Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bertrand S. Frohman’s Brief Psychotherapy

After years of preparation, psychiatrist Bertrand S. Frohman’s Brief Psychotherapy: A Handbook for Physicians on the Clinical Aspects of Neuroses, finally came out in January 1948. Frohman sent a signed book at once to Korzybski, who had helped with editing. Korzybski read and reread it—as indicated by the markings in his copy. He wrote his kudos to the book’s publishers, Lea and Febiger and, on February 18, to Frohman:
I am deeply grateful to you for your inscribed copy. As I said to the publishers, that such a book was a dream of mine which has just materialized. I know it’s a strong statement, but just the same it’s true, and I hardly can fully express my gratitude to you. …I intend to make your book an obligatory textbook for all my students and I feel it should have a world-wide distribution and eventual translation into a number of languages.
Korzybski meant every word of this. He gave copies inscribed by him with marked enthusiasm to his Institute of General Semantics colleagues Charlotte Schuchardt and M. Kendig and to his wife Mira, writing in Mira’s book:
“Dearest – The first textbook of Sanity from professional point of view based on GS – to the ‘Mother of future civilizations’ yours as ever March 1948 Alfred.”
Korzybski wanted to do whatever he could to promote Frohman’s book and followed through by stocking it for sale on the Institute’s publication list and by getting advertising circulars from the publisher for the Institute to distribute. The publisher sent 2000 advertising circulars, with a special added text in the upper left corner, written in consultation with Frohman:
“This new text utilizes General Semantics, the Non-Aristotelian system of orientation, formulated by Alfred Korzybski. The application of General Semantics to problems of personal maladjustment is described in a special section.”
Korzybski also worked on a review of the book but never completed it; had he lived longer he probably would have done so.

The two men found each others’ work compatible for good reasons. Frohman, to begin with an extremely extensional human being and physician, found in Korzybski’s work a conscious approach to his ‘natural’ mode of evaluating. (He is still known today, as perhaps the first person, in the early 1930s, to apply the term “bruxism” to tooth grinding and to explain it as a stress-anxiety symptom.) Korzybski provided a basic language for what Frohman had already been doing. And Frohman’s work exemplified for Korzybski the application of his extensional methods to psychiatry, an application that he had long hoped to see in book form.

Penelope Pearl [later Russianoff], the daughter of Korzybski’s friend Raymond Pearl and a clinical psychologist, attended several seminars with Korzybski and also saw Frohman for personal help. In her 1988 book When Am I Going To Be Happy: How To Break The Emotional Bad Habits That Make You Miserable (dedicated to Korzybski, among others), she described Frohman’s extensional approach to get her “off my tall kick” the “crippling” obsessive self-consciousness she had developed growing up as an especially tall female (“by age fourteen, I was six-foot-two and weighed under one hundred pounds.”):
One day Frohman said to me: “Every time I ask you something, you manage to turn it around into something wrong with you. Your height. Your personality. Your intelligence. It’s as though you’re driving along at night and your headlights are supposed to be shining on the highway so you can see where you’re going. Instead, you’ve got them pointing backward so that they are blinding you. You can’t see anything but your own failings. You don’t see anything else that’s going on around you. You don’t really see other people. You’re so absorbed in what a man might think about your height that you don’t give yourself the right to judge him. It’s highly possible he’s not perfect. What is it that you might not like about him? Turn those headlights around so that you can see something besides yourself.
Flash of insight! Suddenly I had this vivid image of myself careening along a highway in a blinding glare of self-absorption. Bertrand Frohman’s words were literally a turning point in my life. I turned the lights around and instantly saw with crystal clarity exactly where I was. … I woke up the next morning and said to myself: “All right. I’m not a cuddly little blond and I never will be. So I’m going to start living my life as what I am. I am going to stop rejecting myself.”…My new attitude must have communicated itself. After a lifetime of rejections by men, actual or self-inflicted, I started dating fairly often and also began making a number of just plain friends, who coincidentally happened to be men. [Russianoff, p. 51-52]
Frohman definitely seemed like a person after Korzybski’s heart. Penelope Russianoff described his “very direct way of dealing with the issue of motivation.”
Psychiatrists do not ordinarily make house calls, But, as Frohman once explained it to me, a bedridden woman had pleaded with him to come to see her. As soon as he entered her bedroom, she handed him a box of matches. “Open it,” she said. He did, and inside he found a dozen or so burnt match sticks. “Every one of those,” she announced defiantly, “stands for a therapist who failed me.” Frohman took out one of the unused matches. He lit it, blew it out, put it back in the box, and said, “That’ll be one hundred dollars.” Sometimes we have to be jolted into knowing whether we want to change or keep on clinging to our negativity. [Russianoff, p. 61]
Although not now well-known, Brief Psychotherapy notably appears as one of the earliest books in the fields of brief and ‘cognitive’ psychotherapy. Sixty-one years later, the book remains highly readable for its down-to-earth language, large number of interesting case studies, and the remarkable extent to which Frohman, both explicitly in the GS section and implicitly throughout the book, utilized Korzybski’s insights to discuss the psycho-somatic issues and adjustment problems that general medical doctors, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists frequently confront. Well received when it came out, the book went into a second printing only a few months after first appearing. Tragically, Frohman developed serious health problems over the next two years and died in December 1949, in his late fifties. Given his talent, his enthusiasm for Korzybski’s work and Korzybski’s enthusiasm for his, he seemed likely to have become well-known promoting his korzybskian-influenced approach to brief psychotherapy. Instead, memory of both him and his book sank into obscurity.

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