To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the
World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichman
Reviewed by Joseph H. Berke
As the book demonstrates, Frieda Fromm-Reichman was an intrepid pioneer in her willingness to engage and psychoanalyse very disturbed persons. Moreover, she threatened to revolutionise psychiatry by demonstrating, both in the 1920’s in Heidelberg, Germany, and in the 1940’s and 1950’s, at Chestnut Lodge Hospital outside Washington, D.C., that it was possible to create a therapeutic ambience where ‘hopeless schizophrenics’ got better. So the book is not just the story of ‘Frieda’ but also about a world famous Center about which Alfred Stanton and Morris Schwartz wrote in their definitive study, The Mental Hospital: A Study of Institutional Participation in Psychiatric Illness and Treatment. It is also about a huge cast of famous and innovative therapists including Erich Fromm (Frieda’s husband), Harry Stack Sullivan (her mentor) and Harold Searles (her successor). Perhaps most tellingly, this book is about Frieda’s patients, one of whom, Hannah Green, wrote a best-selling account of her breakdown and recovery entitled, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964, under the name Joanne Greenberg).
I found the story of their collaboration moving on many levels, but especially because it might have become the Mary Barnes book of a previous generation. By ‘Mary Barnes’ book I refer to two accounts of a journey through madness from the dual perspective of the voyager and helper which Mary and I described in our study of the same name. I got the idea for publishing our two perspectives in one volume after reading about the work of a Swiss psychoanalyst, Marguerite Sechehaye In the 1950’s. She first published a very moving account, mostly written by a patient of hers who had gone through a psychotic breakdown, under the title, Autobiography of Schizophrenic Girl. A few years later she published her side of the relationship in, A New Psychotherapy in Schizophrenia: Relief of Frustrations by Symbolic Realization. I thought how useful it would be to ‘totalize’ both perspectives into one. So I was surprised to learn that Frieda had planned to write a joint account with Hannah Green until her death in 1957 intervened.
Hornstein presents many wonderful vignettes of life at Chestnut Lodge. One I particularly liked had to do with a talented young therapist who had been working with a woman who had been withdrawn and silent over many years. Frieda encouraged such relationships with the view that no-one was too far gone or hopeless to be beyond help. After awhile the woman began to change and became talkative and engaged. Then, after many months, for reasons that may have had to do with staff tensions at the Lodge, she reverted to her mute state. The therapist was devastated. But when he reported this to Frieda, she was not overly concerned, and replied, ‘Well, that’s change’. In other words, any change, even a severe regression, was better than stasis, and could lead to a tikkun or restoration of the self.
Frieda truly felt that to redeem one person is to redeem the world. The phrase comes from the Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbalah. Interestingly Frieda and her original professional and social circle in Germany all came from a very religious background. Indeed, the word ‘frum’ or ‘fromm’ means observant. Eventually both she and Erich broke away from, but also retrained deep connections with this background which Hornstein describes in detail during the first part of the book. It was fascinating to read how luminaries such as Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem and Franz Rosenzweig all contributed to her initial project to run a healing centre along orthodox Jewish principles, so much so, that it might have been called a ‘torah-peutic’ community.Many similar ideals contributed to the opening of the Arbours Crisis Centre in London. Morty Schatzman, who had also come from a deeply religious background, myself and others saw our project as providing a temporary refuge for individuals passing through an emotional wildness. So our first thought was to call the group ‘sukkah’ after the temporary dwelling places that the Jews inhabited while travelling through the desert after leaving Egypt. But the name was rather esoteric to non-Jewish ears, so we chose the English equivalent, Arbours, that is, a group of trees giving shelter. In May 2003, we were privileged to have Gail Hornstein give a talk at the Arbours Crisis Centre in North London. This facility where helpers and those is need of help live together (as did Frieda and her friends and patients in Heidelberg) has been well described in many publications including our recent anthology, Beyond Madness: PsychoSocial Intervention in Psychosis. Hornstein (who is Professor of Psychology at Mount Holyoke College in New England, and director of the Five College Woman’s Studies Research Center) decided to concentrate on the experience of Chestnut Lodge which she said was similar, in many ways, to that of the Crisis Centre. Referring to her book, she gave detailed examples of how ‘mad’ or ‘schizophrenic’ behavior was clearly related to staff-staff tensions and relationships. This is a level of sophistication which few facilities have begun to approach, but which is essential to understanding how hospitals ‘pathologise,’ indeed, inflict what we might call ‘iatrogenic illness’ (caused by the treatment) on people who turn to them for help. Unfortunately the studies of these processes are not fashionable these days. In fact the whole area of the psychodynamic treatment of mental suffering is not fashionable these days. Sadly, Hornstein remarked that she did not think it would be possible for a Centre like the Arbours to function in contemporary America. Indeed, some years ago, the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) peremptorily cut off funding for Loren Mosher’s very successful therapeutic community for psychotic persons, Soteria House, in San Jose, California.
Chestnut Lodge was itself a victim of changing fashions, the ‘manic’ reliance on anti depressants and tranquillisers, and the fact that the Lodge represented a successful collaboration between Fromm-Reichman and Dexter Bullard, the owner and administrator. Once both passed from the scene, there was not enough energy or interest to keep it going as a psychotherapeutic concern.I hope I have given some inkling of what a rich book Hornstein has written, one that can be read, enjoyed, studied and remain a source of inspiration and insights for many years to come.
Copyright: Joseph H. Berke, 2003. All Rights Reserved.
The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM