Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

A Tribute to Sophia de Vries

photograph of Sophia de vries

One of our last, living links to Alfred Adler has passed away. Sophia J. de Vries died on March 25th, 1999 in Napa, California at the the age of 98.

A brilliant Classical Adlerian psychotherapist and training analyst, she ignited the renaissance of Adler's original teachings and style of treatment in the United States. For nearly twenty years, she served as a mentor to the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco. One of her great contributions to Adlerian practice was her masterful adaptation of the Socratic method to psychotherapy.

She was born in Arnhem, Holland on February 2, 1901. Her education and training took her to several European countries, where she studied with many of the seminal figures in psychology. In addition to her training with Alfred Adler, Lydia Sicher, and Alexander Mueller, she attended the lectures of Karl Jung, Charlotte Buehler, Karl Buehler, Rudolf Dreikurs, August Eichorn, Martha Holub, Fritz Kuenkel, Ida Loewy, Maria Montessori, Ernst Kretschmer, and Ludwig Klages.

During World War II, the theories of Adler and Freud were forbidden in Holland. Although it was dangerous to do so, she continued to practice Adlerian psychology.

In 1948, she immigrated to the United States, settled in Southern California, and worked closely with Lydia Sicher. She moved to Northern California in 1952, worked as a case worker for Lincoln Child Center in Oakland, and continued to teach and develop a private practice as a psychologist. For many years she maintained an active contact with other Classical Adlerians: Kurt Adler, Anthony Bruck, Edward Schneider, and Blanche Weill.

Her translations of several works by Alfred Adler and Alexander Mueller provided the foundation for the Adlerian Translations Project, a task force dedicated to the publication of "The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler," as well as the unpublished manuscripts of other Classical Adlerians. She firmly believed Mueller's appraisal that "Adler has not yet been fully understood. He has to be rediscovered from the roots up."

She is survived by two daughters, six grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren.

Henry T. Stein, Ph,D., Director
Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco

Remembrances of Sophia de Vries
From Those Who Studied With Her

Henry Stein - San Francisco, California

I recall my initial meeting with Sophia many years ago, when I wanted to study Adlerian psychology more deeply after having read several of Alfred Adler's books. From the first moment, I was struck with her warmth, intelligence, and generous helpfulness. Our mutual interests transcended psychology into live theater and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Gradually, I discovered that her character fully embodied Adler's philosophy of living.

For the next twenty years, I studied with her weekly. Visiting her home was a lovely aesthetic experience. She picked a fine location in the Oakland hills and had a small home built according to the principles of organic architecture. Her interest in gardening guaranteed a year-round variety of blooming flowers; her appreciation of music and art enhanced the aesthetic environment. She was always surrounded by her family of dogs and cats who got along beautifully together.

Like Adler, she was a synthesis of scientist and artist. Always inviting logical proof of an assumption, she intuitively grasped the elusive, hidden, thematic whole. Discussing theory and practice with her was a perpetually fascinating experience. I felt like Dr. Watson in the presence of Sherlock Holmes. She never uttered the contemporary equivalent of "Elementary, my dear Watson," but I was constantly amazed at the creativity, simplicity, and pristine logic of her case analyses. I found the consultations so rich that I started tape recording our sessions. Years later, after transcribing all of them, I realized more fully the abundance of wisdom that she possessed.

My study analysis with Sophia brought authentically Adlerian therapy alive for me. The direct experience of being in therapy, connecting all the aspects of theory, and feeling every stage of treatment, illuminated the entire process and gave me the visceral understanding I needed to help clients make the same journey. Gently but firmly, she offered insights that helped me discover the kind of person I had to become in order to master the art of Classical Adlerian psychotherapy.

After I completed my study with her, we developed a training program in what we named Classical Adlerian Depth Psychtherapy (CADP), at the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco. She cautioned me that although many students would achieve an adequate understanding of Adlerian theory, only a few would be able to apply it creatively in psychotherapy.

