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Alfred Adler

Psychiatrist known for his theory of individual psychology and for his pioneering work with children and families.

Alfred Adler was born in a suburb of Vienna, Austria, in 1870. After graduating from the University of Vienna medical school in 1895, he at first practiced ophthalmology but later switched to psychiatry. In 1902, Adler joined the discussion group that later became the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Sigmund Freud was also a member. Adler eventually became president and editor of its journal. After 1907, however, Adler's growing disagreement with Freud's theories, especially with their heavy emphasis on the role of sexuality in personality formation, alienated him from the ranks of Freudians.

In 1911, Adler and his followers left the Psychoanalytic Society to form their own group, The Society of Individual Psychology, and developed the system of individual psychology, a holistic, humanistic, therapeutic approach. Adlerian psychology views the individual as primarily a social rather than a sexual being and places more emphasis on choices and values than Freudian psychology. Adler saw the individual striving toward perfection and overcoming feelings of inferiority (a concept later popularized as the " inferiority complex"). After serving in military hospitals during World War I, Adler became interested in child psychology. He established a network of public child guidance clinics in the Vienna school system, offering what was probably the very first family counseling. There were 28 of these facilities in operation until the Nazis ordered them closed in 1934. Adlerian parent study groups still meet throughout the United States and Canada.

In 1926 Adler began dividing his time between Vienna and the United States. He was appointed visiting lecturer at Columbia University in New York in 1927. In 1932 he became a lecturer at the Long Island College of Medicine and emigrated to the United States with his wife. Adler died suddenly in 1937 in Aberdeen, Scotland, while on a lecture tour. There are more than 100 professional Adlerian organizations and 34 training institutes in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Further Reading

Adler, Alfred. Co-operation Between the Sexes: Writings on Women and Men, Love and Marriage, and Sexuality. New York: Norton, 1982.

——. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A Systematic Presentation in Selections From His Writings. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaFamous Psychologists & Scientists