The two prominent thinkers and physicians from Austria have contributed to the development of psychology and founded unique schools that emphasized different approaches to the concept of personality. Their biographies make it clear that they have a lot in common. Both of them have a Jewish background, had to overcome multiple issues during their childhood, and studied medicine at the university. Their strive to explain the inner unconscious reasons that underlie numerous illnesses and cause patients’ sufferings led them to develop grand theories. Adler and Freud believed that they could explain people’s psychological problems and provide the guidelines for fighting disorders and illnesses by moving the depressed unconscious feelings and desires to consciousness, which allows for proper analysis. Although both figures are generally believed to be the ones who emphasized psychodynamics and depth psychology as reliable scientific concepts, their contributions to psychology differ significantly.
Similarities and Differences between the Theories
Both thinkers’ medical background is instrumental in realizing the methods they used to determine the approaches to personality. Both Freud and Adler sought to define the concept of personality and explain the seeming imbalance between people’s thoughts and actions. While observing their patients, they came to a conclusion that unconsciousness is not merely a concept widely utilized by poets and novelists, but a phenomenon that helps explain most life goals and, consequently, behavior patterns. In 1902, Sigmund Freud invited Alfred Adler to an informal discussion group, which helped prominent Austrian thinkers further develop the ideas based on the abovementioned approach to a vital part of phycology. Although the cooperation between the thinkers was fruitful, Adler eventually left the school of thought created by Freud.
Adler managed to create an entirely new psychological method called individual psychology while staying within the original paradigm. The name of the new method can cause confusion, as it refers to unity, not to individualism. The whole scientific method developed by Adler is centered around the indivisible nature of personality. Moreover, the thinker pinpointed the influence that a close circle of friends and relatives and society has on an individual. According to Dajani (2017), this fundamental aspect of the theory directly contradicts Freud’s approach, which focuses on dividing the human psyche into three major parts: id, ego, and super-ego. Moreover, society and the impact it has on the development of a personality is central to the understanding of Adler’s approach, while Freud’s method mostly encourages the analysis of the important occurrences that can shape a personality.
Such difference in their perspectives can be attributed to philosophy, as Adler was a dedicated socialist. Freud did not approve of Adler’s socialist tendencies and connections with Marxists. Adler’s approach, in general, tends to provide an entire scheme of how feelings, thoughts, desires, and experiences can be transformed into real actions. Moreover, Adler’s method should be perceived as “a tool to encourage the cooperation between an individual and the society by creating the right incentives” (Schultz & Schultz, 2016, p. 116). While analyzing his attitude to the crucial role society plays in shaping a personality, it becomes vivid that the method was meant to contribute to the broader picture of an ideal society.
Adler’s holistic approach to character emphasizes several driving forces behind a person’s actions. Sabates (2020) states that the most important of them is the superiority complex and the inferiority complex. These, like most of the other concepts utilized in Adler’s method, are believed to be caused by the influence of the environment (society in particular). Adler always sought to simplify the concepts he used in order to make them more task-oriented. Moreover, this psychotherapist emphasized the prevention of future problems and disorders in children. Thus, the promotion of optimism and social equality as the scientifically confirmed crucial elements of psychological health partially explains the popularity of his concepts among the representatives of the lay public.
Freud’s approach, on the contrary, focuses on complex yet highly illustrative terms and concepts that are applicable mainly to a range of events that can be significant enough to influence personality development. Although this thinker also tended to standardize and simplify some aspects of causal reasoning in psychology, he performed it mainly by narrowing the set of initial triggers. He always centered on an individual and emphasized the uniqueness of experience, inner desires, dreams, and fears which a person has. The balance between the extremes which ego tries to find while pleasing both id and super-ego undoubtfully makes Freud’s approach more poetic and comprehensive, yet less task-oriented.
I believe that both theories can describe me efficiently and accurately when applied to my personality. Freud’s theory definitely proves the inability to resist the desire to act at my own discretion that I sometimes show. I do feel the inner struggle every time I have to face a controversial issue. It feels like there are two parts of me debating, and the incentives which serve as their arguments correspond in Freud’s interpretation to those of id, ego, and super-ego. At the same time, I believe that Adler’s theory can also be of great importance when analyzing my relationships with others and how they influence my everyday mood, behavior, and, consequently, my character.
The theories have a lot in common, as both Adler and Freud were the pioneers of fundamentally new methods in medical science and established psychology as its crucial part. The two Austrian thinkers managed to cooperate and later create theories that put emphasis on various elements of human well-being. Therefore, despite the significance of the similarity between the great theories, Adler’s approach better analyses the role of society in shaping an individual, while Freud’s framework is more valuable when dealing with unique individual problems.
Dajani, K. G. (2017). The ego’s habitus: An examination of the role culture plays in structuring the ego. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 14(4), 273-281.
Sabates, A. M. (2020). Individual psychology of Alfred Adler. In B. J. Carducci, C. S. Nave, J. S. Mio, R. & E. Riggio (Eds.), The Wiley encyclopedia of personality and individual differences: Models and theories (pp. 111-115). John Wiley & Sons.
Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2016). Theories of personality (11th ed.). Cengage Learning.