(1903 - 1990)
Bruno Bettelheim (August 28, 1903 - March 13, 1990)
was a writer and child psychologist. When his father died, he had to
leave university to take care of the family lumber business. After ten
years, he did go back, however, and earned a degree in philosophy, writing
a dissertation relating to the history of art. He was interested in
psychology for much of his life but never studied it formally.
As a Jew in Austria,
he spent time in the concentration
camps, but his way was bought out, as was possible before the war
started, and he went to the United States. Here he eventually set himself
up as a professor of psychology. He was able to claim that he had the
relevant training because the Nazis were destroying the records.
He spent the most significant part of his life as director
of the Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago, a home for emotionally
disturbed children. He wrote books on both normal and abnormal child
psychology, and was well respected by many during his lifetime. His
book, The Uses of Enchantment, recast fairy tales in terms of
the strictest Freudian psychology, sometimes to unintentionally hilarious
He suffered from depression throughout his life, and
committed suicide in 1990, six years after his wife died of cancer.
After his suicide, evidence of Bettelheim's dark side
began to emerge. Although many of his counsellors at the Orthogenic
School considered him brilliant and admirable, others began to openly
question his work and to call him a cruel tyrant. Although untrained
in analysis, Bettelheim was a Freudian fundamentalist. Bettelheim was
convinced, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that autism
had no organic basis but was caused entirely by cold mothers, who he
dubbed "refrigerator mothers," and absent fathers. "All
my life," he wrote, "I have been working with children whose
lives have been destroyed because their mothers hated them." Other
Freudian analysts, as well as scientists who were not psychiatrists,
followed Bettelheim in blaming mothers for their child's autism. This
view is now regarded as erroneous, and Bettelheim's work is discredited.
Bettelheim wrote a book about this entitled The
In his Lexikon der Fälschungen (Dictionary
of Fraud), German author Werner Fuld claims that Mr. Bettelheim's
biographical data is for a large part sheer fiction.
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