And Here’s What We Mean by Classical…

Published August 15, 2018, The NASAP Newsletter (TNN), Erik Mansager, PhD

In the July issue of The NASAP Newsletter I shared the reasons for a new column. This time I’ll jump right into the fray and address the question, “What is meant by classical in Classical Adlerian Depth Psychotherapy?” The answer can go in a few directions, but I’d like to address what classical DOES mean.

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The word implies that there is a rich body of literature and therapeutic examples available from Alfred Adler and his close associates. This material presents and represents Adler’s original intent for an insightful theory and humanistic therapy. That intent is neither a mystery nor a holy grail – it is a dynamically conceived system for understanding human nature (theory) aimed at helping people assume responsibility for their lives to the fullest extent possible (therapy). In its broadest implication, the classical perspective infers that all individuals can benefit from the work of one another and that each individual is safeguarded the better by keeping the welfare of all others as the primary focus in life.

Keeping the wellbeing of all others as one’s focus has an unavoidable impact on the individual involved in such effort. Noticeably it includes broadening one’s interest outside oneself – which is the condition for caring for the others, and for their/our environment and world. But it also involves getting to know oneself in depth, intimately – and aiming to better oneself daily. This is a bit in contrast to some prevalent approaches to counselor training that focus on “knowing one’s life style” and then learning to control it to the degree that it doesn’t hurt another. (Which might imply that anything short of hurting others is fair game.)

Among those who learn to apply the theory of Individual Psychology in a comprehensive way, what results can be fundamental changes in the individual’s life. This tends to manifest as holding themselves accountable to live what they have learned. At least this is what several of Adler’s early collaborators experienced and wrote about.

So that is a little information on what classical Adlerian training aims to do for the individual. The other aspect is the breadth of the information there is for getting to know Adler – really well. The classical Adlerian literature is not a set number of books, articles, reviews, demonstrations and the like. But it nonetheless entails deference to what Adler himself wrote – especially what he wrote about the clinical application of his theory. The famous-four popular works of Adler [Understanding Human Nature (1927), The Science of Living (1929) What Life Should Mean to You (1931), Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind (1933)] present his theory in a very appealing fashion, to be sure; but these say very little about the application of Individual Psychology in therapy.

That’s where Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher stepped into the breach and surely did their fair share by editing three major volumes with the aim to make Adler more widely accessible: The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (1956), Superiority and Social Interest (1964) and Cooperation between the Sexes (1979). Certainly these are part of the classical study-literature, but I can’t forget the look on Heinz’s face in an extended interview I did with him in 1989 when he expressed his sorrow at opting to edit The Journal of Individual Psychology rather than complete the translation of Adler’s vast oeuvre.

Which is precisely the reason that the Classical Adlerian Translation Project was formed! It has provided 12 hefty volumes of Adler’s clinical articles and books that make up The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler (CCWAA). This treasure contains most (while searching for all) of Adler’s clinical writing and an indispensable volume of abstracts (A Clinician’s Guide to the CCWAA). Many of the articles can be found nowhere else in English. Classical Adlerian literature also includes a number of manuscripts from Adler’s closest colleagues that provide insight into their experiences of training and working with Adler and one another. And Henry has found the energy – and made the time in his schedule – to produce four rich and clinician-friendly volumes: Theory and Practice (2013), Creative Case Analysis (2014), Demonstrations of Therapeutic Techniques (2016) and Child and Family Therapy (2018, see note elsewhere in this issue). These are unique resources among Adlerian training material today.

Classical, then, kind of means, “That’s what he intended.” We can’t say what Adler’s opinion was in all instances and we’re not relying on his written or spoken word as if it were Holy Writ. But classical means we have a baseline that we keep in mind in all our therapeutic sessions, in all our training, in all our interactions. Because we take Adler’s intentions seriously we relish creative development of techniques in-vivo taking seriously the relationship of two engaging in “individual psychology.” There’s seemingly no end to appropriate clinical creativity when flowing with the movement of our clients. This baseline guides us to understand deeply the broad range of problems to which we apply it – to go as deeply as our clients need us to.

Enough for now on the term classical; I’ll pick up more on the clinical aspects next time.