Adler, Alfred

views updated May 18 2018

Adler, Alfred



Alfred Adler (1870–1937) was the second of six children. His father, Leopold Adler, had come to Vienna from the Burgenland and was a grain merchant; his mother was from Moravia.

Adler was graduated from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1895. Three years later he wrote his first book (1898), in which he indicated the health hazards to which tailors were exposed, stressing the principle that human beings could not be considered in isolation but only in relation to their total environment. Thus, even as a young man of 28, his approach to human problems was holistic, foreshadowing his later basic conceptual approach.

Around 1900, Adler’s chief interest was the study of psychopathological symptoms within the field of general medicine. In 1902, when he wrote a review of Freud’s book on dream interpretation, Freud sent him a postcard inviting him to join his discussion circle. Upon Freud’s assurance that many different views, including Adler’s own, would be discussed, Adler accepted the invitation.

Adler had never agreed with Freud’s theory that early sexual trauma caused mental disease, and he persistently opposed Freud’s method of dream interpretation. The differences between the two men became even more marked after Adler had published, in 1907, his Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensation. In 1911, Adler and nine of his followers left Freud’s circle and developed their own school of thought. The two men never met again. In 1912, Adler named his system Individualpsychologie, and that same year he published The Neurotic Constitution, a book that outlined his main concepts in both their theoretical and practical aspects. In the following years, he lectured extensively, and one of his books, Understanding Human Nature (1927), commonly referred to as a classic and still on the required reading list of several colleges in the United States, is based on the notes of one of his listeners.

After his return from military service during World War I, Adler opened the first child guidance clinic in Vienna. Soon there were about thirty such clinics in the city, conducted under his supervision, staffed by his pupils, and affiliated with parent-teacher associations and private institutions. These clinics functioned until 1934, when they were ordered closed by the fascist regime, which favored an authoritarian approach in the field of education, as elsewhere.

In 1926 Adler was appointed visiting professor at Columbia University in New York; and in 1932, he also began teaching at the Long Island College of Medicine, where he held the title of visiting professor of medical psychology. From then on, he spent only the summer months in Vienna.

Adler was an excellent lecturer, and he established contact with his audience as easily in English as in his native German. His public lectures were always crowded. In 1937, while giving a series of lectures at the University of Aberdeen, he collapsed on the street and died of heart failure within a few minutes.

Adler was married to Raissa Timofeyevna Epstein in 1897. Of his four children, his daughter Alexandra and his son Kurt are psychiatrists.

Organ inferiority and its compensation. In 1907, in his book Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensation, Adler described the process of compensation for physical disabilities. The results of compensation may be satisfactory or unsatisfactory. As an example of so-called overcompensation, a term denoting extreme forms of compensation, he pointed to Demosthenes, who stuttered as a boy but trained his speech by placing pebbles in his mouth and trying to shout down the roar of the waves. Adler explained that the symptoms of a neurosis similarly represent the compensation of inferiority feelings but compensation in an unsatisfactory direction.

Occasionally it is alleged that Adler considered all mental disturbance to be caused by physical disability. However, his study of the influence of physical disability represents only the beginning of his investigations of the sources of inferiority feelings. It was not until 1925 that he used the term “inferiority complex.”

Goal orientation. In 1912, in his book The Neurotic Constitution, Adler pointed out that all our thinking is goal-directed and forms a unified “style of life,” particularly well revealed in mental aberrations. His psychological system is, therefore, teleological, whereas Freud’s is causalistic; and he used a teleological approach to explore mental illness, in particular the neuroses. He often illustrated the goal-directedness and “logic” of neurotic symptoms by the following example: If one spots a man at the foot of a scaffold, making strange gestures, one may think that he is confused. On finding out, however, that his aim is to sit on top of the scaffold, the observer may consider the man’s actions to be rational enough. Even if his goal is useless, his behavior is reasonable.

Today, teleological concepts are guiding principles in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and the biological sciences. They form the basis of the so-called holistic-organismic approach, as opposed to the mechanistic approach. At present, all personality theories recognize purposiveness or teleology, with the exception of the theories of the behaviorists and factor analysts. These developments show that Adler’s emphasis upon the concept of purpose in the life sciences, which earlier was rejected by other schools of thought, has been widely accepted.

Social interest. In 1919, in the Preface to the second edition of The Neurotic Constitution, Adler outlined, for the first time, his concept of “social interest” (Gemeinschaftsgefühl), which has become one of the basic principles of individual psychology. (What he meant by social interest is something like identification with society.) World War I was for Adler the demoniacal work of unleashed drives that betray and strangle the inherent social interest of humanity ([1912] Preface to 1919 edition; 1928). He voiced his belief that a better understanding of human nature would reduce the striving for power and guide man’s energies toward constructive social interest. He later asserted that social interest cannot be expected from the severely mentally defective, since intelligence and creativity are necessary for its development (1928). In persons with neuroses, psychoses, or in the criminal, social interest is always diminished, if not completely absent.

As additional evidence of the nature of social interest, Adler cited the mutual dependence of mother and child: both are in need of love, and while the infant satisfies its hunger, it relieves the milk-filled breasts of the mother—an example of the way in which social interest may originate. Adler’s concept of the mother–child relationship was opposed to that of Freud, who described the relation of infant to mother as based, in part, on oral, cannibalistic drives.

