On This Day … 13 March

People (Deaths)

  • 1990 – Bruno Bettelheim, Austrian-American psychologist and author (b. 1903).

Bruno Bettelheim

Bruno Bettelheim (28 August 1903 to 13 March 1990) was an Austrian-born psychologist, scholar, 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. In the US, 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’s ideas, which grew out of those of Sigmund Freud, theorised that children with behavioural and emotional disorders were not born that way, and could be treated 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, accusations of plagiarism, and lack of oversight by institutions and the psychological community.

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