John Krumboltz, 1928-2019

Tributes paid to psychologist who put counselling on a scientific footing

June 20, 2019
John Krumboltz, 1928-2019

A psychologist who put counselling on a scientific footing has died.

John Krumboltz was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1928, studied at the local Coe College and took up tennis after coming across some children playing while he was out cycling. This seemingly small decision shaped his whole life, since his coach also taught psychology and persuaded him to take up the subject. He would often cite this as a striking example of his celebrated theory of “planned happenstance”, developed with Al Levin and Kathleen Mitchell, which he popularised in books such as Luck is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career (with Al Levin, 2004).

After a master’s in counselling at Columbia University and a PhD at the University of Minnesota, Professor Krumboltz was employed as a research scientist by the US Air Force before returning to the academy to teach educational psychology at Michigan State University. He joined Stanford University in 1961, rapidly established himself as one of the US’ most influential psychologists, and remained there until he retired, as professor of education and psychology, in 2015.

As a co-director of the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s programme in counselling psychology, and also the supervisor of the student-led Stanford Institute for Behavioral Counseling, Professor Krumboltz claimed that his goal was to help people “develop a personally satisfying and balanced life”. He was also a pioneer of solid research demonstrating the positive impact of counselling on client behaviour. He made his ideas more widely accessible through books such as Behavioral Counseling: Cases and Techniques (with Carl Thoresen, 1969) and Changing Children’s Behavior (with Helen Krumboltz, 1972).

Something of his attitude to life was expressed in Professor Krumboltz’s strong opposition to reinstating “F” grades at Stanford in the 1970s, once arguing that a record of failure “discourages academic exploration, instils a fear of learning, and impairs attainment of the purposes for which Stanford was founded”. The job of counsellors, as he put it on another occasion, was to teach people to ask, “What would be fun to try next?”

“Especially among psychologists, [Professor Krumboltz] was the rare instance of someone who seamlessly stitched theory with practice,” said Kenji Hakuta, emeritus Lee L. Jacks professor of education at Stanford. “He was a great teacher with an incredible diversity of students who admired and emulated his modelling. He also was a sympathetic and empathetic listener.”

Professor Krumboltz died on 4 May and is survived by his wife, Betty, three daughters, a son and two grandchildren.

matthew.reisz@timeshighereducation.com

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