Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington


Ten Years of Consultation Work in Vienna

(Free Child Guidance Clinics)

by Sofie Lazarsfeld

(Originally published in German in the "Zeitschrift fur Kinderforschung," Vol.39 No.1 (1932), pages 59-80, Julius Springer, Berlin. The original translator is unkown. Edited for readability by Laurie J. Stein, M.A. And Henry T. Stein Ph.D. A few statistical tables were omitted. Our thanks to Jane Pfefferle and Gerald L. Liebenau for their assistance. This material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in whole or part without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein.)

Sofie Lazarsfeld (1882-1976) was trained by Alfred Adler in Vienna in the 1920's. She first practiced in Vienna, later (1938) in Paris, and moved to New York City in 1941. She was the author of numerous articles and books, focusing mainly on women's issues, and was the mother of sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld.

Immediately after the war in 1920 the school of Alfred Adler started establishing free child guidance clinics, at a time when the demoralization of children and juveniles became a public danger. Although in its very beginning accepted with considerable distrust, today it seems unthinkable that psychological consultation should be eliminated from our social welfare work as well as from our school system. The goal could be attained only by the almost. fanatic devotion and sacrifices of the teachers of Vienna. They, the teachers, were the first to visualize the advantages of Individual Psychological training for pupils as well as for teachers. The work of the above mentioned consultation bureau begins at the point where the habitual methods of instruction and education do not suffice to avoid the difficulties of adjustment or to eliminate them, if they have come into being. Again and again consultants have to explain to those who ask for advice, because the children "cause" them so many "difficulties", that the children do not so much "cause" difficulties, but have them. The so called "problem children" are exposed to difficulties which are imposed upon them by parents and teachers not sufficiently educated and informed. Before we are going to illustrate the practical methods, it may be said that they have stood the test. For, after a very short time, parents and educators have learned to appreciate our help in their educational work and the great demand led very soon to a considerable increase of our bureau.

In 1928, there already existed twenty-eight public bureaus, inaugurated by the "Verein fuer Individual Psychology". The heads were well-trained psychologists assisted by a physician in each location. Very soon the demand increased to such an extent that all the bureaus needed could not be installed; it was not possible to find so many reliable collaborators in so short a time. Today there are thirty-two consultation bureaus in full swing. Some of them have been founded by social associations, others by political parties, still others are established in schools. The last are the most interesting ones, because they serve a double purpose; on the one hand they alleviate the difficulties of the teacher who brings a "problem child" of his class to the bureau and at the same time they give theoretical instruction to all those teachers who take part at these public consultations. The organization lies in the hands of Teachers’ Associations. The teachers of the Public Schools of Vienna are supervised by district inspectors of schools who function as representatives of the highest authorities of schools, the "Board of Education of the City", (Stadtschulrat). Within the particular district of inspection the teachers have formed scientific groups some of which are founding consultation bureaus. These offices, like all other institutions in public schools, are placed under the supervision of the inspector of the school districts who also attends the consultations. The school authority acknowledges and furthers these consultation bureaus. A respective organization sees to it that the teachers of the respective districts are kept in touch with these teachers’ associations. The teachers of the particular schools hold monthly local conferences; they elect a representative, whose duty it is not only to participate in the consultations, but also to give exact reports about the course of the consultations. This procedure makes it possible that in many districts every single teacher has been reached.

