Fritz Redl

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This resource Page is compiled by Sophie Kuerth-Landwehr;

Volunteer at Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre


Fritz Redl



About Fritz Redl

Fritz Redl (1902-1988) is today, in Europe and the United States, one of the best known and most respected psychoanalytical pedagogues. He published at least five books as well as 100 articles.

Already in his youth, Redl had been influenced by reform pedagogy as a member of the Wandervogel movement. In Vienna he studied philosophy, German language and literature, English and higher education and taught at a Realgymnasium.

Prompted by the psychoanalytic counseling of Editha Sterba at his Viennese school, Redl underwent analysis himself in 1928 (Sterba 1985, 46). He was active as a school psychologist at a county reformatory and directed from 1934 to 1936 the educational counseling centers of the Viennese Department for Public Education [Volksbildung]. He published several articles in The Journal of Psychoanalytical Pedagogy.

Redl immigrated to the USA in 1936 and participated at first on a research project about "The Normal Course of Adolescence".

Fritz Redl was Distinguished Professor of Behavioral Science at Wayne State University. In addition to several years of research and teaching at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and other institutions, Dr. Redl directed an extensive program for the treatment of hyperaggressive children in a closed and an open residential unit at the National Institute of Mental Health (Bethesda, Md.). Based on Aichhorn's experiences and Bettelheims' environment therapy, Redl developed a paradigm for therapeutic residential education for "children who hate."

Dr. Redl also founded and directed Pioneer House, the Detroit Group Project Summer Camp, served as consultant to several of the larger psychiatric children's hospitals in the United States, and lectured on an international scale.

In 1965 he was awarded a White House citation "for services to the mental health of children of the United States."

His main interestes were concepts and techniques in child therapy, education, child development, delinquency, residential treatment and parent and teacher education.

Dr. Fritz Redl died in 1988.

Fritz Redl and David Wineman

Modern psychoeducational approaches developed in response to juvenile delinquency issues that increased following the industrial revolution and large-scale immigration. At the forefront during the mid 1940's to 1960's were Redl (1902-1988) and his former student, Wineman. They believed in the inherent goodness of children, and sought to help them cope with the unfortunate negative events that had damaged their emotional growth.

Redl and Wineman developed caring, realistic, and sophisticated interventions for working with troubled youth who often struck out verbally and physically at those who tried to help. Perhaps the best known of their practices is the "Life Space Interview" (LSI), a menu of related strategies for helping youngsters reflect upon and learn from important interactions and crises. The selection of the LSI strategies depended on the staff member's assessment of the student's needs at that moment during an impromptu counseling session. Redl and Wineman saw a crisis as an opportunity for the individual to learn life lessons, develop self understanding, and move toward self-regulation of one's behavior.

Their books Children Who Hate (1951) and Controls from Within (1952) are classics in the field. These texts were later combined into a single volume titled The Aggressive Child. They believed that residential settings for troubled youth should have therapeutic environments staffed with skilled and supportive personnel. While that approach seems standard today, at the time, it was novel and controversial.



Psychoanalysis is a family of psychological theories and methods as originated by the work of Sigmund Freud. As a technique of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis seeks to discover connections among the unconscious components of patients' mental processes. The analyst's goal is to help liberate the patient from unexamined or unconscious barriers of transference and resistance, that is, past patterns of relating that are no longer serviceable or that inhibit freedom.


Psychoanalysis was devised in Vienna in the 1890s by Sigmund Freud, a neurologist interested in finding an effective treatment for patients with neurotic or hysterical symptoms. As a result of talking with these patients, Freud came to believe that their problems stemmed from culturally unacceptable, thus repressed and unconscious, desires and fantasies of a sexual nature. As his theory developed, Freud developed and cast aside a myriad of different frameworks to model and explain the phenomena he encountered in treating his patients.

Psychological trauma

The psychological trauma is a type of damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a traumatic event. When that trauma leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, damage can be measured in physical changes inside the brain and to brain chemistry, which affect the person's ability to cope with stress.

A traumatic event involves a single experience, or an enduring or repeating event or events, that completely overwhelm the individual's ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. The sense of being overwhelmed can be delayed by weeks or years, as the person struggles to cope with the immediate danger. Trauma can be caused by a wide variety of events, but there are a few common aspects. It usually involves a feeling of complete helplessness in the face of a real or subjective threat to one's life or to that of loved ones, to bodily integrity, or sanity. There is frequently a violation of the person's familiar ideas about the world and of their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity. This is also seen when people or institutions depended on for survival violate or betray the person in some unforeseen way.

