Alfred Adler

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Adler, Alfred

(äd`lər), 1870–1937, Austrian psychologist, founder of the school of individual psychology. Although one of Sigmund Freud's earlier associates, he rejected the Freudian emphasis upon sex as the root of neurosis. Adler broke with Freud in 1911, maintaining that feelings of helplessness during childhood can lead to an inferiority complex. Adler's theory focused on social forces, and his therapy, while still concerned with the analysis of early childhood, was also interested in overcoming the inferiority complex through positive social interaction. After 1932, he lectured and practiced in the United States. His books include The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (1927, repr. 1973) and Understanding Human Nature (1927, repr. 1978).


See studies by J. Rattner (tr. 1983) and P. Stephansky (1983).

Alfred Adler
BirthplaceRudolfsheim near Vienna, Austria-Hungary (now Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus, Vienna, Austria)
Psychotherapist, psychiatrist
Known for Individual psychology

Adler, Alfred


Born Feb. 7, 1870, in Vienna; died May 28, 1937, in Aberdeen. Austrian doctor and psychologist, founder of the school of individual psychology. Adler originally affiliated himself with the adherents of Freud; later he founded his own school, which, with the creation of the International Society of Individual Psychology in 1924, became most influential during the 1920’s. In 1932 he left Austria and lived for the most part in the USA.

Although Adler was not in fact a student of Freud, they both agreed that instinctive drives and the unconscious play a definitive role in mental processes. In his work Study of Organ Inferiority (1907), Adler formulated a concept of illness as a disturbance of the balance in the relationship of the organ with its environment for which the organism tries to compensate. The principle of compensation, one of Adler’s fundamental concepts, is related to his subsequent teaching on homeostasis. Compensation is explained by Adler as the universal mechanism of psychological activity. Adler perceived the aspiration toward completeness and personal excellence, realized by compensation for the primary feeling of inferiority, as the basis of all human activity. This idea-goal, of which the individual is only dimly aware, becomes the center of the formation of personality, determining its psychic makeup. The character of the goal and the means for its realization create a unique life-style. The inferiority itself of the personality is revealed, however, only in relation to the environment; hence, Adler draws the conclusion that personality is social in its formation.

A number of the features of Adler’s system also appear in other psychological schools: the thesis of the primacy of the whole over separate psychological elements in gestalt psychology; the principle of compensation developed by German existentialist K. Jaspers and others; and the idea of the attainment of a “healthy society” with the help of therapy—by the so-called social Freudians, E. Fromm and K. Horney.


Individual’no-psikhologicheskoe lechenie nevrosov. Moscow, 1913.
Praxis und Theorie der Individualpsychologie, 4th ed. Munich, 1930.
Menschenkenntnis, 5th ed. Zürich, 1947.
The Individual Psychology of A. Adler. New York, 1956.


Orgler, H. A. Adler, the Man and His Work, 2nd ed. New York, 1950.
Way, L. A. Adler. An Introduction to His Psychology. London, 1956.


Adler, Alfred


Alfred Adler (1870–1937) was an Austrian psychiatrist who developed a personality theory referred to as individual psychology. He was at one time closely associated with Sigmund Freud, but broke with Freud to develop his own form of psychotherapy. Adler placed much less emphasis on dreams than other schools of psychiatry, and his attitude toward dreams is somewhat inconsistent. Even though he did not develop a full-blown theory of dreams, his thoughts on this subject had a significant influence on later dream theorizing.

To oversimplify the difference between Freud and Adler, Freud focused on sex and aggression and Adler focused on power and status. Adler viewed much human motivation as originating during the lengthy period of childhood, when we are relatively powerless to control our lives. In response to this feeling of helplessness, the human being, according to Adler, develops a powerful urge to master his or her world. This desire for control and mastery becomes the central drive in human life.

Dreams would clearly have a different significance for Adler than they had for Freud. In Freudian theory, dreams are fundamentally arenas within which inner tensions, many of them safely hidden from view in the unconscious, could be safely discharged. Often these tensions have roots in infantile conflicts, making dreams past-oriented. For Adler, on the other hand, dreams become part of the larger project of the individual to master his or her life. In particular, dreams come about as a result of an effort—whether that effort is effective or not—to anticipate future situations, so as to allow us to imaginatively prepare for them. Although dreams are intended to help the dreamer acquire more control over his or her world, Adler recognized that many dreams are maladaptive, in the sense that, if one were to actually follow their guidance, the practical results would be to detract from, rather than enhance, the goal of mastery over one’s environment.

Adler’s views provide a radically different perspective on dreams from Freud’s. For Freud dreams serve to discharge inner tensions originating in the past and hidden in the unconscious, whereas for Adler the function of dreams is to anticipate the future. Also, one of the results of Adler’s portrayal of dreams is to make them more related to the thoughts and motivations of waking consciousness, in marked contrast to Freud’s portrayal, which emphasizes the disjunction between the waking and the dreaming state. Adler’s ideas, particularly as developed and formulated by later theorists, have influenced many contemporary therapists.

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