Alfred Adler


One of the early innovators in the field of psychology was Alfred Adler.  "Both Adler and Jung were at first associated with Freud but later separated from him, Adler in 1911 and Jung in 1913….When Adler was invited by Freud in 1902 to join the psychoanalytic circle, he was a young practicing physician, fourteen years younger than Freud.  Soon he became a prominent member of the group.  He was highly esteemed by Freud, was eventually named his successor as president of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society, and became coeditor of an early psychoanalytic journal…At the same time theoretical differences developed.  These gradually increased to the point where both Adler and Freud regarded them as irreconcilable, and Adler resigned from his positions in the psychoanalytic movement" (p. 3).   Adler went on to create what he called "Individual Psychology" and died in 1937 leaving an important legacy that we can still learn from to this day.


The basic propositions of Individual Psychology are:

1.  There is one basic dynamic force behind all human activity, a striving from a felt minus situation towards a plus situation, from a feeling of inferiority towards superiority, perfection, totality.

2.  The striving receives its specific direction from an individually unique goal or self-ideal, which though influenced by biological and environmental factors is ultimately the creation of the individual.  Because it is an ideal, the goal is a fiction.

3.  The goal is only "dimly envisaged" by the individual, which means that it is largely unknown to him and not understood by him.  This is Adler's definition of the unconscious: the unknown part of the goal.

4.  The goal becomes the final cause, the ultimate independent variable.  To the extent that the goal provides the key for understanding the individual, it is a working hypothesis on the part of the psychologist.

5.  All psychological processes form self-consistent organization from the point of view of the goal, like a drama which is constructed from the beginning with the finale in view.  This self-consistent personality structure is what Adler calls the 'style of life'.  It becomes firmly established at an early age, from which time on behavior that is apparently contradictory is only the adaptation of different means to the same end.

6.  The individual cannot be considered apart form his social situation.

7.  All important life problems, including certain drive satisfactions, become social problems.  All values become social values (pp. 1-2).


Do not forget the most important fact that not heredity and not environment are determining factors.  Both are giving only the frame and the influences which are answered by the individual in regard to his styled creative power.   Adler


If we want to understand a person (that is, understand the hidden meaning of his introspections) we have to close our ears.  We have only to look.  In this way we can see as in a pantomime.   Adler


Crime Prevention


To better understand Adler, examine the following ideas he had about crime prevention. 


"I am convinced that we could change every single criminal…With regard to unemployment, for example, and the lack of occupational training and skill, we should make it possible that everyone who wants to work can secure a job…We can make teachers the instruments of social progress by training them to correct mistakes made in the family, i.e., to develop the social interest of the children and spread it towards others…If there are great extremes of poverty and luxury, those who are badly off become irritated and are challenged too much.  We should therefore diminish ostentation.  It would be much better if we were more silent, did not mention the names of criminals nor give them so much publicity" (p. 422).


(Note: all of the above is drawn from: THE INDIVUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF ALFRED ADLER Edited by Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher, Basic Books, N.Y., 1956).