Frieda Fromm-Reichmann

1889 – 1957

by Harriet Freidenreich

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 she-bi-khetav: Lit. "the written Torah." The Bible; the Pentateuch; Tanakh (the Pentateuch, Prophets and Hagiographia)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).


Bruch, Hilde. “Personal Reminiscences of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.” Psychiatry 45 (1982); DAB 6.

Dick, Jutta, and Marina Sassenberg, eds. Jüdische Frauen Is 19. und 20. Jahrhundert: Lexikon zu Leben und Werk (1993): 132–134.

Dickstein, Leah J., and Carol C. Nadelson. Women Physicians in Leadership Roles N.p.: American Psychiatric Publishing, 1986. 73–77; EJ.

Green, Hannah (pseud. Joanne Greenberg). I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964), and “In Praise of My Doctor.” Contemporary Psychoanalysis (Fall 1967).

Grinstein, Alexander, ed. The Index of Psychoanalytic Writings (1956, 1967).

International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Emigres. Vol. 2, part 1 (1980): 346.

Hornstein, Gail A. To Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann New York: Free Press, 2000.

Klotschke, Angelika. “Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Leben und Werk.” Medical diss., University of Mainz (1979); NAW modern.

Obituary. NYTimes, April 30, 1957, 29:2.

Peters, Uwe Henrik. Psychiatrie im Exil (1992): 173–188; PSA-Info 30 (March 1988): 1–29.

Rattner, Josef. Klassifer der Tiefen-Psychologie (1990): 441–463.

Scholem, Gershom. From Berlin to Jerusalem: Memories of My Youth. N.p.: Schocken Books, 1980. 156

Stevens, Gwendolyn, and Sheldon Gardner. The Women of Psychology. Vol. 1. N.p.: Shenkman Publishing Company, 1982. 205–208.

Weigert, Edith. “In Memoriam: Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, 1889–1957.” Psychiatry 21 (February 1958): 91–95; Who’s Who in World Jewry (1955).


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This wonderful bit of research captured my curiosity and kept me on the edge of my seat. Now I know whom to study for body language in psychotherapy.

H.Winter, P.O. Box 42692 Phoenix, AZ 85080

Although, as a therapist, I do not subscribe to psychoanalytic theory or any of its close cousin theoretical orientations, I do greatly applaud Fromm-Reichmann and highly esteem her for her humble interactions with clients. Not only did she believe in empathy as the cornerstone of therapy, but she also seemed to understand how to reach her clients from a human-perspective. She would join her clients in whatever state they were in (e.g. sitting on the floor, in deplorable conditions, etc) just so that she could "reach" them. She obviously believed wholeheartedly that "the success or failure of psychotherapy depends greatly on whether there is an empathic quality between the psychiatrist and patient" (Fromm-Reichmann, 1950).

I think she is a great teacher for developing therapists today. Even if one does not subscribe to or believe in the theories characteristic of psychoanalysis, her style and her emphasis on connecting with clients can definitely be applied across theoretical orientations. Therapy should not consist of one sitting behind a desk in their cozy office at all times. Therapy should be mobile, meeting clients where they are. Humility is what makes therapy great and effective and I think she showed that to many.

How to cite this page

Freidenreich, Harriet. "Frieda Fromm-Reichmann." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 23, 2021) <>.


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