WHo's to Blame for Bettelheim? | Letters | Chicago Reader

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WHo's to Blame for Bettelheim?

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To the editors:

The Reader certainly deserves credit for first printing word of atrocities committed by alleged humanitarian Bruno Bettelheim, as someone suggested (Letters, Nov. 30). While many other publications received the same letters, only the Reader was brave enough to publish them. Thanks to the Reader and subsequent articles appearing in other national and international publications, as well as a few radio shows, the man's reputation has been deservedly trashed.

Important relevant issues remain uncovered, however. First, why did the supposedly great University of Chicago entrust the Orthogenic School for troubled children to a man with such flimsy credentials? Bettelheim had no degree or experience working in psychoanalysis when he took over the school. And why did this famous research university exercise such shocking negligence for decades by never paying any attention to what actually happened at the school? As long as Bettelheim was getting universal acclaim for his "treatment" of "emotionally disturbed children," the university allowed him free rein to conduct his fraud. After all, it enhanced the university's prestige.

But as soon as O.S. became a liability, the university changed its tune. After Bettelheim retired, the Orthogenic School's fundraising appeal dropped. The place is in financial trouble. And now that the scandal has been revealed, the university is reexamining its relationship with the school. It doesn't care about children enough to increase its support or put up with bad publicity.

And why did the psychoanalytical community in this country, and especially in Chicago, allow it to go on? Many people in the field knew Bettelheim was physically abusing children, yet none dared report him to legal or professional authorities. What does that say about the ethics of psychotherapists?

Why did no one ever check Bettelheim's claims? Contrary to popular myth, he never "cured" any autistic or severely disturbed children. I was at O.S. 10 years and saw many people with learning disabilities, motor problems, dyslexia and other physical conditions that Bettelheim wrongly labeled as insanity. I saw many other hyperactive youth, imperfect children of parents that demanded perfection, and children with no adequate homes, including those with abusive, neglectful or otherwise incompetent parents. Bettelheim cruelly labeled us all as "crazy," and took credit for "curing" us when we grew up.

Finally, since the Reader first reported some of these problems, why has it dropped the ball? Why has it never sent a reporter to investigate the issues or provided any editorial comment?

Charles Pekow

Bethesda, Maryland

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