Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rudolf Dreikurs

Biographical details not otherwise credited below are from Terner and Pew (1978).

Rudolf Dreikurs was born in Vienna, Austria in 1897. He became a medical doctor, psychiatrist and educator.  His most noteworthy contributions to individual psychology were in transforming its original theoretical foundations into systems of clinical practice as well as significantly expanding its scope (Bitter, 1997; Bitter, 2007).

Dreikurs’ childhood relationships with significant adults were marked by emotional conflict. As Terner and Pew (1978) state:
His stern father impatiently demanded perfection of him, his mother indulged and pampered him, and nursemaids, aunts and uncles all made Rudi the focus of attention…[he] quickly grasped that to be important and to have a place in the family, he must be the center of attention. The rub was that he also had to live up to all the demands placed on him…Suddenly, when he was five, Rudolf’s world was torn asunder, his throne  toppled, and his sovereignty destroyed by the arrival of a baby sister, Bertha.  (p. 5)

At the age of about fifteen, Dreikurs aligned with a youth movement that engaged in discussion groups largely focused on school reform. He soon organized a Sprechsall (“speaking hall”) to host one of these discussion groups. Dreikurs there learned the value of public sharing of ideas in an open setting. He later experienced that value again through his association with Alfred Adler.

Dreikurs first met Adler in 1921 as a result of their mutual involvement in the postwar labor movement’s efforts to foster improvements in education and cultural enrichment. Adler’s participation led to his establishment of child guidance clinics in Vienna and elsewhere. The number of clinics grew rapidly, and Dreikurs was part of a group trained to work in the new clinics. Dreikurs’ appreciation of Adler’s ideas grew steadily, and by the time Dreikurs opened his private practice in 1927 he fully embraced individual psychology, an attitude that he maintained for the remainder of his life.

With the ascent to power of Hitler, political and social conditions in Europe became increasingly threatening, especially to Jewish intellectuals such as Dreikurs. Accordingly, about 1934 he formed the intention to leave Vienna, although it took three years for him to do so. Finally in 1937 (the year in which Adler died) Dreikurs left Europe entirely. He stopped for a time in Brazil and then made his way to Chicago where he began to put Adlerian ideas into practice.

Dreikurs’ first major effort in the United States was the establishment in 1939 of a child guidance clinic at the Abraham Lincoln Center in a lower-class Chicago neighborhood. He continued to develop his ideas about individual psychology and to put them into action through teaching, lecturing, and clinical practice until his death in 1972. By that time Dreikurs had published over 300 works (Bitter, 1997).  Many of them remain relevant today and are widely studied and cited, for example his classic Children: The Challenge (Dreikurs, 1964). In 1951, Dreikurs founded the Alfred Adler Institute, later the Adler School of Professional Psychology, in Chicago. The school grew steadily and in 1955 offered its first postgraduate program in psychotherapy (Terner & Pew, 1978).

Make a Connection

Dreikurs’ early experiences as an active member and organizer of youth discussion groups seem to have had a lasting influence on him. Are there experiences that have had equally significant impacts for you?


Bitter, J. (1997, June). Dreikurs in 1997: A posthumous contribution. Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice. p. 119-121. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Bitter, J. (2007). Am I an Adlerian?. Journal of Individual Psychology, 63(1), 3-31. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Dreikurs, R., & Soltz, V. (1964). Children: The challenge. New York: Plume.

Terner, J., & Pew, W.L. (1978). The courage to be imperfect: The life and work of Rudolf Dreikurs. New York: Hawthorn.

Copyright (c) 2011 Leonard Snyder

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