Biography of Kazimierz Dąbrowski.

by Bill Tillier.

March 2013.

Return to Main page.

In 2007 I was pleased to provide a biography of Kazimierz Dąbrowski for Sal Mendaglio's book on Dąbrowski (Mendaglio, 2008, Tillier, 2008). I also incorporate the comprehensive biography of Dąbrowski published by Tadeusz Kobierzycki in 2000 (click) and translated by Anna Przybylek (Kobierzycki, 2000) as well as his 2010 update (click) .

I am proud to provide a biography of Dąbrowski as he had a profound effect on my life. I was just beginning my master's program in Edmonton when one of his colleagues, Marlene Rankel, picked me out of a crowd and said "I have a book for you to read and someone for you to meet." Reading the book (Dąbrowski, 1972) gave me a unique perspective and insight into my personality and life history that I had never had before and I couldn't wait to meet him. I certainly wasn't disappointed, and it was my privilege to be his student and later, to receive his unpublished papers.

Over the years that I knew him, I developed a tremendous appreciation for many aspects of Dr. Dąbrowski, but two particularly stand out. First, in my life experience, he was a unique human being. He had a tremendous energy about him, an animation, a twinkle in his eye, and yet he also had a tremendous sense of calm about him. He was extremely gracious and one of the most humble people I've ever met. Above all, Dąbrowski had a tremendous sense of compassion and an ability to look you in the eye and deeply connect with you - I recall an occasion I was asking him about my anxiety and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "ah yes, but this is not so negative." You couldn't help but feel better after just sitting beside him.

My second appreciation was academic. Dąbrowski, a truly Renaissance man, had an astounding command of world cultures, the arts, philosophy, medicine, neurology and, of course, psychiatry and psychology. The list of people Dąbrowski mentored under or worked with is literally a Who's Who of psychiatry and psychology, for example, Blachowski, Mazurkiewicz, Bovet, Piaget, Claparède, Stekel, Janet, Mayer, Mowrer and Maslow. While many of these people had a major effect on Dąbrowski, his theory stands as a complete and unique system of thought. The more one tries to dissect it, the more its comprehensiveness and integration become obvious. My appreciation for his body of work has grown over the years as I have come to know it more intimately.

One of my proudest moments came when Dąbrowski, late in his life, asked me to keep his theory alive after his passing. I have honored his request through the Dąbrowski website and the dissemination of his original writings. There is no question that Dąbrowski left a tremendous legacy, both in terms of his family and in the theory he gave us.

In reflecting back on Dąbrowski, it seems so obvious that he was a human being who lived his theory: he strove to meet his own high standards and acted as an exemplar by action - whatever the peril, you could sense he always chose the higher path in his life.

Dąbrowski's Early Life

Kazimierz Dąbrowski was born September 1, 1902 in Klarów, on Lubelszczyzna, Poland. Dąbrowski's father, Antoni, was an agricultural administrator. Kazimierz was one of four children; he had an older brother and a younger brother and sister.

Reflecting on the early death of his sister, Dąbrowski said, "I learned about death very early in my life. Death appeared to me not just something threatening and incomprehensible, but as something that one must experience emotionally and cognitively at a close range. When I was six my little three-year-old sister died of meningitis" (Dąbrowski, 1975, p. 233).

One of the most significant early influences on Dąbrowski was his first hand experience of World War I. He spoke of being particularly affected by observing the aftermath of a major battle that occurred near his hometown when he was about 12.

"I remember a battle during the First World War. When the exchange of artillery fire ended, fighting went on with cold steel. When the battle was over, I saw several hundred young soldiers lying dead, their lives cut in a cruel and senseless manner. I witnessed masses of Jewish people being herded toward ghettos. On the way the weak, the invalid, the sick were killed ruthlessly. And then, many times, I myself and my close family and friends have been in the immediate danger of death. The juxtaposition of inhuman forces and inhuman humans with those who were sensitive, capable of sacrifice, courageous, gave a vivid panorama of a scale of values from the lowest to the highest" (Dąbrowski, 1975, p. 233).

