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The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology
Am J Psychiatry 1999;156:1110-1110.
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Bethesda, Md.

by Edward Hoffman. Reading, Mass., Addison-Wesley, 1997, 370$14.00 (paper) (originally published in 1994).

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Edward Hoffman engages the reader with a rich cross-section of historical information dating from Alfred Adler’s birth in 1870 to his death in 1937. Adler’s life intersected with the profound intellectual ferment of this period, which included the increasing emancipation and assimilation of Jews in the Austro/Hungarian Empire, the writings of Marx and Engels, the rise of socialism and communism, the beginnings of psychoanalysis as an attempt at developing a scientific psychology, World War I, the Russian Revolution, the thinking and influence of the philosopher Nietzsche, the emergence of fascism, Mussolini, Hitler, and the officially supported return of virulent anti-Semitism.

These and other issues influenced Adler, but the question of how and to what extent they moved him or engaged his passion or contributed to his lifelong optimism is largely left to the reader’s imagination. Certainly Adler’s sickliness as a child, his relationship with his older brother, and both the negative and positive impact of family and school on his life could be seen to have influenced his thinking and socialistic orientation, possibly including his abiding belief that humans, as social creatures, have a natural positive social sense that requires nurture. People, he felt, in spite of the terrible lessons of the periods he lived through, are not at war with civilization but are a potentially constructive part of it.

Adler was a leader in the child guidance movement, where he emphasized nurture as critically important in child development. He insisted that children are not condemned by social status or heredity to terrible lives. He accepted biology in his concept of organ inferiority, but he understood that psychosocial factors are critical in the shaping of humans. He popularized parent and teacher training and special nonpunitive, open schools to help students give expression to their creativity. He argued for treatment, not punishment, for delinquents. He gave us the concepts of inferiority and superiority complexes, the drive for mastery, compensation and overcompensation, the effect of birth order and personality, and the importance of positive reinforcement for the building of self-esteem. He was an early advocate for female emancipation and was outspoken in his critiques of the abusive and unfair treatment of women. Viktor Frankl considered him a forerunner of existential psychiatry.

Although Adler and Freud became antagonists, they need not have. Before Adler and Freud split (the split was orchestrated by Freud), the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society indicated by vote, over Freud’s objection, that the points of view of Adler and Freud were not mutually exclusive. Indeed, today it is clear that they were not and need not have been. Their struggle was more a power struggle than a struggle over the primacy of ideas. Freud’s behavior, in fact, confirmed aspects of Adler’s theory.

Adler’s humanistic, open, optimistic approach influenced Rollo May, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Rudolph Dreikurs, Viktor Frankl, and others, including current thinkers like Aaron Beck, Martin Seligman, and Lester Luborsky. Harold Bloom described Adler as "the first to argue that the neurotic is not suffering from his past, he is creating it."

Hoffman has given us a lucid biography of one of the great creative and courageous thinkers of twentieth-century psychiatry and psychology, whose work, unfortunately, is too little known. This book will prove worthwhile, interesting, and informative to all who read it. It is full of fascinating, well-researched information. However, the reader will have to decipher much of the shading to complete the chiaroscuro.




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