The Dark Side of Psychoanalysis: 3. John Nathaniel Rosen: Fraud

This is the third part of a series on John Nathaniel Rosen and psychoanalysis. The first 2 can be found at: 1) and 2) The first blog dealt with the concept of “refrigerator mothers”. The second blog dealt primarily with Dr. Rosen’s clinical practice methods. This blog will detail the sordid unraveling that brought his practice to an end. For those who would like more information on the subject please read Jeffrey Masson’s “In Against Therapy”, or Edward Dolnick’s “Madness on the Couch”.

John Nathaniel Rosen

The trail of debunking studies and lawsuits begins early. In 1958 William Horwitz and three other psychiatrists identified 19 patients of the 37 Rosen claimed to have cured. They found that seven of them had never been diagnosed as schizophrenic. Of the twelve schizophrenics, all had relapsed and been readmitted to mental hospitals, some repeatedly. None had been cured. After their three year grant to Temple expired in 1959, the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation evaluated the effectiveness of Rosen’s approach and found no significant difference between his treatment and a control group. A group of four psychiatrists reached a similar conclusion in 1966, reporting: “This evaluative study indicates that a group of patients treated by the method of ‘direct analysis’ did not show significantly better results than a random control group or a designated control group” [Robert S. Bookhammer et al., American Journal of Psychiatry 123, pp. 602-604]. Yet these repeated danger signals failed to dent Rosen’s growing reputation among his peers and clients.


Along with unmistakable signs pointing to Rosen’s flawed methodology came brushes with the law. In 1960 two years before the death of Walter Annenberg’s son, Rosen lost a case known as Hammer v. Rosen in New York. In his defense, Rosen argued “that the treatment was knowingly and freely consented to by reason of the fact that the patient’s mother testified that if beating was a means of cure, she was agreeable to the treatment.” Mrs. Hammer disagreed, testifying that her daughter returned from treatments “black and blue.” Without producing any expert witnesses, Rosen said the “beating” was a recognized form of treatment. He was indicted in 1972 for income tax evasion for the years of 1965, 1966 and 1967. In response he pled “no contest” and paid a fine of $10,000. In 1979 a patient of his named Claudia Ehrmann was beaten to death by two of Rosen’s untrained aides who were supposedly treating her with “conflict therapy.” When criminal charges were filed, Rosen’s attorneys agreed to settle out of court for $100,000. Rosen was unrepentant: “It’s not costing me a thing.”

As early as 1959, when support ended for his Institute at Temple, Rosen built several houses at a facility called Twin Silos near Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He called these houses psychiatric intensive units, placing one or two patients in each one along with attendants who lived with them. The reality was more sinister: many of these houses included “security rooms” where patients were confined without heat or toilet facilities, stripped, restrained or beaten. Later investigations and court documents reveal that Rosen spent the winter months each year in Boca Raton, leaving some patients at Twin Silos with untrained aides and taking others with him, though he was not licensed to practice in Florida. He successfully gained certification to “advise and counsel” clients in Boca Raton, then lost it when authorities discovered he had listed a non-existent address for the facility and could not explain exactly what services he intended to render. Though he continued to charge exorbitant fees for patients placed in his custody, Rosen neglected them, reportedly spending the bulk of his time on the golf course or visiting his stock broker.

The beginning of the end for Rosen dates from 1977, when a former patient, Sally Zinman, decided to sue Rosen and hired a private investigator in DelRay Beach, Virginia Snyder. Sally was born in Philadelphia in 1937, the adopted daughter of a prominent local banker. As a well-educated adjunct English instructor at Queens College, New York, since 1964, she awoke one day in October 1970, having apparently experienced transient global amnesia: a sudden episode of severe memory loss and confusion that generally happens for no apparent reason. Several months later, after a cursory examination by psychiatrist Harvey Gorman, her father chartered a plane, flew her to Boca Raton, and placed her in the care of Rosen, a golfing partner. After a rather pleasant month, Sally asked Rosen to move into her parents’ apartment and see him daily. After apparently agreeing, Rosen and an aide tore off most of her clothes, beat her, and tied her to a bed in a security room for twenty-four hours. Despite futile efforts to escape, Sally remained in Rosen’s custody for two more years with her parents’ collusion, enduring sexual molestation she was too frightened to resist, gaining her freedom in 1973.