About ten years ago, she started translating selected clinical articles by Alfred Adler from the original German journals. She believed that the best way to master Adlerian theory was to carefully study Adler's original writings. However, not all of his important work was available and many early publications were incomplete or poorly translated. This seminal contribution eventually sparked the Adlerian Translation Project and its aim of publishing The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler. Sophia possessed a fierce dedication to the unequaled wisdom of Adler's teachings. I saw her angry only when when she talked about the simplified and distorted representations of Adler's ideas that were being published and taught.

A dedicated Classical Adlerian, Sophia de Vries has not received the wide-spread recognition and appreciation that she so richly deserves. Her contribution to perpetuating Alfred Adler's remarkable legacy will benefit many future generations of Classical Adlerians.

Jim Wolf - Berkeley, California

I remember years of Saturday morning case seminars at Sophia's home in the Oakland hills. As a teacher she was direct, firm, at times a bit stern in guiding us and helping us learn to think about a case. She expected the best of herself and from us; that always came across in her attitude. In the role plays we frequently did in the seminar and in the personal counseling I did with her, she came across as very gentle and infinitely patient, but her questions led quickly to the heart of the matter. She made the Socratic questioning aspect of her therapy look simple and easy, but it certainly was not. She quoted Adler frequently: "You must be as gentle with the patient as a mother with her child."

She told us we must study the theory, absorb it, make it a part of us "until it is at your finger tips" and then apply Adlerian principles in a creative way. She spoke of Adler, Mueller and other early Adlerians each doing therapy in their own creative way while using the same principles. Over and over she spoke of Adlerian therapy as "creative" and that it was "not a paint-by-the-numbers psychology," that the principles were "not that difficult to learn" but applying them was most difficult and took many years to master.

The most vivid picture in my mind of her was from the last time I saw her. My daughter was with me - 4 years old at the time. I remember the delight and joy on Sophia's face as she watched my little girl and spoke with her. I'm not sure it made a difference that any adult was also there; she was so absorbed with the child. Sophia spent most of her life working with children and truly loved them.

Dyanne Pienkowski - San Francisco, California

When I first met Sophia de Vries she fit the description of an Adlerian perfectly: a kindly grandmother. Her intense, clear blue eyes were striking surrounded by her soft white hair. However, her intelligence, intensity, perceptiveness and wit were even more remarkable.

She made therapy look very simple and logical. She had a grace and creativity similar to an experienced, disciplined dancer. I was inspired to learn more and to improve my skills as a therapist every time I saw her work. She was the major influence in my deciding to become an Adlerian therapist. When she offered to be my mentor, I was excited and intimidated simultaneously. I knew she would be a difficult task master.

At the same time she was gentle and kind. But to the point! One of my clearest memories of my time as a student with her was becoming frustrated and feeling discouraged as I tried to master the art of Socratic questioning. I was near tears. Touching my shoulder gently, Sophia looked deeply into my eyes with her piercing blue ones. I can still hear her voice softly and clearly saying, "When you have been a therapist for 50 years, you will be able to do this as well as I can."

That one sentence and her kind eyes filled me with encouragement. It was also very clear to me than in my ambition to be a competent therapist I was comparing myself to her: a master therapist! Fifty years to become a master therapist is a possibility. One afternoon to master a difficult concept like Socratic questioning is definitely not.

Ann Soares - Livermore, California

When I first met Sophia she was at least 80 years old. Since I had been introduced to Adlerian psychotherapy and learned the history of Alfred Adler two or three years before I met her, I was of course in awe in her presence. She was still remarkedly alert and professional at this age and listening to her, I could almost feel a direct link to Adler and the days when Sophia was a student of his. She told many stories from the past, making Adler and many other well known psychologists of the time come alive.

