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  • Writer's pictureDale V Wayman, PhD

The Creative Arts and Psychotherapy

“The study of human nature may be thought of as an art with many tools at its disposal, an art closely related to all the other arts, and relevant to them all. In literature and poetry, particularly, this is especially significant. Its primary aim must be to broaden our knowledge of human beings, that is to say, it must enable us all to become better, fuller, and finer people.” -- Alfred Adler, M.D. (1870-1937)

“Artists, geniuses, thinkers, inventors, discoverers: they are the real leaders of humanity: They are the motive power in the history of the world.” -- Edward Hoffman, The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology, 1994, p. 106.

“Alfred Adler was born in Penzing, a suburb of Vienna in a house that was literally the last house of the city, facing the low sky that stretched away as if forever, above the flat plain on which the city stands.

“Alfred's parents, though they lived all their married lives in Vienna, both came from another land. His mother was a Hungarian and his father who was born in Burgenland was also a Hungarian, since the Burgenland was part of Hungary before the War of 1914. He came from the same village as the violinist Joachim, with whom he always claimed relationship.

“The whole Adler family was exceptionally musical; one of Adler's brothers played and taught the violin; his sister Hermine was an excellent pianist; Adler himself had so beautiful a tenor voice that he was constantly urged in his youth to give up science for an operatic career.”

“Alfred had all the gifts needed for a great singer: an infallible memory; a perfect ear; and tremendous dramatic power; but he never for a moment considered giving up science for music. He merely spent every spare hour and penny that he possessed in walking, or if he were rich enough, taking the horse-tram, down the long road into Vienna in order to go to every opera and play that was running. Alfred’s mind was a storehouse of wit and drama. He was unconsciously training himself in the study of character, and in understanding those situations which bring character out. Perhaps, too, it was in the theatre that he learned not to over-value displays of emotion on the part of his future patients. (p. 25) . . .

“Curiously enough, whatever inner effect Alfred’s early absorption in the theatre produced on his mind, he never exploited his dramatic powers while lecturing. On the contrary, Adler seldom raised his beautiful, cadenced voice. He spoke in an ordinary conversational tone, with the rarest possible use of emphasis. Perhaps he had no wish to exploit these special gifts, and wanted his words to be taken at their intrinsic value. He always chose the simplest words possible and the easiest for his hearers to understand; his power of forming an instantly friendly contact with his audience was so great that he had no need to fall back upon any oratorical effects, in order to win their attention. His success as a lecturer, and the large audiences that he drew were a constant source of annoyance to some of his less gifted fellow scientists. (p.26) . . .

“Even the fascinating lure of art, despite the fact that I had considerable abilities in various forms of music, was not enough to turn me from my chosen path, and I persisted although many complex difficulties lay between me and my goal. (p.33) . .


“The materials that surrounded Alfred Adler in his childhood were those of Viennese culture; Viennese tolerance; and Viennese kindliness.

“In the circle in which Adler’s family played their part, there was not much money as money in these days is reckoned, but there was always enough for just those pleasures which all Viennese in common adored; and there was always music.

“On summer evenings the Adler family, often accompanied by their special friends, would stroll towards their favorite vineyard, and there, under trellised vines, be served at long wooden tables with the special vintage of that particular vineyard. They brought their own food with them, and as soon as they had finished eating, the songs would begin. Sometimes there would be skilled part-singing in which the boy Alfred always took a leading part. Often a wandering musician with zither or guitar would stop on his way, and for a few groschen and a drink, play their accompaniments.

“The shades of Schubert and Mozart haunted these orchards and hillsides of Grinzing and Cobenzl, and there is hardly a street in the nineteenth district of Vienna where the restless Beethoven did not shift his self-torture from one roof to another.

“Adler said of his boyhood, ‘I always had tunes running through my head. When I began to read as a student, they stopped, but while I was a young boy tunes came to me instead of thoughts.’

“There was nothing in the least ‘soft’ about Adler in spite of his artistic tendencies. As a boy he was dangerously virile and adventurous, an outdoor boy with a fighting spirit which he always retained. (p. 36)

* Phyllis Bottome Forbes-Dennis (1884-1963), Alfred Adler: A Portrait from Life (Apostle of Freedom), 1939, 1957, 2007, pp. 25 – 36.