As Dąbrowski walked among the dead soldiers laying in his former playfield, he related how he was fascinated by the various positions their bodies took and the different expressions frozen on their faces. Some seemed calm and peaceful while others appeared horrified and frightened (K. Dąbrowski, personal communication, 1977).

Dąbrowski's Education up to 1945

The details of Dąbrowski's education are both rich and complicated. I have taken a timeline approach to presenting this material.

World War Two and the Post War Years: Humanitarianism and Imprisonment

The details of Dąbrowski's life during the war years are sketchy, but there is no doubt that they were very difficult. Aronson indicated that "of the 400 Polish psychiatrists practicing before the war... only thirty-eight survived" (Aronson, 1964, p. x).

1941 Dąbrowski's younger brother was killed, while his older brother was captured in the Warsaw Insurrection and sent to a concentration camp (Kobierzycki, 2000).

1942 Founded College of Mental Hygiene and Applied Psychology, that obtained academic rights granted by Polish underground authorities (Kobierzycki, 2000).

1942 Dąbrowski was arrested by Gestapo and put into jail together with Maria Żebrowska (1900-1978) "in Aleja Szucha and Pawiak in Warsaw and later sent to Montelupich in Kraków. After a few month investigation Dąbrowski was set free and came back to his work to Zagórze" (Kobierzycki, 2000, p. 277).

Dąbrowski's second wife, Eugenia (whom he married in 1940, his first wife having passed away of tuberculosis), was apparently instrumental in negotiating his eventual release. Dąbrowski was arrested more than once, perhaps as many as three or four times, and his release was obtained by the payment of money to the prison officials (Kawczak, personal communication, 2002).

Contrary to Kaminski Battaglia (2002), Dąbrowski was never held in Auschwitz.

Kobierzycki (2000) said that Dąbrowski had planned to use the Institute as a Hospital for insurgents' in preparation for a Warsaw uprising but that these plans were never realized.

Dąbrowski said that during his wartime experiences he saw examples of both the lowest possible inhuman behavior as well as acts of the highest human character.

After the war, Dąbrowski returned to Warsaw and resumed his former position of director of the Institute of Mental Hygiene, it now being transformed into the High School of Mental Hygiene, in Warsaw, and by 1948 there were 12 branches and 20 dispensaries (Kobierzycki, 2000).

Dąbrowski obtained his specialty as a psychiatrist in June 1948 under Adrian Demianowski (1887 - 1959) at Wroclaw University (Kobierzycki, 2000) [Habilitation in Psychiatry, University of Wroclaw (under Breslau) (Dąbrowski's curriculum vitae).

Also, in 1948, he founded and became president of the Polish Society of Mental Hygiene.

In December 1948, Dąbrowski received a six-month Ford Foundation Fellowship and he returned to the United States where he studied mental health, neuropsychiatry and child psychiatry in New York and at Harvard (Kobierzycki, 2000).

Imprisonment under Stalin

1949 (?) A two month stay at the Centre National de Recherches Scientifiques in the H. Roussel Hospital and attended L. Michaux's lectures at the Child Psychiatry Clinic (Kobierzycki, 2010).

In April 1949, the Polish Government, under Stalin, closed the Institute of Mental Hygiene, confiscated the Zagórze - Dwór estate and declared Dąbrowski a persona non grata. He and Eugenia attempted to flee. Dąbrowski and his wife arranged passage and, on the night before they left, they went to their best friends to say goodbye. Their friends (a couple) turned them in to the authorities in exchange for political immunity. This was a devastating betrayal to Dąbrowski (Peter Roland, personal communication, 1990).

The Polish communists imprisoned Dąbrowski in 1950 for some eighteen months (and Eugenia was briefly imprisoned as well). When released, Dąbrowski's activities were kept under strict control and he was assigned work in Kobierzyn and later at the Rabka resort, as a tuberculosis physician.

In 1956 he was declared "rehabilitated" and was again allowed to teach, securing an associate professorship of at the Catholic Academy of Theology in Warsaw (Kobierzycki, 2000). Dąbrowski was able to reinvigorate the Polish Society of Mental Hygiene and in 1962 became its chairman but he was unable to reestablish the Institute and High School of Mental Hygiene (Kobierzycki, 2000).

