p. 199. ISBN 2-86214-001-5. 
  • 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.
  • Finn M (1997). "In the case of Bruno Bettelheim". First Things (74): 44–8. 
  • 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, Contemporary Psychoanalytic Studies, Amsterdam, New York: Brill/Rodopi, 2008.
  • 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.
  • Lyons, Tom W. (1983), The Pelican and After: A Novel about Emotional Disturbance, Richmond, Virginia: Prescott, Durrell, and Company. This is a roman à clef novel in which the author lived at the Orthogenic School for almost twelve years. The novel's head of the institution is a "Dr. V."
  • 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 (2002). Rising to the light : a portrait of Bruno Bettelheim (1 ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-40196-2. 
  • Redford, Roberta Carly (2010) Crazy: My Seven Years At Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School, Trafford Publishing, 364 pages.
  • 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.


  1. ^"The Annual Obituary". 
  2. ^ abcdefThe Confidence Man : THE CREATION OF DR. B.: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim. By Richard Pollak. Simon & Schuster: 478 pages, Los Angeles Times, review by Howard Gardner, Jan. 19, 1997. " . . indicts those of his time who knew the man but kept their reservations to themselves."
  3. ^ abcdefBruno Bettelheim: a cautionary life, Baltimore Sun, Paul R. McHugh, Jan. 19, 1997.
  4. ^ abcdefGenius Or Fraud? Bettelheim's Biographers Can't Seem To Decide, Chicago Tribune, Ron Grossman, January 23, 1997, page 2: " . . . when the directorship of the Orthogenic School became available, he evidently gambled that because of the war no one would be able to check on his credentials. . . "
  5. ^ abcdefghijkBoxer, Sarah (January 26, 1997). "The Man He Always Wanted to Be". The New York Times. Retrieved Dec 2, 2016.  
  6. ^ abNeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Steve Silberman, Foreword by Oliver Sacks, Penguin Random House, 2015, pages 202-203.
  7. ^ abBiographical Dictionary of American Educators, Vol. 1 edited by John F. Ohles, London, England and Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978.
  8. ^ abcdefghijkThe Puzzle That Was Bruno Bettelheim, Chicago Tribune, Ron Grossman, November 11, 1990. " . . Yet the university`s official biographical sketch [University of Chicago] credits Bettelheim with only one Ph.D., and doesn`t specify a field. . "
  9. ^ abcdefAn Icon of Psychology Falls From His Pedestal, New York Times, Books, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (review of The Creation of Dr. B by Richard Pollak), Jan. 13, 1997.
  10. ^ abcdefghBiography As Revenge, Chicago Tribune, Marie Winn (who writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal's Leisure & Arts Page), Feb. 23, 1997. " . . He was familiar with this disease because his first wife, Gina, had cared for an autistic child in their home for several years. . "
  11. ^ abLehmann-Haupt, Christopher, "An Icon of Psychology Falls From His Pedestal," The New York Times, 13 Jan. 1997.
  12. ^ abcWorkshop on U.S. Data to Evaluate Changes in the Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), February 1, 2011, Background: What Do We Know About ASD Prevalence?, M. Yeargin-Allsopp, page 7, ' . . There are likely multiple forms of ASDs with multiple causes that are poorly understood. . '
  13. ^ abcdeChicago Reader, Letters to the Editor, Brutal Bettelheim, Name Withheld, April 5, 1990. And, The Monster of the Midway, Alida Jatich, April 4, 1991. The author is a former student at the 'Orthogenic School' from 1966-1972, and in her second letter, she acknowledged authorship of the first.

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