Psychological trauma may accompany physical trauma or exist independently of it. Typical causes of psychological trauma are abuse, violence, the threat of either, or the witnessing of either, particularly in childhood. Catastrophic events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, war or other mass violence can also cause psychological trauma. Long-term exposure to situations such as extreme poverty or milder forms of abuse, such as verbal abuse, can be traumatic (though verbal abuse can also potentially be traumatic as a single event). In some cases, even a person's own actions, such as committing rape, can be traumatic for the offender as well as the victim, especially if the offender feels helpless to control the urge to commit such crimes.

However, different people will react differently to similar events. One person may perceive an event to be traumatic that another may not, and not all people who experience a traumatic event will become psychologically traumatized.

(information by


What is Psychoeducation?

Psychoeducation is the education of a person in subject areas that serve the goals of treatment and rehabilitation. Psychoeducation involves teaching people about their problem, how to treat it, and how to recognize signs of relapse so that they can get necessary treatment before their difficulty worsens or occurs again. Family psychoeducation includes teaching coping strategies and problem-solving skills to families, friends, and/or caregivers to help them deal more effectively with the individual.

Psychoeducation places heavy emphasis upon the relationship that the teacher cultivates with each student, for students with emotional and behavioral problems often have difficulty relating well with authority figures. The student's behavior is usually seen as a reflection of difficulties he or she has had with other adults, often parents. An empathic response to the student on the part of the teacher is therefore essential. The teacher must also maintain relationship boundaries and set appropriate limits to student behavior.

Psychoeducation involves many therapeutic techniques but is not the same as"psychotherapy." The psychoeducator is concerned with the student in the "here and now" and does not delve into explanations for behavior from the remote past. In many respects, psychoeducation involves education of the student's "self." It recognizes that the student must develop sufficient self-understanding to relate well with others!

(from: and

The Theory behind psychoeducation

Morse (2004) explained that the theory behind psychoeducation is based upon individual psychology; a holistic approach to understanding what it means to be human. There are three strands embodied in individual psychology. Firstly, dynamic psychology, which is the study of emotional aspects, for example: motivation, purpose, fears, hopes, goals, and perceptions of self. Secondly, how we learn and acquire new knowledge and skills. Thirdly, developmental psychology, which incorporates biological substrata, organic factors, and individually unique maturational processes. In addition to these three strands, Morse stated that participant social interactions are considered to be crucial in the delivery of psychoeducation. Furthermore, Wood, Brendtro, Fecser & Nichols (1999) stated the importance of cognitive psychology in psychoeductaion, as it involve challenging maladaptive thinking processes and suggesting alternative adaptive patterns of thinking. Wood et al. described the theoretical perspective of psychoeductaion as integrated, holistic, multicultural, multimodal, functional, systemic, comprehensive, and functional. This inclusive, adaptive and flexible theoretical perspective underpins many different psychosocial educational interventions and has been applied in a variety of forms and situations, and to a variety of different mental disorders.


Various researchers have considered the mechanisms behind the success of psychosocial educational interventions. Hayes & Gantt (1992) found that the interventions appear to enhance participants’ sense of dignity and self esteem due to the increased tools for self-care and levels of trust placed in his or her hands. Landsverk & Kane (1998) suggested that the reason as to why psychosocial interventions that employ psychoeducation are effective is because they increase an individual’s resilience to stresses, coping skills, manageability, ability to comprehend life, and the level of their individual life meaning. In addition, Hayes & Gantt reasoned that the benefits that result from a psychoeducational intervention maybe derived through mastery experiences and from increased levels of empowerment.

It seems widely accepted that one of the mechanisms by which psychosocial educational interventions are effective is in the creation of a positive cycle involving treatment and rehabilitation. Adhering to a prescription drug regime allows an individual to take part in psychosocial interventions, which may in turn increase the knowledge of his or her mental illness and its treatment, thereby further facilitating the drug regime adherence. Colom et al. (2005) argued that the psychoeductaion is based on a tripod model composed of lifestyle regularity and healthy habits, early detection of prodromal signs, and treatment compliance. The rest of this review will consider what specific practical aspects of psychosocial educational interventions are involved in providing the recorded beneficial effects.


Play Therapy for different ages

Psychoanalytic constructs can be adapted and modified to both age and managed care through the use of play therapy such as art therapy, creative writing, storytelling, bibliotherapy, and psychodrama. In the 1920’s, Anna Freud (Sigmund Freud’s daughter) adapted psychoanalysis for children through play. Using toys and games, she was able to enhance relationship with the child—Freud has been criticized for his, objective and disengaged, approach. When children play, they often engage in a make believe world where they can express their fears and fantasies, and they do so without censorship, so it resembles very much the technique of free association. Psychoanalytic play therapy allows the child and the counselor to access material in the unconscious, material that was avoided and forgotten. This material is re-integrated into the conscience, and the counselor is able to work with the child and the family to address the trauma or issue that was forgotten. With adults, the term art therapy is used, instead of play, however they are synonymous. The counselor simply adapts art therapy to the age of the client. With children, a counselor may have a child draw a portrait of his self, and then tell a story about the portrait. The counselor watches for re-occurring themes—regardless of whether it is with art or toys. With adults, the counselor may work one on one or in a group and have clients do various art activities like painting or clay to express themselves—toys here would not probably not be age appropriate, and children stop pretend play as they transition into adolescence. Since play is considered appropriate in Occidental (Western) culture, it allows people to deal with personal/social issues that they would normally avoid—it allows them to drop their defenses without anxiety and fear.

