Dreikurs was born in Vienna in 1897 into a merchant family that had attained comfort without opulence. A first born with a sister 5 years younger, he learned music at an early age as well as foreign languages (French and English) when a little older. He retained his love of music throughout his lifetime. As an adult he composed songs, and he played chamber music in his home, at varying times playing the piano, violin, viola, and cello. He loved playing the piano and often played four-handed pieces or even two-piano music when another musician was available. From the age of 50 onward, he had two pianos in his home.
With the arrival of the World War I, Dreikurs became a soldier at the age of 18 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Austrian Army. During his adolescent years, he had become involved in youth groups focusing on idealistic causes, involving humanism and nature and social ideals. From an early age, he recognized the negative consequences of autocratic rule. In his social values and in his psychiatric work, he advocated the necessity for democratic processes. His writings spanned many areas, including his writings as a leader in American Humanism, in which he integrated moral, spiritual, and psychological concerns.
He worked strongly for peaceful coexistence between individuals, groups, and nations. The horrors he experienced in World War I strengthened his resolve to help humanity rely on cooperation rather than destruction in resolving conflicts.
After his military duties, he went to medical school and then to training in psychiatry, which at the time was a newly developed medical specialty. In treating patients in his private practice, he sought the advice of elders and leaders in the field, including Alfred Adler, the founder of a school of psychology called Individual Psychology. He joined the discussions led by Adler, with whom he worked closely as a younger colleague and whose theory and practice Dreikurs championed. Along with Adler, Dreikurs was a counselor in the child guidance centers established in the public schools in Vienna. Dreikurs became a leader in the Vienna Adlerian group, and when Adler died in 1937, it was Dreikurs who went to Brazil to fill in a lecture tour in Adler’s stead.
Following the trip to Brazil, Dreikurs moved to Chicago and developed a psychiatric practice there. His concerns with community psychiatry, well established in his work with Adler in Europe, continued. He led community child guidance centers and continued his work with schools. His lifelong concern with prevention led him to focus on parenting and educational training, and he lectured widely throughout the United States and Canada. After the World War II, he helped re-establish Adlerian psychology in Europe. The fascist governments had destroyed Adlerian work in their countries, and Dreikurs helped to re-establish and strengthen Adlerian work wherever possible. He helped develop Adlerian institutes in Greece and Israel and worked tirelessly to build Adlerian psychology internationally.
A founder of the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology, he also founded its first national journal. He actively supported the International Association of Individual Psychology when it was reactivated after the World War II. In 1962 he founded an international summer institute whose umbrella organization, the International Association of Adlerian Summer Schools and Institutes, ICASSI, meets annually in a different country. Participants come from over 30 countries. This international summer school follows a model of an earlier program that Adler had established years earlier.
Dreikurs was innovative in his psychiatric work. He was the first to have a psychologist and a psychodrama expert employed in his practice, and early in his career, he had group therapy as a vital part of his practice. He developed a model of “multiple psychotherapy” (Dreikurs et al. 1984) and pioneered music therapy. He lectured widely, focusing especially on helping children and youths. He focused on the democratic processes that were needed in raising and educating children. He continued and furthered the educational and counseling methods developed by Adler and colleagues in Vienna.
Although noted for his effectiveness in therapy with seriously disturbed individuals, Dreikurs wrote articles and books concerned with problems of everyday life in addition to publications dealing with diagnosis and treatment of psychopathology. Dreikurs emphasized that psychological difficulties entailed disturbed social relationships. For him, values, beliefs, and human relationships of individuals and groups were crucial in psychological well-being. His focus, as was that of Adler, was on the need to belong (Ferguson 1989, 2010). He wrote on group dynamics and group psychotherapy as well as on music therapy that integrated his appreciation of both music and group processes.
Dreikurs (1947) is well-known for his writings on “mistaken goals” in children. Adlerians focus on self-set goals as the basis of an individual’s emotions, motivation, thoughts, and actions. Dreikurs systematized the way goals function in children, and he identified the four mistaken goals that children develop when they are discouraged and do not feel equal and belonging and when they believe their contributions are not valued. Like Adler, he advocated that children need to be encouraged, to be helped to develop their Social Interest (Gemeinschaftsgefühl), to believe in their equality, and not to develop feelings of personal inferiority. The book he wrote before his death, Social equality: The challenge of today (Dreikurs 1971), was the publication that he believed represented his most important insights.
Dreikurs was loved and revered, although some of his critics found his open style of communicating directly and uninhibitedly to be offensive. It is important to note that Adlerian psychology was not widely appreciated in an era when the dominant perspective in psychotherapeutic treatment was Freudian oriented. His concern during his lifetime with equality and social justice as necessary for mental health was not readily accepted by professionals and lay people alike in his time. This biased him to be forthright and at times to alienate those who scorned his theory and practice.
During his lifetime, his teaching of democratic methods for conflict resolution and his emphasis on encouragement and natural consequences were often not well-accepted. Today his teachings are both well-known and well-accepted, far more than during his own lifetime. His books have been translated into many languages. Countless people around the world are now reading his books, which emphasize Adlerian principles of holism, the social nature of human motivation and action, and the fundamental goal-direction inherent in emotion, motivation, and action (Ferguson 2016). In all his work devoted to problems of adult relationships and in raising children, his focus was on choices and decisionmaking, equality, encouragement, and mutual respect.
Some of the well-known books that Dreikurs wrote are Children: The challenge (Dreikurs and Soltz 2016), Maintaining sanity in the classroom (Dreikurs et al. 1999), Discipline without tears (Dreikurs et al. 2004), and The challenge of marriage (Dreikurs 1999). Although Dreikurs died in 1972 at the age of 75, his influence has greatly continued and provided enormous benefit to individuals and communities around the world.
- Dreikurs, R. (1947). The four goals of children’s misbehavior. The Nervous Child, 6, 3–11.Google Scholar
- Dreikurs, R. (1971). Social equality: The challenge of today. Chicago: Adler Institute.Google Scholar
- Dreikurs, R., & Soltz, V. (2016). Children: The challenge. New York: Putnam.Google Scholar
- Dreikurs, R., Shulman, B. H., & Mosak, H. H. (1984). Multiple psychotherapy: The use of two therapists with one patient. Chicago: Alfred Adler Institute.Google Scholar
- Dreikurs, R., Grunwald, B. B., & Pepper, F. (1999). Maintaining sanity in the classroom: Classroom management techniques (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
- Dreikurs, R., Cassel, P., & Ferguson, E. D. (2004). Discipline without tears: How to reduce conflict and establish cooperation in the classroom. (Revised ed.) Toronto: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Ferguson, E. D. (1989). Adler’s motivational theory: An historical perspective on belonging and the fundamental human striving. Individual Psychology, 45, 354–361.Google Scholar
- Ferguson, E. D. (2010). Adler’s innovative contributions regarding the need to belong. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 66, 1–7.Google Scholar
- Ferguson, E. D. (2016). Adlerian theory: An introduction. Chicago: Adler University.Google Scholar