Style of life. In his writings after 1920, Adler used the terms “style of life,” or “pattern of life,” “life plan,” “life scheme,” and “line of movements” interchangeably. In the normally developing child, initial errors will be gradually corrected until the life style becomes adjusted to the standards of his community and, in a wider sense, serves the progress of mankind. The basic pattern changes only when awareness develops of disturbing discrepancies between a particular style and the logic of everyday life. Such discrepancies become manifest most clearly when a challenge is faced. If through psychotherapy a patient can be encouraged to become aware of these discrepancies to increase his self-understanding and use his common sense, his erroneous style of life may change.

The three main problems of life. Adler divided the main problems of life into three categories: occupational, social, and sexual. This division was first drawn in 1917, in a series of lectures, and later published in Understanding Human Nature (1927). He showed that a child’s choice of what he wanted to be later revealed who and what had influenced him the most so far. He considered it a danger signal if an adolescent after the age of thirteen continued to insist that he had no idea of what he wanted to be. This, he pointed out, may mean a disinclination to become a useful member of society.

Because a second main problem is social, individual psychology is included among the “social psychologies.” Adler emphasized, all through his writings, that human functions develop in relation to, and as an expression of, our relation to our fellow men. Speech, for instance, develops as an expression of our striving to communicate with one another in the best possible way. Consequently, in children and in adults, disturbances of speech often expressed a blocking of human relations.

Finally, there is the sexual problem. In 1910, Adler coined the term “masculine protest” (1909–1920), denoting a striving to be powerful, to describe an overcompensation for feeling unmanly, in men as well as in women. In his later writings, this term was limited to women who protest against their sexual role through frigidity and other sexual difficulties, on the one hand, or through tomboy activities, on the other. Such girls usually grow up feeling less appreciated than boys and, consequently, feel inferior both as human beings and in their role as women.

In his later writings, Adler also always stressed that sexuality symbolically expresses the individual’s relation to the whole of mankind and can be understood only when seen in the total context, rather than as a problem of the single individual. For instance, he pointed out that seemingly insurmountable difficulties of marital adjustment or sexual deviations develop whenever an individual aims to gratify only himself through sex activities. On the other hand, if he considers the gratification of his partner first, neither he nor his partner will feel abused. This will create the desire to perpetuate married life unconditionally.

Family constellation. Between the years 1918 and 1928, Adler made his original observations on the influence that birth order exerts in siblings. He stressed the fact that siblings are usually very different from one another, in spite of their similar physical inheritance. The second-born, for instance, often behaves as if he always had to outdo someone; he may be very ambitious, is often of the “me too” type, and may constantly feel slighted. Unless he learns to adjust to reality, he may perpetuate his exaggerated struggle for equality, which repeats his childhood competition with his older sibling. He then may experience marked difficulties in cooperating with any group. On the other hand, his ambitiousness may result in positive achievements and, if he learns to adjust realistically, may stand him in good stead. He often, however, discourages an older sibling through his overactivity. This is particularly true if the older sibling is a boy followed by a rapidly maturing sister. Adler described the youngest in a family to seem often to be cast from a different mold. If his older siblings are intellectually inclined the youngest may decide to become a dancer, actor, or musician. Thus, he may often be able to earn his living earlier than his siblings. He may, however, attach himself too closely to his mother who, in turn, seeks to keep him as her baby, preventing him from developing independence.

Dreams. Adler’s interest in the manifestations of the unconscious had originally been aroused by Freud’s investigation of dream material. In his book on the inferiority of organs (1907), he first examined dreams that are related to physical difficulties, for instance, when patients with enuresis and malformations of the urinary tract dream about swimming. Adler never accepted Freud’s theory that dreams represent the fulfillment of infantile sexual wishes, and he emphasized the limitation this theory placed upon the understanding of dreams. He did accept Freud’s distinction between the manifest and the latent content of dreams (Adler 1936), and he also used Freud’s method of free association for the understanding of dreams, although with modification and restriction.

Adler himself made many original contributions to the theory of dreams. He showed that dreaming is in itself an indication that the dreamer feels inadequate to solve his problems while awake. He suggested that this is why courageous, well-adjusted people dream but rarely. He added the original thought that a dreamer may becloud certain issues in the same way that an orator or writer may use metaphors and symbols if he does not understand his subject well. Adler also stressed the necessity of integrating the interpretation of dreams with the endeavor to understand the whole personality and not to look for symbols with over-all applicability. This approach again differentiates his method of dream interpretation from Freud’s, particularly from the latter’s early method.

Adler showed how some of the meaning of dreams can be revealed by studying directions and movements expressed in them. For instance, dreams of falling occur to people who are afraid of losing prestige after having achieved a certain standing. On the other hand, dreams of flying may occur to ambitious people who strive for superiority but who are afraid that they may not achieve it. Dreams about dead people suggest that the dreamer is still closely attached to a deceased person, as if the person were still alive. Dreams of missing a train or a boat indicate fear of losing opportunities but may also denote a tendency to avoid exposing oneself to the possibility of defeat by coming late. Dreams of examination indicate an exaggerated fear of being put to a test. The common dream of being improperly clothed is found to spring from a fear that imperfections may be discovered.

