Bruno Bettelheim


Biography of Bruno Bettelheim

Bruno Bettelheim (August 28, 1903 – March 13, 1990) was an Austrian-born American child psychologist and writer. He gained an international reputation for his work on Freud, psychoanalysis, and emotionally disturbed children.

When his father died, Bettelheim left his studies at the University of Vienna to look after his family's sawmill. Bettelheim and his first wife Gina took care of Patsy, an American child whom he later described as autistic. Patsy lived in the Bettelheim home in Vienna for seven years. Having discharged his obligations to his family's business, Bettelheim returned as a mature student in his 30s to the University of Vienna.He earned a degree in philosophy, producing a dissertation on Immanuel Kant and on the history of art.

In the Austrian academic culture of Bettelheim's time, one could not study the history of art without mastering aspects of psychology. Candidates for the doctoral dissertation in the History of Art in 1938 at Vienna University had to fulfill prerequisites in the formal study of the role of Jungian archetypes in art, and in art as an expression of the Freudian subconscious.

Though Jewish by birth, Bettelheim grew up in a secular family. After the merging of Austria into Greater Germany (April 1938), the authorities sent him with other Austrian Jews to Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps for 11 months from 1938 to 1939. In Buchenwald he met and befriended the social psychologist Ernst Federn. As a result of an amnesty declared for Hitler's birthday (April 20, 1939), Bettelheim and hundreds of other prisoners regained their freedom. Bettelheim drew on the experience of the concentration camps for some of his later work.

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