Alfred Adler
Researched and written by:  Lauren Cosner
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..

"The test of one's behavior pattern; relationship to society, relationship to one's work, relationship to sex"

“It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them”



             Alfred Adler was born February 7, 1870 in Vienna, Austria. He was the second child in a family of six, his family was wealthy and he grew up in the suburbs of Vienna. Adler was ill most of his childhood and reported being closer to his father because he felt rejected by his mother. He also said that he felt unattractive and small growing up so he worked very hard to be popular in school to compensate for the rejection he felt from his family life. Adler was not a very good student at first, a teacher even suggested that his father take him out of school and make him a shoemaker’s apprentice. His father quickly rejected this idea and expressed his disgust of the teacher to Alfred. Soon Alfred decided to show the teacher what he could do and soon he was first in his class and experienced very few difficulties as a student from then on. Alfred suffered from a near fatal spell of pneumonia at age four and said that he wanted to be a doctor; this is a goal he would pursue through college (Biographical sketch 2005).

            In 1888, he began his studies at the University of Vienna Medical School. He received his degree in 1895. He began practicing general medicine but specialized in ophthalmology. In 1897, Alfred married Raissa Timofeivna Epstien. The following year was a busy one for Adler; he set up a private practice in Vienna and also welcomed his first daughter, Valentine. Also in 1898, Adler published two articles in Austria’s “Medical News Bulletin” and wrote his first book in which he sets up what will become a main aspect of his school of thought: looking at man as a whole, functioning entity, reacting to his environment and physical endowment as opposed to a sum of instincts and other psychological manifestations. In 1901 his second child Alexandra is born (Boeree 1997).

In 1902, as well as publishing two more articles in the “Medical News Bulletin” he was also one of the few people who reacted favorably to Freud’s book on dream analysis, which led to Freud sending him a hand written postcard inviting him to join the circle that met weekly at Freud’s home to discuss new aspects of psychopathology. At this time Adler had begun collecting material on patients with physical handicaps, studying their organic and psychological reactions to them. It has also been suggested that since Adler’s office was near a circus and he treated many of those people, that made him interested in the unusual strengths and weaknesses of them and led to his insights into organ inferiorities and compensation. Although Freud and Adler would work closely over the next several years, their relationship was never personal (Alfred Adler 2001).

 In 1904, along with the birth of his son Kurt, he published one of his most important works, The Physician as Educator in which he expressed his early interest in child guidance and education. The following year he published A Study of Organ Inferiority this book expressed the roots of Adler’s thinking about organ dialect as well as an overview of the human organ systems. Over the next several years, Adler began developing his personality theory that differed dramatically from Freud’s. Adler disagreed with Freud’s emphasis on sexual factors. Adler’s idea of the aggression drive for example, differed greatly from Freud’s sex drive in psychoanalytic theory. In 1909, his daughter Cornelia was born (Boeree 1997).

In 1910 Adler became President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society through Freud’s appointment; Freud thought it would help to mend their increasingly bad relationship. However, it did not help because in 1911 the two parted ways for good in a bitter ending, both with bad feelings of each other that they would readily discuss with others. This led Adler to form his own group which he first called The Society for free Psychoanalytic Inquiry, the name would later be changed to The Society for Individual Psychology (Biographical sketch 2005).

In 1912, Alder published his book, The Neurotic Constitution. This book developed his concepts even more clearly, and he called his psychological system “Individual Psychology”. This term was sometimes misinterpreted; it refers to the indivisibility of the personality in its psychological structure. Individual psychology reflected his idea that people should viewed as a whole rather than by their parts (Boeree 1997).

 During World War I, Adler served as a physician in the Austrian army. Prior to returning from the war he founded numerous child guidance centers in Vienna. Adler was invited to lecture at Columbia University in 1926. His lectures and papers were very popular in America. His lectures were overcrowded and he communicated as easily in English as he did in German. Beginning in 1932, he held the first chair of visiting professor of medical psychology at Long Island College of Medicine. From this point on he spent the academic year teaching in America and only spent the summers in Vienna. His family moved to the states to join him in 1935. When Adler was in Aberdeen, Scotland to deliver a lecture he collapsed in the street and died of heart failure on May 28, 1937 (Alfred Adler 2001).

Alfred Adler’s theories, publications and lectures contributed much to psychology’s history. Adler posed a single drive behind all of our behavior and experience. When his theory had evolved into its most mature form, he defined this drive as the striving for perfection. Individual Psychology was Adler’s social psychological system. He minimized the influence of sex on personality and he focused on the conscious rather than the unconscious. He also believed that our plans for the future affected us, and that striving for goals influenced our present behavior (Schultz 2004).

Adler also differed from Freud because he believed there was no biological drive for penis envy by women. He believed that this was a myth invented by men to feel more superior, and he also believed in equality for the sexes. Adler proposed that inferiority feelings are a motivating force in a person’s behavior. This led to the development of the inferiority complex which people develop when they can not compensate for inferior feelings; this complex leaves people incapable of coping with problems in life. Adler believed that the drive for superiority spread across the cultures of the world, however we all strive for this goal in different ways. This is our style of life, which is fixed by age four or five (Biographical sketch 2005).

Adler was also interested in children’s relationships between their personality and birth order. He discovered that depending on whether children were born first, middle or last they had varying methods of coping and attitudes toward life. He thought that the child born second were better adjusted than the first born or youngest. He also believed that because only children were the center of attention in the family, they may have trouble adjusting in the outside world where this is not the case. This concept of birth order has since been studied extensively (Biographical sketch 2005).

The theories of Adler were accepted by those who were no longer satisfied by Freud’s theories that centralize around sexual forces and experiences in childhood. Although many of Adler’s theories were criticized it was also apparent that he had a great influence on post-Freudian psychoanalysis.




Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco (2005). Biographical sketch of Alfred

Adler [Online] Retrieved February 16, 2005 from the World Wide Web:

History of Psychology Archives (May 2001). Alfred Adler [Online] Retrieved February

16, 2005 from the World Wide Web:

Boeree, C.G. (1997). Personality Theories [Online] Retrieved February 16, 2005 from

the World Wide Web: Http://

Schultz, D.P., Schultz, S.E. (2004) A History of Modern Psychology .Wadsworth,

Thomson Learning Inc.




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