Creative Power

Published February 7, 20120, The NASAP Newlsetter (TNN), Erik Mansager, PhD

Twenty years ago now, Leo Gold and I (2000) took a closer look at the construct “life tasks” and the Dreikursian expansion from 3 to 5. This opened a wide-ranging theoretical discussion as we questioned whether expansions (including to 7, 10 and more) were theoretically coherent and clinically helpful. A consensus of sorts was developed in culminating the discussion (Mansager, et al., 2002).

That was a fresh opener for analyzing the place of Dreikurs in modifying Adler’s theory, therapy, and training approaches. It wasn’t the first time. As the recent article, “Respecting Differences” (2019), points out, Jane Griffith and her late husband, Robert L. Powers, had explored theoretical variance between Adler and Dreikurs quite thoroughly back in the 1980s. Nonetheless, the recent article has begun a deeper look at these modifications and discrepancies.

The position Classical Adlerian Depth Psychotherapy (CADP) represents is of encouraging counselors and therapists to study the original Adler again – in a thorough and creative way. We believe there is much of Adler that has been overlooked by the systemization that Dreikurs initiated and on which Dreikursian literature expounds.

In this installment, I’d like to consider another of Adler’s constructs: “creative power.” What is it and how does it apply to Individual Psychology?

More frequently, the Dreikursian literature references “the creative self” rather than creative power. As just one example, in 2006, Readings in the Theory of Individual Psychology came out containing the chapter, “The creative self in Adlerian psychology.” Therein the authors repeat a common error that “creativity in the German has been variously translated into English as creative self or creative power” (p. 109).

This isn’t actually the case. Dreikurs seems to have preferred the Anglicisation, creative self. According to Gisela Eife), the editor of Alfred Adler Studienausgabe, Vol. 3 shares:

Adler never speaks about a “self.” Starting in 1926, he sometimes uses the term “schöpferische Kraft,” creative power. It is identical with the life force - Lebenskraft (personal communication, 24 May 2019)

Unfortunately, characterizing a capability as something of an individuated “creative self” has resulted in compromising a holistic understanding of the individual. It seems to replicate Freud’s characterization of psychic topography (ego, id, superego). Psychoanalysis continually dealt with psyche as if it were an actual place where conflictual battles were staged. It was Adler’s insight that so-called conflict was the creativity of the individual in action! The individual creatively avoids one life task or another in order to attain one’s similarly creative, unifying goal.

While this isn’t a minor issue it also isn’t the crux of the challenge. We needn’t be concerned so much about correct interpretation, but of therapeutic application.

Adler (1931/2004) framed it this way:

[W]ho can say that the same environmental influences are apprehended, worked over, digested, and responded to by any two individuals in the same way? To understand this fact we must assume the existence of still another force: the creative power of the individual. We have been impelled to attribute to a child creative power, which translates all the influences on him and all his capacities into movement toward overcoming an obstacle. The child feels this power as an impulse that give his striving a certain direction. (pp. 220-221)

So, one’s creative power is active in childhood as we invent solutions to the problems we face. Indeed, our solutions may be quite mistaken. In therapy, many years later, we can look at the invention and discover that it is no longer useful; even if it served us well in early life. “The miracle of therapy,” Henry Stein has shared, “is that our clients can mobilize enough inventiveness and courage so that they can invent a new interpretation of their early circumstance” (personal communication, 26 December 2019).  It’s not enough to identify and stop one’s mistakes – basic or otherwise! With the help of the therapist, clients come aware that they can invent a new way to live.

The stuff of therapy is never a fixed formula applied to clients. Therapy can provide general guidelines, but the specific ones have to be re-invented by our clients. This is the meaning of creative power: what was once available to the client can be mobilized once again, with effort and cooperation. This effort needs to be inspired within our clients, encouraged to grow and then compared with their old inventions. Seeing their own development - compared to where they have been in the recent past – offers potential encouragement to sustain their growth in this new direction.

Discussing “encouragement” as a holistic construct is another story.

Adler, A. (2004).  The structure of neurosis. In H. T. Stein (Ed.), G. L. Liebenau (Trans.), The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler (Vol. 6, pp. 218-228).  Bellingham, WA: The Classical Adlerian Translation Project. (Original work published 1931)

Edgar, T. E. (2006). The creative self in Adlerian psychology. In S. Slavik & J. Carlson (Eds.), Readings in the theory of Individual Psychology, pp. 107-110. New York, NY: Routledge.

Eife, G. (Ed.). (2010). Alfred Adler. Persönlichkeitstheorie, Psychopathologie, Psychotherapie (1913-1937), Band 3 [Personality theory, psychopathology, psychotherapy, Vol. 3]. In K. H. Whitte (Series Ed.), Alfred Adler Studienausgabe [Study edition]. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Mansager, E., & Gold, L. (2000). Three life tasks or five? The Journal of Individual Psychology, 56, 155-171.

Mansager, E., Gold, L., Griffith, B., Kal, E., Manaster, G., McArter, G., Powers, R. L., Schneider, M. F., Schnebly, L., Silverman, N. N (2002).  Spirituality in the Adlerian forum. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 58, 177-196.

Mansager, E. & Griffith, J. (2019) Respecting differences. Theoretical variance between Adler and Dreikurs. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 75, 216-230.

*This article is a reliable aid for wrestling with many important constructs and understanding their implications for holistic case conceptualizing. It is discussed by Rocky Garrison elsewhere in this issue of the Newsletter.