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Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler (February 7, 1870- May 28, 1937) was an Austrian medical doctor and psychologist, founder of the school of Individual Psychology.

Born in Rudolfsheim, Vienna, Austria, and raised in Vienna, he was the third child of a Jewish family consisting of a grain merchant and his wife. He trained as a doctor at the University of Vienna Medical School and qualified in 1895. He soon became interested in psychology as it related to physical disorders, and met Sigmund Freud in 1899, with whom he formed the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society with Adler as a president.

Early career

Adler was influenced by the mental construct ideas of Hans Vaihinger and developed a theory of organic inferiority and compensation (hypertrophy, see inferiority complex), with the "masculine protest" as the natural outcome in male-dominated society. Adler came to disagree with Freud's theories: the divergence became public in 1911 at the Weimar Psychoanalytic Congress. Adler contended with Freud's belief in the dominance of the sex instinct and whether ego drives were libidinal; he also attacked Freud's ideas over repression. Adler believed that the repression theory should be replaced with the concept of ego-defensive tendencies- the neurotic state derived from inferiority feelings and over compensation of the masculine protest, Oedipal complexes were insignificant. Adler left the Vienna society and formed the Society of Free Analytic Research, renamed the Society of Individual Psychology in 1912.

Adler's approach to human personality

He wrote a book defining his key ideas in 1912: The Neurotic Character). He argued that human personality could be explained teleologically, separate strands dominated by the guiding purpose of the individual's unconscious self ideal to convert feelings of inferiority to superiority (or rather completeness). The desires of the self ideal were countered by social and ethical demands. If the corrective factors were disregarded and the individual over-compensated, then an inferiority complex would occur, the individual becoming egocentric, power-hungry and aggressive or worse. Adler believed that personality can be distinguished into the getting, avoiding, ruling and socially useful types. Although he differed from Freud in many ways, he did agree with Freud that early childhood experience is importance to development, and believed that birth order may influence personality development.

Adler becomes a well known figure in psychiatry

His efforts were halted by World War I, during which he served as a doctor with the Austrian Army. Post-war his influence increased greatly into the 1930s, he established a number of child guidance clinics from 1921 and was a frequent lecturer in Europe and the United States, becoming a visiting professor at Columbia University in 1927. Therapeutically his methods avoided the concentration on adult psyche by attempting to pre-empt the problems in the child by encouraging and promoting Social Interest and also by avoiding pampering and neglect. In adults the therapy relied on the exclusion of blame or a superior attitude by the practitioner, the reduction of resistance by raising awareness of individual behaviour and the refusal to become adversarial. Common therapeutic tools included the use of humour, historical instances, and paradoxical injunctions. Adler's popularity was related to the comparative optimism and comprehensibility of his ideas compared to those of Freud or Jung. He famously commented, "The test of one's behavior pattern: relationship to society, relationship to one's work, relationship to sex."

Emigration and early death

In 1932, after most of his Austrian clinics were closed due to his Jewish heritage, Adler left Austria for a professorship at the Long Island College of Medicine. His death from a heart attack in Aberdeen, Scotland during a lecture tour in 1937, was a blow to the influence of his ideas although a number of them were taken up by neo-Freudians.

Nonetheless, there exist presently several schools dedicated to carrying on the work of Alfred Adler such as The Adler School of Professional Psychology which was founded as The Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago by Adler's protege, Rudolf Dreikurs, and the Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington, dedicated to Adler's original teachings and style of psychotherapy. There are also various organizations promoting Dr. Adler's orientation towards mental and social wellbeing. These include ICASSI and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology (NASAP).


His key publications were The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler, covering his writings from 1898-1937. An entirely new translation of Adler's magnum opus, The Neurotic Character, is featured in Volume 1