Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Alfred Adler, As I Remember Him

By Anthony Bruck (1901-1979), a professor of Adlerian Psychology, school consultant, and master of Adlerian brief therapy, who was trained by Alfred Adler.

"My Psychology Belongs to Everyone"

I was present in New York when one of Adler's pupils, a young physician, stated that the Medical Society of his nearby state was willing to adopt Adler's teachings as their exclusive psychiatric tool, if he would limit his teaching only to physicians. Adler answered that he could not do so because, "My psychology belongs to everyone."

Sophia de Vries told me about another similar statement by Adler. When Dutch pupils in the early 1930's asked him who would carry on his teachings when he could no longer do so, he answered, with his usual simplicity: "Wer es Brann" (Those who are able to). He again did not limit the use of his psychology to physicians or any other closed circle.

Adler and Plagiarism

Somewhere around 1927 a column appeared in a large New York daily paper that demonstrated a good understanding of Adler's teachings, but did not mention his name. I excitedly told Adler about this, but he took it very calmly, saying in German: "Er hat mich halt vorgeahnt" (He has foreknown me, it seems). He was just as calm about it as I was excited in his defense.

Adler and the English Language

The English translator of Adler asked him if he could translate "Gemeinschaftsgefuehl" as social interest. Adler said, yes, but many of his pupils, including myself, have found the translation not an equivalent but only a pale rendering of the German term which correctly translated means: "feeling of community," a much stronger term expressing psychological closeness.

It was a triumph of Adler's "essential lucidity" (the expression is by Dr. Crookshank of the London Adlerians, 1931) that his audiences understood his message so well, because his English, especially when he first came to the United States in 1926, was not more than a self-made English.

During a lecture of Adler's in 1926 or 1927, at the New School for Social Research in New York, I was astounded when Adler summed up his description of a well-behaved, studious, psychologically attractive child as: "he was a veritable monster child." I had watched the audience and saw that it was startled, but that it had also understood correctly the exemplary nature of the child; I decided, nevertheless, to tell Adler that his term was contradictory. Adler was incredulous. He had selected his term because of the French "monstrer" (to show) and the German ecclesiastical term "Monstranz" (Monstrance) for the vessel in which the consecrated host is exposed to the adoration of the faithful, feeling that the child he had described could be held up to the admiration of people.

Adler in German at the German Club in New York

In the late 1920's, I arranged for Adler to give a lecture in German to the German Club in New York. This was my first opportunity to hear Adler speak in his own language. He was so much deeper in German than in English lectures that he seemed to be a different man. As it happened, when I came into the hall there was only standing room left. Near to me stood Dr. Brill, the translator of Freud, and another physician whom Brill said would speak up in the discussion period after the lecture. Towards the end of the lecture, Brill said to the other physician, "Let's go. It's no use to debate with this man." Mentally, I fully agreed.

Adler and the Movies

Adler used the movies to restore himself. After a day's work he used to go to the movies no matter what city he was in and rest, physically and mentally. Any movie, no matter how unfamous, would do. I remember one afternoon in New York City, in 1929, when his daughter, Nellie, and I went to a movie on Broadway. Adler said he would join us later. There were two entrances to two different movie houses with a common lobby, and Adler, by mistake, entered the wrong movie. We had agreed that when the movie was over, we would meet in the lobby, and we waited for Adler there for quite some time until we saw him coming out from the other movie, not the one we had been in. He was a very disappointed man because his mistake made him sit through a "Frankenstein" picture, and he had not found his usual rest. On the other hand, Nellie and I were full of complaints about the stupidity of the picture we had seen. He said, "But children, you say they ended up with each other," as if that was the main thing, a happy ending.

Adler's Sense of Humor

Adler used to ask people, "It is low, it has four legs, it barks and it is invisible. What is it?" People would answer, "It would be a dog, if it were not invisible." Adler would say, "Haven't you heard old ladies say to a dachshund: 'Where is my little dog, where is my little dog?'"

On one occasion Adler told us about an experience of his in Boston. He had been invited to lecture to the Daughters of the American Revolution. They put him up in an elegant hotel and sat around with him in the lobby. After a while they told him, "Dr. Adler, our ancestors have come over on the Mayflower." Adler did not respond, because he didn't find it very important to know about which ship people had traveled on. So, after a while when the ladies were insisting, he said, "Yes, yes, I have come over on the Majestic." For him, at that time, the Mayflower was just another ship name.

Adler as a Lecturer

Adler was masterly in discussion periods that followed his lectures. I remember that on one occasion in New York City somebody from the audience asked, "And religion, Dr. Adler," with a very aggressive "and." Adler said, "We try to live in a way that, if there is a God, he would be satisfied with us." On another occasion somebody asked, "What is the meaning of life?" Adler answered, "There is no general meaning of life. The meaning of life is that which you give to your own life." When someone asked, "What about the unconscious?", Adler answered, "What seems to be unconscious is not as unconscious as all that."

Adler's Imprint

Last year a fourth generation Adlerian, one who had studied under a pupil of a pupil of Adler, invited me, a second generation Adlerian, to his home. After a long discussion in the evening about Adlerian things, I woke up during the night and started thinking whether one could say that Adler had been charismatic. Looking for a better expression, I stumbled upon ""imprinting." There was no doubt that Adler imprinted concepts on one's mind that stayed there for a lifetime.

One such concept was "the constancy of the style of life." I remember a lecture Adler gave to some ten people in his Viennese home, in English. One of the listeners was a Canadian professor who submitted the case of a college student who had been such an excellent student in high school that everybody expected him to be one in college, too. As it happened, in college the student was a disaster. The question was whether this represented a change in the style of life. Adler immediately answered that he did not believe there would be a change in the style of life without a favorable psychological intervention. He said that probably the student in high school was in a particularly favorable situation and, therefore, functioned better than in college, where his situation may not have been as favorable. The Canadian professor went on reading his case notes, after smiling a bit and it slowly turned out to be exactly as Adler felt it would have had to be. The student in high school was a Big Man on Campus on account of his accomplishments in sports, but in college he did not gain admission to the best team and as a consequence got discouraged not only in sports, but also in his studies. I have carried with me, for over forty-five years, an impression of this event in my life: of seeing Adler able to predict what would happen, on the basis of his conviction of the constancy of the style of life.

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