Moving Ahead to Adler

Published February 18, 2019, The NASAP Newsletter (TNN), Erik Mansager, PhD

Many thanks to those who sent comments about the last column. I think these observations are representative:

I might quibble with your term “clinical constructs.” I would call the subject of your article “dynamics” or “psychodynamics.” I have said to my students for a long time that IP has a unique and exciting set of psychodynamics, starting, in my mind, with teleological movement.

I really like what you have done here. You provide a model for a case conceptualization. In my practice I try to share a case conceptualization with the client and work together with them as therapy progresses.

I certainly agree that ours is “a unique and exciting set of psychodynamics”! For now, let me use that as a segue to the subject of “depth” in Adlerian psychology.

Adler seems to have had a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward the term “depth psychology.” Ansbacher & Ansbacher (1964, p. 3) say he rejected the term even as he was credited, along with Freud and Jung, as one of its founders. Adler’s objection wasn’t so much the image of depth, but that it had already been usurped and applied to Freud’s metaphors of sexuality – which Freud insisted were the deepest layer of human motivation. Adler contended that sexual expression was important, indeed, primarily because it so well-represented the deeper yet, fundamental struggle from “below to above” and did so in the graphic manner of masculine domination – a cultural blight that persists until today. He wrote:

Individual Psychology sees these things much more clearly; I would say much more deeply, if this term had not already been claimed prematurely and unessentially by a psychology which seeks superficial and strict rules (ibid, p. 297). 

The depth that Classical Adlerian Depth Psychotherapy (CADP) emphasizes within Adlerian traditions has many facets. For one, it is an appreciation for the non-conscious psychodynamics that were addressed in the last column – what CADP considers the core constructs of discerning life style. For another, it addresses the mystery – or creativity – of the individual client’s expression of these dynamics. A third aspect is the therapist’s own creative application of Adler’s theory in the therapy session – something that defies standardizing techniques.

Whether or not we like to think of it this way: we English-speaking Adlerians face several challenges in deeply understanding Adler’s comprehensive psychotherapeutic theory. Only within the last dozen years (the Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler have only been with us since 2006), have we had available to us the full range of his writings and information from a devoted group of clinicians that studied with him. But ask yourself whether the CCWAA is accessible in a library near you?

We have certainly not been altogether short of resources, and have done pretty well with the gift of Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher’s three edited versions of Adler’s work – their overview of his theory (1956), their compilation of his later writings (1964), and their collection of his works on gender and sexual issues (1979).  And, within NASAP, we have had Rudolf Dreikurs’s presentation of Adlerian theory and therapy. Of course there were other contributors as well – including Adler’s children, Alexandra and Kurt, among others who wrote for the Journal of Individual Psychology (JIP) or presented at our national conventions. Conspicuously, both these basic organizational efforts (professional journal and conference) were contributions by Dreikurs.

He has had an enormous effect on the North American expression of Adlerian counselling, child guidance and elementary education, leading the charge for an accessible, systematized cognitive application of Adler’s theory. Dreikurs’s approach is also the dominant expression in Israel where he developed a faithful group of followers, inspired by Achi Yotam, to continue his work. And ICASSI (The Rudolf Dreikurs Summer Institute), yet another Dreikursian effort, has influenced the counselling and coaching scene in many European pockets.

Each of these entities – NASAP, the JIP and ICASSI – still carry a strong Dreikursian stamp. Given this North American-Israeli-European connection, it is generally unclear that Dreikurs’s systematized, cognitive approach is not identical with Adler’s. There are, it would seem, many other ways of understanding Adler – thus the discussion of depth.

Living abroad for the last many years has acquainted me with many of the roots of the global Adlerian movement. Over here, interestingly, the European Individual Psychologists (they shy from personality designated descriptors such as “Adlerians” and “Dreikursians”) by and large do not warm to the Dreikursian version of Adlerian psychology. I believe it is fair to say that outside of the ICASSI-inspired associations, the European Individual Psychologists find Dreikurs altogether too cognitive and without enough attention to analysis.

Let me explain.

Europeans generally stop attending to Adler’s theory development after he left Freud or soon thereafter. Individual Psychologists in Europe usually follow his writings up until the conclusion of World War I – when he returned convinced of the importance of Gemeinschaftsgefühl. Imagine our theory without the dynamic/construct of social interest – something many Europeans consider a “cognitive moralistic turn” (Witte, 1994). Europeans tend to respect Adler as an original psychoanalyst and a variation of psychodynamic psychotherapy. That is quite the opposite of going “on beyond Adler” as the late Jon Carlson (JIP, 45/4, 1989) suggested it.

European Individual Psychologists also find their professional-financial identity in a psychodynamic conceptualization of their therapy since most European insurance companies are strictly geared to reimburse psychoanalysis or behavioral therapies.  This is not unlike the current emphasis in our NASAP journal (JIP, 74/3, 2018) on demonstrating the evidence-basis of North American Adlerian counseling primarily along the example of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

I hope it is clear that these observations are not a criticism of Dreikurs or his approach any more than the observations of my colleagues in Europe are praise for Psychoanalytic Individual Psychology.

The overall impression one is left with is that in Europe they didn’t go “all the way,” and in the States they went “on beyond.” Perhaps in some ways there is a cultural-fit in such movement – if one accepts the basis of stereotypical Europeans being proud of their traditions and of stereotypical North Americans being proud of their innovations.

All well and good; yet surely it is legitimate nowadays to ask: Where in all this is there room to study the full-range and depth of Adler’s thinking – its origins, development and still untapped innovations? Is it too crazy to suggest that we who call ourselves Adlerian challenge ourselves to study Adler’s writings (all of them) rather than contemporary summaries of his work?

What if Adler’s theory and therapy is the synthesis-component of human healing? Lewis Way (1948/1962), regarding child guidance, believed “Individual Psychology is not so much an educational system as the basis on which any such system should rest” (p. 234). Henri Ellenberger (1970, p. 645) speaks likewise of Adler regarding psychotherapy. They suggest that Adler is not so much to be woven into other theories, therapies and educational methods, but – in his completeness and complexity – better serves as the ground out of which other expressions are grown. By deeply rooting oneself in Adler’s solid logic and humane focus, these thinkers anticipate an effective growth in the healing professions that could well chart a healthful course for our whole careworn world.

There is still room for moving ahead to Adler.