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Ekstein, R. (1968). The Empty Fortress. Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self: By Bruno Bettelheim. New York: The Free Press, 1967. 484 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 37:296-297.

(1968). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 37:296-297

The Empty Fortress. Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self: By Bruno Bettelheim. New York: The Free Press, 1967. 484 pp.

Review by:
Rudolf Ekstein

Bettelheim's The Empty Fortress has been widely hailed by many reviewers as an exciting and stimulating account of heroic and competent work in a neglected and controversial field: the treatment of autistic children within the context of psychoanalytic understanding. I am not sure now whether I am reading the author's mind, so to speak, or whether I am merely reading into his mind a few reflections of my own. This conquest of the empty fortress—the discovery that the mind of the autistic child is not empty, albeit primitive and without a fully developed core—is attempted today by but a few individuals in isolated places. How many can claim to have remained long enough in these seemingly endless treatment situations? Few centers such as the Orthogenic School exist, and few of them develop a staff permanent enough to go beyond the first few steps of such conquests to the creation of secure and constant staff attitudes. This book, as well as earlier studies of Bettelheim, provides us with insightful and compassionate accounts of sick children. It reports significant successes along with honest accounts of sometimes insurmountable difficulties, but the treatment philosophy described has not yet fully reached a stage where one should also speak of treatment techniques.

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