The Gift of Transformation

The largest donation in Adler University’s history is a testament to the power of Adlerian ideas

August 23, 2017

This summer, Adler University received the largest gift in the institution’s history, a donation of $1 million—the result of a journey that began one life-changing afternoon nearly 50 years ago.

The gift is anonymous, from a donor who has been directly affected by the teachings of Alfred Adler, but prefers not to attach his name to this extraordinary gift. For several years, he has made annual gifts to the University, commemorating a relationship built from his connection to several of the key figures in Adlerian psychology, including Rudolf Dreikurs and Harold Mosak, the founders of the institution, as well as Kurt Adler.

“I have to give Adler and Dreikurs a great deal of thanks,” he says. “What they’ve given means so much to me that I want to support the students and the faculty as they educate a new generation, giving others the opportunity I had to experience what Adler’s approach means to an individual.”

Adler President Raymond Crossman, who has been meeting with the donor since 2010 to talk about Adlerian therapy, social change, and the evolution and growth of the University, says that when he thinks about the generous gift, the word that comes to mind is “transformational.”

“Clearly his experience with Adlerian principles was transformational in his life, which is such a powerful example of the impact of Alfred Adler’s framework and thinking. And for our university, a donation at this level can be transformational in what we can accomplish. We’re grateful and excited for this opportunity,” Crossman says.

A Change in Direction

The genesis of the gift to the University goes back to the very end of the 1960s, when one of the donor’s college friends had become impressed with Dreikurs, a psychiatrist and leading advocate of Alfred Adler. Although Dreikurs was already leading the institution that has become Adler University, she gave the donor his contact information.

“She said it was in case I ever needed a therapist. I carried it in my pocket for at least six months. When I did write him a letter, I was afraid he wouldn’t answer,” the donor says. “He did, however, and after one session, I couldn’t believe it. I was absolutely impressed—it was so wonderful. I felt I could move forward with a new purpose, that change was possible.”

That single session was the one time the donor met Dreikurs, who used the evaluation to place him with Mosak, another leading expert in Adlerian psychology. After a year of therapy with Mosak, the donor moved to New York, where he was a patient for several years with Kurt Adler, Alfred Adler’s son.

“It changed my life, the direction I was going,” the donor says. “I always thought that the money I spent on therapy was the best money I ever invested.”

Over the decades, the donor has also made major gifts to several other charities, part of what he describes as developing a social interest due to his Adlerian therapy. And while his donation to Adler University is primarily aimed at preparing new generations of psychotherapists in Adlerian thought to help others as he was helped, he says that he’s happy it will also advance the University’s work to educate socially responsible practitioners in fields from criminology to public administration.

“It’s better for society,” he says, “because it is better for communities. That is the Adler way—to see that we are dependent on and connected to each other, and that we thrive only when we are all healthy.”

Socially Responsible Giving

The unrestricted donation will support the three components of Adler’s current Campaign for Social Justice. Expanded student access provides scholarships and support to attract and retain the best students who are passionate about addressing issues from urban poverty and violence to inequality and justice. Sustained excellence in faculty and programs includes recruiting and retaining professors and expanding learning opportunities for students through the University’s programs and centers that partner with organizations working in marginalized and underserved communities. And capital projects focus on the development of new spaces for the growing campuses in Chicago and Vancouver.

“It’s very special to have the opportunity to apply the money to where the university needs it the most, to be able to impact our mission and advance our plan for the future. Having that kind of latitude with a gift really reflects trust in the institution’s board and leadership; we are very honored by his confidence,” says Mary Jo Lamparski, Vice President of Institutional Advancement.

The gift is part of the donor’s lifetime interest in and support for Adlerian psychology, with its emphasis on belonging and the human need to create positive social change. He attended conferences for psychologists—several times sitting on a discussion panel with Mosak—and was a member of the board of directors for the Alfred Adler Institute in New York.

The donor cites The Challenge of Parenthood as his favorite of Dreikurs’ books (“I thought it was marvelous”), and adds that he particularly enjoyed Mosak’s Ha, Ha and Aha: The Role of Humor in Psychotherapy.

“I found that relating anecdotes and sometimes using humor to illustrate a point was a very valuable tool in Kurt’s therapy.” At one session, for instance, Adler told the donor that in the instance being discussed, he sounded like a five-year-old, pushing down on the shoulders of another boy to show how big he was. “It was a wonderful way of understanding the situation without making me feel bad about it,” the donor recalls.

The sum of these sessions had a marked impact on the donor’s life, he says, including better relations with his wife and children, new perspectives on success, and even spirituality. As a particularly influential moment, he mentions preparing to leave a well-paying position at an established employer for a relatively new start-up with more potential. His therapeutic experience gave him the strength and determination to make this important move in his professional life. Crossman notes that the donor’s story—how one afternoon set in motion events that ended up affecting someone’s life in so many ways—holds an important lesson for Adler’s faculty, staff, and students.

“This gift is an inspiration and a model for the entire community of Adler University,” he says. “It shows a respect and deep appreciation for the work we do and the commitment we have to these crucial ideals. And it is a reminder to all of us of the influence we have on the individuals and communities we serve—that any one encounter can have a profound impact.”