Essay Bruno Bettelheim: Disturbed, Debunked, Defamed

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Bruno Bettelheim, Austrian-American psychologist and author, devoted the large part of his life to studying human development—most notably the individual’s early growth, response to trauma, and long-term effects of various forms of repression upon the natural ego. His was the foremost scientific mind in child psychology of the post-World War II era, and his extensive theories regarding the power of fairy tales to provide insight into the “inner life of children” suggest that fairy tales confront juvenile issues in such metaphorical terms as to make them more readily universally accessible to children and therefore more resolvable. However, as assertive as Bettelheim’s arguments are and as all-encompassing his studies of the child psyche …show more content…
Central to many of Bettelheim’s fairy tale analyses is the theme of sexuality, and how procreational motifs in traditional bedtime stories allow children to acknowledge their own sexual identities. One of Freud’s major assertions, of course, is of how the long-term effects of healthy sexual development may last throughout the individual’s lifetime. Bettelheim’s exploitation of the Bluebeard myth’s “sexual violence” and the Robber Bride myth’s “sexual crime” as well as their ultimate purposes of so “cautioning” against cultivating extreme sexual tension in life is therefore just as unoriginal as it is abstract and moralistic (Zipes 3).
Further damage to Bettelheim’s reputation was garnered when allegations of invented credentials surfaced after his death. According to records at the University of Vienna, Bettelheim never enrolled there, contrary to his own claims. Moreover, evidence of plagiarism in Bettelheim’s work is especially palpable when comparing his Uses of Enchantment to Julius Heuscher's “A Psychiatric Study of Fairy Tales: Their Origin, Meaning and Usefulness”—in which both ideas and syntax bear striking similarities (Finn 5). Finally, and perhaps most injurious to Bettelheim’s ethos, are the charges of child abuse and tyrannical mistreatment of children put under his care at his Orthogenic School. While a public denouncer of “spanking” and

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