On This Day in Jewish History: February 7, 1870

Alfred Adler was born to Jewish parents in Vienna, Austria on February 7, 1870. He was the second of six children and spent his childhood in the suburbs of Vienna. Adler earned his medical degree in 1895 and was invited by Sigmund Freud to be part of the first psychoanalytic group in 1902. After nine years of weekly meetings, Adler left Freud’s group as he began developing what would come to be known as Individual Psychology. Adler would have a profound impact on 20th Century psychological thought, as he was the first to write about the foundational role played by birth order, family constellation, feelings of inferiority and early memories. But perhaps the defining distinction of Adler’s work was its commitment to Geimenschaftsgefuehl or social interest, the notion that membership in a community is critical to mental health. Early adherents to Adlerian theory were Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis.

In today’s terms, Adler’s theory would be defined as holistic in nature and he framed the goal of overcoming feelings of inferiority in terms of three life tasks: meaningful work, a love relationship and connection to community. For Adler, psychotherapy aimed not simply at understanding the individuals, but in helping bring about their movement, a process of growth and overcoming that includes cooperation in the ongoing welfare of society. His commitment to linking mental health and social action was exemplified in his first publication, “The Health Trade of Tailors,” in which he described the deplorable conditions for tailors throughout Austria. It was the first of over 300 articles he would write during his career. Among his many books are What Life Should Mean to You, The Science of Living and Understanding Human Nature. But perhaps the best selection of his writings has been published under the title The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, translated and edited by Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher.

In 1927, Adler opened Child Guidance Clinics within the Viennese school system, where he introduced his theories to educators, nurses and parents. At the clinics he would hold weekly demonstrations designed to treat the “problem child” and bring mental health into the realm of education. Adler left Vienna in 1932 after many clinics were closed on the basis of his Jewish heritage. Shortly thereafter he emigrated to the United States where he took a teaching position at Long Island College of Medicine. He died in May 1937 while on a lecture tour in Aberdeen, Scotland at the age of 67.

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