The Wonderful Story of Joanne Greenberg

May 31, 2019
Although schizophrenia is considered incurable, the story of Joanne Greenberg shows otherwise. Read this article to discover it!

We know all about Joanne Greenberg thanks to the wonderful autobiographical book she published in 1964. Her book became a film titled I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. It shared the testimony of a true and verifiable example of schizophrenic healing.

According to psychiatry, schizophrenia is an incurable mental disorder. They call it the “cancer of the mind”. They also say that there isn’t a treatment that can fully eliminate its symptoms. Biological Psychiatry offers medication for schizophrenia, but it has limited effectiveness.

“…to experience the reality was to suffer a boredom as endless as the illness itself… the boredom of insanity was a great desert, so great that anyone’s violence or agony seemed an oasis, and the brief companionship seemed like a rain in the desert that was numbered and counted and remembered long after it was gone.”

-Joanne Greenberg-

That is why Joanne Greenberg’s story is a hopeful milestone. Her case is fully documented. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was still a child. In addition to that, her case was serious. She suffered from visual and auditory hallucinations.

The Beginning of the Story of Joanne Greenberg

The story of Joanne Greenberg began in 1932, in the United States. She suffered a series of physical problems that took her from one hospital to another, and she endured painful treatments. As a consequence, Joanne began to create her own personal world and started to “live” in it.

A transparent woman walking with an umbrella.

Joanne wrote about a “fourth level”, the world she created for herself: the Kingdom of Yr. It was a world with its own time, logic, and language. In this world lived a dark god and many sinister characters who spoke to her and alerted her about the evil that lurked there. Sometimes, they were also insidious, tormenting her with threats and warnings of impending dangers.

Joanne Greenberg was diagnosed with schizophrenia due to her inability to distinguish what wasn’t real from reality. At the age of 16, her father took her to a mental hospital. There, she met the person who eventually changed her life: a psychoanalyst named Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.

Fromm-Reichmann had been Freud’s personal disciple. She believed that any patient could be cured with psychotherapy.

A Long Therapeutic Process

Frieda Fromm-Reichmann had married Erich Fromm, who had been her patient. She then divorced him but closely followed his humanistic theories. She was convinced that schizophrenia could also be cured in a therapeutic environment.

A book by Joanne Greenberg.

The psychoanalyst engaged in a thorough and extensive dialogue with Joanne. She asked her questions about her life, hoping that she’d be able to verbalize the painful situations she had experienced. What wanted Joanne to let go of her repressed memories.

You can find Joanne Greenberg’s entire story and therapeutic process with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann in the novel I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

This particular phrase is literal. The psychoanalyst used it when Joanne began to replace her invented world with the real world. Joanne would often realize that there was injustice in the real world, and was therefore sorry she ever left the realms of her imagination. Frieda then replied to her using this phrase: “I never promised you a rose garden”.

A Case of Schizophrenia that was Cured with Psychotherapy

These two women, Joanne and Frieda, challenged the core beliefs of psychiatry. Joanne’s schizophrenia was cured. From a psychoanalytic point of view, someone who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia can never be called “normal” in a strict sense.

However, Joanne achieved what we can properly call normality, the ability to stand on one’s own two feet. By “normal”, we mean being able to study, fall in love, and get married, among other things. The “normal” mix of happiness and disappointment that we all experience in our lives.

An Independent Life

Unfortunately, Frieda died before completely finishing the psychoanalysis. By then, however, Joanne was already out of mental hospitals. She had started her college studies and was trying to lead an independent life.

Frieda never allowed Joanne to receive medication. It was a real challenge to psychiatry, and she got through it really well. Joanne, from her own testimony, shows how sufferers can experience real relief from the symptoms of schizophrenia. All of this, however, caused great controversy. Those who hold on to the idea that mental illness is linked to brain disease have systematically refused to give this process the credit it deserves.

Be that as it may, Joanne Greenberg’s story is a beautiful testimony of hope. A testimony that we shouldn’t overlook if we truly care about the human mind. A testimony that shows that, in essence, there are no limits to what it can achieve.