In 1962, Dąbrowski was allowed to travel and with the support of the Ford Foundation he travelled to the United States, France and was able to attend several International psychiatry congresses (e.g., in Spain, France, England, etc.). On his return to Poland, Dąbrowski gave lectures at the Catholic University in Lublin (8).

The Sixties: Dąbrowski Establishes Roots in North America

In the early 1960's, Jason Aronson, editor of the International Journal of Psychiatry, traveled behind the iron curtain to invite psychiatrists to submit articles for his journal and he met Dąbrowski in Poland.

In 1964, Dąbrowski and Aronson spent two months in New York translating material (9) that became Dąbrowski's first major book in English, Positive Disintegration, (Dąbrowski, 1964b). Aronson edited and wrote an introduction to the book. Aronson subsequently published the first chapters of this book in his journal (Aronson, 1966; Dąbrowski, 1966).

Dąbrowski also visited Canada in 1964 at the invitation of the Ministry of Health in Québec and accepted a position at a hospital in Montréal. While in Montréal he met Andrew Kawczak, a Polish lawyer and subsequently a philosopher, who became an important collaborator.

Dąbrowski's second major English publication, Personality Shaping Through Positive Disintegration grew out of discussions with Kawczak and some of Kawczak's graduate students (Dąbrowski, 1967). An introduction to this book was written by American learning theorist O. Herbert Mowrer (1907-1982).

In 1965, Dąbrowski secured a visiting professorship at the University of Alberta and moved his family to Edmonton. He also held a visiting professorship at Université Laval (Laval University), Quebec City and gave lectures at Feminina University (10) in Lima Peru where Sister Alvarez Calderon taught Dąbrowski's theory.

Kobierzycki (2000, p. 278) indicates that in 1966 "Dąbrowski and his family took advantage of Wanda Rohr Foundation de Connecticut and met with Abraham Maslow, who was interested in his theory." Kobierzycki (2000) also says that shortly before his death in 1970, Maslow had arranged an invitation for Dąbrowski to become leader of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Cincinnati (11).

Maslow and Dąbrowski had lengthy discussions and became friends and correspondents. While Maslow's (1970) conceptualization of self-actualization does emphasize developing autonomy, Dąbrowski rejected it because it lacked a multilevel perspective and did not differentiate between lower versus higher aspects of the self; Maslow's self was to be actualized as is, with an acceptance of its shortcomings, even its lower level animalistic impulses.

In spite of their differences, Maslow endorsed Dąbrowski's 1970 book, Mental Growth Through Positive Disintegration, saying:

[quote] I consider this to be one of the most important contributions to psychological and psychiatric theory in this whole decade. There is little question in my mind that this book will be read for another decade or two, and very widely. It digs very deep and comes up with extremely important conclusions that will certainly change the course of psychological theorizing and the practice of psychotherapy for some time to come. [end quote] (Maslow in Dąbrowski, 1972, back cover)

A core group of students formed in Edmonton and several went on to become Dąbrowski's coauthors including Dexter Amend, Michael M. Piechowski and Marlene Rankel. In 1969, a series of applications where made to the Canada Council to support scientifically based research on the theory and fund these efforts.

The Seventies: A Final Flurry of Activity

Dąbrowski spent his last years teaching, writing and dividing his time between Alberta, Quebec and Poland. Several Polish and English publications were the result of this last flurry of activity, including, Mental Growth Though Positive Disintegration (Dąbrowski, 1970), (note 12) Psychoneurosis is Not an Illness (Dąbrowski, 1972), Dynamics of Concepts (Dąbrowski, 1973) (also note 12) and the two volume Multilevelness of Emotional and Instinctive Functions (Dąbrowski, 1996; Dąbrowski & Piechowski, 1996). Dąbrowski also maintained a hectic lecture schedule, speaking extensively in both Canada and the United States.

English was Dąbrowski's last learned language. The majority of his Polish publications remain untranslated, however, many of his twenty or so major Polish books were also published in French and Spanish (in addition to his English works, referenced here). There were major Dąbrowski centers in Spain and in Lima Peru where, in 1970, Dąbrowski attended the "Congress of the World Federation of Psychic [Mental] Health" (Kobierzycki, 2000).