(information by


Although the youth of today resemble those described by Redl & Wineman years ago, the expression of their disturbance has changed. The violent behavior of some youth has turned many schools into fortresses, complete with security cameras, metal detectors and guards. Many children arm themselves for protection. School authorities suppress student behaviors which in years past would have gone ignored, and in a manner that brings criticism from the press and public. Those who work with troubled children and youth have observed that things are not getting better, they are in fact getting worse.

That there are more children in need of help than are getting it is evident. A recent report by the Surgeon General states that 15% of school-age children will develop a diagnosable mental disorder at some point, and some 5% will suffer from severe emotional problems. Yet, according to the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, less than 1% of students are identified as emotionally disturbed and receive special education. That is true despite the fact that the federal government gives a very conservative estimate of 2% for those children who need special services. And, it appears that male students who are from disadvantaged and minority populations are more prone to be identified than are others.

It is clear that we need to do a better job, not only in identifying children with emotional difficulties, but in gaining a better understanding of "what makes them tick." Psychoeducational approaches to assessment may be helpful in that regard. First, because it is ecological in nature, psychoeducational assessment gives weight to both individual and social explanations of emotional disturbance. The psychoeducator strives to learn how the child behaves within different social contexts and environments, understanding that behavior deemed "unacceptable" in one situation may be acceptable -- even meritorious -- in another! Psychoeducational assessment also takes into consideration the fact that In some cases it is not the child who is troubled; rather, it is the ecology that is polluted! The psychoeducator seeks to understand the child as a person struggling with real life situations.

Second, the psychoeducator strives to avoid focusing solely on the child's deficiencies and deficits. Rather, a strength-based approach to assessment is taken. This orientation runs counter to traditional models of assessment, and suggests ways for using the child's assets to help him overcome difficulties. In the process, environmental resources that support improved functioning are identified.

Recently, Brendtro, Brokenleg and VanBokern have described a strength-based approach to assessment they call the Developmental Audit. The Developmental Audit constitutes a sophisticated, in-depth evaluation of the child from multiple viewpoints, and seeks to understand the developmental assets of the child. The purpose of the audit, VanBokern (1998) states, "is to tell the youth's story" from his own frame of reference. This strength-based approach goes a long way towards meeting the needs of psychoeducational assessment.

Understanding a child's developmental assets may help us to better understand those factors contributing to resilience, or the capacity to rise above adverse conditions that often lead to emotional and behavioral problems.

Third, for the psychoeducator assessment is a dynamic, ongoing process. It does not begin with a test and end in a committee meeting. Rather, the psychoeducator is continuously collecting information about students, testing that data against hypotheses, and modifying his or her response as a result.

It is through this hypothesis testing that at some point, assessment and intervention become so intertwined as to be inseparable. Assessment becomes a critical part of all shared activities. Information gained through those activities may be "fed back" to the child and checked for accuracy and effectiveness in impact. For Redl, assessment and good programming could not easily be differentiated!

Perhaps nowhere is the interplay between assessment and treatment more evident than in the Life Space Crisis Interview (LSCI). Nicholas Long implicates LSCI as an assessment technique when he states that it "may be used to understand more completely how the student feels." In fact, effective use of LSCI is dependent upon continuous assessment of the child and his or her emotional states and behavioral responses to them.

By now it may be obvious, but most psychoeducators are significantly concerned with the affective, or emotional lives, of children. Most psychoeducators would likely agree that they are humanists even before they are educators, child care workers, or psychologists. Behavior is seen as multiply determined by thoughts and feelings, either one of which may predominate at a given time. "One size fits all" explanations of behavior are viewed suspiciously, for the psychoeducator "takes the child as he comes." A qualitative orientation to child research and assessment is viewed as an important counterbalance to quantitative approaches.

Finally, it is also true that psychoeducators view the child's verbalizations, nonverbal behavior, and creative products as fair game when it comes to assessment. Written work and drawings may contain a wealth of information, for example. Not only is what the child does important, but how he or she does it. The stance taken in assessment is one that considers both process and product.

