Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society

Students, as part of an advanced seminar, examined and wrote about the lives of these women, their intellectual contributions, and the unique impact and special problems that being female had on their careers.

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by Susan K. Hochman


Frieda Reichmann was born on October 23, 1889 in Karlsruhe, Germany, north of the Black Forest and a few miles east of the Rhine River. Her mother was Klara Simon Reichmann, a sharp witted, confident and energetic woman. Her father, Adolf Reichmann, was a sensitive man with a passion for music and literature. The Reichmann family was greatly influenced by the values and traditions of Adolf's grandfather, Seligman Feuchtwanger, a silver merchant whose wife. Fannie Wasserman, bore him eighteen children. He was an orthodox Jew with a love of simplicity and modesty. It was said that after he made enough money each day to provide food for his family, he closed up shop and studied the Talmud (Hoff, 1982).

Adolf and Klara Reichmann were thrilled with their first born daughter who arrived almost nine months to the day after their wedding. Extended family such as aunts, uncles and cousins played an important role in Frieda's life. They were numerous, as Adolf Reichmann was one of Seligman Feuchtwanger's ninety-three grandchildren.

Frieda was raised in a sturdy middle class home. Her father was an iron merchant and in order to afford their housemaid, her mother worked for him as a cashier. She would have preferred staying home with her young daughter. Klara was not shy about stating her preferences. Though she was educated and prepared to become a schoolteacher, it was never expected that she would practice this skill. Marriage in those days was the only suitable option for a respectable woman. When Frieda got older, her mother would complain to her about the lack of options for women and that they were forced into marriage. Klara had a tremendous influence on Frieda who was almost middle aged before "she gained enough distance and objectivity to perceive herself as a creative, productive person in her own right and could begin to regard her as somewhat less than perfect" (Hoff, 1982 p.116).

The first of her two younger sisters, Grete, was born two and a half years after Frieda. She was an unusually ugly child whose appearance was a constant topic of conversation among family members. She was also frail and sickly in comparison to the other healthy, robust family. That they spoke freely of Grete's shortcomings to her face resulted in her stunted emotional development. Once, when her sister was frightened by a barking dog, Frieda placed herself between the two saying, "YOU DON'T NEED TO BE AFRAID". This protective attitude towards her sister would become the model for her relationships with her patients later in life (Weigert, 1959).

In 1895, the Reichmann's moved to Koenigsberg in East Prussia. One of Klara's sisters who had married a wealthy bank director lived there. Adolf was offered a position at the bank where he proved not to be a good businessman, but an excellent personnel director due to his sensitivity and warmth. It was there that Frieda's youngest sister Anna, eight years her junior, was born.

The girls were the major focus of their parent's lives. Adolf said, "My daughters are my jewels" (Hoff, 1982 p.117). Frieda noted this focus on their children rather than their relationship, and at a young age she became the mediator between the two. She felt that she knew their secrets and was aware of their anguish over early hereditary deafness. In fact his deafness may have played a part in Adolf's accidental death due to a fall into an elevator shaft in 1924. Klara died only five years before Frieda in 1952.

As part of the Orthodox Jewish tradition, the first born child holds a special significance within the family. Thus, her two younger sisters were not allowed to contradict Frieda. Even so, there were high expectations for Frieda as well as her sisters. Among them were obedience, neat appearance, punctuality and good handwriting. It was inconceivable to contradict their parents. Misbehavior meant Klara's inevitable displeasure, which was the most dreaded punishment of all.

Frieda was an exemplary student who met her mother's expectations in every way. Her path to a bright future was impeded in that the public high school or gymnasium was closed to girls. Klara and some of her friends managed to organize a course of study for Frieda and some other girls resulting in Frieda's passing of the university exam in 1907, at the age of seventeen. She entered the University of Keonigsberg after being influenced by her father to study medicine that he thought would give her both opportunity and prestige. She began taking psychiatric courses and realized that this specialty felt right to her. It was her notoriety even as a student that caused her mother finally to tell Frieda, "At last, I must admit, you are smarter than I" (Hoff, 1982 p.118).

She passed the state boards in 1913 and began a residency in neurology with Kurt Goldstein studying brain injuries. Increasingly interested in psychiatry, she went to the Weiser Hirsch Sanitarium near Dresden. There she received "autogenic training", a type of relaxation therapy. She then discovered Freud's writings and learned as much as she could about psychoanalysis. She received psychoanalytic training in Berlin, then moved to Heidelberg, where she met and married Erich Fromm in1926. They began a psychoanalytic training institute in Frankfurt for southwest Germany and opened a sanitarium for the treatment of psychotic patients in1930. It came to an abrupt end in 1933 when Hitler came to power. That same year the couple separated. Apparently the marriage had been an unhappy one from the start. It has been said that Reichmann was clearly a mother figure to Fromm as she even resembled her (Feisty, 1994). In order to escape the Nazis, Fromm-Reichmann went briefly to Alsace Lorraine and then to Palestine (now Israel). She finally immigrated to the United States in 1935, accepting a position as substitute psychiatrist at Chestnut Lodge in Rockville, MD. She would remain there for the rest of her life (Bruch, 1982). It was here that she met Harry Stack Sullivan, her teacher and mentor - a tremendous influence on her life and work (Stevens and Gardner, 1982).


