It is unfortunate that discussions of Bruno Bettelheim’s contribution always have to begin by addressing the accusations against him, rather than observing some the lasting contributions that he made. One of those lasting contributions is the that the Orthogenic School even now, seventy-three after its founding and thirty-six years after Bettelheim’s departure, continues to treat with detailed sensitivity some of the most seriously troubled students for long periods of time, despite the current climate of demand for fast cure.
Its present director is not a Bettelheim disciple, nor is he formally trained in psychoanalysis. However, the people in three key positions next to him all worked with and were taught by Bettelheim’s successor, who in turn had been taught by Bettelheim. One of those persons is a psychoanalyst, trained in the most contemporary model of relational theory, dialectical social constructivism. This perspective emphasizes, among other things, a deep commitment to highly complex collaborative experiences of empathic and respectful understanding and attention.
So despite all the contention, the good that is contained within a legacy of the many things that some even controversial persons have done can be transformed to live on after them in an increasingly compassionate manner. It may well be that the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School is one of the only group care centers in the nation, perhaps the world, that is able to afford young persons the opportunity to become immersed in this kind of mutative, collaborative relational experience.
Adapted by the Author from:
DEFENDING BRUNO BETTELHEIM
By Jacquelyn Seevak Sanders, Ph.D.
The New York Review of Books
November 20, 2003