National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy


Joanne Greenberg

"I wrote [I Never Promised You a Rose Garden] as a way of describing mental illness without the romanticisation that it underwent in the sixties and seventies when people were taking LSD to simulate what they thought was a liberating experience. During those days, people often confused creativity with insanity. There is no creativity in madness; madness is the opposite of creativity, although people may be creative in spite of being mentally ill."
- Joanne Greenberg

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a fictionalized depiction of Joanne Greenberg’s treatment experience at Chestnut Lodge Hospital in Rockville, Maryland, during which she was in psychoanalytic treatment with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. The book takes place in the late 1940s and early 1950s, at a time when Harry Stack Sullivan, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and Clara Thompson were establishing the basis for the interpersonal school of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, focusing specifically, though by no means exclusively, on the treatment of schizophrenia.

It is useful to keep in mind that Sullivan and Fromm-Reichmann were by this time renowned for their work with severely regressed patients, some diagnosed as schizophrenic and others who were not so easy to categorize, using nothing in their treatment scheme except psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy. Though the use of medicating drugs was in its infancy in those days and most psychiatrists were using electroshock therapy, sleep therapy, and other bizarre forms of treatment, both Sullivan and Fromm-Reichmann resisted these practices and treated their patients, as they themselves would have like to be treated were they suffering from a similar state of collapse and confusion–as though what they really needed was someone to talk to.

It should be noted that they apparently enjoyed extraordinary success in their work, if "success" is indeed the right word, by the measure that many of their patients–like Joanne Greenberg herself–eventually left hospital for good, never to return. Today, when there is so much currency about the presumed causes of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders–that they are genetically determined, for example, and that it is irresponsible to deprive such patients of the drugs that are now available to them–one wonders if it would be possible–indeed, if it would even be permitted–for people like Sullivan and Fromm-Reichmann to work with patients the way they did 50 years ago. Whatever the cause of schizophrenia might be–and nobody, despite what some claim, actually knows what it is–the treatment still depends on people like Frieda Fromm-Reichmann who are willing to sit with them hour after hour, day after day, and year after year for however long it may take to see them through their ordeal. As a young girl, Joanne Greenberg suffered from an ordeal of her own which her family only gradually began to realize was getting worse. At the age of 16 she was taken to Chestnut Lodge Sanitarium in Rockville, Maryland, where Frieda Fromm-Reichmann became her therapist. Her treatment experience lasted from 1948 to 1951. Ms. Greenberg remained in outpatient psychoanalysis with Dr. Fromm-Reichmann until 1955, by which time she was attending college. Their relationship not only served as a vehicle for Joanne Greenberg’s remarkable recovery, but was also the source of a friendship that continued until Frieda Fromm-Reichmann’s death in 1957. In fact, Joanne Greenberg, her mother, and Frieda Fromm-Reichmann had intended to collaborate on a book revolving around Joanne’s treatment experience, but Frieda died before the plan could be executed. A few years later, Joanne decided to publish a book about her experience on her own, an account that many believe demonstrates a measure of courage, literary power, and immediacy that is unparalleled in the literature on this rarefied and near-impenetrable subject.

As every psychoanalyst knows, the success of any treatment experience is never the result of one person, but the consequence of a collaboration between the two principals: a clinician who possesses the sensitivity and unflappability to contain whatever manner of experience a patient is capable of, and a patient who possesses the courage, grace, and determination to face whatever demons her history has dealt her. Clearly, Joanne Greenberg’s account of her trial is the story of two such individuals, and her courage to write such a book is an inspiration to us all, patients and clinicians alike.

In her presentation, Ms. Greenberg spoke informally about her relationship with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann for the first time before a public audience. She used the occasion as an opportunity to revisit her experience at Chestnut Lodge and to share it with those who are endeavoring to work with people who may be suffering a similar ordeal.

[from the introduction by Michael Guy Thompson, Ph.D., to "The Intrapsychic Focus and Its Vicissitudes," by Peter L. Giovacchini. 1998 by Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology www.fortda.org/fall_98/intro_intrapsychic.html]


Joanne Greenberg, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1932, is an internationally renowned, award-winning author of 12 novels and four collections of short stories. Much of her work has been published under the pseudonym Hannah Green. Her best-selling novel, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, is a semi-autobiographical account of a teenage girl's three-year struggle with madness. Greenberg received her B.A. in anthropology and English from the American University of Colorado, where she became interested in Native American culture. The short stories she wrote based on her time living on a Navajo Reservation have been used for anthropological study.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is Greenberg's best-known novel. Several of her other works also deal with the troubles that beset people with disabilities. The protagonist of The Monday Voices is a man who works for the Department of Rehabilitation and assists those with physical disabilities in finding work. In This Sign centers on a deaf couple and the problems that they encounter over the span of almost fifty years.

Greenberg received the Harry and Ethel Daroff Memorial Fiction Award as well as the Jewish Book Council of America award in 1963.


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