A complete absence of dreams may have various significance. For instance, a patient may for a long period have no dreams at the beginning of or during psychotherapy. This suggests that the patient hesitates to cooperate and, therefore, forgets his dreams, knowing that dream interpretation constitutes an important part of therapy. The therapist is usually justified in assuring the patient that he will dream again when he becomes less resistant. Adler also pointed out that the mentally deficient usually do not have dreams. Since the dream represents the result of a creative, imaginative struggle to overcome conflicts, of which the mentally deficient are not capable, the absence of dreaming is understandable.

The neuroses. In 1913 and 1914, Adler enlarged his original description of the neurotic pattern (1912). He defined the neurotic symptom as a safeguard behind which the patient retreated in order to be protected from the firing line of life. Later (1931) he described and explained the “yes, but” pattern underlying the neuroses: the “yes” standing for the neurotic’s apparent acceptance of his obligations, the “but” for his actual retreat behind neurotic symptoms in order to be excused from his responsibilities and to try to avoid the possibility of failure.

Criminality. Criminality may develop in anyone who feels that the world is against him and that fighting is his only hope of success (1931). The style of the criminal, he wrote, is to say “no” to the demands of society. Adler suggested various ways of trying to induce the criminal to change his pattern of destructive behavior.

Adler made another important contribution by describing the childhood patterns of the later neurotic and later criminal. He observed (1931) that the potentially neurotic child is usually shy, obedient, and easily deterred from what may lead to defeat. He may stay away from other children’s play, excusing himself on the ground of being too tired. He thus gives an early indication of the “yes, but” style of the adult neurotic. The potentially criminal child, on the other hand, is destructive and rebellious. Like the adult criminal, he says No to the demands of society, and he fights. Such patterns may be found, temporarily, in many children but are normally rejected after a trying-out period. In the adult neurotic or criminal, they represent, however, life-long patterns.

Organization of the school of individual psychology. In 1914, Adler founded the Internationale Zeitschrift für Individualpsychologie, which, after several interruptions caused by political upheavals, terminated publication in 1951. The English-language International Journal of Individual Psychology was started in 1935, with Adler as editor. It has steadily increased its scope and, at present, it appears semiannually, with Heinz Ansbacher as editor.

At the time of Adler’s death, there were 23 individual psychologic groups in various cities in Europe and the United States. Several of them conducted mental hygiene clinics and training institutes. Adler visited most of the groups while on lecture tours, thus adding periodically to the training of the members.

Between 1922 and 1930 five international congresses were held under Adler’s chairmanship. After World War II, the International Association of Individual Psychology continued to hold congresses.

Alexandra Adler

[For the historical context of Adler’s work, seePsychoanalysis, article onclassical theory;Psychiatry; and the biography of Freud. Forfurther discussion of Adler’s ideas seeIndividual psychology. Other relevant material may be found inSympathy and empathy.]


1898 Gesundheitsbuch für das Schneidergewerbe. Wegweiser der Gewerbehygiene, Vol. 5. Berlin: Heymann.

(1907) 1917 Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensation: A Contribution to Clinical Medicine. Nervous and Mental Disease Monograph Series, No. 24. New York: Nervous and Mental Diseases Pub. → First published in German.

(1909–1920) 1964 Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt. → First published in German. Contains 28 papers originally published in medical journals between 1909 and 1920. A paperback edition was published in 1959 by Littlefield.

(1912) 1930 The Neurotic Constitution: Outlines of a Comparative Individualistic Psychology and Psychotherapy. New York: Dodd. → First published as Über den nervösen Charakter.

(1927) 1946 Understanding Human Nature. New York: Greenberg. → First published as Menschenkenntnis. A paperback edition was published in 1957 by Premier Books.

1928 Kurze Bemerkungen über Vernunft, Intelligenz und Schwachsinn. Internationale Zeitschrift für Individualpsychologie 6:267–272.

(1930) 1963 The Problem Child: The Life Style of the Difficult Child as Analyzed in Specific Cases. With an introduction by Kurt A. Adler. New York: Putnam. → First published as Die Technik der Individualpsychologie. Volume 2: Die Seele der schwererziehbaren Schulkinder. Twenty case-study chapters of interviews with children, their parents, and teachers in Adler’s open community child guidance center.

(1931) 1960 What Life Should Mean to You. London: Allen & Unwin. → A paperback edition was published in 1958 by Capricorn Books.

(1933) 1939 Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind. New York: Putnam. → First published as Der Sinn des Lebens. A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Capricorn Books.

1936 On the Interpretation of Dreams. International Journal of Individual Psychology 2, no. 1:3–16.

1956 The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. Edited by Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher. New York: Basic Books. → A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Harper.


Adler, Alexandra (1938) 1948 Guiding Human Misfits: A Practical Application of Individual Psychology. New ed., rev. New York: Philosophical Library.

Adler, kurt A.; and Deutsch, Danica (editors) 1959 Essays in Individual Psychology: Contemporary Application of Alfred Adler’s Theories. New York: Grove Press.

Bottome, Phyllis (1939) 1957 Alfred Adler: Apostle of Freedom. 3d ed. London: Faber.

Dreikurs, Rudolf (1933) 1950 Fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology. New York: Greenberg. → First published as Einführung in die Individual–Psychologic.

International Journal of Individual Psychology. → Published since 1935; title varies.

Orgler, Hertha (1939) 1963 Alfred Adler; The Man and His Work: Triumph Over the Inferiority Complex. 3d ed. rev. and enl. London: Daniel. → A paperback edition was published in 1965 by Putnam.

