Lauretta Bender

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Lauretta Bender

Lauretta Bender, M.D. (9 August 1897 – 4 January 1987) was a child neuropsychiatrist, best known as the creator of the Bender-Gestalt Test.

Early life[edit]

When Bender was in third grade, around age eight, her handwriting was so poor and her reading was so slow, she was considered by school authorities to be slightly retarded. They attempted to force her to go back to second grade. Her father, however, prevented this move because he decided he could assist Lauretta’s reading and writing skills with support.

Education and career[edit]

Bender received B.S. and M.A. degrees in biology from the University of Chicago and an M.D. from the State University of Iowa. She worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York City from 1930 to 1956.

While at Bellevue Hospital, Dr. Bender administered electroconvulsive therapy to 100 children, (among them was Ted Chabasinski, now a human rights activist).

"Bender, who shocked 100 children, the youngest of whom was 3, abandoned the use of ECT in the 1950s. She is best known as the co-developer of a widely used neuropsychological test that bears her name, not as a pioneer in the use of ECT on children. That work was discredited by researchers who found that the children she treated either showed no improvement or got worse." [1]

Work in reading disability[edit]

Bender became aware of the need for a specialized teaching philosophy applicable to children with language disabilities. She recognized that children with learning disorders were best understood as suffering from a biologically determined disorder.[2] She believed that there was “a functional defect of the maturation of those areas...needed for the development of language, considered in its broadest sense”.[citation needed] She felt that, although there were many possible reasons for the maturational delays, such as those resulting from poor social experiments at critical times of language development, there was a genetic factor underlying some reading disabilities.

Bender viewed reading disabilities as evolving from a basic biological unevenness in maturation. She believed the reading disability itself to be but a manifestation of a more fundamental condition. Bender claimed that “children with various biological problems have a number of common problems", including: difficulties in patterned behavior in impulse, motor, perceptual and integrative areas; severe anxiety, also poorly patterned, with associated body image and identification problems; and a great need for human support in relation to these areas.[citation needed]

With the help of Paul Schilder, Bender developed the thesis that many of the language problems facing children with reading disabilities may have as their basis difficulty with the temporal ordering of sequences in a series of hierarchies of organization. Such ordering and hierarchical sequences include the organization of phonemes in words, words in a sentence, and sentences within paragraphs.[citation needed]

Bender-Gestalt Test[edit]

Main article: Bender-Gestalt Test

Bender is best known for her Visual Motor Gestalt Test described in her 1938 monograph, A Visual Motor Gestalt Test and Its Clinical Use. The test consists of reproducing nine figures that are printed on cards. The figures were derived from the work of the famous Gestalt psychologist, Max Wertheimer.[citation needed] The Bender-Gestalt test, as it is now often called, was typically among the top five test used by clinical psychologists. It was considered to be a measure of perceptual motor skills and perceptual motor development and gives an indication of neurological intactness. Underlying the use of this test was Lauretta Bender's false argument that a single measure that assesses gestalt could potentially identify brain damage. In the past two decades studies have repeatedly shown that the B-G is not sensitive to the identification of brain damage or emotional problems. It is therefore rarely taught or used by clinical psychologists.[citation needed]

Scoring systems include:

  • Elizabeth M. Koppitz's system for children (1963)[3]
  • Pascal and Suttell system for adults (1951)[4]
  • Hutt and Briskin projective personality feature system (1960)[4]
  • Arthur Canter's Background Interference Procedure (BIP) test for organicity (1976)

Patrica Lacks uses the BGT test as a screening device for brain damage. Bender herself said it was "a method of evaluating maturation of gestalt functioning children 4-11's brain functioning by which it responds to a given constellation of stimuli as a whole, the response being a motor process of patterning the perceived gestalt."

Gestalt therapy is a separate and distinct science from the Visual Motor Gestalt Test.


  1. ^ Washington Post, September 24, 1996, 'Shock Therapy...It's Back', by Sandra G.Boodman
  2. ^ Silver, Archie A. "Lauretta Bender's Contribution to Understanding Language Disorders". Annals of Dyslexia 39 (1989).
  3. ^ Lacks, Patricia (1999). Bender Gestalt Screening for Brain Dysfunction, (2d ed.), p. 157. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-24257-8.
  4. ^ a b Lacks (1999), p. 36.