"Again and again I have been told that Frieda single-handedly contributed more than any other individual to encourage all of the western world to apply psychotherapy to schizophrenics" (Szalita, 1981).

Fromm- Reichmann considered herself a psychoanalyst for two reasons. The first is because she embraced the concepts of transference and resistance, recognition of the unconscious, and the importance of childhood in personality development. Secondly, these psychoanalytic concepts guided her understanding and treatment of patients. She was not however, a purist. She did not believe in the ubiquity of the Oedipal complex. She also found interpersonal and object relations theory more useful in organizing her thinking than libido theory. These unorthodox views may have stemmed from Fromm-Reichmann's own personality traits. She was always open to an exchange of ideas and conscientiously concerned with following another's line of thought as well as encouraging its development. She believed in the dictum of Jacob Henle, "An hypothesis which becomes dispossessed by new facts dies an honorable death; and if it has called up for examination those truths by which it was annihilated, it deserves a monument of gratitude" (Cohen, 1982 p.97).

It follows then, that Fromm-Reichmann would never subscribe to or initiate a static theory, rather she would continually seek to question and improve what already exists. She employed this method in the development of her theory that schizophrenic persons could be successfully treated through her brand of "psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy". She spent her lifetime working towards defending and improving her theory. Her detractors believed that schizophrenic individuals lacked the ability to develop the transference relationship with the therapist necessary to benefit from psychoanalysis. Fromm-Reichmann, on the other hand, felt they were capable of extraordinarily intense transference relationships. It was the therapist's task to identify the distortions within their relationship and communicate to the patient verbally and non-verbally that she was not the person the patient thought she was. The next step was to try to determine what in the patient's early life may have been the basis for the distorted perceptions - a difficult and long term undertaking. The implementation of this process works best when the therapist communicates by using questions or stating possibilities rather than by making assertions, which can lead to mistrust. Also, during the process, the therapist must continually monitor her own feelings and actions so as to know for sure that the patient's perception of her is accurate, not distorted. Sometimes she would mimic a patient's actions in order to gain some insight into an ongoing relational problem. Her methods and theories are mapped out in her book, Principles of Intensive Psychotherapy (1950) (Stanton, 1982).

Her early work was based on her observation that the tendency of schizophrenics to withdraw reflected an ambivalent conflict; he was torn between intense longing for and an equally intense fear of symbiotic merging with another (Cohen, 1982). She considered the patient extremely sensitive and advocated that the therapist avoid thinking, saying or even feeling anything that would trigger the patient's fear of closeness. The therapist's role was to make up for the patient's inadequate mothering through constant warmth and continuous effort to reach a harmonious relationship.

Fromm-Reichmann's critics claimed that she put too much emphasis on the therapeutic relationship itself and that she was too soft, focusing on the fragility of the patient. She used this criticism positively as a means to improve her method. She became less self-sacrificing and came to see that her schizophrenic patients were not as frail as she had once thought. In 1954 she gave an address to the American Psychiatric Association in which she stated these revised views. In the same speech she spoke of her new discovery that schizophrenics have deficits in factual learning experiences. Therefore, an additional aspect of her therapy would be to help a patient catch up on these experiences of which he had been deprived earlier in life (Gunst, 1982).

Communication of understanding was central to Fromm-Reichmann's technique. Her goal was to help the patient achieve a level of comfort in which she could withdraw from him the defenses that had distorted his ego development. She felt that the schizophrenic had overrated the power of these defenses or fantasies that increased his feelings both of isolation and guilt. This in turn led him to aggression, which Fromm-Reichmann accepted in her patients, recognizing that they suffered from it much more than she. It was expected of her patients that they would "work", and in return she would do the same. She learned from her patients as well as her teachers, dedicating her book Principles of Intensive Psychotherapy to her four teachers - Freud, Goldstein, Groddeck and Sullivan.

Towards the end of her life Fromm-Reichmann was invited to participate in the "Think Tank" at the Center for Advanced Studies in the behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. By this time in her life she had suffered partial deafness. This coupled with the fact that she felt her statistical skills were secondary to those of her much younger associates made the experience a difficult one. She felt that she had failed to do her part. In addition, she had been planning to write a book about her experience with a specific patient whom she had seen at Chestnut Lodge. The patient had written her part and was waiting for Frieda to complete hers. Her all-consuming challenge at Stanford and her job as co-editor of a volume of collected papers on psychotherapy prevented Frieda from fulfilling this obligation. The patient went on to publish her fictionalized version of her experience in a best selling book, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Although she was happy to see the public benefit from reading about the successful treatment, Fromm-Reichmann commented in her precise manner that the term she used with the patient was "garden of roses" (Bruch, 1982).

In 1957, Fromm-Reichmann was scheduled to give the Karen Horney Lecture to the American Institute of Psychoanalysis. Poor health forced her to cancel. The same illness took her life. On April 28, 1957 she died of coronary thrombosis at the age of sixty-seven.


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