I was fortunate to sit in on several years of case study analyses, when the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco group held these discussions in her home. Sophia sat very quietly while someone presented a case, taking a few careful notes. Then after quite a while, she suddenly made a pithy remark that zapped right into a core issue of the problem: bypassing all the extraneous subject matter everyone else was delving into. She often blended her well trained insight with a dry but impish sense of humor.

I feel honored to have also witnessed her skill in the use of Socratic questioning, which she frequently demonstrated to the group for stimulating insight in a client. Through the many people she trained, Sophia de Vries truly served as a strong link between Alfred Adler, his theory and a new generation of Classical Adlerian therapists.

Barbara Hitchko - Eureka, California

Sophia lived what she taught, with courage. I remember the first time I saw her I was truly in awe. She had an aura about her that projected intelligence, compassion, peace and contentment.

Having Sophia as my teacher was one of my life's most fulfilling periods and I was very fortunate to be able to learn from her. Learn from her I did; so very much. One thing I recall her telling me, that I refer to almost daily, is that mistakes are made for a reason. Sophia felt that through one's mistakes a lesson should always be learned. To her, there was no such thing as an irrelevant question; no question was ever dismissed as unimportant. She always listened carefully and answered thoughtfully.

In the conversations I had with Sophia I remember her stressing the importance of observing and listening. She said that students in America are not taught how to observe; to sit quietly and write about what is going on around them. She told me about a class that she took at the university (in Europe) that was basically an observation class. As a student in that class, she was required to go to a hospital children's ward and observe a patient for two minutes. She was not allowed to take notes while observing. (Because that was too distracting, she told me.) After she left the ward, she had to write down as many details as she could remember. That routine continued until her time spent observing increased by small increments up to an hour, I believe. She said after learning to sit quietly and watch and be alert to her surroundings, she could write pages. She told me that she learned more about human behavior from observing and writing than from just textbooks or lectures. She was absolutely right! I tried the technique in an elementary classroom, focusing on one particular child and the first time had difficulty writing very much after a two-minute trial. With time, observing and writing taught me to pay very close attention to details. These are valuable tools that I continue to use every day, in my teaching as well as in my work with clients.

Another distinct remembrance that I have of Sophia is what she told me about American teachers. She said one of the things that surprised her when she first came to this country and her children were in school, was how the teachers marked up the student's assignments. She asked me, "How would you like to see those red marks all over your work that perhaps you put much effort into? Can you imagine how discouraged those children must have felt? I think teachers should circle everything that is correct. That would be more encouraging." Sophia encouraged all of her students with kind words, a wonderful sense of humor and a genuine interest in what we had to say.

Like Adler, Sophia believed very strongly in the uniqueness of the individual and disliked labels of any kind. I never heard an unkind word from her. She was a remarkable and very wise woman, whom I felt extremely fortunate to know. There will never be anyone quite like Sophia. She will be greatly missed.

Tom Clark - Livermore, California

After many years of Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco Case Study Seminars in Sophia's home, I do not have a single most outstanding reminiscence of her. Instead, I have hundreds. Every moment of the time I spent with her was a gem.

She was a brilliant diagnostician who completely mastered the art of listening with a third ear and seeing with a third eye. While all the details of a case were being laid out by one of her students, she would watch and listen and make a note or two. She allowed confusion to reign for awhile, then suddenly she would make a statement that completely synthesized and clarified the final fictional goal of the client. Many jaws would drop as she made things clear to us. Then she would patiently explain to us what she was visualizing and listening to that enabled her to diagnose the case. Brilliant. Something I continue to dream of being able to do.

I recall a conversation with Sophia about how to encourage clients. She said, "You must hold up a rear view mirror for them. Remind them of all the difficulties they overcame in their past, like learning to walk and talk, and ride a bicycle. Remind them, they knew nothing about how to do things when they started, but they kept trying and were not stopped by mistakes. They can use this same method on today's difficulties. You should also hold up your own rear view mirror." Simple and brilliant.

Sophia's passing is a great loss. Her presence was a great gain for her patients and her students.

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