Several years later, Sally hired Virginia Snyder, an award-winning investigative reporter with a well-earned reputation for integrity and gritty tenacity. In the course of her investigations she learned that an elderly patient, Ted Schwartz, had died on June 13, 1977, in the same room Sally had been held in. Rosen belatedly signed the death certificate. Snyder sent documented information about Rosen’s abuses to all the regulatory and policing agencies in Florida and Pennsylvania. The energy and scope of Snyder’s efforts were initially futile. The failure of Rosen’s colleagues and their professional societies to restrain or discipline him were matched by the remarkable timidity of all the authorities she contacted: none found reason to act.

In September, 1977, Tim Pallesen, a staff writer for the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Edition, reported on Rosen’s physical abuse of Sally Zinman and another patient, Julia Blythe. The article was confirmed later in the year by The Philadelphia Inquirer, which raised question about Ted Schwartz’s death based on an affidavit filed by Merry Humose, a former patient and aide of Rosen’s. Rosen filed suit against Pallesen, the Miami Herald and the Philadelphia Inquirer, resulting in a remarkably revealing deposition by Rosen giving his version of events. Despite a tissue of lies and evasions which interlaces the document, Rosen alludes to sexual involvements with his patients—activity which is not only illegal but suggests Rosen had long since crossed the line separating normality and profound neurosis. The suit was settled out of court for Rosen’s attorney’s fees.

Two years later, in December, 1979, a thirty-one year old patient, Claudia Ehrman, was found dead in her room at Rosen’s Boca Raton facility. In Rosen’s absence, one aide, Robin Samuels, held Ehrman’s feet while another, Jay Patete, kneed her in the abdomen so brutally that he lacerated her liver, killing her. Both aides received light sentences—probation—and the Rosen’s insurance company paid. When the police tried to remove two remaining patients from Rosen’s facility, the parents successfully resisted, partly justifying Dr. Brody’s charge of parental folly. Far too often, parents colluded with Rosen in keeping their relatives in his custody or returning them when they managed to break free.

A year and a half later, another patient Janet Katkow sued Rosen in Bucks County Pennsylvania. While in his custody from 1970 until 1979, Rosen continually abused her sexually, undressing and forcing her to suck his penis literally hundreds of times while he vapidly philosophized: “This is what it is all about, this is when a baby is at peace, when it is sucking.” When she invariably vomited, he rationalized her revulsion as vomiting up her mother’s bad milk. His “therapy” moved to include forcing her to lick his anus and consume his faeces, engaging in three-way sex and cunnilingus with another woman under threat of violence, and enforced sex with an elderly judge in a putative attempt to cure the judge’s impotence.

In 1983, the State Board of Medical Education and Licensure of the Department of State of Pennsylvania accused Rosen of sixty-seven violations of the Pennsylvania Medical Practices Act, and thirty-five violations of rules and regulations of the Medical Board. The citation mentions abuses of Sally Zinman, Janet Katkow, as well as another patient Julia Bythe, who was imprisoned by Rosen for sixteen years, from 1963 to 1979, during which she was continually abused sexually. According to the citation, several other women complained of sexual abuse, and the Board cited enforced homosexual acts involving minors. Rosen was also charged with keeping Michael Hallinan bound and shackled in a security room, whose existence was confirmed by several other patients. Despite the damning nature of the evidence as indicated by the citation, the Board heard a complaint that the consent agreement left out evidence that Rosen sexually and physically abused patients. Moreover, their unwillingness to fine or imprison him—congratulating themselves on avoiding a costly hearing—fit the pattern of official reluctance to restrain or punish Rosen.

