Building Healthy Milwaukee Social Reality

By Ben Rader, Psy.D.Licensed Clinical Psychologist

The Milwaukee Affiliate for Social Living (MASL) is an organization of mental health clinicians and community members dedicated to the promotion of a healthier social reality, through public education, professional training, and community enrichment.

MASL operates from the perspective that individual physical and psychological health and wellness occurs in concert with healthy families, communities, and social order. Founded on the principles of Individual Psychology, which espouses a democratic, creative, and purposeful view of the individual operating in social contexts, MASL approaches its work as being an open and invested inquiry into human experience, as it occurs locally, impacted by broader social realities.

The city of Milwaukee offers for us a backdrop in which contemporary problems and concerns are played out in the interpersonal transactions that describe our shared experience, and shape the individual and social outcomes of its people. Challenges that are endemic to Milwuakee, provide a telling portrait of the human condition and its relationship to broader social factors.

Milwaukees myriad of problems of violence, segregation, racial inequities and infant mortality have complex and varied relationships with one another which offer us insight into the complicated source of social dysfunction. However, with proper training and awareness, these same factors and relationships can offer us illuminating insight into what is required of us in realizing a healthier, more hopeful existence.

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MASL has begun its work within the city, by lending its efforts towards the end-goal of promoting a better future for Milwaukee and its communities. Although we seek no blame for the citys challenges, we remain emboldened by the assumption that each of us has inherited an irrefutable level of responsibility for its present and future. We offer some basic thoughts and perspectives regarding the area of work that we find to be most crucial.

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Child Guidance and Parenting

MASL has inherited a long history of promoting healthy parenting standards. The tradition actually stretches back to pre-World War II Vienna where, child guidance clinics sprung up around the city, directed at helping parents, educators, and community members at large to gain insight and understanding into managing challenging behavior in youth. These free-to-the-public clinics offered a new approach to parenting, which focused on the raising of independent, confident, and contributing youth.

The Vienna child guidance clinics.

The first child guidance clinic along the lines of Individual Psychology was organized in Vienna by Dr. Alfred Adler. The example of Dr. Adler was followed by Dr. Leonard Seif, the chairman of the…

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Drawing from the theory of Individual Psychology, the emerging approach to child guidance considered youth as autonomous social beings, who operate quite logically from their own private motives. Effective child guidance therefore required the parent or educator to be able to acquire a basic appreciation for the youths private logic, and to work collaboratively with the young person to find more effective (less disruptive) ways to get their needs for belonging and contribution met.

With the rise of fascism that overtook Vienna, purveyors of this new approach to child guidance were clearly out of line with the tyrannical approach to child guidance that permeated the thought of the day. As the child guidance clinics were dismantled, Adler and many of Individual Psychologys strongest proponents took these insights and fled for the United States, where democratic perspectives on child-guidance found fertile ground.

Though the efforts of Adlers student, Rudolf Dreikurs child-guidance clinics fashioned very much like those that had been successful in Vienna were established through Chicagos Southside community, and served to have a transformative impact upon at-risk communities facing terrible odds in the city. Over time, these new views to parenting made headway into popular culture as well as academic circles, serving to shape the emergence of a new authoritative standard of parenting.

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Parents may constitute our citys most overlooked (and under-supported!) resource. When youth are able to balance a capacity to assert their own personal interests with an authentic and sustaining regard for others, this sets a foundation for healthy, pro-social living. However, the task of child guidance today has been clouded by factors which we have no precedent for managing. Value systems continue to shift as our society morphs and evolves. Today, a brand new cyber landscape made possible through the emergence interactive electronics and social media has manifested itself to our modern youth, who will be tasked with managing its potential and risks beyond limited guide that prior generations can offer.

Urban dwellers face additional exposure to social vices. These include experiences with community violence, abject poverty, and domestic despair that affect many of our citys youth and provide for them a hostile and dire context for learning about themselves, the world, and others. The logical conclusions that many of our youth come to under these circumstances only serve to perpetuate social discord, as these youth grow older and interface with others in their community and with the broader society.

Yet remarkably, so many of the parents and care-givers throughout Milwaukee are able to manage great obstacles and raise confident, contributing, youth. MASL is interested in developing insight and awareness about the role of parenting and childrearing in promoting successful, prosocial youth. Effective child-guidance approaches, when they can tap into the youths willful and cooperative capacities, have the potential to place youth on the trajectory for meaningful and healthy participation in society over the course of life. Todays youth constitute tomorrows problem solvers, provided we can equip them with the means to solve their own problems and to work together with intention in face of contemporary adversities.


Through the use of public education and community engagement, MASL is also interested in the promotion of social harmony across the citys diverse communities. MASL draws from the longstanding perspectives of Individual Psychology along with more recent research and findings regarding the individual and societal impacts of racism, social exclusion, poverty, and community violence. From our standpoint, cultural pluralism and social equality are factors that impact daily upon the lived experience of community members and have clear and discernible impacts upon the physical as well as the psychological health of individuals. In this way, diversity is a matter of public health, and needs to be treated as such.

Unfortunately, the city of Milwaukee and the broader surrounding area know all to well, the real, potentially fatal consequences of intolerance. The 2012 Sikh Temple shootings served as a horrific testament to the demented and extreme pathology that remains tragically embedded in our social fabric, as reflected in the schismatic thought processes of select individuals and hate groups. Such occurrences trouble us collectively, and constitute both a blight on the community as well as an indictment against a social order that has been established to provide for the basic rights and safety of all people.

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Although high-profile tragedies draw our attention to a need for community efforts to support diversity initiatives and inclusion, more overt signs of divide continue to surround us that many of us have become accustomed to. Milwaukee ranks amongst the countrys most segregated cities, with its three dominant racial/ethnic groups residing in separate, homogenous clusters across the city.