(conclusion addapted from

Redl's work

The Life Space Interview

Through their work with troubled youth Redl and Wineman developed the Life Space Interview, an approach of related strategies for helping children work through - and learn from - their upsets and life crises. Underlying the Life Space Interview, or LSI, is the assumption that with support, even children with severe problems possess the resources to understand and change their behavior. Redl and Wineman also believed that if troubled children are to be helped, immediate adult intervention is needed when upsets and crises arise. This is because people aremore accepting of "new" ways of thinking - and of behaving -at times of duress. In Redl and Wineman's view, a crisis was an opportunity to be exploited for the betterment of the child.


Some impressions

"Boredom will always remain the greatest enemy of school disciplines. If we remember that children are bored, not only when they don't happen to be interested in the subject or when the teacher doesn't make it interesting, but also when certain working conditions are out of focus with their basic needs, then we can realize what a great contributor to discipline problems boredom really is. Research has shown that boredom is closely related to frustration and that the effect of too much frustration is invariably irritability, withdrawal, rebellious opposition or aggressive rejection of the whole show."

(from: Fritz Redl, "When We Deal With Children")

Comments about Redl's work

  • Thom Garfat, International Child & Youth Care Network:

"Trying to understand child and youth care practice without reading Redl and Wineman is like trying to understand algebra without learning about addition - It's that basic!"

  • Nancy Belknap, at the 50th anniversary of Redl's classic work "Children who hate", says:

"Redl's work endures because he believed in the inherent goodness of children and the badness of the events in their lives. His work continues to help us to unravel the marvels of the hidden, frozen, and untapped potential of those disheartened youth who "continually bite the hands that feed them."

  • William C. Morse in "The Clinical Innovations of Fritz Redl":*

"Redl’s writings and the chapters in this book speak to this current scene in many ways. If more of the children are going to be kept in the mainstream, certainly crisis intervention and Life Space Interviewing are sine qua non. The nature and building of a hygienic milieu assumes importance in all intervention settings for disturbed children, not just in residential placements. Knitzer points out that many school programs are stuck on a point system behavior modification plateau. The adults have not gone beyond what Redl described as just being able to live in the same environment with disturbed kids. All who work with children need to know more about what makes children "tic," to use Redl’s phrase. Aggressive behavior is in long supply but short in our understanding. Delinquency has become endemic. Workers recognize that many disturbed and disturbing children present one self in an individual one to one exchange with an adult and quite another self when performing in a group setting. In our closing section the reader will be directed to certain of Redl’s papers on these topics.

The fact is, many young professionals are struggling with difficult children without the advantage of Redl’s insights. Those who were long ago introduced to his wisdom will find rereading rewarding for there are always ideas that provide cues for tomorrow’s engagements. So let us again become aware of how much we can benefit from his teaching. Fortunately many of the best papers of this remarkable man can be found in his (1966) collection When We Deal With Children. The problem is to stimulate directors, professors and students to search out his work and sense the excitement of a writer who was there before we were and writes it like it really is. We can ‘‘see" in our experience what he explains in his writings.

No one since has had Redl’s clarity of vision combined with the descriptive power to illuminate the meaning of events we live with everyday. His genius was to speak on many levels and present a challenge to the childcare worker and theoretician in the same description. The purpose of this publication is to encourage others to find the stimulation Redl’s original followers found. Part of Redl’s power was in how he delivered the message and unfortunately there is no way this can be reproduced in a printed page even with his colorful turn of phrase. The personality which made such an impact was composed of many facets that touched every writer in this volume as well as thousands who heard him lecture. He was an essential democrat, treating the neophyte and the distinguished with the same warm regard. His sense of humor was always there, and often at his own expense. And Fritz did love a party. He was always in a learning mode. An acute social conscience guided his work. His creativity matched the ease with which he spoke, and his thinking was so organized that there was a logical outline if you took notes. It is no wonder so many have taken him as the model for child mental health professionals."


  • Fritz Redl
  • "Remembering Fritz Redl"

From a presentation by Thom Garfat at Today's Child – Tomorrow's Adult, the 1987 National Conference of the National Association of Child Care Workers, in Johannesburg. For more click here[1]

  • "Talking about Child Care Work"

We are listening to Fritz Redl at a conference on residential treatment in Toronto in 1976. Chistopher Webster took notes of this talk. For more click here[2]

  • The Life Space Interview (LSI) & Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI)
    • Tom McIntyre [3]

  • Edith Buxbaum
    • A biographical essay about the life of Edith Buxbaum. For more click here[4]

Other interesting pages

  • Find out more about Psychoeducation: This website is designed for educators, child care workers, and mental health professionals who live and work with severely emotionally disturbed and behaviorally disordered children and youth. This is a web based peer reviewed publication for mental health practititoners, consumers and applied researchers.

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