Prof. PhDr. Zdeněk Matějček (born in Chlumec nad Cidlinou on August 16, 1922; died in Prague on October 26, 2004 was a world-renowned child psychologist/psychologist who pioneered into the study of institutional conditions of raising children in the environment of psychological deprivation. He was a modern man and a reformer of child care emphasizing the irreplacable role of family.
He was born in 1922 in East Bohemia. His father was a director of the famous Kladruby Stud Farm. That’s where Matějček enjoyed returning to in his memories. He was also a co-founder and the first chairman of an association that involved animals, eg. dogs or horses in child therapy. He graduated from Faculty of Arts of Charles University with a degree in Czech and philosophy (comprising psychology studies at that time). He decided to become a psychologist following the communist coup in 1948.
In 1950 he started as a psychologist at the Sociodiagnostic Institute of Prague focusing on developmental research of children in orphanages and children’s homes. The institute was ahead of its time in involving an entire team of experts in the diagnostic process –psychologists, doctors, and social workers. Great attention was paid to functioning of the family. At the instituted he started his cooperation with Josef Langmeier and together they created an original and inventive approach to understanding mental deprivation. Based on a regular and long-standing research of children in children’s homes, ie. in conditions depriving them of fulfilling many of their basic psychological and social needs, the authors proved that institutional care presents a great risk to child’s mental and social development, and its negative consequences carry their impact on these children throughout their lives.
Dr. Zdeněk pioneered into the study of conditions for child development in institutional care, in the environment characterized by psychological deprivation. He was a significant reformer of child care emphasizing the irreplaceable role of the family. He was a co-founder and the first chairman of an association that involved animals, eg. dogs or horses, in child therapy. He was born on 16 August 1922 in Chlumec nad Cidlinou as a son of a director at a famous stud farm in Kladruby nad Labem where he lived until his adulthood with his parents and a younger brother. His parents were Czech evangelists and this tradition has followed by his three children (Jarmila, Jana and Zdeněk). In his free time he enjoyed hunting which is quite surprising given his overall personality. At times, this inspired long and firy disputes with his friends who were astonished that such a peaceful person devotes himself to such a sport. Often, these arguments were carried all the way to Sigmund Freud. After successfully graduating from Pardubice high school he was not allowed to study due to the ongoing war, and so he assisted his father at the horse farm as a regular worker, and later at Bata shoe company in Zlín. After the war he studied philosophy and Czech at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague with the idea to become a teacher. However, he decided to become a psychologist instead as he had already studied it and practiced at the Sociodiagnostic Institute in Prague (1951–53). The institute focused its activities on child care, disorder and handicap diagnostics and therapy, research and lecturing. Prior to his engagement at the institute he briefly worked at the educational institute (1950–51). Along with Josef Langmeier he focused on defining mental needs of children and consequences of unfulfilled basic needs. They coined a new psychological term as mental deprivation publishing their findings in the book Childhood Mental Deprivation attracting great attention locally (four editions) as well as abroad where it was translated into English, German and Russian.
From 1953 until 1969 he worked at a Psychiatry clinic for children in Prague. After that he accepted an invitation of prof. Švejcar and entered the Institute for further educations of doctors and pharmacists at a Department of pediatry as an assistant professor. Here, he picked up on his cooperation with prof. Langmeier. Together they finalized paedagogy and clinical research and founded the Prague school of clinical psychology and psychological counselling. He was supervizing many theses. He proved this endeavor fruitful when he founded the Professor Matějček Foundation to reward the best theses on child developmental psychology. Gradually, he gained a reputation of an expert on psychology. He published and lectured throughout Czech Republic as well as abroad. He also dedicated himself to dyslexia and was a co-founder of SOS children‘s villages in Czech Republic. From 1991 until the end of his life he worked at the Psychiatry Center Prague and from 1994 in a child center Paprsek. He devoted himself to creating new diagnostic tools, adapting diagnostic methods (drawing of a family) and translating Gessell’s scale for children as well as other diagnostic methods. He was a member of many professional organizations in Czech Republic (Czech Doctors Academy, Czech and Moravian psychological society etc.) as well as abroad (International Dyslexia Association, International Study Group on Children with Special Education Needs etc.). He was granted numerous awards and received worldwide recognition, eg. „Distinguished Contribution to Research in Public Policy“ of the American Psychological Association, honorary doctorate at the University of Saskatchewan etc.
He authored and co-authored many books on parenting, child care, dyslexia and psychological deprivation.
Five basic psychological needs according to Zdeněk Matějček
Based on his research in child deprivation as well as clinical practice as child psychologist professor Matějček outlined five basic psychological needs on which he elaborates in his bestselling books for parents and caretakers.
1. Need of adequate stimulation, ie. supply of impulses from the outside world. 2. Need of meaningful world, ie. need of a certain order in things and relationships. 3. Need of security in life. 4. Need of positive identity or one’s own self. 5. Need of open future.