|Died||March 13, 1990 (aged 86)|
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
|Known for||freelance ideas on child psychology; |
The Uses of Enchantment
|Gina Alstadt (1930-?; divorced)|
Gertrude Weinfeld (1941-1984; her death; 3 children)
|Fields||Director of Orthogenic School (1944-1973)|
|Doctoral students||Benjamin Drake Wright|
Bruno Bettelheim (August 28, 1903 - March 13, 1990) was an Austrian-born self-proclaimed psychologist, public intellectual and author who spent most of his academic and clinical career in the United States. An early writer on autism, Bettelheim's work focused on the education of emotionally disturbed children, as well as Freudian psychology more generally. Imprisoned by the Nazis in the 1930s, he arrived in the United States as a refugee under a program for scholars fleeing Europe. In the U.S., he later gained a position as professor at the University of Chicago and director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for Disturbed Children, and after 1973 taught at Stanford University.
Bettelheim theorized that children with behavioral and emotional disorders were not born that way, and could be "cured" through extended psychoanalytic therapy, treatment that rejected the use of psychotropic drugs and shock therapy. During the 1960s and 1970s he had an international reputation in such fields as autism, child psychiatry, and psychoanalysis. Much of his work was discredited after his death due to fraudulent academic credentials, allegations of abusive treatment of patients under his care, and accusations of plagiarism. Bettelheim's ideas, which grew out of Freud's, about alleged subconscious injury caused by mothers of troubled children are now seen as particularly damaging.
The University of Chicago was later criticized for not providing their normal oversight during Bettelheim's tenure. Chicago area psychiatrists were also later criticized for knowing at least some of what was occurring regarding the physical abuse of patients, and not taking effective action.
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 thirties to the University of Vienna. Sources disagree about his education (see section Misrepresented credentials).
Bettelheim's first wife, Gina, took care of a troubled American child, Patsy, who lived in their home in Vienna for seven years. Bettelheim would later claim that this was part of what inspired him to study autism, though there is disagreement regarding whether or not Patsy was autistic.
In the Austrian academic culture of Bettelheim's time, one could not study the history of art without mastering aspects of psychology. 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 unconscious.
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 Buchenwald concentration camps where they were brutally treated, and tortured or killed. Bettelheim was arrested on May 28, 1938 and was imprisoned in both these camps for ten and half months before being released on April 14, 1939. While at the Buchenwald camp, he met and befriended the social psychologist Ernst Federn. As a result of an amnesty declared for Adolf Hitler's birthday (which occurred slightly later on April 20, 1939), Bettelheim and hundreds of other prisoners were released. Bettelheim drew on the experience of the concentration camps for some of his later work.
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, Gertrude ('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.
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. Bettelheim claimed he had interviewed 1,500 fellow prisoners, although this was unlikely.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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 and the National Book Award in the category of Contemporary Thought. 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.
At the end of his life, Bettelheim suffered from depression. 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 as a result of self-induced asphyxiation by placing a plastic bag over his head. He died on March 13, 1990, in Maryland.
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.
Though he spent most of his life working in psychology and psychiatry, Bettelheim's educational background in those fields is murky at best. Sources disagree whether Bettelheim's PhD was in art history or in philosophy (aesthetics). When he was hired at the University of Chicago, Ralph Tyler assumed that he had two PhDs, one in art history and the other in psychology. He also believed, falsely, that Bettelheim was certified to conduct Psychoanalysis though Bettelheim never received such certification.  A posthumous review of his transcript showed that Bettelheim had only taken three introductory classes in psychology. 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.
Determining Bettelheim's education is complicated by the fact that he routinely embellished or inflated aspects of his own biography. As an example, 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. Bettelheim later embellished the story claiming there had been two or even several autistic children in his home.
Additionally, when he 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. Posthumous biographies of Bettelheim have investigated these claims and came to no clear conclusions about his credentials 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." 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." Another review in The New York Times by a different reviewer stated that Bettelheim "began inventing degrees he never earned." A review in the Chicago Tribune stated "as Pollak demonstrates, Bettelheim was a snake-oil salesman of the first magnitude."
 In the New York Review of Books, 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." Gottlieb goes on to say that Bettelheim arrived in the United States as a Holocaust survivor and refugee without a job nor even a profession, and 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.
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."
In his 1997 review of Pollak's book in the Baltimore Sun, Paul R. 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."
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 the category of Contemporary Thought.
However, within a year of his death, an article appeared in the winter 1991 edition of The Journal of American Folklore which presented a case that Bettelheim 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, and stated, "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".
Dundes stated, "If an undergraduate were to turn in a research paper with this sort of borrowing without any attribution, he or she would almost certainly be accused of plagiarism."
On the other hand, Jacquelyn Sanders, who worked with Bettelheim and later became director of the Orthogenic School, states that she had read Dundes' article but didn't 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".
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]."
There is some disagreement as to whether Bettelheim's use of corporal punishment rose to the level of abuse or was in keeping with the standards of his time. Some staff who worked at the Orthogenic School have spoken out that they saw Bettelheim's behavior as being corporal punishment, but not abuse. As an example, 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."
