About Alfred Adler

(the following article is taken from the Life Course Institute’s website at http://www.lifecourseinstitute.com/ and is reproduced by kind permission)

For over a century, the contributions of Dr. Alfred Adler (1870-1937) have been central to psychology and psychotherapy since at least 1902. As will be seen, his ideas and methods appear in the theory and practice of nearly all psychologies and counselling approaches used in the present time.1 This chapter introduces the man and his development Individual Psychology.

The modern era of interest in psychological ideas is connected in the public mind with Sigmund Freud, and there can be no doubt about his influence. Two specific events are key to ushering in that era: his publication in 1900 of The Interpretation of Dreams, and his joining with Alfred Adler in 1902 to seek psychological treatments for the neuroses At that time, the neuroses were largely equated with the diagnosis of hysteria, the conversion of emotional issues into physical complaints.

Freud was the founder of Psycho-Analysis and psychodynamic theory. Yet Adler’s contributions, and his Individual Psychology as a theory of personality and therapeutic method, have had a marked effect on the field. The Ansbachers note that:

When we hear such expressions as feelings of inferiority and insecurity, striving for self-enhancement and power, woman’s revolt against her feminine role, the oversolicitous mother, the dethronement of the first-born, the need for affection, etc., we  are meeting ideas in which Alfred Adler was the pioneer from 1907 until his death in 1937. (Ansbachers, 1954.)

Indeed, Adler made many original contributions to what was then an emerging field. It could be argued that nearly everything he did became the foundation for what would come later:

Humanistic/Existential psychologies: The writings of Carl Rogers, Viktor Frankl, Abrahm Maslow, and Rollo May (all at some time students of Adler) often restate Adlerian concepts. Rollo May is generally considered the official “founder” of existential psychology and therapy; Abraham Maslow is generally considered the official “founder” of Humanistic psychology and therapy. Also, much of what became the “human potential movement,” including “encounter groups” and “Gestalt therapy,” owe much to Adler’s ideas.

Neo-Freudians: It has been suggested that these might better be called “neo-Adlerians.” Benjamin Wolman, in his textbook on psychological theories, says,

It has to be said that Adler’s influence is much greater than is usually admitted. The entire neo-psychoanalytic school, including [Karen] Horney, [Eric] Fromm, and [Harry Stack] Sullivan, is no less neo-Adlerian than it is neo-Freudian. Adler’s concepts of sociability, self-assertion, security, self, and creativeness permeated the theories of the neo-analysts. (Wolman, 1960, p. 298.)

The inclusion of social forces on personality by neo-Freudians seem to come more from Adler than Freud. Indeed, the similarity of “neo-Freudian” ideas and those of Adler has led to the observation that, “A graduate student would run the risk of being accused of plagiarism if he were to approach another writer so closely.” (Allen, 1971, p. 22) Stepansky reminds us, that neo-Freudians may have been as much influenced by social conditions of the 1930s and 1940s as by Adler’s earlier ideas.

Cognitive Therapy: Rational-Emotive Therapy (Ellis), Cognitive Therapy (Beck), and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (Bandler and Grinder) seem to include many restatements of Adler’s earlier ideas, as will be explored later in detail.

Transactional Analysis: Objective observers have noted there are many similarities between major Adlerian concepts and Berne’s Transactional Analysis, such as similarities between the “games” of Berne’s Games People Play and Adler’s Problems of Neurosis, and Berne’s “Life Scripts” and Adler’s “Life Style.”

Psychoanalysis: Freudian Joost Meerloo noted that, “the whole body of psychoanalysis and psychiatry is imbued with Adler’s ideas, although few want to acknowledge this fact. We are all plagiarists, though we hate to confess it. The whole body of social psychiatry would have been impossible without Adler’s pioneering zest. (Meerloo, 1970)

Ego Psychology: This expansion of psychoanalysis and stressing of the Ego contains much that Adler first discussed. The minutes of the meeting of the third “debate” in 1911 have Freud complaining that Adler presented an “ego psychology” rather than a “psychology of the unconscious.” (see Stepansky, pp. 126-127)

It could be argued that nearly every theory and method of modern psychological treatment employed today has roots in or a similarity with something Adler said or did. Therapists themselves may not realize how “Adlerian” they really are. Yet more than any other, Adler seems to be behind what they do and why they do it. As psychiatrist Joseph Wilder put it, “The proper question is not whether one is Adlerian but how much of an Adlerian one is.” (Ansbachers, 1973, p. 13). Of major theorist-practitioners, only Albert Ellis (Rational Emotive Therapy) and Aaron Beck (Cognitive Therapy) acknowledge their debt to Adler. (Corsini, 1973, pp. 167; Beck, 1976, p. 22.) Both claim, however, to have come upon their approaches independently, and look at Adler as a forerunner, not a direct influence. So while practitioners may not know that Adler pioneered the ideas that guide their work, methods, or modalities (group therapy, family therapy, marital therapy, for three examples), they use them all the same.

Central is Adler’s idea that the focus of counselling is to alter a client’s perceptual scheme (apperceptive schema), the subjective viewpoint that lies behind mistaken thinking, the neurotic Life Style, Private Logic, the client’s Guiding Goal, Guiding Line, and Guiding Movement, and more. This fundamental idea is basic to most therapies practiced today, from Gestalt Therapy and Transactional Analysis to the “cognitive” therapies of Ellis, Beck, and Bandler. Neuro-Linguistic Programming speaks of “reframing” the client’s subjective framework, which seems to be essentially the same thing.

For more information on Alfred Adler, the full article can be read at http://www.lifecourseinstitute.com/