Papanek, Helene; and Papanek, Ernst 1961 Individual Psychology Today. American Journal of Psychotherapy 15:4–26.

Alfred Adler

views updated May 11 2018

Alfred Adler

The Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler (1870-1937) founded the school of individual psychology, a comprehensive "science of living." His system emphasizes the uniqueness of the individual and his relationships with society.

Although the psychiatrists Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) lived at the same time and in the same place, their views could hardly have been more opposite. Freud's theory of psychoanalysis was rapidly accepted and overshadowed Adler's individual psychology during their lifetimes. However, Freud's position has since been modified, largely by his own followers, and numerous new schools of psychology have emerged whose tenets are increasingly compatible with Adler's original position.

Alfred Adler was born in a suburb of Vienna, the second of seven children of a Hungarian-born grain merchant. In his childhood he suffered some illnesses and the death of a younger brother; these experiences contributed to his early decision to become a physician.

He attended classical secondary school and received a degree from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1895. He married Raissa Epstein, a Russian student.

Adler's early career was marked by a zeal for social reform, often expressed in articles in socialist newspapers. His first professional publication was a social-medicine monograph on the health of tailors.

In 1902 Freud invited Adler to join a small discussion group, which became the illustrious Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Adler was an active member but did not consider himself a pupil or disciple of Freud. He could not agree with Freud's basic assumption that sex was the main determinant of personality, and all that this implied: the dominance of biological factors over the psychological; the push of drives, making for identical, predictable patterns; the part commanding the whole; pleasure-seeking as man's prime motivation. Whereas Freud tried to explain man in terms of his similarity to machines and animals, Adler sought to understand and influence man precisely in terms of what makes him different from machines and animals (concepts and values). This humanistic view characterized all the principles of his theory. Adler's views diverged ever more from those of Freud, and in 1911 he resigned from Freud's circle to formulate and found his own school.

Adler spent 3 years of World War I in military-hospital service. In 1919 he organized a child-guidance clinic in Vienna and also became a lecturer at the Pedagogical Institute. He was perhaps the first psychiatrist to apply mental hygiene in the schools. Working with teachers in child-guidance clinics, he carried out his innovative counseling before a restricted audience and dealt with the family and teacher as well as the child. This was probably the first "family therapy" and "community psychiatry" on record.

Beginning in 1926, Adler spent much time in the United States lecturing and teaching. When he saw the Nazi threat to Austria in 1932, he emigrated with his wife to New York. On May 28, 1937, he died suddenly while on a lecture tour in Aberdeen, Scotland. Two of his four children, Alexandra and Kurt, took up the practice of psychiatry in their father's tradition in New York City.

Adler had piercing eyes, a soft voice, and a friendly manner. He spoke slowly, with occasional silences, in a conciliatory, persuading tone. He was unusually open to people and was very sociable and hospitable. He loved the arts, especially music, and had a fine voice and enjoyed singing. He was a tireless worker, leaving little time for sleep. In therapeutic relationships he had a gift for disarming gentleness, acceptance, and encouragement.

Adler's Theory

Individual psychology, though not easy to master, has the kind of simplicity which comes with concreteness, dealing as much as possible with what can be observed and as little as possible with what must be taken on faith. Thus it can be explained in everyday language and can readily be demonstrated on actual cases. It probably covers more aspects of the personality than any other theory in that it deals with the healthy as well as the abnormal, individual and group relations, and the physical and the psychological. Yet it hangs together with a marked self consistency because all the principles are interrelated. This cohesiveness reflects Adler's view of the person as an organism: a unit in which all the parts function cooperatively, even when differently, in subordination to an overall plan for the whole.


Adler saw man imbued with a unitary dynamic force, a striving from below to above. Since this striving is an "intrinsic necessity of life itself, like physical growth," there is no need to infer a further source of energy for it. Adler described it as directed toward superiority, overcoming, perfection, success, significance—always as these are variously envisioned by each individual. In the goal is "the root of the personality." To understand the personality or any behavior, one must seek its purpose.


Adler found that an individual might respond to a perceived inferiority with greater or lesser inferiority feelings and with discouragement, compensation, or over-compensation. Thus the individual is not completely determined by objective factors. Within certain limitations, such subjective factors as interpretation and opinion are always decisive. Adler called this degree of self-determination man's creative power. It includes not only the ability to choose between several ways of regarding or reacting but also, more importantly, man's potential for spontaneity. Through it the individual arrives at his style of life.

Life Style

In spite of a certain unpredictability thus lent to all humans, there is a self-consistency in a person's actions which characterizes him uniquely. This "coherence and unity of the individual in all his expressions," as Adler expressed it, is his life style. From the beginning, the young child checks his impressions, successes, and failures against one another. Soon practical requirements of the environment are learned, perceptions become selective, practiced responses become habitual, value guidelines are set up, and "the child arrives at a style of life, in accordance with which we see him thinking, feeling, and acting throughout his whole life."

Social Ties

Adler's psychology has been judged the first in a social-science direction. "In addition to regarding an individual's life as a unity, we must also take it together with its context of social relations … [it] is not capable of doing just as it likes but is constantly confronted with tasks … inseparably tied up with the logic of man's communal life." Adler specified three main tasks of life: occupation, association with others, and love and marriage. He also referred to them as social ties, for they all require cooperation for their solution. Man's very uniqueness is influenced by his relations to others: "The style of the child's life cannot be understood without reference to the persons who look after him."

