Individual psychology

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A school of depth psychology founded by Alfred Adler is called individual psychology . Colloquially, the term also means a demarcation from social psychology or mass psychology .


The concept of individual psychology focuses on the individual in the context of his social human relationships and his engagement with his environment and the consequences for the individual.


The word individual psychology can suggest the association that this is limited to the investigation of the individual, taken in isolation.

In this respect, the term is used in a broader sense - and z. T. in colloquial meaning - sometimes in the sense of individual psychology , d. H. used in contrast to the terms social psychology and mass psychology . The Austrian doctor Alfred Adler (1870–1937), who coined the term individual psychology, did not, however, intend to make this distinction. After his break with Sigmund Freud in 1911, he is considered the founder of his own depth psychology school, which, in addition to initially used terms such as “free psychoanalysis” and “comparative individual psychology ”, finally became known under the shortened term “individual psychology ”. Adler wanted to expand the person-related and individually typifying knowledge of human beings into a holistic science of the psychological structure of human life. His student Rudolf Dreikurs therefore considered the expression “holistic psychology” to be more appropriate and was convinced that Adler would have called his school that if the term “ holism ” had already been popular at the time. The term “comparative individual psychology”, however, also expresses the comprehensive approach desired by Adler well.

Adler and Freud

In addition to Carl Gustav Jung, Adler was a valued student of Freud and editor of the "Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse". He is one of the most important representatives of depth psychology. The individual psychology, newly founded by Adler from 1911, is a well-known branch of psychology alongside Freudian psychoanalysis and is considered to be a pioneer of neo- psychoanalysis . While Freud focuses on the question of the reason ( causality ), Adler emphasizes the need to ask about the purpose of symptoms and expressions of life as a whole ( finality ).

Theoretical foundations

Adler called his teaching individual psychology, meaning the indivisible whole of every human being. Every person is an "indivisible", an "individual", body and psyche can be seen holistically. Individual psychology interprets the individual, like social psychology , in a mutual dependence on society and as part of social processes.

With his early study on the inferiority of organs (1907) , Adler showed the connection between organ inferiority and life's fate and thus laid the basis for an understanding of physical and psychological compensation , overcompensation and later psychosomatics . Adler saw the feeling of inferiority present in human infants due to their helplessness as a positive drive for growth and development and attributed human educability to it. Only negative factors in its development change the positive feeling of inferiority into a development- inhibiting inferiority complex . According to Adler, the excessive striving for validity or the will to power already represents an emotional overcompensation for an intensely experienced feeling of inferiority and is for him a mental illness.

The individual psychological teaching is inspired by democratic ideals and a humanistic socialism and always understands the human being as a social living being . For Adler man was embedded in the community of fellow human beings, from which both the questions of his life and the healing answers grow. The level of a person's contribution to general welfare, the way in which he solves his life questions, was the yardstick for Adler's mental health. Fear of life and a feeling of inferiority can only be overcome through a sustainable interpersonal relationship.

Adler saw the human personality as an indivisible whole , which, as a sovereign and self-determining power, with a relative degree of freedom, stylishly exploits the living conditions without being biologically or by its milieu determined. All expressions of life do not have a causal but a final character and are directed towards the future. Adler also called this unconscious orientation (unconscious fiction) towards a goal lifestyle, life plan, personality ideal or personal finality. He saw culture, art, science, philosophy and human dignity as the product of human evolutionary striving for perfection.

The sense of community is the cornerstone of individual psychology; all other individual psychological terms can only be understood in connection with it. The sense of community has its origins in the early relationship between mother and child . It is shaped in the first years of life and becomes an unconscious, relatively constant part of the personality. The sense of community is of central importance for solving the three life tasks named by Adler: work - love - community . In the growing sense of community and human solidarity, Adler saw the root of promoting the whole and preventing man-made catastrophes.

Adler's positive image of man is expressed in the following quote:

“Man is not naturally evil. Whatever wrongdoing a person may have committed, seduced by his erroneous opinion of life, need not oppress him; he can change. He is free to be happy and to please others. "

Exploration of personality

The task of psychological science is to show people the true meaning of life, which according to Adler lies in the fact that people strive for the greatest possible harmony with fellow human beings and the environment. Adler's endeavor was to make the knowledge of human nature teachable and common property. He wanted to show the individual where he was missing in his judgment of fellow human beings, because errors in human knowledge are often the cause of unspeakable hardship and entanglements. Knowledge of human nature should not only become theory, but life practice as an instrument of mutual help.

