Alfred Adler

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was one of the pioneers of modern psychiatry and psychology. An early student of Sigmund Freud and some of his influential collaborators, Adler, like Carl Jung, eventually broke with Freud's psychoanalytic theories and evolved his own approach, individual psychology. His chief theoretical difference with Freud was that he believed personality is formed by interpersonal interactions rather than intrapersonal conflict; they disagreed on his use of family as well as individual counseling in psychotherapy.

Early career

Adler earned a medical degree from the University of Vienna medical school, he went into private practice in 1898, receiving a medical degree from the University of Vienna Medical School, Adler set up a private practice in 1898. In 1902, he joined what Freud called the Wednesday Psychological Society, later the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

Relationship with Freud

Adler disputed Freud's assertion that sex or libido is the fundamental drive which determines human behavior. In contrast to Freud's split of the personality into id, ego, and superego, Adler saw internal unity as a basic driver, bringing together the intellect, physical being and spirituality, leading to the subsequent school of Gestalt psychology.[1]

Originally a colleague of Freud and Jung, Adler left the Psychoanalytic Society in 1911. There is some disagreement about whether the break was voluntary or at Freud's insistence. Freud wrote, in 1911, he was "becoming steadily more impatient of Adler's paranoia and longing for an occasion to throw him out ... especially since seeing a performance of Oedipus Rex here -- the tragedy of the 'arranged libido.'" Referring to Adler as "Fliess redivivus," Freud also notes that Stekel's first name is Wilhelm, suggesting that both relationships evoked the ending of his friendship with Wilhelm Fliess in 1901, because of what Freud described as Fliess's paranoia.[2]

Later career

Individual Psychology in Adler's usage refers to the indivisible nature of the human personality, in contrast with Freud's concept of a tripartite personality of id, ego, and superego. It does not, however, internalize an individual's personality, but saw it in relationship to society.

According to the Adlerian Society,

human beings strive to belong and to overcome early feelings of inferiority through the construction of personal and subjective goals. Adlerians stress the unity of the mind, body and spirit and the interactions between individuals and the larger community.[1]

While Adler wrote and spoke extensively, his major activity was as a practitioner, as well as an organizer of education and treatment. His own psychological school, first named the Society for Free Psychology, became The Society for Individual Psychology in 1913, a term that he used throughout his works. Although he published numerous articles and books from 1898, he was mostly a practitioner.

In Vienna, he wrote of the importance of community feeling, and established child guidance teams in the Vienna schools. This was some of the first recognizable "family counseling."[3] With the rise of the Nazis, he moved his work to the United States from 1929 on, educational teams in child guidance for Vienna's State schools. In 1932, he became a professor at the Long Island College of Medicine, and speaking extensively for the remainder of his life.

Individual Psychology

"Individual" may be confusing when translated from the original German to English. In modern terms, Adlerian psychology is a social psychology, in which emotional health is determined by interaction and empathy with others, as well as one's own development.

  1. All behavior has social meaning. He used an interpersonal model, in opposition to Freud's intrapersonal model. While his term Gemeinshaftsgefühl has been translated in a variety of ways referring to social interaction, the preferred term is "feeling of community".[4]
  2. The human personality has unity and guiding themes. "Individual psychology" is not an ideal translation, as the English words do not suggest the social aspect of personality. The German and Latin etymology of "individual" suggests his concept was more of a healthy personality being integrated, rather than in conflict among three parts. The person is a system in which the whole is greater than and different from its parts. In this whole, Adler saw the unity of the person in whose behaviour there is a consistent theme.
  3. Behaviour is a function of our subjective perceptions. In more recent terminology, this is described as behavior being a product of how each person views the external world through a subjective set of "filters". Adler did not believe these filters were fixed by childhood experience, and could change.
  4. All behaviour is purposeful. While an individual may not be conscious of his or her motivation for an action, it still is directed toward a goal. Conversely, the failure to use capabilities is purposeful avoidance behavior. He believed use of capabilities was more important than possession of latent capabilities. Individuals are not passive, but actively build their internal and external relationships, and interpret their feelings.
  5. The striving for significance explains motivation. According to Adler, it is an infant's lack of control that motivates it to develop. This is somewhat similar to Freud's stages of development, but lacks the undercurrent of anger and deprivation in such Freudian concepts of oral and anal development, and phallic symbolism or envy. Adler believed the natural and optimal human reaction to helplessness is to learn to help oneself. The term "inferiority complex" derives from this aspect of his work. [3]
  6. Goals are not always real. Individuals may move toward a subjective, and possibly fictional, internal goal. He saw the formation of the final goal as specific to each individual, derived by the process of "private logic." This may have some similarities to Jung's ideas on the role of archetypes and symbols. Failure to obtain support for healthy goal-seeking may turn the individual to avoidance and withdrawal.
  7. The Style of Life. "Adler called an individual characteristic approach to life, the style of life, the unique way in which each individual tries to realise their fictional final goal and meets, or avoids, what he called the three main tasks of life, work, community and love. A life style is formed early in childhood and is unique; no two people develop the same styles. In healthy individuals, dealing with the life tasks is relatively flexible. "[4] The drive to an optimal lifestyle shares some principles with Abraham Maslow's drive for self-actualization.[5]

Adlerian counseling (psychotherapy)

Rather than the long-term psychoanalytic model of catharsis and insight into unconscious motivation, Adler's model is medium-term, interactive, and focused on problem solving. Childhood experiences are examined insofar as they contribute to adult subjective perception, perceptions that may neither be accurate nor useful.

The goal is to increase "social interest: a greater sense of personal responsibility, community feeling, co-operation and mutual respect. Insight is used therapeutically as an analytic tool to facilitate deeper self-understanding and personal growth."[6] In other words, "To see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, to feel with the heart of another."[7]

As part of this social interaction, Adlerian counselors often work with couples, families, etc., as well as individuals.


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Adlerian Society (U.K.), Alfred Adler: A Short Biography, Alfred Adler, The Man and His Work: Individual Psychology and Adlerian Counselling
  2. Davis, Douglas A., Oedipus Redivivus: Freud, Jung and Psychoanalysis
  3. 3.0 3.1 Encyclopedia of Psychology, Adler, Alfred (1870-1937)
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Adlerian Society (U.K.), Basic assumptions of individual psychology, Alfred Adler, The Man and His Work: Individual Psychology and Adlerian Counselling
  5. Stein, Henry T., Developmental Sequence of The Feeling of Community
  6. The Adlerian Society (U.K.), Adlerian counseling, Alfred Adler, The Man and His Work: Individual Psychology and Adlerian Counselling
  7. Citation needed.