Social Interest

Adler also assumed an innate potentiality for coping with society, termed social interest. Unlike an instinct, it must be evoked and developed. Its subjective development is based in man's native empathy; the objective "development of the innate potentiality for cooperation occurs first in the relationship of the child and the mother." Social interest represents a transcendence of the self, an absence of self-centeredness. It is a trait, like intelligence, and as such influences the direction of the striving, but it is the most important trait in the life style.

Adler stated unequivocally that social interest is the criterion of mental health. He based this finding solely on his observations as a psychiatrist that mentally healthy persons "feel at home on this earth with all its advantages and disadvantages, and act as true fellowmen"; that is, they demonstrate a developed social interest.

The "failures in life"—the neurotics, psychotics, and offenders—on the other hand, are characterized by intense inferiority feelings that keep them continuously concerned with themselves, or self-bound. They may become convinced of their inability to cope with life (the much-cited inferiority complex) or may strive for a personal goal of superiority, useful or meaningful to themselves only, in accordance with their private sense rather than common sense. They have most often developed a pampered life style in that they expect to receive without giving. Normality in these terms is tantamount to maturity, which involves growing away from helplessness toward taking responsibility for others, becoming an asset rather than a burden.

Therapist and Patient

The therapist's function, according to Adler, is not to treat "mental disease" but to divine the error in the patient's way of life and lead him to greater maturity. To this end Adler introduced a number of diagnostic approaches. Among these, his theory of dreams, the meaning of early childhood recollections, and the role of birth order in the family have become widely known and adopted. The understanding of the patient achieved in this way is not one of depth but of context in the larger whole of his total transactions. This is the basis for changing the patient's picture of himself and the world. In addition to this reorganization, Adler wished the patient to appreciate his own power of self-determination and have the courage to exercise it. To encourage the patient, the therapist must express a disinterested concern that evokes and fosters feelings of trust and fellowship—fulfilling a function at which the mother had failed.

Further Reading

The comprehensive source book for Adler is The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, edited by H.L. and Rowena R. Ansbacher (1956), which is a selection of Adler's own writings and is intended as a textbook on individual psychology. Alfred Adler: Superiority and Social Interest: A Collection of Later Writings, also edited by the Ansbachers (1964), includes a paper on religion and several case studies. Two standard biographies of Adler are Phyllis Bottome, Alfred Adler: Apostleof Freedom (1939; rev. ed. 1957), and Hertha Orgler, Alfred Adler, the Man and His Work: Triumph over the Inferiority Complex (1939; 3d ed. 1963). Ruth L. Munroe, Schools of Psychoanalytic Thought: An Exposition, Critique and Attempt at Integration (1955), is a general consideration of psychoanalytic theory.

Additional Sources

Alfred Adler, as we remember him, Chicago: North American Society of Adlerian Psychology, 1977.

Hoffman, Edward, The drive for self: Alfred Adler and the founding of individual psychology, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1994.

We knew Alfred Adler, London: Adlerian Society of Great Britain, 1977. □

Adler, Alfred (1870-1937)

views updated May 23 2018

ADLER, ALFRED (1870-1937)

An Austrian physician, psychologist, and psychotherapist, Alfred Adler was born February 7, 1870, in Vienna and died May 28, 1937, in Aberdeen, Scotland. The son of a grain merchant, he was raised in Vienna and received his medical degree in 1895. After opening his medical practice, he took an interest in social issues and, in 1902, became part of Sigmund Freud's circle of friends. He was one of the most active members of the group and one of the most original. After creating the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) in 1910, he became the head of the Vienna group and, with Stekel, became co-editor of the Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse, founded the same year.

In 1911 he left the IPA with nine other members because of irreconcilable theoretical differences and founded the Verein für Freie Psychoanalytische Forschung (Society for Free Analytic Research), which he transformed in 1913 into the Verein für Individual psychologie (Society for Individual Psychology). After 1914 he was editor (with Carl Furtmüller) of his own publication, Zeitschrift für Individual psychologie (Journal of Individual Psychology), the publication of which was interrupted in 1916, becoming, in 1923, the Internationale Zeitschrift für Individual psychologie (International Journal of Individual Psychology). In 1912 he tried to obtain a research position at the University of Vienna, but was refused.

Interested in practice and educational issues in particular, after 1919 he established a number educational clinics (for teachers, parents, and students), which served as models for practitioners abroad. In 1929 he created the first dispensary of individual psychology (for adults and children). He was also involved in the training of teachers, for he had worked at the Vienna teacher's college since 1924, which brought him closer to the city's educators, on whom he exercised considerable influence.

After 1926 he gave lectures throughout Europe and the United States, initially at Columbia University, then, after 1933, as professor of medical psychology at the Long Island College of Medicine in New York, as well as a consultant at the hospital. To honor him for his scientific achievements, he was named an honorary citizen of the city of Vienna in 1930 and was made a doctor honoris causa in the United States, to which he had emigrated in 1935, primarily for political reasons.

His two major works are A Study of Organ Inferiority and its Psychological Compensation: A Contribution to Clinical Medicine (1907) and The Neurotic Constitution (1912/1972), in which he makes a clear break with Freud. The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (1927), Understanding Human Nature (1927), and Die Technik der Individual psychologie (1928-1930) were the result of his many talks, and were intended for a broader public.