During the 1970s, Dąbrowski regularly visited Poland. He still maintained his involvement in the Polish Society of Mental Hygiene. "In 1975 he purchased the estate in Aleksandrów bordering to Zagórze and erected buildings with a view to create a scientific and dispensary centre there" (Kobierzycki, 2000, p. 279).

In 1979, Dąbrowski had a serious heart attack in Edmonton, but was resolute that he would not die on what he considered foreign soil. Kazimierz Dąbrowski returned to Poland and died in Warsaw on November 26, 1980.

At his request, Dąbrowski was buried beside his friend and fellow physician, Piotr Radlo (the grave on the right), in the forest near the Institute at Zagórze. His wife and two daughters survived him.

As I understand it, after Dąbrowski death, the countryside home was ransacked. After his wife passed away, the apartment and most of its contents in Warsaw were also lost to the family and taken over by the government.

Dissemination of Dąbrowski's Legacy

A memorial conference was held for Dr. Dąbrowski in Edmonton in November of 1982. By then, I was a psychologist working with the Government of Alberta; however, over the years, a priority of mine was to keep Dąbrowski's theory alive by maintaining an archive containing his original writings, and collections of publications related to his theory. With the development of the world wide web, I established and continue to maintain the Dąbrowski website (Tillier, 2008). My efforts at disseminating his legacy have included making his original writings available to interested parties and participating in, and hosting conferences on the theory. Some of Dąbrowski's original writings are held at the Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

One area where Dąbrowski's theory is alive and well is in the study of giftedness and gifted education. In Dąbrowski's (1967, 1972) earlier Polish research, he conducted comprehensive examinations and testing of children who displayed superior abilities. He found that every child displayed characteristics suggestive of positive disintegration, including developmental potential and psychoneurosis. Piechowski (1979, 1991) subsequently introduced Dąbrowski's concept of overexcitability, a component of developmental potential, to the field of gifted education and over the past several decades, many research projects and papers have addressed the topic (see Mendaglio & Tillier, 2006).

Dąbrowski Conferences

Over the years, many Dąbrowski related workshops have been held as well as a number of major conferences, including: Université Laval (Laval University), Quebec City QC (1970), Loyola College, Montreal QC (1972), Miami FL (1980), Warsaw Poland (1987), Keystone CO (1994), Kananaskis AB (1996), Kendall College, Evanston IL (1998), Mont-Tremblant QC (2000), Fort Lauderdale FL (2002), Calgary AB (2004 and 2006) 2008, Canmore AB, 2010, St. Charles, IL, 2012, Denver, CO.

An important part of continuing Dąbrowski's legacy has been maintaining friendships with former students of Dąbrowski, who have contributed to the dissemination of the theory in their own ways.

Scientific memberships

Kazimierz Dąbrowski was a member of a number of scientific societies, among others: the French Society Medico-Psychologique (Paris), affiliate of the Royal Medical Society (London), Executive Council of World Federation of Mental Health (Geneva), the Psychologists Association of Alberta (Edmonton), the Corporation des Psychologues (Quebec) and the Polish Psychiatric Association (Warsaw) (Kobierzycki, 2000).

Other accomplishments

Dąbrowski was the founder and editor of the Biuletyn Instytutu Higieny Psychicznej, Warsaw, 1937 - 1939, 1946 - 1949, 1958 - 1965. He was also the editor of a scientific and popular series in the field of mental health published by the Instytut Higieny Psychicznej, Warsaw, 1937 - 1939, 1946 - 1949.

Dąbrowski's publications number in the hundreds in Polish including some 20 major books. Translations into French, Spanish, German and English have been made of many of these books.


Aronson, J. (1964). Introduction. In K. Dąbrowski, Positive disintegration (pp. ix-xxviii). Boston: Little Brown and Co.

Aronson, J. (1966). Discussion of K. Dąbrowski: the theory of positive disintegration, International Journal of Psychiatry, 2, 244-247.

Dąbrowski, K. (1929). Les conditions psychologique du suicide. [The Psychological Conditions of Suicide] Geneva: Imprimerie du Commerce.

