Nachruf auf Frederick H. Kanfer





On October 18, 2002, Frederick H. Kanfer, a pioneer in the behavior therapy movement and a founding father of self-management therapy, passed away after a brief illness. He was 76. Kanfer’s seminal research on self-control and applications to the therapeutic process provided the foundation for modern theories of self-management and cognitive-behavior therapy methods widely practiced today.


Kanfer exerted worldwide influence on clinical psychology. He was a Fulbright Professor in Europe; he was awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award, and the Gold Medal of Honor from the city of his birth, Vienna, for his contributions to the advancement of clinical psychology in Europe. In early October, 2002, Kanfer was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Psychologie (DGPs; German Psychological Society), based in part on his decades of work with European colleagues on the design and evaluation of clinical assessment and treatment programs. He was a Diplomate of Clinical Psychology and fellow of the American Psychological Association, as well as honorary member of the German Psychological Society (DGPs), as well as the Italian, German, and Uruguayan behavior therapy associations.


During the late 1960s and 1970s, Kanfer articulated the scientific foundations for a new approach to the assessment and treatment of psychosocial disorders. In 1965, he and colleague George Saslow developed and published a behavior-analytic alternative to psychiatric diagnostic classification. In 1970, Kanfer and his colleague Jeanne Phillips published Learning Foundations of Behavior Therapy, in which they summarized experimental findings and proposed a new approach to psychotherapy whereby “the patient takes the major responsibility for regulating his own environment and actions, according to a therapeutic plan worked out jointly with the therapist.” (Kanfer & Phillips, 1970, p. 407). The idea of including the client as a partner in the therapeutic process represented a fundamental shift in the behavior modification movement that ultimately transformed modern clinical psychology and stimulated a generation of research on self-regulation processes in therapy. In collaboration with colleagues Arnold Goldstein, Paul Karoly, and Bruce Schefft, Kanfer refined and expanded this approach in additional volumes, including Helping People Change (1975, 1980, 1986, 1991), Maximizing Treatment Gains (1979), Self-Regulation and Behavior Change: From Theory to Practice (1982), and Guiding the Process of Therapeutic Change (1988).


Born in Austria, Kanfer left Vienna in 1938 and made his way to the United States, arriving in 1941. He developed interests in both science and engineering. Although he considered a medical degree, his interest in people drew him to psychology as a career. Following military service during World War II, he earned his Ph.D. from Indiana University, Bloomington in 1953, where his interests in philosophy, science, and the principles of learning as applied to the remediation of clinical problems were nurtured. His first faculty position was in the Department of Psychology at Washington University (St. Louis), followed by professorships at Purdue University, the Department of Psychiatry in the University of Oregon School of Medicine, and the University of Cincinnati. In 1973, he joined the faculty at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, becoming a University Scholar in 1990 and Emeritus professor in 1995. He published over 150 scientific articles and served on editorial boards of U.S. and international psychological journals.


Kanfer also played a leading role in the development of modern clinical psychology in Europe. His articles and lectures in Germany led

to the development of a new diagnostic approach in which the client’s assets and positive experiences, as well as problems, were included in diagnosis and served to shape the therapeutic process. Kanfer held visiting professorships at the University of Bern (Switzerland), University of Freibourg (Switzerland), Marburg University (Germany), and the Ruhr University (Germany), served on the International Advisory Board of the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich, and helped establish the first behaviorally-oriented clinic in Germany in 1976. He consulted with government agencies and conducted clinical training workshops in Austria, England, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy. In 1990, Kanfer and colleagues Dieter Schmelzer and Hans Reinecker published the highly-influential German-language text, Selbstmanagement. Ein Lehrbuch für die klinische Praxis (Self-Management: A Textbook for Clinical Practice). In 2001, Kanfer and Schmelzer published Wegweiser Verhaltenstherapie (Signpost for Behavior Therapy), a text to assist patients in therapy. Kanfer’s enduring influence on clinical psychology in Europe was recognized in a 1996 European Festscrhift and edited volume by Reinecker and Schmelzer, entitled Verhaltenstherapie, Selbstregulation, Selbstmanagement (Behavior Therapy, Self-Regulation, and Self-Management).


Kanfer was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of psychological science, his penetrating diagnostic/assessment skills, and his warm and engaging style as a psychotherapist. He was unique in his ability to mix experimental rigor with a heartfelt appreciation for the frailties that bring people into contact with mental health professionals. He navigated smoothly between the worlds of theory, research, and practical application in a way that few before (or after) him have been able to do.


Over the years, Kanfer developed strong and abiding friendships as well as influential research partnerships with a host of colleagues and students. His early work on verbal conditioning, conducted in collaboration with Joseph Matarazzo and Albert Marston, was an important force in the emergence of experimental psychopathology and psychotherapy process research in the 1960s. Many of the early experiments on human self-reward and self-criticism were conducted with Marston and Pryse Duerfeldt. During the 1970s, refinements in his thinking about self-regulation and self-control were made as a result of a productive collaboration with Paul Karoly. In Europe, Kanfer developed strong friendships and productive partnerships with generations of colleagues, including Heinz Heckhausen, Hans Brengelman, Hans Reinecker, Reiner Lutz, Reinhard Derow, Dieter Schmeltzer, and many others. In addition to empirically-based and experiential knowledge, Kanfer also sought to instill in his clinical students equal measures of responsibility and compassion. He was especially proud of the many graduate students with whom he worked with while at Cincinnati and later at the University of Illinois including Jane Zich, Larry Grimm, Charles Spates, Jerry Busemeyer, Sue Hagerman, Bruce Schefft, and many others.


When the history of clinical psychology in the last half of the twentieth century is written, Kanfer will surely occupy a central place as an innovative theorist, gifted clinician, inspirational teacher, and as a humanist, gadfly, activist, and force for creative change and integration within the profession that he loved.


Yet, despite his dedication to his work, nothing meant more to this gentleman scholar than his family. Kanfer is survived by his wife of 50 years, Ruby, his two children, Larry Kanfer of Minneapolis, Minnesota and Champaign, Illinois, and Ruth Kanfer, of Atlanta, Georgia, and three grandchildren.


Memorial donations may be made to the Frederick H. Kanfer Memorial Fund, University of Illinois Foundation, 1305 W. Green St., Urbana, Illinois 61801.


Ruth Kanfer and Paul Karoly



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