Rudolf Dreikurs (February 8, 1897 – May 25, 1972) was an American psychiatrist and educator who developed Alfred Adler's system of individual psychology into a pragmatic method for understanding the purposes of misbehavior in children and for stimulating cooperative behavior without punishment or reward. His primary focus was on pre-adolescents, and he reasoned that their problem behavior resulted from feelings of lack of significance in their social group. He described four "mistaken goals" that such children would resort to, and outlined the most effective ways teachers and parents can respond.
He saw the family as the first social setting in which education takes place, with the school environment as an extension of the family. Thus, his techniques for preventing misbehavior and encouraging appropriate behavior could be applied equally in both settings. Dreikurs' work continues through the training centers he and his colleagues established to train counselors in addressing the social problems of youth.
Rudolf Dreikurs was Alfred Adler's close colleague and student. Upon Adler's death in 1939, Dreikurs completed Adler's lecture tour in Scotland. Dreikurs then began his own mission to promote Adler's individual psychology through lectures in prisons, schools, and health care settings.
Dreikurs continued the work that Adler had started, seeing the need for systematic organization and techniques of applications in order to teach others how to use Adlerian principles effectively in counseling, psychotherapy, parent education, and in the classroom. Dreikurs was often credited with "elaborating, building, and working out in a clear, systematic and logical form, the basic ideas of Individual Psychology." While most agree that his greatest contribution was in the application and practice of individual psychology, some felt he also contributed to the creation of the original theory. He is most well known for his simplification and application of Adler's ideas for use by parents and educators. In 1964, along with Vicki Soltz, he wrote Children: The Challenge, and in 1968, he and Loren Grey wrote A Parent's Guide to Child Discipline.
Adler and Dreikurs firmly believed that encouragement was essential to improvement of behavior and human relationships. Their basic assumption was that human behavior is not predetermined by genetics, or merely the result of outside forces beyond one's control. They argued that behavior is a result of a search for significance within a social setting. Dreikurs foreshadowed later cognitive theories on expectancy by declaring that people arrange to bring about what they expect. He said "anticipation influences outcome—the fear of making a mistake leads to mistakes. Anyone who can alter the expectations of people can change their behavior." Thereby encouragement and positive support have a direct correlation with improved behavior in others.
Adlerian Parent Education aims to give children the skills to meet life challenges in a constructive, positive way and the courage to circumvent the many pitfalls and dangers that confront children in society. It supports parents by providing them with tools to ease and handle the stress of being a parent, and to raise children with courage and compassion.
Dreikurs believed that "all behavior has a purpose." He constructed what is often considered the most effective tool in helping to understand children's behavior: The Four Goals of Misbehavior and the techniques of effectively revealing these to a misbehaving child. The development of the system of natural and logical consequences, and the application of these techniques, may well be Dreikurs' finest contribution to the betterment of human society.
Dreikurs suggested that human misbehavior is the result of not having one's basic need of belonging to, and contributing to, a social group. The child then resorts to one of four mistaken goals: Attention, power, revenge, and avoidance of failure.
Dreikurs' main theory dealt with misbehavior of pre-adolescents. He reasoned that these students will “act out” based on these four, principled "mistaken goals." The first reason for their misbehavior is that they desire attention. If they do not receive the attention they crave through their actions (good or bad, e.g. doing well on a paper or throwing a tantrum), they move onto seeking power (e.g. they may refuse to complete a paper). If their power struggle is thwarted, they seek revenge. If even revenge does not achieve the desired response, they begin to feel inadequate.
His books list many ways to combat these behaviors. The first step is for teachers to identify the mistaken goal, noting their own response to the misbehavior, and observe the student's reactions. Secondly, a teacher should confront the mistaken goal by providing an explanation of it, together with a discussion of the faulty logic involved. By doing so, students are given an opportunity to examine and change their behavior. Thirdly, Dreikurs emphasized the importance of avoiding power struggles with students. One way is simply by withdrawing as an authority figure; teachers can also redirect students’ ambitions for power by having them participate in making decisions or giving directions. This was called "democratic teaching." Dreikurs also recommended taking positive steps against revenge seeking behavior. The teacher is instructed to set up situations where the students can exhibit talents and strengths and ultimately experience acceptance. Lastly, teachers should encourage students who display inadequacy, by offering these students encouragement and support for even minimal efforts. His overall goal was that students would learn to cooperate reasonably, without being penalized or rewarded, because they would feel that they are valuable contributors to the classroom.
Dreikurs described two types of consequences: Logical and natural. Logical consequences referred to “reasonable results that follow behavior either desirable or non-desirable.” They typically require students to make right of what they have done wrong. For example, if students do not complete their work during class, they are required to do it for homework. In a democratic classroom, the students would know in advance the consequences of their misbehavior because as part of the classroom they helped formulate the consequences.
Natural consequences differ from logical consequences in that the results following the behavior occur naturally. For example, if a student tips his chair backward and falls, leaving him hurt or embarrassed would be a natural consequence, because the hurt and embarrassment alone is sufficient consequence for his misbehavior.
Dreikurs did not consider punishment an effective method of discipline. He viewed punishment as an action taken by the teacher as an act of revenge and to show the students who is in charge. He believed that punishment was humiliating and offensive to students.
Dreikurs believed in prevention, and his main focus was on constructive behavior rather than coercive discipline. He recommended that teachers have a democratic classroom and teaching style, in order to help students gain a sense of belonging (genuine goal). In this manner students would have a social interest: A condition in which students would realize themselves that it is to their advantage to contribute to the welfare of a group. Therefore, to understand children, they must be observed in a social setting, in relationship to others, to discover the reasons for their behavior.
In 1952, Dreikurs founded the Alfred Adler Institute, now called the Adler School of Professional Psychology, in Chicago. As part of the Institute's mission, Dreikurs and his colleagues traveled the United States and Canada, establishing Adlerian training programs. Today there are Adlerian schools, institutes, and associations throughout the United States and the world, most of which would not have existed without the inspiration and support of Rudolf Dreikurs.
Dreikurs' wife, Sadie "Tee" Dreikurs, combined her passions for art and Adlerian psychology and created one of the first art therapy training programs in the country. Her student, Judy Sutherland, took over the direction of the Adler School's Master of Arts program in art therapy, which became one of the school's most successful programs.
The Adler School has continued to apply Adler's principles and concepts in an attempt to solve social problems. The school's curricula prepare professionals to alleviate social and global concerns as well as to address the needs of marginalized and under served populations. The Dreikurs Center offers training to students, as well as providing services to the community through its Chicago Loop clinic, through prisons, schools, and other settings.
Dreikurs also established the first Adlerian Child Guidance Center in the United States and trained counselors from many countries, who subsequently established Adlerian-Dreikursian Family Centers in many parts of the world.
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