Psychologist Bettelheim Dies

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Bruno Bettelheim, who survived the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps and went on to be a leading figure in American psychology, died last week at a nursing home in Silver Spring, Md. He was 86.

Police in Montgomery County, Md., labeled Mr. Bettelheim's death a suicide.

Trained in psychoanalysis and philosophy, Mr. Bettelheim was widely known for his work in treating and educating emotionally disturbed children, especially autistic children, and in applying his conclusions to the rearing of nondisturbed children.

His outspoken opinions on child-rearing--which emphasized the importance of play, fantasy, and fairy tales, and scorned corporal punishment, competition, and achievement--won him international acclaim and his share of critics.

They also have influenced schools in this country, experts said last week.

"I think he was most effective in trying to get schools to consider the child's emotional development," said Jacqueline Sanders, director of the University of Chicago's Orthogenic School, a residential facility for emotionally disturbed children that Mr. Bettelheim headed for 29 years. "To get educators to understand the child from the child's point of view, and not as a shrunken adult. When one does that, one can engage the child in an appropriate way while teaching what adults know they need to learn."

Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1903 to a family of assimilated Jews, Mr. Bettelheim received his doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1938. Following the Nazi invasion of Austria that year, he was interred and spent two years in the camps. Through the intervention of Herbert Lehman, the Governor of New York State, and Eleanor Roosevelt, he was released in 1939.

Emigrating to the United States, he joined the University of Chicago faculty. In 1944, he became director of the Orthogenic School.

A prolific author with wide-ranging interests, Mr. Bettelheim wrote a number of influential books, both scholarly and popular.

Perhaps his most popular book was The Uses of Enchantment, a 1976 examination of the power of fairy tales for children.

His most recent work was A Good Enough Parent (1987), a book Mr. Bettelheim described as the culmination of his life's work with parents and children. He often told audiences that children are innately good and that parents are "good enough."--gb

Vol. 09, Issue 26

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