Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Close Encounters With Alfred Adler

By Sophia de Vries, a Classical Adlerian psychotherapist, now 95, who studied with Adler in Vienna and Holland.

Meeting Alfred Adler was an event long to be remembered. I recall our first meeting and the enriching ones that followed which confirmed the first impression. While he extended his hand, his eyes behind somewhat old-fashioned appearing glasses penetrated into one's marrow with probing and kindness at the same time. If the warm handshake had not yet conveyed it, the openness of his face would say, "I like meeting you. No matter who you are, I respect you, let us talk."

What we talked about is beyond recall. Maybe it was some technical detail he had mentioned in his lecture. I left after the discussion with the feeling that Adler had known me all of my life, knew me inside out, and had added a semester to my knowledge. His thinking was fast and he gave of what he knew.

The more we followed his lectures, the more we learned about his technique and his encounters with people who needed help. Much of this could not be put into textbooks: intonation, gesture, body expression, empathy, have to be witnessed. Adler had respect for his patients which created an air of openness and conveyed his willingness to help with a fountain of knowledge. Respect always came first, followed immediately by encouragement, which made the patient feel worthy and hopeful. In presenting examples he often used the language he had used with his patients, the terminology adjusted to the patient's capacity for understanding. Here was a therapist who, in a careful approach, quickly came to the core of the problem and used very simple everyday language from the patient's own vocabulary. A human being in the first place who, seeing a person in distress, offered treatment which was easily absorbed because it was logically presented. Often, in one sentence, he reduced the patient's imaginary mountain to the molehill it really was.

A young girl who was a secretary in her father's office, complained bitterly that her father always dictated so many letters on the day that she was asked out by her boyfriend. "Does your father know him?" asked Adler. "He does not even know that I have a boyfriend," came the reply. "Then he cannot do it on purpose." The girls soon found that her real problem was not her father, but the relationship with the friend, manifested by her hesitancy to tell her family about him.

The last year that Adler lectured in Holland, it was my privilege to introduce him in my home town. The chosen topic was "Gemeinschaftsgefühl" -- Social Interest and Responsibility. Adler explained that the goal in education should never be accumulation of knowledge or acquisition of the highest grades. Knowledge is not enough for man; it is the use of knowledge that can improve or destroy mankind's well-being and further development. Therefore at and early age, the child should be taught the importance of contributing what he has learned toward the positive side of life and feeling part of the total: his family, his school group, his community. If something goes wrong, the child should learn to carry his part of the responsibility and correct it. Adler explained Gemeinschaftsgefühl, and concluded with, "I have put on your shoulders the burden of responsibility -- because those who know have to carry out the task of helping mankind towards the next step in a better world." All who knew and understood Adler could not help but carry his last message with them for the rest of their lives.


"Philosophical and Spiritual Implications of Adlerian Psychology," by James Wolf:
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