Adler, Alfred

born Feb. 7, 1870, Penzing, Austria
died May 28, 1937, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scot.

Austrian psychiatrist.

He earned his medical degree in Vienna, and from his earliest years as a physician he stressed consideration of the individual in relation to his total environment. A student and associate of Sigmund Freud (1902–11), he eventually broke with Freud over the importance of early-childhood sexual conflicts in the development of psychopathology. With his followers he developed the school of individual psychology
the humanistic study of drives, feelings, emotions, and memory in the context of the individual's overall life plan. Adler advanced the theory of the inferiority complex to explain cases of psychopathology; Adlerian psychotherapy sought to direct patients emotionally disabled by inferiority feelings toward maturity, common sense, and social usefulness. He established the first child guidance clinic in 1921 in Vienna. He taught in the U.S. (at Columbia University and the Long Island College of Medicine) from 1927 until his death. His works include Understanding Human Nature (1927) and What Life Should Mean to You (1931).

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▪ Austrian psychiatrist
born February 7, 1870, Penzing, Austria
died May 28, 1937, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
 psychiatrist whose influential system of individual psychology introduced the term inferiority feeling, later widely and often inaccurately called inferiority complex. He developed a flexible, supportive psychotherapy to direct those emotionally disabled by inferiority feelings toward maturity, common sense, and social usefulness.

      Throughout his life Adler maintained a strong awareness of social problems, and this served as a principal motivation in his work. From his earliest years as a physician (M.D., University of Vienna Medical School, 1895), he stressed consideration of the patient in relation to the total environment, and he began developing a humanistic, holistic approach to human problems.

      About 1900 Adler began to explore psychopathology within the context of general medicine and in 1902 became closely associated with Sigmund Freud (Freud, Sigmund). Gradually, however, differences between the two became irreconcilable, notably after the appearance of Adler's Studie über Minderwertigkeit von Organen (1907; Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensation), in which he suggested that persons try to compensate psychologically for a physical disability and its attendant feeling of inferiority. Unsatisfactory compensation results in neurosis. Adler increasingly downplayed Freud's basic contention that sexual conflicts in early childhood cause mental illness, and he further came to confine sexuality to a symbolic role in human strivings to overcome feelings of inadequacy. Outspokenly critical of Freud by 1911, Adler and a group of followers severed ties with Freud's circle and began developing what they called individual psychology, first outlined in Über den nervösen Charakter (1912; The Neurotic Constitution). The system was elaborated in later editions of this work and in other writings, such as Menschenkenntnis (1927; Understanding Human Nature).

       individual psychology maintains that the overriding motivation in most people is a striving for what Adler somewhat misleadingly termed superiority (i.e., self-realization, completeness, or perfection). This striving for superiority may be frustrated by feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, or incompleteness arising from physical defects, low social status, pampering or neglect during childhood, or other causes encountered in the course of life. Individuals can compensate for their feelings of inferiority by developing their skills and abilities, or, less healthily, they may develop an inferiority complex that comes to dominate their behaviour. Overcompensation for inferiority feelings can take the form of an egocentric striving for power and self-aggrandizing behaviour at others' expense.

      Each person develops his personality and strives for perfection in his own particular way, in what Adler termed a style of life, or lifestyle. The individual's lifestyle forms in early childhood and is partly determined by what particular inferiority affected him most deeply during his formative years. The striving for superiority coexists with another innate urge: to cooperate and work with other people for the common good, a drive that Adler termed the social interest. Mental health (mental hygiene) is characterized by reason, social interest, and self-transcendence; mental disorder by feelings of inferiority and self-centred concern for one's safety and superiority or power over others. The Adlerian psychotherapist directs the patient's attention to the unsuccessful, neurotic character of his attempts to cope with feelings of inferiority. Once the patient has become aware of these, the therapist builds up his self-esteem, helps him adopt more realistic goals, and encourages more useful behaviour and a stronger social interest.

      In 1921 Adler established the first child-guidance (child development) clinic in Vienna, soon thereafter opening and maintaining about 30 more there under his direction. Adler first went to the United States in 1926 and became visiting professor at Columbia University in 1927. He was appointed visiting professor of the Long Island College of Medicine in New York in 1932. In 1934 the government in Austria closed his clinics. Many of his later writings, such as What Life Should Mean to You (1931), were directed to the general reader. Heinz L. and Rowena R. Ansbacher edited The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (1956) and Superiority and Social Interest (1964).

Additional Reading
Biographies and analyses of his work include Rudolf Dreikurs, An Introduction to Individual Psychology, trans. by Edna G. Fenning (1935, reissued 1999; also published as Fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology, 1950, reprinted 1989; originally published in German, 1933); Hertha Orgler, Alfred Adler: The Man and His Work, 4th ed. (1973); Loren Grey, Alfred Adler, the Forgotten Prophet: A Vision for the 21st Century (1998); and Edward Hoffman, The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology (1994).

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Universalium. 2010.

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