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Hardcover Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School Book

ISBN: 0312307497

ISBN13: 9780312307493

Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim's Orthogenic School

Eliot's striking memoir chronicles a childhood and adolescence spent within the luxurious confines of the most famous children's mental institution in the world, run by psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim.


Format: Hardcover

Condition: Very Good

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Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Interesting book

I read this book while living at the orthogenic school. To tell you the truth, I found it intriguing but I didn't really enjoy the style of writing. For people who the the Orthogenic School was abusive- most place at the time would lock disturbed children in rooms and tie them to beds for weeks on end. Race theory was prevalent, as was insulin shock therapy. Autistic children were likely to be institutionalized for their lives in dark, cruel places. In this respect, the Orthogenic School was revolutionary- it attempted to do neither of these things and tried to treat children like human beings. Were there a lot of therories that are majorly messed up? Yes. Was Bettelhiem abusive? Probably. But I have trouble believing that the school wasn't better than the other alternatives of the time.

Stephen Eliot "Has something important to say."

I am responding not only to Eliot's book, but the reviewer who describes the Orthogenic School as an abusive and bogus institution. In the interst of full disclosure, my impressions of Elliot's work were influenced by my own experiences as an attorney representing disabled children and having a mother who worked at the Orthogenic School under Jacqui Sanders (Bettelheim's successor). In addition, I am friends with Dr. Sanders and several other people mentioned in Eliot's book. My mother took great pains to keep our family separate from her work at the Orthogenic School. In fact, I never set foot in the School until I was an adult in my 30s and I was representing children placed there. My mother had me attend another Chicago- area private high school instead of U High, in part to avoid having contact with children from the O-School. However, it would have been impossible for my mother's parenting not to have been influenced by her work.Like Eliot, I have my own issues with some of the use of psychoanalytic interpretations in the context of every day life as a means of helping children develop insight into ordinary actions or self-control. In the wrong hands or when motivated by a need to assert control, it is more a tool to demean than to provide insight. As Eliot described, Bettelheim was not immune from indulging his own foibles and prejudices. In addition, as Eliot's angry descriptions show, when attempted by less adept therapists/counselors/teachers the resulting psychic wounds are deep. Despite these shortcomings, the institution Elliot describes was a far better place than what currently passes as treatment facilities for most children. Despite budgets of billions of dollars for state departments of children services, education, or mental health services, most institutions "treating" emotional disturbed/mentally ill children are nothing more than modern equivalents of Dickensian era Yorkshire boarding schools. Instead of treacle to control appetites and behaviors, children are dosed with medications often without regard to side effects or proper monitoring. Behavior modification programs are often designed and implemented without regard for children's actual developmental levels or dignity. Eliot's description of the power and importance of humane and psychologically minded treatment serve as an essential reminder that an alternative to mind-numbing punititive warehousing is possible.No discussion of Bettelheim's legacy is complete without mention of two issues, physical punishment and the influence of those he trained. Jacqui Sanders in her book "A Greenhouse for the Mind" and a 12/03 letter to the editor of the "New York Review of Books" concerning a review of Eliot's book and Theron Raines' book on Bettelheim, does a far better job than I could of addressing these issues. I would suggest that anyone interested in a rational, insightful, and balanced assessment of this aspect of Bettelheim's work and the Orthogenic Schoo

It Could Have Been So Much Better......

This book could have been so much better.....It is a fascinating story of psychiatry/psychology/psychoanalysis in the middle 1900s, but this book involves one person, and one person only: the author, Stephen Eliot. Why is there nothing about his family members? One photo is characterized as being a picture of his late brother....What? How did he die? Was it integral to the story? It is as though Eliot existed (exists?) in a vacuum, and things just happened to him for no particular reason. Why was he sent to the School in the first place? Why? What did he do, or what happened to him to cause his parents to spend so much money and send their son off to strangers to raise him? It is an interesting tale of Bruno Bettelheim and his practices, but he is a shadow figure in this book. I hope another student, or teacher, from the School writes a book someday that will include more than just one simple focus. Yes, I know this is an autobiography, but the author's self-centerdness, world-revolves-around-me-only got old after the first couple of hundred pages.

A great perspective on the treatment of mental illness

A wonderful autobiography from the eyes of a child who lived through a cutting edge treatment for his disorder in an era when mental health was never addressed with children. Uplifting and inspirational.The courage displayed by the author is to be commended. " For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't understand, no explanation is possible." From a parent of a current Orthogenic School student,this author makes the explanation possible for all.


Steven Eliot has penned a most unique and stunningly written memoir of a most unusual childhood: his own spent at the former Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, founded and run by the acclaimed Dr. Bruno Bettelheim at the University of Chicago.Eliot has shown remarkable courage and clarity of inner voice as he both recounts his life at the world's most unique psychoanalytically-oriented treatment facility for emotionally disturbed children. At all times, Eliot is in touch with both his developing consciousness as a child being treated for emotional maladies, as well as a very wise and inner developed adult who aqpparently has made deep, and at times painful, sense of himself.Eliot's writing is elegant, clear, free of complex jargon, and can soar to tears-inducing stunning power. Memoirs and autobiographies of 'bad childhoods', demon parents, trying lifestyles, Rags to Riches progressions and escapes from trying and crusihing times, forces and conditions abound, but Eliot's is the first voice that takes us not simply into what was the world's most unique and acclaimed psychoanalytic institition, but he takes on the far harder journey to recount---and indeed make--which is of course within himself. Most memoirs focus on the external pain inflictions and conditions causing the basis of the memoirist's tale. In Eliot's work, he takes us 'Behind Closed Doors' to what was a rareified, purposefeully kept private world( Bettelheim recounted his own experiences as the Orthogenic School's Director and 'star' in his own treatment stories, but he purposefully kept the media and most of the world out of the School for realistic fear that it could become a three-ring media circus if opened up. We also know that Bettelheim's treatment and other practices were highly controversial, and would not be tolerated in today's world, had they come to light when they occured). Moreover, most First-Person accounts of psychotherapy dwell on the dialogues with the therapist, or of issues that emerge in the decidedly one-dimensional world of classical psychoanalysis. To date, the world has not had as deep and forthright a view of what treatment, life and challenges are inside of a psychodynamically-centered milieu therapy institution as they have gotten from NOT THE THING I WAS.. Eliot, though, is not entirely within himself. He has a strong sense of community, and his often humorous, telling and varied anecdotes are within the context of his developing sense of personhood, and how this person came to live amongst others.The 'Warp and Woof',rather than the sanitized perfect re-creation of the Orthogenic School that has prevailed in print is ably and dynamically captured by Eliot.Eliot's inner and outer struggle, which was his process of growth and reocnstruction, is painful and challenging. In Eliot's work, we do not merely witness this process; we are forced deeply within it, and in so doing, we are forced to confront mainy painful universal truths about our own upbringing,
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