Facts about Alfred Adler

I would like to share some well known and some not so well  known facts about Alfred Adler. As I said before, the more I study Adlerian Theory, the more I discover many amazing things about Adler, Adlerian Theory, counseling process, myself and life. In a way I feel like Adler saved my life, but this is a topic for another post.

  • Adler was born on February 7, 1870 in Penzing, Austria.
  • He was the second of six children, and was a son of a Jewish grain merchant.
  • Adler had various health problems as a child. He had Rickets so he could not walk until he was 4. When he was 5 Adler developed pneumonia and was diagnosed as unlikely to survive. He survived.
  • These experiences had a profound impact on him; he decided to be a doctor.
  • Most of Adler’s early memories were about his older brother.
  • Adler was failing at math in school. His teacher suggested that Adler be removed from school and apprenticed to a cobbler. His father opposed to the idea. Aren’t you thankful that his father did not listen to the teacher!
  • Adler was more determined than ever, he soon excelled in math and became the top of his class.
  • These experiences shaped his theory of personality. Mostly he always believed the true potential of children.
  • Adler was one of the few who read Freud’s book on dream interpretation and was influenced by it. Later, he received a personal invitation to join Freud’s weekly discussion groups.
  • Adler realized that he was disagreeing with Freud with the very basic concepts, so in 1912 he separated his ways from Freud and formed his own group.
  • The term Individual psychology is a translation error. Adler viewed individuals holistically, not as three separated structure of personality namely, id, ego and superego. To explain the personality structure, he used the Latin word, individum to indicate the inseparableness of human personality.  For Adler the individual was the smallest unit to study not id, ego, and superego. So his theory is best represented with the term holistic theory, or  indivisible theory not individual theory.
  • Adler also put the seeds for postmodern and systemic theories that we need to study individuals in relation to the larger context; family, community and society.
  • Adler was the very first Feminist theorist. In his book Co-Operation between the Sexes: Writings on Women, Love and Marriage, he discussed the equal rights of women.
  • Adler has been given the title “the Father of Self Help”.
  • Adler was influenced by Hans Vaihinger’s The Philosophy of “As If”.  Vaihinger argued that human beings are mostly unaware of the absolute truth, so they settle for partial truth. Adler further developed “acting as if” technique, acting out a role that you think is impossible (walk like a confident person, talk like you have high self-esteem etc. )
  • Adler was the first one who used the Socratic dialogue method, a method which is known as a cognitive technique. This technique is used to help the clients develop a new perspective.
  • Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Karen Horney, Carl Rogers were all influenced by Adler’s work.
  • Adler had four children,Valentine, Alexandra, Nelly (Comelia) and Kurt.  Alexandra and Kurt further studied psychology and expanded Adler’s  ideas.

  • Adler was a physician during WWI with the Austrian army, serving on the Russian front.
  • It is said that Alcoholic Anonymous was greatly influenced by Adlerian concepts
  • In May 1937, Adler died suddenly in Aberdeen, Scotland, while walking down the street, he collapsed on the sidewalk.  His last word was “Kurt,” the name of his son.
  • Adler’s body was cremated at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh but the ashes were never reclaimed. In 2007, his ashes were rediscovered in a casket at Warriston Crematorium and returned to Vienna for burial in 2011.
  • Adler was very optimistic, a positive psychologist. He emphasized the positive aspects of human beings and worked to create a better environment for the children.
  • Adler was very down to earth. Adler avoided scientific jargon, shared his ideas with everyone. He said “My psychology belongs to everyone”. He believed that whether he was known in psychology was not important. What mattered for him that his positive approach to child development, parenting, and education were widely accepted. As a researcher and educator I experience this with fellow Adlerians. Adlerians share their ideas, questionnaires, techniques and insight without expecting anything in return.

  • This quality of Adler, in a way worked against him (actually I should say for us it worked against him, for Adler it worked just fine as his only concern was that his ideas were used in some way, getting the recognition or even the credit was not important for him at all).
  • As Hazan states,

If Adler is or was so important in the actual Psychotherapy, why he is so little known or recognized? The answer is obvious: because of his political generosity. This led him to say that his psychology was like a basket of fruits, meaning anyone could take the one he liked the most and make his own without recognizing the place from where it was taken.

  • At the time using corporal punishment to children was common and acceptable; Adler opposed this and used many forms of public education to teach parents about positive child rearing.
  • He learned to speak English by himself so that he could teach his concepts in the United States and other countries.
  • He continued to learn until his death.
  • Adler escaped from Nazi horror to USA.
  • Adler was the one who originated the so called solution focused brief therapy magic wand question. Adler used “the question”, “If your problem were to disappear overnight, how would things be different for you?”
  • In 1927 in a New York daily paper there was an article discussing Adlerian concepts without giving any credit to him. When Adler was told about the article his response was “He has foreknown me, it seems”.
  • It is said that  “It would not be easy to find another author from which so much has been borrowed from all sides without acknowledgment than Adler.”
  • Adler was asked who would continue his theory when he no longer could; his answer was simple, “those who can”. I am happy to say that I work to be one of those who can…
  • His influence can be seen in so many theories as Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher stated that “today the question is not whether you are Adlerian or not but rather how much Adlerian you are.”

So how much Adlerian are you? More on this in the future….


Bruck, A. (n.d.) Adler as I remember him. http://www.adlerian.us/bru-adl.htm

Corsini, R (1973).  Current Psychotherapies, Peacock Publishers: Itasco/ IL

Hazan, Y. (n.d.) About the Psychotherapy of Adler, (http://www.centroadleriano.org/publicaciones/ABOUT%20THE%20PSYCHOTHERAPY%20OF%20ADLER.pdf)

Hoffman, E. (n.d.) Alfred Adler: Five Lessons for Everyone. http://www.adleriansociety.co.uk/phdi/p3.nsf/supppages/0939?opendocument&part=3

Sperry, L (2007) To Be or Not To Be Adierian: The Personal and Organizational Dynamics of Establishing One’s Theoretical Orientation The journal of Individual Psychology, 53,  2.

Yang, J., Milliren, A., & Blagen, M (2010). The Psychology of Courage. An Adlerian Handbook for Healthy Living. Taylor and Francis: New York,NY.

Pictures are from Alfred Adler Institutes of San Fransisco and Northwestern Washington, Classical Adlerian Photography Gallery http://www.adlerian.us/Page1b.htm


3 thoughts on “Facts about Alfred Adler

  1. So, you mean at least some of the self-help professionals that we see regularly are kind of Adlerian? If so, can you name a few?

    • technically yes. Adler believed that you do not need to have intensive therapy in order to change. I remind you that this is happening around 1910s, 20s, a time psychoanalysis is the dominant view. Freud believed that a person would need 3-5 years of therapy in order to change/ solve their problems. Adler on the other believed that the process is difficult but not impossible. one can change with courage. He tried to make his ideas available to everyone. Self help books do the same, they take overcomplicated concepts and make them easy to understand. Adler showed the direction, put the seeds of ideas. So any theory today has its roots in early Adlerian work. it is not IF they are Adlerian, it is How much Adlerian they are

  2. Very nice summary of a lot of Adler’s history. Glad to see the post. Some Adlerian self-help books include: How you feel is up to you: The power of emotional Choice by Gary D. McKay and Don Dinkmeyer; the STEP series of parenting books (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) by McKay and Dinkmeyer; Raising Kids Who Can by Betty Lou Bettner; Active Parenting Series by Michael Popkin; Positive Discipline series by Jane Nelsen.

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