Learning about Alfred Adler can shed a lot of light on the ideas behind mental health.
Alfred Adler was one of the most prominent pioneers in psychology. He established several theories that are today seen as pillars of psychological thought. Alfred Adler was an important figure in European history because by putting his theories into practice, he influenced European society and the lives of its citizens.
Alfred Adler was born on February 7, 1870, in Vienna, into a large family. A son of a Jewish grain merchant, Adler was a sickly child. His suffering from rickets and pneumonia as a child led him to aspire to become a doctor in order to help others suffering the way he did. As a teenager, he was popular and well-liked, but had trouble academically for a large amount of time. Failing at math, Alfred was suggested by a teacher to drop out of school and pursue a different professional path, such as an apprentice to a cobbler. Alfred’ father, however, disregarded this teacher’s comments, expressing to Alfred how little he valued them. As Alfred began to excel and thus prove this teacher wrong, he rose to the top of his class in mathematics. In 1895, Alfred received his medical degree from the University of Vienna, where he met his wife Raissa Timofeyewna Epstein. They had four children and both eventually became psychiatrists. Alfred was originally an ophthalmologist before turning to psychiatry.
Alfred believed that one of the main goals that people tend to have is to suppress their inferiority in order to reach a feeling superiority. He opined that feelings of inferiority are motivating forces in a person’s behavior, which becomes guided at restraining that feeling of inferiority. The inferiority complex is thus what people develop when they can not compensate for inferior feelings, and this complex makes it difficult for people to cope with problems in life. Adler believed that the drive for superiority is universal among all cultures of the world, although it is expressed in different ways.
Another idea that Adler held was that people can be divided into four types. The ruling type tries to control others. The getting type is passive and normally goes along with the status quo. The avoiding type tries to isolate oneself to avoid defeat. Lastly, the socially useful type aims to have control over one’s life and strives to do good things for the sake of society.
Adler introduced the term “individual psychology” into the psychology lexicon. He studied the motives and drives of the individual, as well as the individual in relation to his or her larger community. He made a specific emphasis on treating a psychological patient as a “whole person”, because he believed that a person is the sum of his or her experiences as well as the various groups that he or she is a part of. Adler ascribed wellness in large part to one’s level of functioning within his or her larger social group.
Adler also did substantial work in the area of personality development. He studied the effects of pampering and neglect on children’s future well-being, as well as birth order. He proposed that children create fictional beliefs about themselves when they are young that are a result of their early experiences. These beliefs then guide the person through life unless they consciously make an effort to teach themselves a different belief about themselves. According to him, children who were born second were better adjusted than those who were born first or last. Children who were the only children in the family had the hardest time adjusting to the outside world.
Adler was arguably the most influential psychologist of his time on European society as a whole. This is because a large part of his studies stressed the importance of communal life and the human need and ability to contribute to the social good. He strongly believed in civil rights, equality, and democracy. He was therefore one of the first practitioners to provide group and family counseling and to use public education to enhance community health. Adler’s experiences serving as a physician in World War I led him to think more about war and social conflict from a psychological perspective. He viewed fascists and other cruel leaders in the wars as misguided individuals with personality dysfunction. These experiences inspired him to open clinics for children in Vienna in 1918 since he believed that such personality problems could best be addressed in childhood. Adler promoted the idea of “social interest”, which refers to belonging and contribution to society, with the belief that such belonging and equality with one’s neighbors could prevent hostility and antagonism largely present in his European world.
A revolutionary in the field of psychology in Europe, Adler split from Freud in order to form an independent school of psychotherapy and personality theory. This was largely because he decided to focus on practical behavior and daily life in order to interpret human character, rather than on the subconscious mind. He influenced notable figures in psychology through this, like Viktor Frankl, Abraham Maslow and Rollo May. His writings influenced future thinkers in psychology as well. Adler was therefore powerful in European society in that his theories were relevant to many sociological aspects of the culture in which he lived.
One area on which Alfred Adler had influence was feminism. He suggested that women and men are inherently equal, and a major reason that males are often held in higher regard than females is because of the “inferiority complex” that he often discussed. Men are driven, he believed, to assert themselves over women through their aggressive and competitive natures. In his view, women similarly felt a drive to eliminate their feelings of inferiority in a male-dominated society, which the feminist movement was beginning to aid them in doing.
Adler made key contributions to the professional and industrial side of society as well. In 1898, he published the Health Book for the Tailoring Trade, in which he described a psychological approach to problems in the work place. He pushed the medical community to examine how illness among workers in the “cottage industry” could be traced back to working conditions. Understandably, he suggested that treatment should incorporate social factors and changes in working conditions. A result of this book was the passage of several new laws based on his suggestions.
Adler’s opinion on homosexuality provided strong support for the societal view. He viewed homosexuals as in control of their sexuality, having developed an inferiority complex toward their own gender. As did many of his contemporaries, he believed that homosexuality was a flaw and that one could “recover” from it with proper therapy. As such, he voluntarily provided extensive therapy to homosexuals with the goal of “curing” them from this condition.
He also contributed to European society by proposing supposedly successful methods of child-rearing. Since he believed that one of the best ways to ward off potential psychological problems was to provide a nurturing home environment for a child, he held that parents should make their children feel that they are loved and cared for. By the same token, parents were to communicate with their children respectfully and on equal terms, ruling out the harsh punishments and fear of parents that were only beginning to fall out of favor at the time. Lack of such an accepting environment, Adler believed, could lead to rebellion and, in the worst situations, criminal behavior in the child.
Adler made a difference in European society because the ideas that he proposed affected people of all sorts in society. Women, children, workers, and others were helped through the ideas that Adler introduced. As an academic researcher and theorizer, Adler’s contributions to society were essentially indirect. Rather than founding institutions, per say, he brought concepts to the European public that were in some way translated into action either during his time or afterwards. In this way, Adler was able to influence Europe in a distinctive way that not many others could follow.