Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Biographical Sketch of Lydia Sicher (1890-1962)

Lydia Sicher was born Lydia Bak in Vienna on December 19, 1890, the youngest of three children. She graduated from the Erstes Wiener Humanistiches Maedchengymnasium in 1910 and received her medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1916. While studying, she did extra work in bacteriology, pathological histology, and pathological anatomy. In late 1915 she volunteered along with her husband (Harry Sicher, professor of anatomy at the University of Vienna) for the Austrian army as a physician and received a commission as a first lieutenant. She was assigned to combat an epidemic of typhoid fever which was raging in the troops on the Montenegran border and for two years fought malaria in the conquered parts of Italy. She also practiced internal medicine and performed surgery and autopsies. She was decorated by the army and by the Red Cross. Following the armistice and demobilization in November 1918, she did pathology, anatomy, and radiology while studying for her Ph.D. in zoology, which she received in l922. She then worked for six years under professor Wagner-Jauregg and Otto Poetzl of the University of Vienna in the department of psychiatry and neurology and part time at the neurological department of the Politklinik in Vienna.

Sicher had a classical education; she could read Latin and Greek, and could speak German, English, and French. She taught herself Serbo-Croat because when she was serving in the army near the border, she was invited to give a series of lectures to hospital staff members for whom this was their native language. Her interest in words and their shades of meanings shows in her knowledge and creative use of languages to illustrate a concept.

When Sicher was 17 (in 1907), she became interested in Adler's work. She met Alfred Adler in 1919 when she consulted him about one of her patients. She had been following closely the development of psychoanalysis and Freud and his group. She described how Freud could tell people how they got into trouble, but did not provide a way out of the difficulties. Adler, on the other hand, pointed to possible paths that people might take in order to extricate themselves from problems.

Sicher worked under Adler when he was Director of the Clinic for Nervous Diseases at the Mariahilfer, Franz-Josef Ambulatorium in Vienna, which Adler had started. When Adler left Vienna for the United States to assume the chair of Medical Psychology at Long Island University in 1929, he appointed Sicher as his successor as Director of the Clinic (with Franz Plewa as her assistant) and Director of the Viennese Society of Individual Psychology. Sicher headed the department until it was closed by Hitler nine years later.

Adler's biographer, Phyllis Bottome, gives us some insight into Adler's assessment of Sicher's capabilities: "Dr. Lydia Sicher united a brilliant brain with a dauntless spirit; she was therefore exactly the kind of human being who most appealed to Adler. Both as a doctor and as a lecturer, Dr. Lydia Sicher's work was of the highest quality; she possessed many of the characteristics that Adler found most helpful both to the spread of Individual Psychology and to himself personally. Her humour was of a dry and bracing kind, and never failed her. She had all of Adler's love of the concrete fact shorn of verbiage, and a staunch fidelity to complete accuracy both of word and thought."

"Sicher's successes with her patients were remarkable. She was unflinchingly honest, and perhaps to an ordinary acquaintance might seem brusque and unsympathetic; but beneath the surface, and not very far beneath either, her desire to help and her companionable, dependable personality sprang to meet human need. She was incapable of shirking any effort to relieve pain, or to bring common sense into the mind of her patient."

"In the ensuing years, Sicher and Plewa treated more than three thousand cases, using Individual Psychological methods. They therefore had an unrivaled knowledge of Adler's theories, and of the treatment he applied to a wide variety of mental disease or instability."

From 1929 through 1938 she taught classes and lectured in England, Holland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, leaving Vienna in 1938. She spent a year in England recovering from a serious automobile accident and then followed her husband to the United States in 1939.

During her years in the United States, Sicher served as president of the American Society of Adlerian Psychology and as a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Individual Psychology. She held various positions in Utah, among them: consulting psychologist for the Family Service Society of Utah and for the Juvenile Court of Ogden; lecturer in the Extension Division of the University of Utah and in the Agricultural College in Logan. In each school she lectured at the School of Social Work. As in Europe she was in great demand as a lecturer and teacher, perhaps because of the attributes that Bottome described above.

In 1941 she moved to Los Angeles and in 1948 she organized the first Adlerian group in Los Angeles: The Institute for Individual Psychology. The Institute supported the Alfred Adler Counseling Center, a service for low income groups, and presented classes and lectures for lay people. During this period she developed a Child Guidance Clinic in Bakersfield, California. Several years later she was instrumental in forming the Alfred Adler Society of Los Angeles, an organization for training professionals in Adlerian concepts and techniques. During this time she served as assistant clinical psychiatrist with the Los Angeles Psychiatric Service and as a staff member of the Psychiatric Outpatient Department of the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.

Sicher died on April 2, 1962. Perhaps her greatest contributions are still to be seen in the future, as the people she taught continue to teach others. As she herself said: "The interconnectedness of human beings is like throwing a pebble into the ocean and causing a movement of concentric circles. Though we do not always see how far these circles go, they are nonetheless there. This movement continues to move other particles of water, even if the movement cannot be seen. In the same way, whatever people do is of importance and their immortalization remains."

[This material was excerpted from a longer biographical piece in the book, The Collected Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective, edited by Adele K. Davidson, Ph.D.]

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