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Continuing Alfred Adler’s Call for Socially Responsible Practitioners

“The honest psychologist cannot shut his eyes to social conditions which prevent the child from becoming a part of the community and from feeling at home in the world, and which allow him to grow up as if he lived in an enemy country. ” – Alfred Adler


Alfred Adler: Physician, psychotherapist, founder of Adlerian psychology, and considered the first community psychologist

In observing Alfred Adler’s birthday today (b. 1870), and that of his student and Adler School founder Rudolf Dreikurs tomorrow (b. 1897), we reflect on how their groundbreaking ideas on social interest and community health shape the teaching, thinking, work and impact of our faculty, students, colleagues, and alumni every day.

Emphasizing the human need and ability to create positive social change and impact, Adler introduced psychology to the groundbreaking concept of social interest: that people’s health resides in their community life and connections.  He advanced the idea now known as the social determinants of health, and advocated for socially responsible practice calling for practitioners to take on the roles of social activist and reformer.

Rudolf Dreikurs: Psychiatrist, educator, and founder of the Alfred Adler Institute--today, the Adler School

Rudolf Dreikurs: Psychiatrist, educator, and founder of the Alfred Adler Institute–today, the Adler School

In 1952, Dreikurs and fellow adherents to Adler’s work established the Alfred Adler Institute in Chicago, to train practitioners who could apply Adler’s idea of social interest. Today, now known as the Adler School, we continue that important work  training socially responsible practitioners: those who understand and work to ensure community health, rather than simply provide services.

Adler said: “The psychologist must work against wars of conquest, revenge, and prestige; against unemployment which plunges people into hopelessness; and against all other obstacles which interfere with the spreading of social interest in the family, the school, and society at large.”

That statement is truer today than ever before. Socially responsible practitioners are critically necessary to advocate for social change and solutions to problems–such as gun violence, unemployment and poverty–to make our communities socially inclusive, safe, and secure for all all.

With their skills, understanding and mission, socially responsible practitioners have the power to:

  • Better support families to raise children without violence and with regard for youth across all types of difference.
  • Change how the criminal justice system handles people living with mental illnesses.
  • Support encouragement, communication, and effective organization in the workplace.
  • Address conflict and its resolution in communities.
  • Help us understand and change social determinants of health and mental health.
  • Challenge prejudice and hatred, and implement effective ways to eliminate them.

These thoughts are further articulated in our recently published “The Socially Responsible Practice Project,” which serves to strengthen our collective understanding of socially responsible practice based on the foundation that Drs. Adler and Dreikurs provided for us.

In this, our 60th year of leading social change, we celebrate them by reaffirming our commitment to continuing their pioneering work–through graduating socially responsible practitioners, engaging communities, and advancing social justice. We carry on the ideal that “What benefits one must benefit all.”