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Bruno Bettelheim


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BETTELHEIM, BRUNO (1903–1990), U.S. psychologist and educator, best known for his pioneering techniques in the treatment of emotionally disturbed children and his analysis of the psychological aspects of racial prejudice. Born in Vienna, Bettelheim studied at the university there. In 1938 he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp and then to Buchenwald. In 1939 he was released and permitted to leave for the United States. In 1943 he published a highly influential essay on the psychology of concentration camp prisoners.

Bettelheim worked with the Progressive Education Association and, for a short period, with Rockford College in Illinois. He was subsequently appointed principal of the University of Chicago's Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, a residential institution devoted to the education and treatment of children with severe emotional disorders. In that capacity, he placed special emphasis on the treatment of autism. From 1944 to 1973 he was professor of educational psychology at the University of Chicago.

In a number of essays and reviews and in a volume entitled The Informed Heart (1960), Bettelheim, basing himself on limited documentation, appears as a stern judge of the Jewish masses who did not revolt against the Nazi terror.

Bettelheim wrote prolifically on the diagnosis and therapy of emotionally disturbed children. He wrote Dynamics of Prejudice (1950) in collaboration with Morris Janowitz, which was regarded as a vital work in its field. His other major publications included Love Is Not Enough (1950); Truants from Life (1955); The Empty Fortress (1967); The Children of the Dream (1969), an analysis of the rearing of kibbutz children; and The Uses of Enchantment (1976), which looks at fairy tales from a Freudian perspective.

Suffering from depression most of his life, Bettelheim committed suicide in 1990 at the age of 86.

During his lifetime Bettelheim was well respected for his work. However, after his death his credibility began to be questioned. Not formally trained in analysis, Bettelheim and his theories, as well as his biographical data, were challenged in journalist Richard Pollak's controversial book The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim (1998).


J. Robinson, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 8 (1970); M.J. Blumenthal, in: Conservative Judaism (Spring 1970), 16–19; D. Dempsey, in: New York Times Magazine (Jan. 11, 1970), 22–23, 107–11; N. Sutton, Bruno Bettelheim: The Other Side of Madness (1995); N. Sutton, Bettelheim: A Life and a Legacy (1996); R. Pollak, The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim (1998).

[Abraham J. Tannenbaum / Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.


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