Not surprisingly, David Zwerdling, who worked for Bruno Bettelheim, believes the man respected and helped troubled children {letters, Sept. 26}. Yet as a staffer, Zwerdling could not have known the fear the students lived in. He wrote that he observed "a normal range of emotions" at the school, as if this denied that terror prevailed. I'm sure that in Saddam Hussein's Iraq or in any other repressive dictatorship, you will find a normal range of emotions too.

Zwerdling also stated that because one boy received epilepsy medication, my statement was wrong that children weren't treated for serious neurological disorders {"The Other Dr. Bettelheim," Outlook, Aug. 26}. In my experience, many children were at the school because Bettelheim mistakenly diagnosed their brain or nerve damage as emotional disturbance. They were told their problems were psychological and that they could change their behavior, when they couldn't control their behavior because of physical reasons.

Since Zwerdling said he only saw Bettelheim hit a child once, he must have forgotten that it was routine punishment. And while there may not have been a consensus among child care professionals against hitting while Bettelheim ran the school, nothing can justify Bettelheim's hitting children and telling others not to.

I have wondered why neither Zwerdling, who acknowledges that "negative aspects of {Bettelheim} that have been discussed privately among some who known him," nor any other mental-health professionals who knew of Bettelheim's behavior ever reported it. Several patients tried to, but no one would listen.

-- Charles Pekow

As former counselors and teachers at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School, spanning the years of Dr. Bettelheim's tenure, we were appalled at the image of him presented in Charles Pekow's Outlook article. The article portrayed Bruno Bettelheim as a sadistic child-abuser who preached understanding of children while acting out his own uncontrolled impulses. The Orthogenic School was portrayed as a tyrannical institution where children were imprisoned and lived in terror.

Is the public to believe that Bettelheim perpetrated child abuse for more than 25 years in a laboratory school at the University of Chicago? Is the public to believe that he concealed the existence of this "concentration camp" environment within one of the world's great research universities?

We, who worked (and many of whom lived) at the Orthogenic School, do not recognize this spurious picture of Bettelheim's character and work. Further, Pekow's article was a sorry deprecation of the achievements of the children, teachers, counselors, consulting psychiatrists and support staff.

We want to unequivocally confirm Bettelheim's contribution to the understanding and treatment of children who otherwise would have been considered hopelessly untreatable. Never did he waver in his commitment to the children in his trust. Indeed, he well understood, as did Anna Freud, "The deepest of all human anxieties is to be at the mercy of one's own impulses."

Bettelheim was deeply moved by the inner chaos, rage, misery and terror of the children, which was often manifest in extreme behavior, ranging from endangering themselves or others, to the ludicrous or puzzling. Of course, he responded with a range of feeling and action. There was a great deal to be upset about and sufficient to enjoy with good humor. We were taught a protective and nurturing environment for the children was essential. Bettelheim exhorted us never to give up in our efforts, because even the most hateful or bizarre behavior could be understood and perhaps remediated.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with Bettelheim learned to appreciate the children's strivings toward normal development against great odds. We watched children getting better.

Because of the benefits of Bettelheim's teaching and training, we have remained in the field. We continue in our efforts to contribute to the understanding and treatment of children and adults. -- Fau Lohn Tyroler and Karen Zelan The writers' views represent those of 14 counselors and teachers who worked at the Orthogenic School.