Alfred Adler Biography: Career and Life

Founder of Individual Psychology

Drawn portrait of Alfred Adler
Public Domain Library of Famous Psychologists, Sonoma University

Alfred Adler was an Austrian physician and psychiatrist who is best-known for forming the school of thought known as individual psychology. He is also remembered for his concepts of the inferiority feeling and inferiority complex, which he believed played a major part in the formation of personality.

Alder was initially a colleague of Sigmund Freud, helped establish psychoanalysis, and was a founding member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Adler's theory focused on looking at the individual as a whole, which is why he referred to his approach as individual psychology.

Adler eventually split from Freud's psychoanalytic circle, but he went on to have a tremendous impact on the development of psychotherapy. He also had an important influence on many other great thinkers including Abraham Maslow and Albert Ellis.

Best Known For

  • Individual psychology
  • The concept of the inferiority complex
  • President of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, 1910

Birth and Death

Alfred Adler was born February 7, 1870. He died May 28, 1937.

Early Life

Alfred Adler was born in Vienna, Austria. He suffered rickets as a young child, which prevented him from walking until after the age of 2, and he got pneumonia at the age of four.

Due to his health problems as a child, Adler decided he would become a physician. After graduating from the University of Vienna in 1895 with a medical degree, began his career as an ophthalmologist and later switched to general practice.

Career and Later Life

Alder soon turned his interests toward the field of psychiatry. In 1902, Sigmund Freud invited him to join a psychoanalytic discussion group. This group met each Wednesday in Freud's home and would eventually grow to become the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.

After serving as President of the group for a time, Adler left in part because of his disagreements with some of Freud's theories. While Adler had played a key role in the development of psychoanalysis, he was also one of the first major figures to break away to form his own school of thought.

He was quick to point out that while he had been a colleague of Freud's, he was in no way a disciple of the famous Austrian psychoanalyst. In 1912, Alfred Adler founded the Society of Individual Psychology.

Adler's theory suggested that every person has a sense of inferiority. From childhood, people work toward overcoming this inferiority by "striving for superiority."

Adler believed that this drive was the motivating force behind human behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. He explained that some individuals will focus on collaboration and contributions to society while others will try to exert power over others.

While Adler had converted to Christianity, his Jewish heritage led to the Nazis closing down his clinics during the 1930s. As a result, Adler emigrated to the United States to take a professor position at the Long Island College of Medicine. In 1937, Adler went on a lecture tour and suffered a fatal heart attack in Aberdeen, Scotland.

His family lost track of his cremated remains shortly after his death and the ashes were presumed lost before being discovered in 2007 at a crematorium in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2011, 74 years after his death, Adler's ashes were returned to Vienna, Austria.

In an interview with The Guardian, his granddaughter explained, "Vienna was essentially Adler's home, his birth home and there was the triangle, you know, Adler, Jung and Freud, and all had that sense of coming out of that place, so there's something rather fitting about him going back there."

Contributions to Psychology

Alfred Adler's theories have played an essential role in a number of areas including therapy and child development. Alder's ideas also influenced other important psychologists and psychoanalysts including:

Today, his ideas and concepts are often referred to as Adlerian psychology.

Selected Publications

Adler, A. (1925). The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology. London: Routledge.

Adler, A. (1956). The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. H. L. Ansbacher and R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.). New York: Harper Torchbooks.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ellis DJ. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and Individual Psychology. The Journal of Individual Psychology. 2017;73(4):272-282. doi:10.1353/jip.2017.0023

  2. Alfred Adler Institute of New York. About Alfred Adler.

  3. Walborn F. Religion in Personality Theory. 2014. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-407864-2.00004-7

  4. Carrell, S. (2011). Ashes of psychoanalysis co-founder Alfred Adler traced. The Guardian.

Additional Reading
  • Rattner, J. (1983). Alfred Adler. New York: F. Ungar.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.