Conversely, many students and staff at the school have argued that Bettelheim was abusive, violent, and cruel to them and to others. There are multiple newspaper accounts of abuse, in letters, editorialsand articles. 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 due to the trauma they had suffered under him. 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."
A particularly evocative example came from Alida Jatich, who lived at the school from 1966 to 1972 from ages twelve to eighteen. She wrote an initially anonymous April 1990 letter to the Chicago Reader in which she stated that she "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." She added, "In person, he was an evil man who set up his school as a private empire and himself as a demi-god or cultleader." Jatich said Bettelheim had "bullied, awed, and terrorized" the children at his school, their parents, school staff members, his graduate students, and anyone else who came into contact with him.
Published books, memoirs, and biographies of Bettelheim have also taken up the question of his treatment of students. Richard Pollak's biography of Bettelheim was inspired by his brother's experience at the school, and Bettelheim's callous response to inquiries about that experience.
Pollak's biography also 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.
Three alumni have written books about their experiences at the school:
o 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.
o Stephen Eliot's memoir Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenics School, published in 2003.
o Roberta Carly Redford's memoir Crazy: My Seven Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogeneic School, published in 2010.
Perhaps in part because of Bettelheim's professional and public stature, there was little effort during his lifetime to curtail his behavior or intervene on behalf of his victims. Professionals in the psychiatric and psychological communities likely knew there were allegations of abuse and maltreatment at the Orthogenic School. In a January 1997 Los Angeles Times review of a biography of Bettelheim, Howard Gardner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education wrote that many professionals knew of Bettelheim's behavior but did not confront him for various reasons including "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."
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 but did not specify the field.
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."
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.
The two biographies by Sutton (1995) and Pollak (1997) awakened interest and focus on Bettelheim's actual methods as distinct from his public persona. 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 autistic. 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."
In 1997 the psychiatrist Peter Kramer wrote, "The Ford Foundation was willing to underwrite innovative treatments for autistic children, so Bettelheim labeled his children autistic. Few actually met the definition of the newly minted syndrome."
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. He derived his thinking from the qualitative investigation of clinical cases. He also related the world of autistic children to conditions in concentration camps.
It appears that Leo Kanner first came up with the term "refrigerator mother," although Bettelheim did a lot to popularize the term. "Although it now seems beyond comprehension that anyone would believe that autism is caused by deep-seated issues arising in early childhood relationships, virtually every psychiatric condition was attributed to parent-child relationships in the 1940s and 1950s, when Freudian psychoanalytic theory was in its heyday."
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.
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.
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."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."
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.'"
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, including the prominent Irish psychologist Tony Humphreys. His theory still enjoys widespread support in France.[dubious ]
In his book Unstrange Minds (2007), Roy Richard Grinker wrote:
"Two other books on autism, published at about the same time [as Bettelheim's Empty Fortress (1967)], got little mention in the press: Bernard Rimland's Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior (1964), which outlined the biological and neurological aspects of autism, and Clara Clairborne Park's The Siege (1967), a beautifully written memoir of raising an autistic child. Though they were more accurate depictions of autism, they couldn't compete with Bettelheim. He was simply too good a writer, and with his Viennese accent--the sign of an authentic expert in psychology--too good a self promoter."
Jordynn Jack writes that Bettelheim's ideas gained currency and became popular in large part because society already tended to blame a mother first and foremost for her child's difficulties.
Bettelheim's experiences during the Holocaust shaped his personal and professional life for years after. His first publication was "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations" derived from his experiences at Dachau and Buchenwald. His later work frequently compared emotionally disturbed childhood to prison or confinement, and according to Sutton, his professional work attempted to operationalize the lessons about human nature he learned during his confinement.
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. 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".
Bettelheim would later speak critically of Jewish people who were killed during the Holocaust. He has been criticized for promoting the myth that Jews went "like sheep to the slaughter" and for blaming Anne Frank and her family for their own deaths due to not owning firearms, not attempting to emigrate, or, at minimum, going into hiding in a way more likely to succeed, that is, separately. In an introduction he wrote to an account by Miklos Nyiszli, Bettelheim stated, discussing Frank that "Everybody who recognized the obvious knew that the hardest way to go underground was to do it as a family; that to hide as a family made detection by the SS most likely. The Franks, with their excellent connections among gentile Dutch families should have had an easy time hiding out singly, each with a different family. But instead of planning for this, the main principle of their planning was to continue as much as possible with the kind of family life they were accustomed to."
Richard Pollak's biography, The Creation of Dr. B, portrays Bettelheim as an 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.
Bettelheim was a public intellectual, whose writing and many public appearances in popular media paralleled a growing post WWII interest in psychoanalysis. For instance, he appeared multiple times on The Dick Cavett Show in the 70s to discuss theories of autism and psychoanalysis.  Pollak's biography argues that such popular appearances shielded Bettelheim's unethical behavior from scrutiny.
Bruno Bettelheim's new biographer lays his cards on the table right away: he thinks Bettelheim was a pathological liar.