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Stories | 02.07.23

12 essential readings: Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs’ life and legacy

Whether you’re an Adlerian scholar or a newbie to Adlerian psychology, it’s worth being curious about its two pioneers — Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs, according to Marina Bluvshtein, Ph.D., diplomate in Adlerian Psychology and director of the Center for Adlerian Practice and Scholarship.

“When others ask me why they should learn more about them, I would ask, ‘Why not?’” Dr. Bluvshtein said. “Adlerian psychology gave us a new way to see mental health and a new way to approach life, which was that it’s important for all of us to belong and to be part of something meaningful.”

In celebration of the Adler’s and Dreikurs’ birthdays this week — Feb. 7 and Feb. 8, respectively — Dr. Bluvshtein has chosen a collection of 12 published articles that highlight the duo’s personal lives, their impact on psychology, and their continuing legacy. The articles may also provide some interesting tidbits about each of them — at five years old, Adler recovered from pneumonia vowed to become a physician; Dreikurs was an accomplished pianist and violinist, which led him to establishing music therapy as a new field in mental health.

Born in 1870 in Vienna, Austria, Adler is considered the first community psychologist because his work pioneered attention to community life, prevention, and population health.

“Adler brought psychology to the realm of everyday living, and brought everyday living to psychology,” Dr. Bluvshtein said. “That sounds like common sense now, but it was anything but back then.”

Adler emigrated to the U.S. in 1932 but unexpectedly died five years later from a heart attack during a lecture tour in Aberdeen, Scotland. It was Dreikurs, who was born in 1897 in Vienna, who is credited as the reason why Adlerian psychology is alive and well in the U.S. With his colleagues, Dreikurs founded the American Society of Adlerian Psychology (now North American Society of Adlerian Psychology) and the Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago, which in 1991 became Adler University, along with starting programs and clinics in more than a dozen countries.

“If it wasn’t for Rudolf Dreikurs, Adler’s work may have been left confined to pure theory as opposed to a mass movement,” she said. “Adler was a dreamer, Dreikurs was the more pragmatic one.”

Born 27 years apart, they dealt with different challenges and witnessed the development of the social sciences and the practice of mental health at different times, yet they true Adlerian movement would not happen without both of them.

Essential readings

Adler and Dreikurs: Cognitive-Social Dynamic Innovators
By Eva Dreikurs Ferguson, 2001

As individuals, both Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs were often misunderstood and received criticism. Even today, their insights are often not well understood. This article focuses on their unique and pioneering work. Certain aspects have set individual psychology apart from other theories, and the article discusses issues that are crucial both for psychology and for society in the new millennium.

“Dear Friends”: A Thematic Overview of Rudolf Dreikurs’s Circular Letters Written in 1954-1971
By Marina Bluvshtein and C.J. Hilliard, 2022

Based on circular letters Rudolf Dreikurs wrote to his colleagues from 1954 to 1971, this article broadens readers’ knowledge about his life and professional activities, and allow readers to get to know Dreikurs on a more intimate and personal level. In the letters, currently kept at the Manuscript Division of the U.S. Library of Congress, Dreikurs described his travels, filled with training and teachings, meetings with people, sightseeing, and observations in at least 10 U.S. states and 20 other countries.

Music as Social Harmonizer — A Tribute to Rudolf Dreikurs
By Christopher Eriksson, 2022

Being an accomplished pianist and violinist, Rudolf Dreikurs knew all about the mathematical basis of rhythm, resonance, and musical harmony, which broadened his medical understanding of rhythm in the human body. This article reviews his comments as a musician, medical doctor, and his work in order to establish music therapy as a new profession. 

Kenneth B. Clark and His “Implications of Adlerian Theory for an Understanding of Civil Rights Problems and Actions”: 54 Years Later
By Marina Bluvshtein, Marquez Wilson, Theo Moore, Johannil Napoleon, and Kia A. Watkins, 2021

Dr. Kenneth B. Clark—the first Black president of the American Psychological Association—gave the 1967 keynote address at the 15th Annual Conference of the American Society of Adlerian Psychology in New York. This article presents five contemporary responses to his speech, which concerns race, racism, Black psychology, and social justice in clinical practice, higher education, and general social living.

