Frieda Fromm-Reichmann is best remembered as the compassionate European psychiatrist depicted in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, the autobiographical novel written by her ex-patient Joanne Greenberg. A brilliant and gifted therapist, she emphasized communicating understanding in her innovative treatment of schizophrenics during her twenty-two years at Chestnut Lodge in Rockville, Maryland.
Frieda Reichmann was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, on October 23, 1889. Her father, Adolf Reichmann, was a modern Orthodox merchant who became a bank director after the family moved to Königsberg in 1894. Her mother, Klara (Simon) Reichmann, had trained as a teacher and strongly supported higher education for women. The eldest of three daughters, Frieda was among the first women to study medicine at the University of Königsberg, where she received her degree in 1913.
Petite and lacking physical strength, she decided to specialize in psychiatry rather than obstetrics. During World War I, she worked with brain-injured soldiers at the university’s psychiatric hospital. After the war, she continued her research with Kurt Goldstein in Frankfurt, and then worked in a sanitarium near Dresden. After undergoing a training analysis with Hanns Sachs in Berlin, she served as a visiting physician at Emil Kraepelin’s psychiatric clinic in Munich in 1923. A Zionist as well as an observant Jew, she established a small private psychoanalytic sanitarium in Heidelberg in 1924. It was jokingly described as “Torah-peutic,” because it combined therapy with Jewish dietary laws and Sabbath observance. In 1926, she married one of her analysands, Erich Fromm, the social philosopher, and together they helped found the Frankfurt chapter of the German Psychoanalytic Society, and then the Psychoanalytic Institute of Southwestern Germany. By l928, the sanitarium had closed, and the couple had abandoned Orthodox practices for socialist principles. They soon separated, but they did not divorce until 1942.
After the Nazi takeover in 1933, Fromm-Reichmann left Germany for Strassburg in Alsace-Lorraine. After brief stays in France and Palestine, she immigrated to the United States in 1935. She quickly found a position as resident psychiatrist at Chestnut Lodge, a private sanitarium near Washington, D.C. She developed a very productive working relationship with Harry Stack Sullivan and served as training analyst of the Washington Psychoanalytic Society and the Washington School of Psychiatry, as well as the William Alanson White Institute and the Academy of Psychoanalysis in New York. In 1955, she received a fellowship to study the role of nonverbal communication in therapy at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
Fromm-Reichmann succeeded in using intensive psychotherapy to treat schizophrenic and manic-depressive patients who had previously been considered unsuitable for psychoanalysis. She fostered their creative talents and developed fresh insights into the relationship between art and mental illness. A highly gifted clinician and outstanding teacher, she shared her discoveries with large audiences through her popular lectures.
Toward the end of her life, she received international recognition for her contributions to psychotherapy. Her honors and awards include president of the Washington Psychoanalytic Association (1939–1941); Adolf Meyer Award, Association for the Improvement of Mental Hospitals (1952); academic lecture, American Psychiatric Association (1955); and keynote speaker, Second International Congress of Psychiatry, Zurich (1957, posthumous). Suffering from deafness, she kept her unhappiness to herself, while always attempting to cheer and comfort others. She died of a heart attack at Chestnut Lodge on April 28, 1957, deeply mourned by all who knew her.
An Intensive Study of Twelve Cases of Manic Depressive Psychosis (1954); The Philosophy of Insanity (1947); Principles of Intensive Psychotherapy (1950); Progress in Psychotherapy, with J. L. Moreno (1956); Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: Selected papers of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Edited by Dexter M. Bullard (1959).
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How to cite this page
Freidenreich, Harriet. "Frieda Fromm-Reichmann." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 19, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/fromm-reichmann-frieda>.