Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

My Path to Becoming an Adlerian

Dyanne Pienkowski

[Dyanne Pienkowski photograph]

My first exposure to Adler was in graduate school; however, it was cursory and superficial. The focus was on social psychology (Kurt Lewin), personality theory (Henry Murray), psychological testing, psychodrama (I studied with Barbara Seaborne, one of Moreno's students), T.A., Gestalt, biofeedback, and the neo-Freudians (esp. Karen Horney). At that time I was director of an outpatient drug and alcohol program for adolescents focusing on prevention.

After receiving my Masters degree, I continued working in the field of alcoholism and drug addiction in various modalities (inpatient, outpatient, halfway house). I attempted to integrate my eclectic therapeutic approach with the spiritual ideas in the 12 steps of AA/AlAnon with minimal success. I wanted to become a more effective therapist.

I decided that what I needed to resolve my dilemma was more education. I entered a Ph.D. program in San Francisco. Once again I was exposed to Adler. This time my instructor seemed to have a slightly deeper understanding of Adler's theory. The ideas of social interest and the three tasks of life were useful in working with alcoholics and their families. The teleological nature of the theory and the emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual made practical and intuitive sense. The theories I had learned to date were useful in describing behavior, but not in explaining creativity, "soul", or an individual's potential for becoming. The closest to these ideas was Abraham Maslow.

As I struggled to integrate these ideas into practice, I received more training in the field of chemical dependency. Secretly I disagreed with the common practice of "confrontation to break through denial". I continued to search for an approach that had more depth, and was positive and respectful of the individual.

Speaking to others in the field, I was often told that my reluctance to confront clients was the result of my "co-dependency". As I studied the 12 steps I began to suspect that confrontation as a therapeutic tool was more useful if the therapist had an aggressive attitude.

About this time I was working at an outpatient alcohol and drug treatment program that had weekly clinical consultations with peers. Here I met Jim Wolf, an Adlerian therapist. He seemed to grasp the heart of a client as well as "pathology". I became excited by the depth of his insight into his clients. When questioned he stated that he studied with Dr. Sophia de Vries and Dr. Henry Stein. He suggested I meet with Dr. Stein and possibly become a student at the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco.

I prepared for my meeting with Dr. Stein as if I were being interviewed for acceptance into any graduate university. I studied my notes on Adler and read every reference I had on his theory (nothing actually WRITTEN by Adler, however).

My first impression of Dr. Stein was of a kind, friendly, intelligent, and insightful man who had no doubt about his dedication to Adler's theory. He asked several questions about my exposure and interest in Adler. Then he asked: "Do you want to study with us?"


"Come to Sophia de Vries' house on Saturday for case consultation."

That easily I was accepted as a student. When I questioned Dr. Stein about this he responded: "Anyone who has an interest may study Adler."

My first impression of Dr. de Vries was of a kindly, white haired grandmother with blue eyes piercing like lasers from her glasses. Here was a woman who was kind, creative, intelligent, and strong. It seemed as if she could look into your soul. There was no monkey business with this grandmother!

Dr. Sophia de Vries became my mentor. How did this happen? Simply. She stated: "If you like, I can be your mentor."

"Yes." Could there have been another answer?

As I began my study analysis with her (and later continued with Dr. Stein), I became more aware of her creativity and insight in using the Socratic method for questioning a client.

Aha! I found an answer to my dilemma of "confronting" a client's denial regarding addiction -- Socratic questioning. I worked to master it. Sophia made it look so logical, so easy.

I struggled, and at one point was obviously frustrated (and near tears). Sophia put her hand gently on my shoulder and looked deeply into my eyes with her gentle blue ones. She said softly and clearly: "When you have been a therapist as long as I have (50 years) you will be able to do this as well as I can."

I felt such hope, such encouragement. In 49 more years I could master her life's work and contribution to Adlerian treatment.

Central to my development as a clinician and a woman is the mentoring experience of training, case supervision and study analysis. Adler's original teachings have such depth they can be studied for a lifetime. His theory focuses on prevention as well as psychotherapy.

The encouraging atmosphere I've encountered with Sophia, and now Henry Stein, as my mentors is challenging and inspiring. Currently I am working on integrating my experience as a chemical dependency specialist with my Adlerian training, writing, working in private practice, and planning training workshops with Henry for clinicians in the field of chemical dependency who may be interested in learning more about Adlerian principles and therapeutic techniques.

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