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Edith Buxbaum, Ph.D.; by Esther Altshul Helfgott

The Viennese-born psychoanalyst Edith Buxbaum, author of Your Child Makes Sense (1949) and Troubled Children in a Troubled World (1970), arrived in Seattle on January 1, 1947. She was a leading psychoanalyst there for more than 30 years and was a principal founder of the Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute (later renamed Seattle Institute of Psychoanalysis (SIP) and currently called Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society (SPIS). She served as SIP's Child Analysis Division Head and as Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Washington.

Edith Buxbaum
Edith Buxbaum
Courtesy Dr. Heidi Kirschner

Buxbaum was consultant to the Family Society of Seattle, the Ryther Child Treatment Center, The Little School, and the Indian Headstart Program. She helped found and direct the Northwest Clinic, a school for disturbed children at the Northwest Clinic for Neurology and Psychiatry; and in 1969, she helped found Project P ("for the prevention of difficulties between parents and infants"). Her devotion to children, her desire to improve the quality of their lives and, thus, better the world, by emphasizing the child 's individuality and creativity -- with more listening, less discipline, a nuclear family with the mother preferably at home -- informed her philosophy and practice.

Edith Buxbaum was born on April 20, 1902, the only child of Jewish parents -- Jeanette Seidler Buxbaum (1879-1962), a housewife and Samuel Buxbaum (1866-1934), a dry goods merchant. She grew up in an extended family in which sickness and secrecy about an uncle's syphilis dominated her young life. Beyond her household, however, Buxbaum found intellectual stimulation and excitement in a topic that was all the rage in early twentieth century Vienna: psychoanalysis. She was going to lectures on psychoanalysis and reading such books as Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams before she was 14 years old.

Buxbaum earned a Ph.D. in History at the University of Vienna and used her earnings as a high school history teacher to study psychoanalysis. She was an ongoing participant in Anna Freud's seminar on child analysis from its creation in 1927. Her analyst during the 1920s was Hermann Nunberg and in 1935, she took a second analysis with Salome Guttman Isakower. She taught at the Public Realgymnasium for boys and at the Senior Lyceum for girls where she instituted a counseling center. Although successful in her teaching and psychoanalytic education, she was harassed by police for leftist activities, jailed and finally left Vienna in September 1937.

Once in New York and by March 1938 she was able to get her mother and future husband out of Europe. (Her father had died years earlier.) Buxbaum's Upper East Side apartment bustled with relatives. Her mother had moved in with her; and when Bruno Bettelheim, Buxbaum's maternal first cousin, was released from a German concentration camp in 1939, he moved into her apartment as well. Bettelheim's mother and sister arrived in 1940 and also joined the Buxbaum household.

Buxbaum worked as an analyst, teacher and analytic consultant in Manhattan for 10 years; in so doing, she prepared herself for work that lay ahead in Seattle. Buxbaum had her family with her in New York and she had an active professional life, but she needed a professional life that she could mold and define, one in which she could display her brand of creativity and uniqueness and reach the pinnacle of success within a psychoanalytic context. This seemed impossible for her in New York. There, the psychoanalytic arena was fraught with controversy between analysts who wanted only medical doctors to practice and those who believed, with Freud, that lay analysts were equally essential to the discipline. When Freud lost his battle with the American medical establishment, the careers of Buxbaum and other lay analysts were in jeopardy.

Buxbaum came to Seattle in 1947 at the invitation of Dr. Douglass W. Orr (1905-1990), a Menninger-trained psychoanalyst who encouraged her to help him build the psychoanalytic enterprise in Seattle. There, lack of a medical degree did not hinder Buxbaum's ability to develop a practice or a professional following. In fact, her connection to social work and education would ultimately allow her to extend her influence well beyond the psychoanalytic community that she helped form. Many of the social workers and educators whose lives she touched would remain in awe of her long after her death.

The Pacific Northwest offered Buxbaum and Schmidl the physical attractions they craved. Mountains, woods and lakes allowed them the opportunity to hike and climb and swim, activities which both had enjoyed in Vienna. The University of Washington offered them the opportunity to develop a social life, friends with whom they would develop life-long relationships and who would band together as "The Rainy Chavurim" (friendship group).

In Seattle, Buxbaum became a celebrity and the only female training analyst associated with SIP during her lifetime (and until 1994). Janet Sayers calls her one of the early mothers of psychoanalysis; she helped both women and children. As Elisabeth Young-Bruehl points out, Seattle became a satellite of Anna Freud's Hampstead Clinic in England as a result of Buxbaum's presence. In fact, given Buxbaum's propensity to link psychoanalytic principles to early childhood education, along with her connection to Seattle educators and social workers, she was instrumental in extending institutional psychoanalysis beyond its limited frontier.

As with Anna Freud and a host of other teachers, many of them women, Buxbaum was part of a movement of European educators who came to child psychoanalysis in their second careers. These child analysts entwined their previous learning experiences with psychoanalysis. Buxbaum was part of this movement to create a psychoanalytic pedagogy and bring it to the wider community. As a Ph.D. within a growing group of white male M.D. analysts who would set up practice in Seattle from the 1950s on, Edith Buxbaum not only kept her balance, she found, as well, a niche of her own. Buxbaum died on July 14, 1982. Her ashes are interred at Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery, Seattle.

Bio: Esther Altshul Helfgott is a poet, teacher & literary activist with a Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. Her work has appeared in numerous in-print & on-line journals, including Moondance, id, Dakota House Journal, and transference. She is the author of The Homeless One: A Poem In Many Voices (KotaPress, 1999).

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