Like Freud, Adler assumed that early childhood memories could be interpreted, but not in the sense of Freud's theory of repression ( cover memories ), but derived from his concept of the function of memory. According to Adler, memory perceives impressions and sensations subjectively and processes them as confirmation of the previously chosen lifestyle. The individual psychologist should therefore draw conclusions about the life plan from early childhood memories.

The psychotherapeutic knowledge of human beings in individual psychology should be based on the one hand on intuition, but on the other hand be supported by a scientific guide based on a profound knowledge of human nature .


For Adler, educational practice was the most valuable test of any psychological theory. Due to his theory of neuroses, the conditions were known that caused mental aberrations in childhood and consequently the principles for psychological prophylaxis in educational work emerged. The individual psychological education for freedom includes the planned promotion of independence, courage, a sense of responsibility and community. As a result of his study of nervous character, Adler traced character traits and human intelligence back to his childhood and adolescence and therefore fundamentally rejected the assumption of an inheritance of mental peculiarities. This educational optimism opens up unlimited opportunities for the educator for his educational work on the one hand and greater responsibility on the other.

According to Adler, the task of upbringing falls primarily to the family. It offers the best environment in which a human being can develop. An important discovery by Adler is the influence of the position in the sibling line on later psychological development. Adler recognizes two bad attitudes in traditional upbringing - indulgence and hardness and severity - which become the source of psychological undesirable developments. The adult should be the friend and supporter of the adolescent. Bad attitudes must be understood as errors, not as bad will.

Character lore

Adler's doctrine of character strives to understand character as the basis of all mental reactions. Character traits are guidelines for people on which to move forward in life with a mixture of striving for validity and a sense of community. Adler was the first to shed light on the phenomenon of the nervous character and dedicated an entire book to it ( Der nervous Character 1912 ). The feeling of inferiority is found in the nervous character in an exacerbated way, as an inferiority complex, and leads to characteristics such as ambition and oversensitivity. In this development, the sense of community is not developed enough, which manifests itself in a caution, a hesitant attitude towards others. Adler describes the nervous character as a transition between normal and neurotic psychology.


In his theory of neuroses , Adler describes the neurosis as a continuation of the nervous character under worsened psychological conditions, whereby the neurotic symptoms are always understood in the context of the overall personality. For Adler, the neurosis manifests itself as a fear of life and pessimism that has arisen from unfortunate childhood influences (tenderness, etc.). Adler took the point of view of the unity of neurosis and psychosis , both of which represent an erroneous answer to the demands of life. Just as Adler saw neurosis as an exaggerated form of the normal psyche, for him psychosis was an exacerbated neurosis. Therefore, from his point of view, the psychosis was also accessible for psychological analysis and he was able to report on cases which he was able to cure.


Memorial plaque for the first individual psychological experimental school in Vienna-Brigittenau

Adler and his students derived an educational prophylaxis from the theory of neuroses , which soon became widely known as psychological education and child psychotherapy . In 1913 Adler and his students showed the development of individual psychology in educational work in "Healing and Education". After the First World War , Adler set up thirty educational counseling centers, the forerunners of the child guidance clinics, as part of the Vienna school reform . Adler's psychotherapy was characterized by an active interaction in the form of a psychological conversation between therapist and patient. The counselor was responsible for his healing as a result of his efforts and his inner change. Adler developed the first group therapies as early as the interwar period by providing educational counseling and parenting training in groups. The group should free the nervous person from his isolation and give him a community experience.

Dissemination of individual psychology

The work of Adler and Furtmüller ( healing and education , 1914), Otto Rühle ( The soul of the proletarian child , 1925), Lene Credner ( neglect , 1926), Sofie Freudenberg ( educational and therapeutic advice centers , 1928) and Adler ( knowledge of human nature , 1927, The Soul of the Difficult School Child , 1930) found widespread use among social pedagogues and social workers. Individual psychological ideas can also be found in the child friends movement . Adler's indirect influence on the group principle of social pedagogy and on forms of society exists through American group theories ( Moreno , etc.), which, even if this is usually not articulated, are strongly influenced by the emotional and social components of individual psychology. The influence of the Adlerians on social and educational counseling is unmistakable. In 1929 the individual psychologists in Vienna operated 28 educational, youth and marriage counseling centers; in Germany these were also created by most of the local groups (Berlin, Munich) of individual psychologists. The work of Rühle, Kronfeld , Birnbaum , Naegele and other individual psychologists on neglect and crime quickly found a response among lawyers and juvenile justice around 1927. According to William McDougall , individual psychology had more followers by 1935, especially in the United States, than all other schools of academic psychology combined.

