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Frieda Fromm-Reichmann

October 23, 1889–1957

by Harriet Freidenreich

In Brief

Frieda Fromm-Reichman was a psychiatrist best known for her innovations in the psychotherapeutic treatment of schizophrenics. Born in Germany, she was one of the first women to study medicine at the University of Königsberg, where she decided to specialize in psychiatry. In her early psychoanalytic practice, she combined therapy with Jewish observance. In 1935, Fromm-Reichman immigrated to the United States, where she found a position as resident psychiatrist at a private sanitarium in Washington, D.C. In this position and others, she succeeded in using intensive psychotherapy to treat schizophrenic and manic-depressive patients previously deemed unsuitable for psychoanalysis. Towards the end of her life, Fromm-Reichman received international recognition for her creative and insightful contributions to psychotherapy.

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.

Early Life & Early Work

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.

Work in the United States

After the Nazi takeover in 1933, Fromm-Reichmann left Germany for Strasburg 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.

Honors & Awards

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.

Selected Works

Bullard, Dexter M., ed. Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: Selected papers of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Cohen, Mabel Blake, Robert A. Cohen, Baker Grace, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and Edith V. Weigert. “An Intensive Study of Twelve Cases of Manic-Depressive Psychosis.” Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes 17 (1954): 103-137.

Fromm-Reichmann, Frieda. Principles of Intensive Psychotherapy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1950.

Fromm-Reichmann, Frieda, Jules H. Masserman, and J. L. Moreno. Progress in Psychotherapy. New York: Grune & Stratton, 1956.

Fromm-Reichmann, Frieda, introduction to The Philosophy of Insanity. By a Late Inmate of the Glasgow Royal Asylum for Lunatics at Gartnavel. N.p.: Greenberg, 1947.

Bibliography

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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How to cite this page

Freidenreich, Harriet. "Frieda Fromm-Reichmann." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 20, 2022) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/fromm-reichmann-frieda>.