“An enthusiastic admirer of the fine arts, he emphasized again and again how much the world owed to the great artists. Painters taught us to see various tints; musicians to distinguish the subtle nuances of sounds, writers the beauty of language and insight into human character. He was especially fond of music and books. Books, in particular, aided him in working out the problems which beset humanity. The Bible, Goethe, Homer and Shakespeare made up his favorite reading. The last he considered the greatest psychologist amongst all writers of all ages. . . . Adler equally appreciates Dostoyevsky as artist, ethical philosopher and psychologist. The following superb lines, which he devotes to Dostoyevsky, might as well apply to Adler himself: ‘Whoever holds within his breasts such contrasts and is forced to bridge them has to delve deeply to find a resting point. He will be spared no trouble, none of the sufferings of life. He cannot pass the most insignificant creature without testing its formula. His whole nature compels him toward a unified interpretation of life, so as to find security and rest from his eternal wavering, his doubts, his unrest. He had to discover Truth in order to find peace. The way to truth, however, is thorny and difficult, and means hard work and a tremendous training of intellect and emotion. No wonder, therefore, that this restless searcher came far nearer to the true nature of life, the logic of life and of co-operation than others who had found it easier to define their attitude towards life.’

“The unity of this restless searcher’s style of life can only be found by discovering his goal.”. . .

“We cannot explain Adler’s creative power. The problem of how it came to his intuitive comprehension of ingenious relationships is not yet solved. Adler himself admits that the mind of a genius cannot be interpreted. Adler’s greatness is manifested in his construction of a method of teaching based on science, which in its theory, and still more in its practice, has proved to be of utmost value to all mankind. His constructive mind built the bridge from psychology to medicine, pedagogics, theology, sociology and criminology.

“And at the end he did overcome death! His work and his name are immortal. Passive by nature, but through knowledge stimulated to great activity, he built up the scientific system of Individual Psychology. As investigator and physician, as teacher and educator, as lecturer and author, braving all storms and defying all antagonism, he fought his way to the one goal: to help men, to advance them, to be a helper of men, and encourager of mankind, an elevator of humanity.” -- Hertha Orgler (Bernstein) (1890-1980), Alfred Alder: The Man and His Work - Triumph over the Inferiority Complex, 1939, 1963, p. 210.

“He himself always called the practice of his teachings ‘art,’ for only an artist possesses the imagination that recognizes the statue that can come of a raw rock.

“He was a genius of the medical art -- a genius in the art of being a whole human being -- and as with every true artist, he was so far ahead of his times that only the afterworld will recognize and understand him. That is the fate of the great, and it didn’t actually matter to him, for he applied himself and his work sub specie aeternitatis, in view of eternity, which he also repeatedly demanded of those who had begun to see with open eyes, through him.

“It is for us, those of us who consider themselves his students and co-workers, who, to our happiness and pride, he would call friends; it is for us to ensure that Adler’s work does not die with him. It is us on whose shoulders the responsibility now rests to carry on his work. We here in Vienna, from where Adler started, [but where he] didn’t return, have been entrusted with Adler’s Individual Psychology. It is our responsibility to generate ‘heroic optimism,’ in spite of his passing, even more so than in the past and even more intensely, continuing to work on ourselves in order to become whole human beings who can stand within the circle in which they have been placed in order to fulfill our duty as fellow beings towards those to whom we can bring help, encouragement, and joy.

“Adler has also passed a legacy on to us through the last sentence that I heard from his mouth when I said goodbye to him two years ago. May this be a legacy that lives on in all of us: ‘Children, do something -- and do it well’.” (p.102)

* Lydia Sicher (1890-1962), Vienna, 1937. Adler’s Importance for Medicinal Psychology. International Journal of Individual Psychology, 3-4, 128-133. Translated from German by Pamela Oberoi. Found In Translation Volume I, Somatic Vocabulary: Early Contributions to Organ Jargon. Editor Marina Bluvshtein, Foreword by Jane Griffith, Copyright by North American Society of Adlerian Psychology (NASAP), Fort Wayne, Indiana. First Edition: 2016. Thank you, Marina Bluvshtein, Ph.D., Diplomate in Adlerian Psychology, Director, Center for Adlerian Practice and Scholarship. Excerpts by Carroll R. Thomas, Ph.D., October 10, 2021.

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