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Alfred Adler: biography of the founder of Individual Psychology

Alfred Adler: biography of the founder of Individual Psychology

December 5, 2021

Neither psychoanalysis nor psychodynamic psychology can be explained by knowing only the work of Sigmund Freud.

In fact, psychotherapy based on the fundamental ideas of psychoanalysis has three great founders: Sigmund Freud (of course), Carl Gustav Jung and Alfred Adler . This article deals with the latter, who, in addition to being one of the first to question the ideas of the father of psychoanalysis, was the creator of the Individual Psychology .

Biography of Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler was born into a Viennese Jewish family in the year 1870, a couple of decades before psychoanalysis began to take shape through the works of Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer .


Adler had a series of health complications that are commonly referred to as the start of the Austrian's interest in medicine. Career that, in his youth, he studied successfully at the University of Vienna.

After college he meets Freud

After graduating from medical school in 1895, he married and began to come into contact with psychoanalysis in the hands of Sigmund Freud, whom he met personally in 1899. From then on, Alfred Adler began to introduce himself in the ideas about the functioning of the psyche that the Freudian theory proposed.

Adler's enthusiasm for psychoanalysis and psychology in general led him to become the first president of the association of psychoanalysts in the city, the Psychological Society of Wednesdays (which later would receive the official name of Vienna Psychoanalytic Association), created in 1902.


There, the fundamental ideas with which psychoanalysts tried to explain the human mind were debated and developed. , and this exposure to the theoretical proposals of Freud and his disciples contributed to Alfred Adler making his theories more and more complex.

The conflict between Adler and Freud

The notoriety of Alfred Adler in the world of the emerging psychoanalytic world grew very fast, partly because of his closeness to Freud but also because of the vehemence with which he expressed his ideas. In fact, there came a point where Adler became director of the Journal of Psychoanalysis (Zentralbaltt für Psychoanalyse), a publication of which Freud was editor and that, of course, had a lot of relevance in his field.

However, shortly after this foray into the publishing world, Alfred Adler began to question fundamental pillars of Freud's theories, such as the sexual theory . This caused that in 1911 the opposition to the ideas of Freud prevented him to continue working in the magazine. In addition, that same year Alfred Adler left the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association. This was the first major break experienced by the circle of Viennese psychoanalysts, although others would follow: shortly after Carl Gustav Jung would also definitively distance himself from Freud's orthodox psychoanalysis.


But Adler did not cease to be interested in the creation of ideas about the functioning of mental processes. Simply, he created another psychological school similar in many points to which Freud defended . This new school is called Individual Psychology .

Alfred Adler and Individual Psychology

One could talk at length about the discrepancies that caused Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud to split, but the main reasons were two.

The first is that Adler gave much less importance to sexuality compared to Freud . He did not believe that neither sex nor the way in which it is symbolized was an essential regulator of human behavior from the first years of life.

The second has to do with the role of the unconscious. Yes for Freud the unconscious it is everything that acting from the shadows keeps us tied to a series of patterns of behavior and thought according to what we have done in the past, Alfred Adler placed more emphasis on the power that each individual has when it comes to structuring the functioning of his mind according to what happens in the present.

That is to say, that on the one hand it stops considering the past acts as a burden that inevitably conditions us, and on the other it gives more importance to our way of interacting with what we feel and think in the here and now (in addition to recognizing the importance of the context in which we find ourselves at each moment).

Adler forged the foundations of this new Individual Psychology focusing on his disabled patients . Although all of them had a history of similar limitations, some were consumed by their inferiority complex when compared to other people, while in others the physical limitations they experienced acted as a motivating factor that led them, according to Adler, to self-improvement

The break between Alfred Adler and Freud, then, had a lot to do with the degree to which the former gave importance to the conscious side of thought, which makes us unique people with the capacity to build original goals.

The legacy of Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler died in 1937, but his ideas have had a great echo . He was the first major representative of psychodynamic psychology to question major dogmas of Freud's theories, and he constructed a more focused approach to the creative power of the individual aware of his powers and limitations. Of course, all his works are outside of what is now considered to be scientific psychology, but that did not prevent his influences from inspiring the world of humanities and philosophy.

The Individual Psychology that Alfred Adler founded together with other members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association has had a great influence both in the Humanistic Psychology appeared in the second half of the 20th century and in several proposals framed in the psychodynamic current. In a world where the philosophy of self-help and self-improvement is gaining strength, it is not uncommon for the ideas of Adler, who had a more optimistic view on how we are supposed to think and feel his teacher, to have good acceptance .


The Psychology of Alfred Adler: Superiority, Inferiority, and Courage (December 2021).


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