Adler rejected Freud's theory of the libido and, with the creation of individual psychology, which was developed as a new direction in psychotherapy, he created the first significant schism in the psychoanalytic movement. He considered the individual as a complete being, including social and sociological aspects that began with the infant's feelings of inferiority, compensation, and the search for power and supremacy, as well as the sense of belonging to a collectivity. Adler considered psychic development to be the formation of an unconscious life plan, or even a lifestyle, starting with early childhood, and that later symptoms had to be taken into account from this point of viewin this sense Adler's approach was teleological. As an ego-centered psychology, Adler's individual psychology has had its greatest influence on other psychotherapeutic currents, such as humanist psychology and neoanalysis.

Helmut GrÖger

See also: Aggressiveness; Austria; Femininity, rejection of; Monism; Masculine protest (individual psychology); Aggressive instinct/aggressive drive; Inferiority, feeling of; Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society ; Wiener psychoanalytische Vereinigung.


Adler, Alfred. (1927). The practice and theory of individual psychology. New York: Harcourt Brace.

. (1927). Understanding human nature (Walter Béran Wolfe, Trans.). New York: Greenberg.

. (1928-1930). Die Technik der Individual psychologie. München: Bergmann.

. (1972). The neurotic constitution (Bernard Glueck and John E. Lind, Trans.). Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press (Original work published 1912).

Hoffman, Edward. (1994). The drive for self: Alfred Adler and the founding of individual psychology. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Schiferer, H. Rüdiger, Gröger, Helmut, and Skopec, Manfred. (1995). Alfred Adler: eine Bildbiographie. Mit bisher unbekannten Original-Dokumenten und zum grössten Teil unveröffentlichten Abbildungen. Munich-Basel: Ernst Reinhardt.

Adler, Alfred

views updated May 29 2018


ADLER, ALFRED (1870–1937), Austrian psychologist.

Alfred Adler was the founder of individual psychology, which, along with Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis and Carl Jung's analytic psychology, form the three classical schools of depth psychology. From 1902 he was one of the first four members of Freud's "Wednesday Group," where he was among the most important and most stimulating participants. Adler's growing rift with Freud (after 1908) finally led to Adler's separation from Freud in 1911. Adler then founded the Association for Free Psychoanalysis, which became the Association for Individual Psychology in 1913. In contrast to Freud, Adler focused on the person as a whole. He viewed the individual as a unified, goal-oriented, and social being. By 1912, Adler had developed the two central pillars of individual psychology: "inferiority feelings" and their "compensation." After World War I, Adler modified his theories, introducing the concept of "community feelings." Adler was influenced by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Hans Vaihinger, Wilhelm Dilthey, and others. One can also find many similarities with other German philosophers and personality psychologists in the holistic tradition.

Adler was born on 7 February 1870, the second of six children. His father was a Jewish grain merchant in the Rudolfsheim suburb of Vienna. Adler studied medicine in Vienna from 1888 to 1895 and was a member of the Socialist Students Association. His wife, Raissa Timofejewena (1873–1962), a student from Russia, was also a member of a socialist organization. They had four children. In 1899, Adler set up as a medical practitioner in a popular section of town, not far from the Prater amusement park. From 1911 until his emigration in 1935, he lived and worked as a neurologist in a middle-class area of Vienna. In the aftermath of World War I, Adler identified strongly with the republican governments of Germany and Austria. He became involved in the problems of social reform, especially education reform and adult education in "Socialist Vienna." Adler gave a series of lectures and demonstrations in counseling in Vienna and across Germany and Europe. After 1926, Adler worked and lectured primarily in the United States, where he held a visiting professor-ship at the Long Island Physicians College in New York. In 1935 he and his family became permament residents of the United States. He died two years later of a heart attack on 28 May 1937, in Aberdeen, Scotland.

In his first major work, Studie über Minderwertigkeit von Organen (1907; Study of Organ Inferiority, 1917), Adler held the view that illnesses and neuroses are caused by the unsuccessful compensation of an inferior organ, and that, in turn, high achievement can be the result of successful compensation. Between 1909 and 1911 Adler elaborated on his theory of personality and neurosis, which he presented comprehensively in his magnum opus, Über den nervösen Charakter (1912; The Neurotic Constitution, 1917). He contended that feelings of inferiority can be compensated for by feelings of superiority, which can help protect the individual against humiliation. Feelings of inferiority exist in a milder form in everyone and are a determining factor in the development of neuroses. These feelings can be traced back to such factors as organ inferiority, a cold or overprotective upbringing, as well as to social discrimination, as illustrated by the prevailing attitudes toward women. Feelings of inferiority lead to attitudes of passive avoidance, as expressed in traits such as timidity, insecurity, anxiety, submissive obedience. The compensatory striving for superiority leads to an exaggerated need for acknowledgement and power, the ambition to be better than others, more attractive, stronger, bigger, and more intelligent. One form of striving for superiority is the so-called masculine protest, that is, the wish to be a man or to not be a woman, because in the cultural judgment, victory is conceived as masculine, defeat as feminine. Both feelings are not based on realities but are fictions of the imagination, developed within the individual, as he sees himself in comparison to others. They form the basis of the "life style" of the individual, developing in early childhood.

