Herbert Freudenberger

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Herbert J. Freudenberger
Born (1926-11-26)November 26, 1926
Frankfurt, Germany
Died 29 November 1999(1999-11-29) (aged 73)
New York City, United States
Cause of death Kidney disease
Residence United States
Nationality United States, Germany
Alma mater New York University Ph.D, 1956
Brooklyn College B.A., 1951
Known for Burnout (psychology)
Awards American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Practice of Psychology (1999)
Scientific career
Fields Psychology

Herbert J. Freudenberger (1926–1999) was a Jewish, German-born American psychologist. Though Freudenberger had many jobs in his life, including practitioner, editor, theoretician, and author, his most significant contribution is in the understanding and treatment of stress, burnout, and substance abuse.[1]

Freudenberger was one of the first to describe the symptoms of exhaustion professionally and conduct a comprehensive study on burnout. In 1980, he published a book [2] dealing with burnout, which became a standard reference on the phenomenon. His most prestigious award was the American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Practice of Psychology in 1999.[3]

Early life[edit]

Freudenberger was born on November 26, 1926 in Frankfurt, Germany, to a middle-class Jewish-German family. His father was a cattle dealer, while his mother had three jobs: bookkeeper, housekeeper, and business partner.

In 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany. Freudenberger's family faced persecution at the hands of the Nazis.[4] After the beating of Freudenberger's grandmother and the death of his grandfather, he fled to the United States, with his parents' approval and false passport in hand. Traveling alone through multiple cities and countries, Freudenberger arrived in New York, where he cared for himself until a relative took him in. Once he had settled in New York, Freudenberger quickly learned English, and graduated from a junior high school with honors. When his parents finally made it to the U.S., Freudenberger went to work as a tool and die maker's apprentice to support them, instead of moving on to high school.[3]


Without a high school diploma and working at the manufacturing plant, Freudenberger began attending night classes at Brooklyn College. In a psychology class, he made the acquaintance of Abraham Maslow, who steered Freudenberger towards a degree in psychology and was his model and mentor. In 1951, Freudenberger received his bachelor's degree in psychology from Brooklyn College. He entered New York University's (NYU) clinical psychology program, and earned his master's degree in psychology in 1952, followed by his doctorate in psychology in 1956. While attending NYU, Freudenberger studied alongside Florence Halpern and Bernard Kalinkowitz. During this time, Freudenberger was also a student at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis (NPAP) (as well as NYU) and continued to work at the factory at night. In 1962, he finished his analytic training alongside Theodore Reik at NPAP.[1]


Freudenberger started his own psychological-psychoanalytic practice in 1958, which became very successful. From 1970 to 1999, Freudenberger was senior faculty member and training analyst at NPAP, while continuing his private practice.[1] In his career, Freudenberer was also an assistant/visiting professor at Great Neck Adult Education Center (1958 to 1960), Queens College, City University of New York (1962 to 1965), Brooklyn College (1955 to 1958), Louisiana State University (1956), New York University (1963 to 1973), and New School for Social Research (1974 to 1988).[3] In the 1970s, Freudenberger decided to help the development of the free clinic movement, which, unusually for the time, treated substance abusers. Freudenberger devoted a large amount of time to these clinics, without pay. As a consultant, he created and supervised training programs for drug abuse treatment at the Archdiocese of New York from 1974 to 1984.[1]

Throughout his career, Freudenberger made scholarly contributions that were recognized in the United States and around the world. In recognition, he was made Fellow of the American Psychological Association in 1972. He also received awards such as the Psychologist of the Year Award from both the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Society of Psychologists in Private Practice in 1981, the Distinguished Psychologist Award from the APA and their Division of Psychotherapy in 1983, the Presidential Citation from the APA in 1990, and the Carl F. Heiser Special Presidential Award from the (APA) in 1992.[1]

Freudenberger worked for the APA Task Force on Substance Abuse in 1991 and the Board of Professional Affairs from 1975-78. He also worked for the APA on the Council of Representatives; there, he represented the Division of Independent Practice from 1986–89, and the Division of Psychotherapy from 1974–75, and 1982-84. He was president of both the Divisions of Psychotherapy from 1980–81 and of Independent Practice from 1982–83, and also of the New York Society of Clinical Psychologists from 1965–67 and 1978–79, and also a founding board member of the National Academies of Practice in 1981 and a national co-chair of the National Council of Graduate Education in Psychology from 1968-74.[1]


His clinical concept for Burnout (psychology) was originally developed from his work with the free clinics and through therapeutic communities.[1] Freudenberger defines burnout to be a "state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one's professional life".[5] Along with colleague Gail North, Freudenberger created a list of phases of burnout.

Family and death[edit]

Freudenberger met Arlene Francis Somer in 1961 and they wed shortly after. Together, they had three children: Lisa, Mark, and Lori. Lisa received a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. Mark became a business entrepreneur (specializing in real estate). Lori became an assistant district attorney. Freudenberger treasured his family very much. They traveled a lot together throughout the United States, and also traveled to Canada, Europe, and Israel. Though he grew up in Germany, he never returned. Late in life he was interviewed on video by the Shoah Foundation for its collection of memoirs of Jewish Holocaust survivors.[6] From 1994 to 1999, Freudenberger battled kidney disease along with failing physical health. He continued to work until he died in the New York City Hospital on November 29, 1999.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Canter, M. B., & Freudenberger, L. (2001). Herbert J. Freudenberger (1926-1999). American Psychologist, 56(12), 1171. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
  2. ^ Freudenberger, Herbert; Richelson Géraldine (1980). Burn Out: The High Cost of High Achievement. What it is and how to survive it. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-20048-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d Herbert Freudenberger. (1993). American Psychologist, 48(4), 356-358. doi:10.1037/h0090736.
  4. ^ Martin, Douglas (Dec. 5, 1999). "Herbert Freudenberger, 73, Coiner of 'Burnout,' Is Dead," New York Times (obituary). https://www.nytimes.com/1999/12/05/nyregion/herbert-freudenberger-73-coiner-of-burnout-is-dead.html.
  5. ^ Urich, Kraft (June–July 2006). "Burned Out". Scientific American Mind. 17 (3): 28–3. 
  6. ^ Shoah Foundation: Interview code 43679; available at libraries that cooperate with the Shoah Foundation.