Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
Holism posits the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that, unified, the parts constitute a new and unique whole. The term is from the Greek, holos, meaning whole, and was coined by Jan Smuts (1870-1950) in his book, Holism and Evolution (1926/1961). Adler corresponded with Smuts, and had Smuts’s book translated into German for the use of his students. Holistic Psychology would have been an apt name for Adler’s approach. However, prior to the publication of Smuts’s text, and before the term holism had entered into common currency, Adler had already chosen the name Individualpsychologie, for his “science for the understanding of persons” (G., Menschenkenntnis). Based on the Latin, individuum (that which cannot be divided; indivisible), Adler’s term emphasized the contrast between his approach and Freud’s psychoanalysis. Freud, by analogy to the chemist’s analysis of a substance into its constituent elements (Gr., analuein = to break up, cut apart), had suggested an analytic breakdown of the psyche into its supposed parts.
In the later history of modern psychology, holism came to represent the view of persons emerging in their developments as organic unities, and of a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions as self-consistent behaviors expressive of one indivisible and unique variant of human possibility. This is entirely congruent with Individual Psychology, which may be said to carry the idea of indivisibility even further by explicitly rejecting the image of personal self-boundedness (G., Ichgebundenheit) in favor of the person’s indivisible embeddedness in his or her social and historical situation.
One can never regard single manifestations of the mental life as separate entities, but. . . one can gain understanding of them only if one understands all manifestations of a mental life as parts of an indivisible whole (p. 190).
With every individual, we must look below the surface. We must look for the underlying coherence, for the unity of the personality. This unity is fixed in all its expressions (p. 189).
Something new can never be created through analysis. Here we would have parts in our hands instead of the whole. To us Individual Psychologists, the whole tells much more than the analysis of parts. Also, nothing new can emerge through synthesis if one simply puts the parts together (Adler, 1964, p. 30).
In all probability, the mind governs and influences the whole building up of the body (p. 225).
Everything is in anything (R. L. Powers, personal communication, n.d.).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 55).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Adler, A. (1964). Problems of neurosis. (P. Mairet, Ed.). New York: Harper & Row. (Original work published 1929)
Smuts, J. (1961). Holism and evolution. New York: Viking. (Original work published 1926) Sonstegard, M.A., & Bitter, J. R. (with Pelonis, P.). (2004). Adlerian group counseling and therapy: Step-by-step. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Artwork by Cara Fisher Wellvang