Walter Kempler

Walter Kempler is a contemporary psychiatrist who specializes in experiential family therapy and cofounded the Kempler Institute. 

Professional Life

Walter Kempler was born in New York City on September 9, 1923. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1946 and his MD in 1947 from the University of Texas.

Kempler began his professional career focusing on family therapy and later shifted his attention to the existential aspects of the family construct. There are many similarities between his approaches and those of Carl Rogers and Fritz Perls, with whom he worked at the Esalen Institute in the 1960s. Kempler applied Gestalt therapy to his work with families and termed it experiential family therapy. Kempler strives to address the present emotions of his clients and works to reveal what drives those emotions.

Contribution to Psychology

Through his experiential family therapy, Kempler works with families to achieve union and separateness indirectly to arrive at a place of full engagement for all members. In order to do this, a therapist conducting experiential therapy encourages the members of the family to engage in compromise to meet the needs of all family members.

Some members of the family may feel like they have to give something up, but the process of grieving disappointments and losses is a key component of experiential family therapy. By working toward compromise, family members come to mutual agreements that each can live with. Agreement does not mean everyone gets to a place of complete satisfaction and fulfillment, but rather a place of being able to experience and accept one another.

Experience is at the heart of experiential therapy, and Kempler believes that being fully engaged in the action of that experience facilitates change. The therapist is only a tool for change, acting as a rudder on a boat, not an engine. The therapist is there to steer and direct, but should not push or force people into anything. The goal is to help each family member remain present and engaged, allowing every member of the family to understand his or her relationship to the union of the family.

Kempler's Kempler Institute, which he cofounded with Morgens A. Lund, Lis Keiser, and Jesper Juul in Denmark, in 1979, is a post-graduate educational institute dedicated to teaching practitioners how to engage in experiential family therapy.


  1. Walter Kempler. (2008). American Men & Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today's Leaders in Physical, Biological, and Related Sciences. Retrieved from
  2. Institute's History. (n.d.). Kempler Instituttet. Retrieved from

Last Update: 07-07-2015

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