The consultation takes place in full publicity. Usually the gymnasium or drawing-room is placed at the disposal of the teachers, and all the teachers who take an interest in this kind of work meet there, mostly 80-120. Outsiders are not admitted. Firstly the class teacher of the respective child gives a detailed report about the child and his difficulties. He describes everything about his mental and bodily development and the family constellation (siblings, characteristics of parents, conception of life, economical and social milieu). He also states the moment in which the difficulties arose or were increased. The chief consultant then discusses the case theoretically; sometimes, now already, some correlation is cleared up that leads to a fruitful discussion among teacher, consultant and the attending teachers. Then the parents are called in. Talking with them the consultant uncovers some new correlations and informs the parents about the origin of the difficulties and the remedies for them. (The readers of this periodical are supposed to be familiar with the theoretical foundations of Individual Psychology so that it is unnecessary to explain them here). Now the parents leave the room and their child enters. The consultant reveals the "error of his life" to him in a free and easy way that is adapted to his mental capacity and shows him how his life can be changed. After parents and child have left, the case with all its details is discussed again, summarized and elucidated from all angles. Then the conclusion is drawn for the particular case and its typical symptoms are emphasized as well. Thus the advice seeking teacher as well as those generally interested in education enlarge their experience. The question whether the participation of an audience is expedient or even only admissible has been much discussed. Many raise the objection that parents and children are intimidated by such a procedure and misled to untrue statements. The answer is that the percentage of true statements is not very great in any case and that what is told is less important than how the narrator behaves. On the other hand, we often observe that an encouraging compensation is found by those who seek advice when they realize that so many people take an interest in their case. Moreover, the experienced consultant will be able to establish so intensive a contact with parents and child by his approach, that they feel at home in spite of the audience. Furthermore, the publicity of the procedure will not harm them at all, if those asking advice learn at the beginning from a passing remark that their case is not unique, but rather typical and very familiar to the consultant. The almost infallible success and the improvement which often occur very soon are proof of it. Alfred Adler conducts his consultations in public, but of course it is up to each of his disciples to apply his own method and some of them exclude publicity. In other cases the organizers admit everybody who shows a serious interest; parents and tutors, led only by curiosity come in, but what they see and hear in such consultation hours makes them find the way to the consultations, if they are in need of advice themselves. The Board of the city which takes care of the Youth (Jugondamt) has established several bureaus for education, which admit interested persons as listeners only by special permission given by the authorities. The municipal institution for the training of Kindergarten teachers has also a consultation office as an annex. During the last three months, 131 children were given advice by eight individual psychological consultation bureaus. The complaints produced there numbered 596 concerning the following cases:

Social difficulties with adults; (resistance, disobedience, impoliteness, etc.) ........................................................ 200
Social conflicts with children of the same age; (tendency to dominate, tendency to self-seclusion, etc.) ............... 117
Disturbances of development in a narrow sense; (Speech disturbances, lack of independence, bed-wetting) .........86
Inefficiency; (failure in school, etc. ...................................................................................................................... 84
Sundry troubles; (tendency to commit suicide, criminal propensities, bed-wetting, etc.) ...................................... 109
Total ................................................................. ............................................................................................. 596

I should like to add that often the manner in which a conversation with the parents begins, already reveals the cause of the claimed difficulties. Once at the teachers’ consultation, we had just listened to the report of the teacher and did not yet know anything about the parents and had seen neither them nor the child. As the consultant, Dr. Adler concluded from the report that the child’s mother might be over-energetic and domineering. It was the case of a thirteen year old boy. He did not study at all, did not do any homework, disturbed the lessons with questions off the point, annoyed all the teachers by offering them useless objects, etc. He was intrusive and rude to girls. He could never got along with his parents. So far the report of the teacher from which Dr. Adler drew his conclusion. After having called in parents and child, Dr. Adler addressed the father in particular. However, before the father was able to utter a word, the mother overflowing with words demonstrated all that she was doing for the child. She told us that nobody in the world could take better care of the boy; she was constantly after him. When he came home, she commanded and directed all his doings; when he was disobedient, she did not hesitate to slap his face. Briefly speaking everything the child could ask for was done. This report gave the listener a clear picture of a child who had been deprived of all independence, and self-determination and whose feelings had been numbed with punishments. Thus the boy believed himself to be useless for everything and felt so discouraged that he did not even try to study any more. He rather indulged in gaining prestige by becoming the instigator of misdeeds, was impudent and insolent to the teachers.

The consultant endeavored to discover a field where the boy had not failed completely and found out that it was gymnastics. The teacher of this subject had been very understanding, and here the boy had turned out to be a paragon. The mother also came to the consultations and adapted herself to a more reasonable kind of intercourse with children. So the boy’s trampled self-respect was restored, and he did not have to win prestige through misdemeanor any longer. His improvement was quick and lasting.

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