Adler wanted the psychological knowledge of human nature to become common property as prophylaxis. In order to integrate everyone, if they only suggested the same basic tendency, he demanded political neutrality for the Association for Individual Psychology. Adler's goal was thwarted by the Great Depression ideological bias and, Nazism . The communist Rote Fahne wrote in a gloss for the day that Adler's attempt to replace socialism with his psychology had failed. After the Nazis invaded Austria, the Association for Individual Psychology was officially dissolved on January 26, 1939.

“Alfred Adler's thoughts about one of the most significant causes of mental disorders had the peculiar fate that the name and the matter entered into all psychotherapeutic approaches common today - and also into everyday language -, but that the name of the author is only mentioned in rare exceptional cases. This state of affairs, which contradicts the self-evident principles of scientific tradition, is all the more regrettable as the form of neurosis found by Adler has now surpassed all other forms in terms of frequency, and has indeed become an epidemic that disrupts public life as a whole. "

- Wolfgang Metzger : Preface to Paul Rom : Alfred Adler and the scientific knowledge of human nature, 1966

Representative of individual psychology

Fundamental works of Alfred Adler

  • About the nervous character (1912)
  • Practice and theory of individual psychology (1920)
  • Healing and Education (1913)
  • Knowledge of human nature (1927)
  • The meaning of life (1933)
  • Religion and Individual Psychology (1933)

Introduction and systematic presentations

  • Almuth Bruder-Bezzel, The History of Individual Psychology , 2nd revised. Ed., Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1999, ISBN 3-525-45834-7 (first edition Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1991, ISBN 3-596-10793-8 ).
  • Rudolf Dreikurs , Basic Concepts of Individual Psychology (with a foreword by Alfred Adler), 14th edition, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 3-608-90107-8 . (In his introductory book, first published in 1933 and last revised by the author in 1969, Dreikurs succeeds in making the basic concepts of Adler's individual psychology accessible to a broad audience.)
  • Bernhard Handlbauer, The History of the Development of Individual Psychology Alfred Adlers , Geyer Edition, Vienna 1984, ISBN 3-850-90108-4 .
  • Henry Jacoby, Alfred Adlers Individual Psychology and Dialectical Character Studies , Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt a. M. 1974, ISBN 3-596-26773-0 .
  • Alfred Levy and Gerald Mackenthun (eds.), Gestalten around Alfred Adler , Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2001, ISBN 3-8260-2156-8 .
  • Josef Rattner , Alfred Adlers ' individual psychology , Kindler pocket books, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-463-02071-8 .
  • Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher, Alfred Adlers Individualpsychologie , Ernst Reinhardt Verlag, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-497-00979-2 .
  • Rainer Schmidt (Ed.), Alfred Adler's individual psychology: A textbook , Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt a. M. 1989, ISBN 3-596-26799-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Reinhard Brunner (Ed.) U. a .: Dictionary of Individual Psychology . Ernst Reinhard Munich 1985, ISBN 3-497-01100-2 ; Wb.-Lemma Individual Psychology: p. 216
  2. ^ Paul Rom : Alfred Adler and the scientific knowledge of human nature . Waldemar Kramer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1966; P. 63
  3. ^ Rudolf Dreikurs: Basic Concepts of Individual Psychology. 14th edition, Stuttgart 2014, p. 12:
    Had Adler named his school ten years later, he would probably have called it - and better - "Holistic Psychology."
  4. Josef Rattner : The individual psychology of Alfred Adlers . Kindler Taschenbücher, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-463-02071-8 , p. 17
  5. ^ Hans-Joachim Schille : On the influences of individual psychology on social education between 1914 and 1933 . In: Basic lines of historical social pedagogy, Juventa Verlag, Weinheim and Munich 1997, ISBN 3-7799-1302-X
  6. Bernhard Handlbauer, in: The history of the development of the individual psychology of Alfred Adlers . Geyer-Edition, Vienna 1984, quote: From the twenties at the latest, however, a development emerged that was to become a characteristic of individual psychology, namely the dominance of practice over theory.