Individual Psychology

Alfred Adler was the founder of the school of Individual Psychology. Adler was an Austrian Jewish psychologist, who lived from 1870 to 1937. He was born and raised in Vienna, where he completed a medical degree at the University of Vienna in 1895, followed by a specialization in psychiatry. Initially working at the same time as Sigmund Freud, he separated from Freud in 1911 as their views diverged. Adler fled fascist Austria during the 1930s and immigrated to America. The United States, with its motto of individual freedom and the accomplishment of dreams, had an impact on Adler.

Adler, a social theorist, believed that the force of one's social surroundings have an impact on one's psychological state. He proposed that feelings of helplessness during childhood lead to what he defined as the "inferiority complex." This theory was a pinnacle of Adler's studies, with much of Adlerian therapy centering on this. He looked at the patient's early childhood during therapeutic sessions, and his analysis took this into account. Moreover, the means to overcoming the inferiority complex as a result of positive social interactions was also crucial to his work.

Adler founded The Society for Individual Psychology, originally entitled the Society for Free Psychoanalytic Study. He also created and became editor-in-chief of the Journal for Individual Psychology (Zeitschrift fur Individualpsychologie).

The birth of Individual Psychology arose with the theory related to understanding children's feelings of inferiority. The psychological movement forces compensation in certain areas or pushes the person in those directions. The child's early feelings are considered to shape the psychological disposition of the emerging adult.

A major work of Adler was Ueber Den Nervosen Charakter, which was first published in the United States as The Neurotic Character. Whereas Freud focused on sex in his study of neuroses, Adler looked at social context. From 1913, Adler published a number of significant articles to indicate his approach to psychology. Prevalent to this are the essays "On the Role of the Unconscious in the Neurosis," "New Principles for the Practice of Individual Psychology" and "Individual-Psychological Treatment of the Neuroses." He stressed how emotional difficulties experienced by adults could be traced to their formative preschool years. Adler indicated that hints are thrown out, and together with knowledge of the social environment, it is possible to draw a picture of how the adult assumes either an inferiority or superiority orientation. He believed that it was essential that the neurosis should be disclosed during the therapeutic process, by bringing to light the system and life plan of the patient. The therapist thus needs to understand this to facilitate the patient's conscious awareness of these underlying issues.

In the first edition of the Journal of Individual Psychology, Adler described Individual Psychology by suggesting that the name expresses the connection between the individual context and the psychological processes. The notion of the individual context being paramount to understanding, and how any manifestation of psychological state can only be understood when looking at the individual, is crucial to the practice of Individual Psychology. Although he admitted that it is not possible thoroughly and completely to understand an isolated human case, he stressed that this does not undermine the intrinsic link between individual personality and sociocultural or historical context.

Alfred Adler's son, psychiatrist Kurt Adler, described a key feature of Individual Psychology, in the forward to Edward Hoffman's 1996 book The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and The Founding of Individual Psychology. The "self created goals of each individual," he said, "are the determining influences that create the human character." It is this drive to fulfilling potential that predates psychologist Carl Roger's ideas of self-actualization. Alfred Adler's views on the individual striving for perfection are seen as relating to a combination of desire and drive towards actualization.

The concept of an inferiority complex has its counterpart in the superiority complex. Both are believed to come from the same root. Thus, someone feeling overwhelmed by feelings of inferiority, from being told or perceiving that he or she lacks a physical, emotional or intellectual attribute, manifests an inferiority complex. Others, also feeling that they are less than adequate, overcompensate by pretending that they are better than others. This is seen in people displaying superior attitudes and is termed a superiority complex in its extreme form. Some behaviors that become apparent while striving for perfection translate into action through compensation. A child or adult may focus on improving skills in an area related to the inferiority, while others compensate by choosing to excel at something completely different.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology
Edward Hoffman.
Addison-Wesley, 1996
The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A Systematic Presentation in Selections from His Writings
Heinz L. Ansbacher; Rowena R. Ansbacher; Alfred Adler.
Harper & Row, 1967
An Introduction to Theories of Personality
Robert B. Ewen.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003 (6th edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Individual Psychology: Alfred Adler"
Theoretical Models of Counseling and Psychotherapy
Kevin A. Fall; Janice Miner Holder; Andre Marquis.
Brunner-Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Adlerian Counseling/Individual Psychology"
The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry
Henri F. Ellenberger.
Basic Books, 1970
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Alfred Adler and Individual Psychology"
Concepts of Personality
Joseph M. Wepman; Ralph W. Heine.
Aldine, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Individual Psychology: The Adlerian Point of View"
An Introduction to the Psychology of Dreaming
Kelly Bulkeley.
Praeger, 1997
Librarian’s tip: "Individual Psychology: Alfred Adler" begins on p. 40
Systems and Theories of Psychology
J. P. Chaplin; T. S. Krawiec.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962 (3rd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Adler and Individual Psychology" begins on p. 321
The New Contextual Therapy: Guiding the Power of Give and Take
Terry D. Hargrave; Franz Pfitzer.
Brunner-Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Contextual Therapy and Individual Psychology" begins on p. 40
Classics in Psychology
Thorne Shipley.
Philosophical Library, 1961
Librarian’s tip: "The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology" begins on p. 687
Interpersonal Manifestations of Lifestyle: Individual Psychology Integrated with Interpersonal Theory
Schwartz, Jonathan P.; Waldo, Michael.
Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Vol. 25, No. 2, April 2003
A Comparison of Attachment Theory and Individual Psychology: A Review of the Literature
Peluso, Paul R.; Peluso, Jennifer P.; White, JoAnna F.; Kern, Roy M.
Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Vol. 82, No. 2, Spring 2004
The Foundations of Psychiatry
Silvano Arieti.
Basic Books, 1974 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of individual psychology begins on p. 790
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