- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Alfred Adler

Born 1870-02-xx
Died 1937-05-28

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Austrian ophthalmologist, internist, psychiatrist and psychologist, Born February 1870, Penzing, today a part of Vienna, died May 28, 1937, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Biography of Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler was the founder of the school of Individual Psychology. He was born in Vienna to a Jewish grain merchant and his wife. In his early years he suffered from rickets, thus he could not walk until the age of four, and at the age of five he almost died of pneumonia. These events motivated him to become a physician. As a young man he was outgoing and very popular.  
   Alfred Adler studied medicine at the University of Vienna, where he met his future wife. Raissa Timofejewna Epstein, a Russian intellectual who was strongly opposed to the tsarist regime.
Adler was conferred doctor of medicine in 1895 and at first worked in ophthalmology, internal medicine and neurology, while also concerning himself with educational questions. In 1897 he married Raissa. They had four children.
   In 1900, Adler opened a private practice near Prater. He established his office across from Prater, Vienna’s amusement park and circus in the lower class part of Vienna. Most of his clients were circus performers. He studied their unusual strengths and weaknesses, and this gave him insights on his organ inferiority theory. He recognized that many of the conditions his patients complained about could not be helped by traditional medical means and therefore studied psychiatry. He became Docent at the Pedagogical Society oft he city of Vienna, and in 1907 joined the circle of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the father of psychoanalysis. 
   In 1910 Adler headed the Wiener Gruppe der Psuchoanalytischen Verein (The Vienna Group of the Psychoanalytical Association). With Sigmund Freud and W. Stekel he was the publisher of Zentralblatt für Pyschoanalyse. In 1911 he gave lectures (Zur Kritik der Freudschen Sexualtheorie de Seelenlebens). Several of the attendants left the room.
   For almost ten years Adler and Freud maintained a friendly professional relationship. However, in 1911, Adler became the first of Freud’s collaborators who turned his back on Freud and his orthodox psychoanalytical circle. Adler rejected Freud's emphasis on sex, and maintained that personality difficulties are rooted in a feeling of inferiority deriving from restrictions on the individual's need for self-assertion. Unlike Freud, Adler did not believe that disturbances in child sexuality caused mental problems in adulthood, Adler also rejected Freuds patriarchic views and maintained that men and women were equal and the discrimination/oppression of women was damaging to both sexes. He ultimately believed that people are focused on maintaining control over their lives, and that there is a single "drive" or motivating force behind our behaviour. He claimed that the desire we have to fulfil our potentials becomes closer and closer to our ideals.
   Adler wrote papers on organic inferiority. He also wrote a paper concerning aggression instinct, which Freud did not approve of, and a paper on children's feelings of inferiority. Freud named Adler president of Viennese Analytic Society and co-editor of the organization’s newsletter.
   In 1912, with twelve others, he established the Gesellschaft für Individual-Psychologie (The Society for Individual Psychology), a school of psychology based on psychoanalysis. This was to have great influence on modern, humanist psychology.

During World War I, Alfred Adler was a physician for the Austrian Army. He first served on the Russian front and then moved to the children's hospital.

Adler believed in the equal value of all people, He was particularly interested in behaviour that he called "Körpersprache". Therefore, unlike by Freud, his patients were not lying on a couch, but sat on a couch as an equal. When the patient was a child, Adler often sat at the child’s feet to make it not feel so small and lose its anxiety.
   In his analysis of the individual development, Adler focused not on sexual urges, but on the feeling of inferiority as a motivating power in humans, and came up with the term inferiority complex, which he described as feelings of lack of worth.   According to him conscious and unconscious feelings and actions of inferiority with compensative defence mechanisms are fundamental causes of psychopathological behaviour. Adler also used the word superiority complex. This complex developed when a person tried to conquer their inferiority complex by suppressing their existing feelings. He felt that people were constantly trying to overcome their feelings of inferiority to reach superiority.
It is therefore the task oft the psychiatrist or psychoanalyst to identify such feelings, and explain them rationally, thus breaking the patient’s neurotic wish for compensatory power. In Vienna, Adler established a large number of upbringing counselling offices (Erziehungsberatungsstellen), a concept which was adopted in several foreign countries.
   From 1914 to 1937 Adler was the publisher oft the "Internationale Zeitschrift für Individualpsychologie", in which he delimitated his direction in psychoanalysis from that of Freud. It soon became a popular organ for his teachings and found a large readership outside the circles of specialists. 
   From 1926 Adler and his wife Raissa Timofejewna, lived most of the time with their four children in the United States, where Adler was visiting professor at the Columbia University and the Long Island College of Medicine, when he was not on a lecturing tour. In 1937 the family settled in the US. 
Alfred Adler died of a heart attack on May 28, 1937, while doing a series of lectures at Aberdeen University in Scotland.
   "It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them.”
Alfred Adler

 “To be a human being means to possess a feeling of inferiority which constantly presses 
towards its own conquest. The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been 
experienced, the more powerful is the urge for conquest and the more violent the 
emotional agitation.” 
Alfred Adler

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