The University of Chicago News Office
May 28, 2003 Press Contact: William Harms
(773) 702-8356

Erika Fromm


Erika Fromm


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

A memorial service will be held at Graham-Taylor Chapel at 5757 S. University at 3:30 PM on Thursday, May 29.

"Erika is one of the world's leading figures in clinical psychology and is especially revered for her scientific and theoretical contributions to the field of hypnosis," said Michael Nash, professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee. "Her books, research reports, and clinical papers have been exceedingly influential.

Her early work challenged some of Freud's findings and sought ways in which she could use hypnosis as a more effective way to help people than psychoanalysis, which she felt had become the therapy of the rich.

"Erika also helped pioneer the use of projective psychological testing in this country," Nash said. "As she further matured as a clinician, theorist and researcher Erika's focus turned to the nature of human intuition, creativity, dreams, adaptation, and hypnotic response. Her clinical work and research findings revealed humans to be remarkably and creatively resilient, in contrast to the prevailing tragic view of the human condition championed by conventional psychoanalysis."

Bertram Cohler, the William Rainey Harper Professor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division and Psychology at the University of Chicago, 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 departs from Freud as the two contend the conflicts people have that are represented by their dreams are attempts to resolve current situations. Freud's emphasis in studying dreams was to understand how they are 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.

"Erika Fromm was a legendary teacher of hypnosis," said David Spiegel, professor of medicine at Stanford University. "Her devotion to her students was reflected in their devotion to her. She provided a thoughtful and intellectually rigorous connection between psychoanalysis and hypnosis, two fields traditionally marked by mutual suspicion, despite Freud's initiation into the ways of the unconscious mind with lessons in hypnosis.

"Dr. Fromm had a special interest in self-hypnosis, and in using the hypnotic state as a means of teaching patients skills in self-management and self-exploration. She was thus in all ways a teacher," he added.

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

She wrote extensively on hypnosis and other topics and was invited to speak at workshops throughout the United States and Europe.

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.

She was president of the Psychological Hypnosis Division of the American Psychological Association from 1972 to 1973, president of the American Board of Psychological Hypnosis from 1971 to 1974, and president of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis from 1975 to 1977.

As a teen-ager growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, Erika Oppenheimer developed an interest in psychoanalysis and read books by Sigmund Freud in her parents' library. Her father was a physician.

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 in 1938 came to the United States as the Nazis increased their persecution of the Jews. Paul Fromm, who became a great patron of contemporary American composers, died in 1987.

From 1939 to 1940, she was a Research Assistant in psychiatry at the University of Chicago. From 1943 to 1948, she was 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 loved to edit papers, spending hours turning an ordinary, or even poorly written text into something that became a model of scientific writing," Eisen continued. "She encouraged newly minted Ph.D.s to join her in making presentations at conferences, giving them the positive feedback they needed to feel confident. She referred clients to former students (including myself) who were starting into private practice, offering her wisdom and intuitive empathy in supervisory support."

As her work with hypnosis and hypnoanalysis continued, Fromm used the techniques with narcissistic patients and patients suffering from posttraumatic stress disorders, particularly incest victims, both female and male. She used a permissive form of hypnosis, which encouraged patients to participate in their therapy, rather than an authoritative form that had been used before World War II.

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 in 1991 and 1973, the Arthur Shapiro Award of the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis for her books.

She is survived by a sister, Clementina Kro; three brothers, Walter Oppenheimer, Asher Oppenheimer and John Ormond; and two grandsons, Michael Greenstone 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.
Last modified at 12:36 PM CST on Wednesday, May 28, 2003.

University of Chicago News Office
5801 South Ellis Avenue - Room 200
Chicago, Illinois 60637-1473
(773) 702-8360
Fax: (773) 702-8324
Contact Us