Mea Culpa and What Is Humanity to Do? Adler’s Understanding of and Approaches to Pandemics
By Marina Bluvshtein, 2021

Alfred Adler lived through the epidemics of typhus, malaria, diphtheria, and later the Spanish flu as an army physician in 1916-18, then as a physician in Vienna after World War I. This article discusses the social, economic, and public health environment in which Adler lived between 1918-20, details of his life, the focus of his work during those years, the possible reasons he never mentioned the Spanish flu directly, and a clear holistic evolutionary approach to the pandemics that is visible and palpable in Adler’s writing.

Individual Psychology as a “Living Force of Progress”
By Marina Bluvshtein, 2020

This article discusses Adler’s original theoretical contributions in the late 1920s and 1930s to active engagement in social life after he moved to the U.S. His interviews with U.S. and British newspapers, his short articles for newspapers, transcripts of his radio broadcasts, and a few of his private letters written in the 1930s are considered in a broad social and political context of the 1930s. It examines topics related to gender equality, crime prevention and intervention, politics, education, love, and the role of individual psychology.

And They Lived Happily Ever After: An Intimate Closeness of Systems and Adlerian Theories in the Case of a Transgender Couple
By Kristina S. Brown, Kara Londergan, and Marina Bluvshtein, 2020

Focusing on the overlapping concepts of holism, belongingness, and social interest, and within the context of life tasks, this article brings together Adlerian family therapy and family systems theory in application to the case of a transgender couple planning to have children — an example of a modern family.

The Fundamental Views if Individual Psychology
By Alfred Adler, 2019 (reprint)

This article reviews Alfred Adler’s “The Fundamental Views of Individual Psychology” in a general social and health-care context in the United States in the mid-1930s, with attention to Adler’s personal life and his professional activities at that time. The article brings readers to Adler’s metaphorical and prophetic language in his emphasis on human relationships, his reminder of the power of interpretation of self and present problems, his insistence on finding agreement with the needs of others, and his call for overcoming the challenges by contributing and finding courage to face life.

Adler’s “The Fundamental Views of Individual Psychology”: Context, Clarification, and Expansion
By James R. Bitter and Jane Griffith, 2019

This article provides historical context for Adler’s 1935 article, seeks to clarify and unpack the meaning in his rather short introduction, and suggests its contemporary relevance and use. Adler intended his introduction to be a broad outline, one that would be filled in by additional articles to be published in the journal. In this article, we seek to fill in some of the gaps related to individual development and movement, the life tasks, and, most important, Adler’s typology, which is based on level of activity in relation to the development of social interest. Using the typology in relation to a more complete explanation of life tasks, this article ends with an orientation on Adlerian prevention and child development.

The Fundamental Views and the Need in Fundamental Courage
By Marina Bluvshtein, 2019

With attention to Adler’s personal life and his professional activities I the mid-1930s, this article reviews Adler’s “The Fundamental Views of Individual Psychology” in a general social and health care context in the U.S. at that time. It brings readers to Adler’s metaphorical and prophetic language in his emphasis on human relationships, his reminder of the power of interpretation of self and present problems, his insistence on finding agreement with the needs of others, and his call for overcoming the challenges by contributing and finding courage to face life.

Mastering Social Equality in Groups: Dreikurs and His Legacy in Politics and Social Participation
By Sabine Landscheidt, 2022

This article examines Dreikurs thoughts on social equality, the need to belong, and how to interact in groups. His legacy on politics and social participation will provide ideas on how to address conflicts of the 21st century, from climate change and pandemics to territorial conflict.

The Fourth and Fifth Life Tasks as Existential Challenges
By Bill Linden, 2020

Alfred Adler proposed three life tasks — love (intimacy), work, and friendship (a social task). Mosak and Dreikurs postulated the fourth and fifth life tasks. The author suggests that the tasks added by Mosak and Dreikurs may be better interpreted as existential challenges that transcend social context and present what humans may hope for as their legacy.

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