Adler regarded the development of community feelings as a means for overcoming the compensatory needs for power needs in the individual, or at least for channelling these needs in socially useful directions. Community feeling or social feeling such as compassion, altruism, selflessness, or a unifying bond of mutual trust is a genuine psychological virtue and an index of man's inborn sociability. This community feeling was Adler's therapeutic goal and educational precept, to induce the individual to accept the desirability and the inevitability of social ties. It was Adler's personal mission to give people educational guidelines in mental health and the prevention of neurosis. His recommendation was to encourage the strengths of the individual in order to support his self-confidence.

In "Red Vienna" during the 1920s Adler was a teacher, reformer, popular orator, and political activist. He felt supported and stimulated by the increasing number of his associates who identified chiefly with social democratic policies. In this atmosphere, individual psychology flourished as a branch of applied clinical psychology and became a leading psychological movement. Adler's chief contribution was the establishment of educational counseling centers in cooperation with schools and other educational organizations. In addition, individual psychologists worked in progressive classes and, after 1931, in a progressive school, kindergartens, residential treatment centers, day-care centers, clinics for the disabled, and in a therapeutic out-patient center. Adler himself gave a series of lectures about education and group psychotherapy to students, schoolteachers, and to the public at large. He wrote a number of books in German and English. His most important publication during this period was his book Menschenkenntnis (1927; Understanding Human Nature).

At the beginning of the 1930s, Adler focused increasingly on the metaphysical and philosophical aspects of his work. This change in perspective is apparent in his book Der Sinn des Lebens (1933; Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind).

See alsoFreud, Sigmund; Jung, Carl Gustav.


Bruder-Bezzel, Almuth. Alfred Adler. Die Entstehungsgeschichte einer Theorie im historischen Milieu Wiens. Göttingen, Netherlands, 1983.

——. Die Geschichte der Individualpsychologie. Göttingen, Netherlands, 1999.

Ellenberger, Henri. The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York, 1970.

Hoffman, Edward. The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology. Austin, Tex., 1994.

Stepansky, Paul. In Freud's Shadow: Adler in Context. Hillsdale, N.J., 1983.

Almuth Bruder-Bezzel

Adler, Alfred

views updated Jun 27 2018

Alfred Adler

Born: February 7, 1870
Vienna, Austria
Died: May 28, 1937
Aberdeen, Scotland

Austrian psychiatrist

Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler was credited with developing several important theories on the motivation of human behavior. He founded the school of individual psychology, a comprehensive "science of living" that focuses on the uniqueness of the individual and a person's relationships with society.

Childhood and early career

Alfred Adler was born on February 7, 1870, in a suburb of Vienna, Austria. He was the second of seven children of a Hungarianborn grain merchant. The Adlers were a musical family and Alfred was known for his singing voice. Although he was encouraged to pursue a career in opera, in his childhood he suffered some illnesses and the death of a younger brother. These experiences contributed greatly to his early decision to become a physician, or medical doctor. He attended classical secondary school and received a degree from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1895. Later, he married Raissa Epstein, a Russian student.

Adler's early career was marked by enthusiasm for social reform (improvement), often expressed in articles in socialist newspapers. (Socialism is a social system where the goods and services are owned by the government and distributed among the people.) His first professional publication was a social-medicine monograph (pamphlet) on the health of tailors.

In 1902 famed Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (18561939) invited Adler to join a small discussion group, which became the famous Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Adler was an active member but did not consider himself a pupil or follower of Freud. He could not agree with Freud's basic assumption that gender (male or female) was the main factor in the development of an individual's personality. Whereas Freud tried to explain man in terms of his similarity to machines and animals, Adler sought to understand and influence man in terms of what makes man different from machines and animals, such as concepts and values. This humanistic view characterized all the ideas of his theory. In 1911 Adler resigned from Freud's circle to found his own school.

Adler worked three years of hospital service during World War I (191418) when European forces fought for world domination. In 1919 he organized a child-guidance clinic in Vienna, and also became a lecturer at the Pedagogical Institute. He was perhaps the first psychiatrist to apply mental hygiene (mental health) in the schools. Working with teachers in child-guidance clinics, he carried out his groundbreaking counseling before a small audience, dealing with the family and teacher as well as the child. This was probably the first "family therapy" and "community psychiatry" on record.

Beginning in 1926, Adler spent much time in the United States lecturing and teaching. When Adolf Hitler's (18891945) Nazi Party rose to power in Austria in 1932, Adler left with his wife and went to New York. On May 28, 1937, he died suddenly while on a lecture tour in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Adler's legacy

Adler left behind many theories and practices that very much influenced the world of psychiatry. Today these concepts are known as Adlerian psychology. His theories focused on the feelings of inferiority, and how each person tries to overcome such feelings by overcompensating (trying too hard to make up for what is lacking). Adler claimed that an individual's lifestyle becomes established by the age of four or five, and he stressed the importance of social forces, or the child's environment, on the development of behavior. He believed that each person is born with the ability to relate to other people and realize the importance of society as a whole.

As a therapist, Adler was a teacher who focused on a patient's mental health, not sickness. Adler encouraged self-improvement by pinpointing the error in patients' lives and correcting it. He thought of himself as an enabler, one who guides the patient through "self-determination," so that the patients themselves can make changes and improve their state. Adler was a pioneer in that he was one of the first psychiatrists to use therapy in social work, the education of children, and in the treatment of criminals.

For More Information

Grey, Loren. Alfred Adler, the Forgotten Prophet: A Vision for the 21st Century. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998.

