June 12, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 18

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    Fromm, challenged Freud, helped pioneer hypnosis

    Erika Fromm, Professor Emeritus in Psychology and one of the nation's leading scholars of hypnosis, died Monday, May 26, in her Hyde Park home. She was 93.

    In her early work, Fromm challenged some of Freud's findings and sought ways to help people using hypnosis. Fromm believed hypnosis could be a more effective therapy than psychoanalysis, which she felt had become the therapy of the rich.

    Bertram Cohler, the William Rainey Harper Professor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division and Psychology, said: "Erika Fromm was a major figure in American psychology and psychoanalysis, from her early work on dream interpretation to her later work on hypnosis and psychotherapy. Erika's contributions were magnificent and lasting. She was in addition a caring teacher and mentor."

    Fromm was co-author, with Thomas French, of Dream Interpretation--A New Approach, published in 1964. The book departed from the ideas of Sigmund Freud, as the authors contend that the conflicts people have, which are represented by their dreams, are attempts to resolve current situations in their lives. Freud studied dreams to understand how they were expressions of unresolved childhood conflicts.

    Fromm considered hypnosis, like the dream, to be a road to the unconscious. Used by a skilled practitioner, hypnosis can be an effective and faster way to help people work through issues than psychoanalysis, she contended.

    She also co-authored, with Daniel Brown, Hypnotherapy and Hypnoanalysis, published in 1986. She and Brown also co-wrote in 1987 Hypnosis and Behavioral Medicine. She published Self-Hypnosis: The Chicago Paradigm, which she co-authored with Stephen Kahn, in 1990.

    Fromm also served as clinical editor for the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, and as associate editor of The Bulletin of the British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis.

    As a teen-ager growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, Erika Oppenheimer developed an interest in psychoanalysis and read books by Freud in her parents' library. She decided to pursue a life in academia as a child.

    "When I was 17 or 18, the Nazis began to gain great influence, and it became clear that, being a Jew, I either would get a Ph.D. very fast, or I would not be able to become a professional at all," she wrote in her memoirs. She corresponded with Freud and Albert Einstein on a graduate project on scientific creativity.

    She received her Ph.D. in 1933 from the University of Frankfurt just a few days before her 24th birthday. At Frankfurt, she studied with Max Wertheimer, known as the father of Gestalt Theory.

    She spent the next four years in the Netherlands as a research associate and director of a psychology laboratory. She became engaged in 1936 to Paul Fromm, a wine merchant with a deep interest in contemporary music. The couple married and came to the United States in 1938, as the Nazis increased their persecution of the Jews. Her husband died in 1987.

    From 1939 to 1940, she was a Research Assistant in Psychiatry at Chicago. From 1943 to 1948, she was the supervising psychologist for the Veterans' Rehabilitation Center in Chicago. She held a variety of teaching and research positions before she joined the University faculty in 1961.

    "What made her most unusual was her capacity to push a person beyond his or her own self-perceived limits," said Marlene Eisen, a former student.

    "I believe this was a legacy from her own youth, when she insisted on rushing through her Ph.D. so she could escape the Nazis and flee to Holland, where she worked and nearly starved before coming to America."

    She received numerous awards for her work, including a Distinguished Practitioner in Psychology award from the National Academy of Practice in Psychology in 1982, an Award for Outstanding Contributions to Psychoanalysis from the American Psychological Association in 1985, and the Arthur Shapiro Award of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in 1973 and in 1991.

    She is survived by a sister, Clementina Kro; three brothers, Walter Oppenheimer, Asher Oppenheimer and John Ormond; two grandsons, Michael Greenstone, Assistant Professor in Economics and the College, and Daniel Greenstone; two granddaughters-in-law, Heidi Lynch and Katherine Ozment; and two great-grandsons, Fineas Greenstone and William Greenstone.

    She was preceded in death by her daughter, Joan Fromm Greenstone, who died in 1996, and by her son-in-law, David Greenstone, the William Benton Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science, in 1990.