The afterlife of zany pseudoscientific theories is beyond the scope of this blog. However, Jeffrey Masson’s charge that all psychotherapy is “sexist” and imposes “the therapist’s will upon the patient” deserves a response. Dr. Paul Hoch’s warning in his response to Rosen’s methods holds as true today as it did almost six decades ago, in 1946: “Until now, it has been impossible to cure the majority of schizophrenics with any method, organic or psychoanalytic.” [&P, 81]. (my italics) E. Fuller Torrey cites the longstanding “rule of thirds determining the possible courses in schizophrenia: a third recover, a third are improved, and a third are unimproved.” [Surviving Schizophrenia, p. 129]. A litmus test exists: by definition, any practitioner claiming to cure schizophrenia with drugs, psychotherapy or a combination of the two is fraudulent or deluded.

To Masson’s screed against therapy, one must respond: if not therapy for the mentally ill, then what? Whether their methods result in temporary relief or cures, Rosen and his acolytes have argued, their care is better than mental hospitals, drug regimens, prisons, family custody, or the street. From the perspective of the schizophrenic patient or patient’s family, recourse now exists. Registries now exist of government disciplinary actions taken against physicians; court decisions, finely-tuned sexual harassment policies, and law firms now attempt to protect victims (mostly women).

Unfortunately, even the well-informed living in well-served areas must navigate the decades-old antagonism between therapists and psychiatrists. In a book review, Christian Perrin starkly sums up this divide: “psychiatrists may accuse psychologists of talking for weeks and weeks without actually helping the patient, while psychologists accuse psychiatrists of using a reductionist medical model that simply sees the patient as a collection of symptoms in need of alleviation.”

6 responses to “The Dark Side of Psychoanalysis: 3. John Nathaniel Rosen: Fraud

  1. The Freudian theorists have been thankfully relagated to the trashbin of autism research history after all the damage they have done. Autism science is now largely controlled by the behavioral geneticists and molecular geneticists with genetic determinism as their model. As Rutter has recently said, the behavioral geneticists are on their way to the same extinction that brought down Freudan theorists. The problem with genetic determinism is that they consider the environment as an irritant to be ignored. Here is a speech by Rutter given three years ago on the state of the art at a G xE conference given at Duke University:


  2. Shocking in the extreme! But as Harry Stack Sullivan might say (unfortunately), it is more simply human than otherwise – this kind of abuse (between predator and prey), has been going on for eons (maybe it’s genetic?), between the “knowers” and “not-knowers.” Just goes to show you the power of the “transference” when an entire medical profession (not to mention the legal) falls under the sway of a charismatic father figure. Happens in religious and educational settings too, where the power dynamic is similar, and as we know, abuses both sexual and mental run rampant. To state the obvious, it is always the more needy and vulnerable party that runs the risk of abuse, patient or acolyte or student, no matter! And as we see in your post, even (or especially?) cultural and societal members of the establishment as well, who may want to feel they are “knowers” too. Which is why there should be powerful legal and ethical protections against, (and punishments for), such egregious, criminal behavior as documented in your piece. The profession can only benefit when the rights and well being of the patient is kept first and foremost, front and center.


  3. I love the comment, “…Which is why there should be powerful legal and ethical protections against, (and punishments for), such egregious, criminal behavior as documented in your piece. The profession can only benefit when the rights and well being of the patient is kept first and foremost, front and center.”


  4. The comment that the Board was unwilling to fine or imprison Rosen and congratulated itself for avoiding a costly hearing is actually misleading….The State Medical Board did not have the authority to fine or imprison Dr. Rosen — only to remove him from practice. This could have been accomplished via a formal evidentiary hearing, or through a consent decree wherein the doctor voluntarily relinquished his license (i.e., submitted to a revocation). Because trials and hearings can be unpredictable, and because of other concerns, the Board chose the safer and surer route. The end result was the most serious sanction they were empowered to impose.
    PS > The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office examined the Rosen case to determine if there were any criminal charges that they could bring, and their conclusion was that all of the acts complained of were time-barred by applicable statutes of limitations. Whatever their reasons, the criminal enforcement authorities chose not to prosecute, leaving the State Medical Board as the last governmental entity empowered to take action, and they fulfilled their duty by removing Rosen from practice.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.