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Jacobsen, K. (2000). Blaming Bettelheim. Psychoanal. Rev., 87(3):385-415.

(2000). Psychoanalytic Review, 87(3):385-415

Blaming Bettelheim

Kurt Jacobsen, Ph.D.

The therapist's role is not the technical one of doctor nor even the godlike one of perfect parent. It is much more that of the sacrificial victim upon whom all hates, anxieties and distrust are worked out so that he is the mediator, the catalyte-whereby the separated psyche is reintegrated in its society

-Lindner, The Fifty Minute Hour

Bruno Bettelheim was a lifelong intellectual provocateur who exhil, ited little patience with orthodoxies or pieties of any kind. This maverick approach-questioning everything, including psychoanalysis-ruffled many a feather, and so he was always a controversial figure. However, two recent biographies allege that Bettelheim also was a liar, a charlatan, and a brute (Pollak, 1997; Sutton, 1995). In our intensely antipsychoanalytic era, when Freud himself stands accused of aiding and abetting child abuse, it seems especially difficult for the wider public to believe otherwise (Forrester, 1997; Robinson, 1993). After the ailing 86-year-old psychologist committed suicide-itself a great shock-in March 1990, his reputation as a healer rapidly withered beneath a steady blast of accusations by a small band of former residents of the University of Chicago's Orthogenic School, which he directed for nearly thirty years. Four of his many books deal with the sensitive conduct of residential treatment for disturbed youngsters.

The accusers proclaimed that this illustrious émigré really was nothing but a swaggering bully who subjected his craven staff and helpless patients to Svengali-like manipulations, volcanic tantrums, and malicious mental torments. The furor ignited only weeks after the Viennese ogre was safely dead and buried.

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