Hoffman, Edward. The Drive for Self: AlfredAdler and the Founding of Individual Psychology. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1994.

Rattner, Josef. Alfred Adler. New York: F. Ungar, 1983.

Adler, Alfred

views updated Jun 27 2018

Alfred Adler

Psychiatrist known for his theory of individual psychology and for his pioneering work with children and families.

Alfred Adler was born in a suburb of Vienna, Austria, in 1870. After graduating from the University of Vienna medical school in 1895, he at first practiced ophthalmology but later switched to psychiatry. In 1902, Adler joined the discussion group that later became the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Sigmund Freud was also a member. Adler eventually became president and editor of its journal. After 1907, however, Adler's growing disagreement with Freud's theories, especially with their heavy emphasis on the role of sexuality in personality formation, alienated him from the ranks of Freudians.

In 1911, Adler and his followers left the Psychoanalytic Society to form their own group, The Society of Individual Psychology, and developed the system of individual psychology, a holistic, humanistic, therapeutic approach. Adlerian psychology views the individual as primarily a social rather than a sexual being and places more emphasis on choices and values than Freudian psychology. Adler saw the individual striving toward perfection and overcoming feelings of inferiority (a concept later popularized as the " inferiority complex "). After serving in military hospitals during World War I, Adler became interested in child psychology . He established a network of public child guidance clinics in the Vienna school system, offering what was probably the very first family counseling. There were 28 of these facilities in operation until the Nazis ordered them closed in 1934. Adlerian parent study groups still meet throughout the United States and Canada.

In 1926 Adler began dividing his time between Vienna and the United States. He was appointed visiting lecturer at Columbia University in New York in 1927. In 1932 he became a lecturer at the Long Island College of Medicine and emigrated to the United States with his wife. Adler died suddenly in 1937 in Aberdeen, Scotland, while on a lecture tour. There are more than 100 professional Adlerian organizations and 34 training institutes in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Further Reading

Adler, Alfred. Co-operation Between the Sexes: Writings on Women and Men, Love and Marriage, and Sexuality. New York: Norton, 1982.

. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A Systematic Presentation in Selections From His Writings. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.

Adler, Alfred

views updated May 08 2018


ADLER, ALFRED (1870–1937), Austrian psychiatrist. He was the founder of individual psychology, a theory of personality and method of psychotherapy based on the concepts of unity, self-determination, and future-orientation of man. His views were opposed to the elementaristic and mechanistic views of man which prevailed at that time. Born in Vienna, Adler qualified at the university there in 1895. After his marriage he adopted Protestantism, a small minority denomination in Austria at that time, considering it the most liberal religion. Adler's theories were set forth in such a manner as to be understandable and useful to a wide audience, including especially teachers and counselors. He himself established many child-guidance clinics. In 1902 Freud invited Adler to participate in his discussion group which had weekly meetings in Vienna. In 1910 Adler was elected the president of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, which grew out of the informal discussion group. In 1911 he resigned from the society as a consequence of his new theoretical views and established his own society and journal. From 1926 on Adler visited the United States regularly and eventually settled in New York where he was professor of medical psychology at the Long Island Medical College. He died while on a lecture tour in Scotland.

Primary in Adler's system is the conception that the organism, growing from a single cell, remains biologically and psychologically a unit. All partial processes such as drives, perception, memory, and dreaming are subordinated to the whole. Adler called this unitary process the individual's style of life. A unitary concept of man requires one overall motivating force. For Adler it is a striving to overcome and compensate for inferiorities directed toward a goal of superiority or success, which the individual creates quite uniquely. Though the goal may take on strange forms, it always includes maintenance of self-esteem. The individual, however, cannot be considered apart from society. The three important life problems, occupational, social, and sexual, are all actually social and require a well developed "social interest" for a successful solution. Thus the individual's goals will include social usefulness corresponding to the ideals of the community. Neurotic, psychotic, sociopathic, addictive, suicidal, and sexually deviant personalities are all failures in life because of an under-developed social interest and strong inferiority feelings. The role of the psychotherapist is to raise the patient's self-esteem through encouragement, illuminate his mistakes in lifestyle, and strengthen his social interest. In this way a cognitive reorganization is produced and the patient directed toward more socially useful behavior. Birth order (among siblings), dreams, and early recollections are used by the therapist in diagnosing the patient's lifestyle.

Interest in Adler's psychology increased with the gain in the humanistic conception of man, which he pioneered. Adlerian societies exist in numerous European countries, in the United States, where the Journal of Individual Psychology is published, and in Israel. A government supported Adlerian institute was established in Tel Aviv to train school psychologists, counselors, and teachers.


H. and R. Ansbacher (eds.), Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler; A Systematic Presentation in Selections from his Writings (1956; paperback, 1964), including extensive bibliographies and indices. add. bibliography: T. Weiss-Rosmarin, in: Individual Psychology, 46 (1990), 108–18.

[Heinz L. Ansbacher]

Adler, Alfred

views updated May 17 2018

Adler, Alfred (1870–1937) Austrian psychiatrist. After working with Sigmund Freud (1902–11), Adler broke away to found his own school of “individual psychology”. He believed that striving for social success and power was fundamental to human motivation. According to his theory, individuals develop problems and maladjustments when they cannot surmount feelings of inferiority acquired in childhood. This inferiority complex is often compensated for by assertive or aggressive behaviour.

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