The General System of Individual Psychology is an unpublished manuscript by Alfred Adler that was discovered in the Library of Congress. The thirteen undated lectures, identified as "chapters," form a complete series that Adler presented in English, possibly in New York City. Originally edited by Frank Pearcy, M.D., described on the title page as Adler's "American associate," the material has required extensive re-writing for readability.
Adler's terminology and style suggests that the lectures were given later in his career, and represent a summary of his matured theory of the personality, as well as principles of prevention and treatment. In the homestretch of The Collected Works, this distillation serves as a gathering point for the abundant diversity of topics Adler covered from 1898 to 1937.
Typical of Adler's ability to focus on essentials, in the first chapter he emphasizes the creative potential of the individual and the magnetic power of a fictional final goal. Discovering this organizing center of a style of life requires artistic intuition and the ability to translate all of a client's thinking, feeling, and actions into movement. These capacities are not easily developed, usually requiring many years of dedicated study with an inspiring mentor who demonstrates the ability to penetrate the seeming mystery of hundreds of cases.
In the second chapter Adler clarifies the individual's role in the steady steam of evolution, pushed by the early blessing of inferiority feelings and pulled by an imagined ideal of completion. These powerful vectors of striving to overcome difficulties and the imagining of ideal solutions, fuel the engine of social evolution. Yet, small to monumental errors can be made, and Adler recognizes the dangers of early mistaken directions that hinder socially useful improvements. His genius lies in the early recognition of positive and negative tendencies and strategies for correcting the individual's life course.
In the third and fourth chapters he surveys the typical burdens of childhood, organ inferiority, neglect, and pampering that hinder the feeling of community. With a number of vivid case examples, he shows us how to interpret a style of life by staying focused on the unity of expressive movements. Tracing the series of developmental steps from childhood to adulthood, he alerts us to the "dangerous corners" of new and difficult situations that test our courage and social interest. Using the insights of of birth order position and earliest childhood recollections, he uncovers the nearly hidden dynamics that reflect the individual's unique childhood prototype providing a preview of the later style of life in the adult.
In chapters five and six Adler addresses the challenges of early training in the home and school as well as issues in adolescence. He includes helpful insights into the social problems of war, capital punishment, and racial prejudice. Chapter seven deals with crime, occupational choices, and the broader field of economics. Adler emphasizes the need for greater social interest to solve these questions in a way that will benefit all of humanity.
In chapter eight, he provides a clear comparison of Individual Psychology and Psychoanalysis as well as the insights of early recollections in the cases of neurosis. Chapters nine and ten address the roles of memory, fantasy, daydreams, night dreams, deja vu, poetry, and religion in the maintenance of a style of life. Adler's comments about the dynamics of sleep and the purpose of dreams reflect his core assumption about their daily preparation for facing life's problems.
In chapter eleven Adler traces the impact of a childhood prototype on the future success or failure of the adult. He clarifies the distinction between active and passive failures, as well as the neurotic strategy of clinging to shock effects. Chapter twelve connects an individual's character traits with the challenges of love, sexuality, and marriage, including several case illustrations.
Adler summarizes his theory and philosophy in chapter thirteen, emphasizing the most important factors that contribute to a meaningful, happy life. He closes with strong correlation between morals, ethics, and social interest.
To complement Adler's summary, and bring the reader up-to-date on contemporary Classical Adlerian practice, several articles have been added in the appendix. Appendix A, "Classical Adlerian Theory and Practice," offers a survey of basic constructs, an expanded exposition of the stages of individual psychotherapy, and the integration of Abraham Maslow's vision of optimal functioning. Appendix B, "Providing the Missing Developmental Experience in Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy," explores the use of guided and eidetic imagery to facilitate emotional breakthroughs in treatment. Appendix C, "Adler and Socrates: Similarities and Differences." clarifies the style and purpose of Socratic questioning in Classical Adlerian psychotherapy. Appendix D, "Demonstration of the Socratic Method in Classical Adlerian Psychotherapy With a Man Who Procrastinates," illustrates how skillful questioning can lead a client to insight.
Adlerian psychology has been mistakenly identified mainly as brief, cognitively-based therapy. Indeed, some practitioners have progressively simplified and systematized Adler's ideas, often to a point of contradicting Adler's philosophy. However, the pure gold of Adler's legacy can be found in the art of depth psychotherapy. He has provided the tools to help clients break through the confining cage of a self-centered way of living and graduate into a new level of optimal functioning and social contribution. Whereas brief counseling might soften the hard edges of an uncooperative personality, Classical Adlerian depth psychotherapy aims at dissolving the core style of life and fictional final goal. It achieves this with a warm, gentle, and respectful Socratic style of leading clients into insight. The therapist's character must also be congruent with Adler's philosophy. Consequently, the training of a Classical Adlerian psychotherapist takes time and a mentor-oriented relationship; the goal is master the discipline--becoming a therapeutic artist.
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