Dąbrowski, K. (1934a). Podstawy psychologiczne samodraczenia (automutylacji) [Psychological Basis of Self-Mutilation], Warszawa: Lekarskie Towarzystwo Wydawnicze Przyszlola,

Dąbrowski, K. (1934b). Behawioryzm i kierunki pokrewne w psychologii. [Behaviourism and related schools in psychology.] Warsaw: Lekarz Polski.

Dąbrowski, K. (1935). Nerwowosc dzieci i mlodziez [The nervousness of children and youth.] Warsaw: Nasza Ksiegarnia.

Dąbrowski, Casimir (1937). Psychological basis of self mutilation. (W. Thau, Trans.) Genetic Psychology Monographs, 19, 1-104.

Dąbrowski, K. (1938). Typy wzmozonej pobudliwoaci psychicznej. [Types of increased psychic excitability]. Biuletyn Instytutu Higieny Psychicznej, 1(1), 12-19.

Dąbrowski, K. (1964a). 0 dezyntegracji pozytywnej. [About positive disintegration.] Warszawa: Panstwowy Zaklady Wydawnictw Lekarskich.

Dąbrowski, K. (1964b). Positive disintegration. Boston: Little Brown and Co. (Edited and with an introduction by Jason Aronson).

Dąbrowski, K. (1966). The theory of positive disintegration. International Journal of Psychiatry, 2(2), 229-244.

Dąbrowski, K. (1967). Personality-shaping through positive disintegration. Boston: Little Brown & Co.

Dąbrowski, K., (with Kawczak, A., & Piechowski, M. M.). (1970). Mental growth through positive disintegration. London: Gryf Publications.

Dąbrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. London: Gryf Publications.

Dąbrowski, K., (with Kawczak, A., & Sochanska, J.). (1973). The dynamics of concepts. London: Gryf Publications.

Dąbrowski, K. (1975). Foreword. In M. M. Piechowski, A theoretical and empirical approach to the study of development. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 92, (pp. 233-237).

Dąbrowski, K. (1996). Multilevelness of emotional and instinctive functions. Part 1: Theory and description of levels of behavior. Lublin, Poland: Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego.

Dąbrowski, K. & Piechowski, M. M. (with the assistance of Marlene Rankel and Dexter R. Amend). (1996). Multilevelness of emotional and instinctive functions. Part 2: Types and Levels of Development. Lublin, Poland: Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego.

Kaminski Battaglia, M. M. (2002). A hermeneutic historical study of Kazimierz Dąbrowski and his Theory of Positive Disintegration. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Falls Church, Virginia. Available at: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-04082002-204054/unrestricted/Dissertation.pdf

Kobierzycki, T. (2000). Summaries: Profesor dr. Kazimierz Dąbrowski (1902-1980). (A. Przybyłek, Trans.). Heksis: Scientific-didactic quarterly devoted to problems of person, health, creativity and spirituality, 1-3(22-24), 276-279.

Kobierzycki, T. (2010). Biography of Kazimierz Dąbrowski. Retrieved from http://www.heksis.com/

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality. (2nd ed.). New York: Harper and Row.

Mendaglio, S. (Ed.). (2008). Dąbrowski's theory of positive disintegration. Scottsdale AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc.

Mendaglio, S., & Tillier, W. (2006) Dąbrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration and Giftedness: Overexcitability Research Findings. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 30, p. 68-87.

Piechowski, M. M. (1979). Developmental potential. In N. Colangelo and R. T. Zaffrann (Eds.), New voices in counseling the gifted (pp. 25-57). Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

Piechowski, M. M. (1991). Emotional development and emotional giftedness. In N. Colangelo and G. Davis (Eds.) Handbook of gifted education (pp. 285-306). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Kobierzycki, T. (2000). Summaries: Profesor dr. Kazimierz Dąbrowski (1902-1980). (A. Przybylek, Trans.). Heksis: Scientific-didactic quarterly devoted to problems of person, health, creativity and spirituality, 1-3(22-24), 276-279.

Tillier, W. (2008). Kazimierz Dąbrowski: The man. In S. Mendaglio (Ed.). Dąbrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration (pp. 3-11). Scottsdale AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc.

Tillier, W. Dąbrowski Webpage. Retrieved February 22, 2008 from: http://positivedisintegration.com/