Underlying the community dividing lines of the streets and byways that demarcate distinct neighborhoods is the invisible, historic social infrastructure that has been erected along dividing lines of mutual distrust and cultural misunderstanding. The severing off of communities on ethnic and racial lines only reinforces latent biases that are never sufficiently challenged or overcome through corrective experiences in the form of positive cross-community encounters. Milwuakees segregated nature has also confounded relations between city authorities and its marginalized communities. This is particularly evident in tensions that have developed over the years between Milwuakees police force and its African-American community, which have been a topic of growing attention and concern for the city over recent years. As Wisconsins incarceration rates of African American males surpass all other states, we are tasked with the priority to address allegations of police brutality and racial profiling that coexist along with the rampant crime and community violence that have been endemic to many Milwaukee communities. With its focus on community betterment and mental wellness, MASL remains a committed partner in the ongoing effort toward a more integrated, unified city, strengthened and not divided by its diversity.

Justice and Social Justice

The strains and struggles that have emerged between Milwaukees police and African-American communities (in particular) underscore other challenges with regards to the justice system, which are by no means particular to the city. Milwaukees justice system continues to operate from the same basic standards of correction and punishment that underlay justice systems across the United States and abroad. However, Milwaukee is notable in its inclusion of restorative justice models, which take a much more victim oriented approach, and work with intention in addressing the specific social imbalance that occurs when crimes are committed against community members.

One major limit to justice systems focused on meting out punishment for crimes that are committed by community offenders is their failure to take into consideration the real, present and historical factors that impact upon the emergence of crime within distinct communities. Crime occurs within social contexts that shape the significance of the criminal activity. Never are these forces formally considered or addressed relative to the occurrence of crime or in efforts towards corrections. Our criminal code views crime from a descriptive vantage point, in which criminal infractions are categorized by their outward nature (e.g. theft, murder, vagrancy), and not by the circumstances in which they occurred (e.g. poverty, retaliation, learned behavior). In this way, the social factors that impact upon criminal conduct are considered in a secondary manner, usually at the point of sentencing, but are by no means of primary concern of the judicial system. In this way, our justice system eschews any real responsibility in addressing crime at its foundational roots through consideration of the private and shared experiences that underly deviation from laws and legality.

Every action that an individual takes, be it criminal or charitable, is reflective of that individuals subjective experience and operating motives, however fleeting, within a given circumstance. Criminal actions that are repeated by an individual or group of individuals occur as predictable manifestations of a private logic which is supported and sustained by given circumstances. On an individual level, corrections occur when the operating logic can be sufficiently altered through intervention, so as to impact upon a resulting and ongoing change in conduct. However, at the social level, true justice can only occur through addressing the real and perceived social circumstances that perpetuate crime and permeate society.

Although a clear need exists for improvements with regards to our existing justice system, MASL contends that the promotion of a just and equitable social existence is a matter that requires the creativity and commitment of all of us, operating at all levels throughout society. Individual Psychology has long been invested in its effort to understand human behavior, including acts that breech the rights and interests of others, and that defy social interest. In and around the greater Milwaukee area, MASL is interested in expanding upon discourse regarding the underlying factors that sustain crime, and the individual and particular psychology that are implicated in the actions of community members who act-out in defiance of our existing laws and values. It is our hope to be able to provide our perspective, engagement, and areas of competence in promoting a more just an equitable community.

Personal Growth and Professional Development

Finally, as an organization founded on principles, Individual Psychology and its design relative to the promotion of mental health and wellness, MASL is dedicated to the enhancement of personal growth and professional development through the provision of professional training and self-work opportunities.

Individual Psychology is a generally optimistic theoretical framework which views humans as being capable of growth and change, but rooted to a large extent in longstanding perceptual and behavioral patterns that can inhibit healthy adaptation when incompatible with existing ecological circumstances. A major goal of Individual Psychology is to assist individuals in gaining insight and awareness regarding conscious and unconscious habits in experience and behavior, so as to help individuals expand upon their private patterns and realize a greater potential for a fulfilling and productive existence.

Individual Psychology views subjective experience as a necessarily socially embedded phenomenon. From this stand point, MASL views personal growth as part and parcel to social evolution and human betterment. MASL is interested in continuing and expanding upon Individual Psychologys history of helping individuals develop an expanded view of self, with an interest in developing a more fulfilling, productive, and contributing manner of existence. Educators, civic leaders, and human service professionals in particular are placed in positions of great social impact, requiring ongoing participation in training and development. MASL has remained active in and around the community, providing training opportunities that invite professionals into fuller consideration for the role each of us plays relative to broader social concerns and issues.

Social Living Conference 2015

On October 23rd and 24th of this year, MASL will be returning to Mt. Mary University for our second annual Social Living Conference. The conference will constitute a coming together of counselors, psychologists, community workers, educators, parenting professionals, youth workers, legal workers, mindfulness experts, and interested learners for personal growth and professional development in the area of social living. We will be offering workshops, trainings, and other learning experiences directed at promoting greater awareness regarding the Art and Science of Social Living. Already, we have attracted a broad and diverse panel of presenters which we will be showcasing in upcoming weeks on our ongoing blog, Community Feeling. We will be bringing in presenters from across the state and beyond, and are hopeful to draw a broad and varied group of participants from the greater Milwaukee Area. Most notably, we are happy to welcome our feature keynote speaker, living legend, Jon Carlson.

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Central to the conferences design and structure will be to network with like-minded professionals who are interested in developing integrated approaches to addressing issues that impact upon our shared experience in the greater Milwaukee Area. Please, block the dates for October 23–24th, and follow our blog for developments. Early bird registration has already begun! We hope to have you join us, as the above thoughts and topics will be taken into fuller consideration.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on August 14, 2015

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