Lydia Sicher - An Unsung Adlerian
Beyond a small group, Sicher's important contributions to the field of psychology, her view of the world community, and philosophy of living are not known. She wrote approximately 243 published articles; unfortunately only 24 are in English.
She was trained by Alfred Adler when he was Director of the Clinic for Nervous Diseases at the Mariahilfer Franz-Joseph Ambulatorium in Vienna. By this time she had already achieved her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees. When Adler left Vienna in 1929 for the United States, he appointed her to succeed him as director of the Clinic and all the Adlerian work which included the child guidance clinics and training centers in the Viennese schools. She served in this capacity until the Austro-Fascist government closed all mental health activities.
Both Sicher and her husband Harry, also a physician, left Hitler's Austria and started on their way to the States via England. Harry preceded her to the U.S. and shortly after this she was seriously hurt in an automobile accident. It was a year before she was able to travel to the U.S. She lived and worked in Utah and then moved to Los Angeles. Perhaps another reason her work is not more widely known is because she was never totally well and energetic enough again to produce the extensive literature that she did in Europe. She did, however, in both Utah and Los Angeles organize, train, and gather a few people to carry on the Adlerian ideas.
Rather than focusing on her as an unsung Adlerian, we need to see why we should sing about her work. She enriched Adler's ideas with further explanations, reinforcements, practical examples, and analogies that clarified. As with most Adlerians she illustrated her teaching with metaphors and stories. Some highlights follow.
One of her major contributions is her unique perspective on the human condition which she communicates clearly and simply. For example, in her seminar on "The Social Implications of Being Human - I" she contrasts the differences between totalitarian (i.e., collective) and cooperative societies. At the same time she links cooperation with the interdependence among individuals, thus connecting these social psychological events with types of governments.
She tells us that the ants and bees are physically adapted to any situation for the satisfaction of their basic needs and that the ants have not changed in fifty million years. On the other hand human society changes fast from one decade to another. ". . . the insects rule this perfect state in the one way we humans do not like: in a totalitarian way. In a completely totalitarian collectivistic society, no one considers what the other individual might need. If the workers need more workers, as with the winged ants, their wings are bitten off, then they have more workers. If no queen is left in a beehive, a working bee larvae is fed differently, then they have another one who rules."
Style of Life - Life as a River
Sicher's metaphor of the river illustrates the choices that humans make to drift or to take control and influence the situations of life. "People can do all kinds of things in a river, they can drift, i.e., follow the circumstances. Then they are spit out where the river wants to spit them out. Then another merciful wave comes along and takes them along for a while then spits them out at another place where they do not want to be. Then they think they are the victims of the circumstances of the river. It is also possible, however, for people to go in where they want to, taking the current into consideration. They can swim and get out approximately where they want to be, in other words they consider the circumstances of the river and create their own movement. They are not pieces of driftwood that get pushed along or get stuck somewhere. These pieces of driftwood are the people who 'could be' and when they are old talk about 'what they could have been.' These are the drifters which we see in neurotics and other kinds of people in difficulty... We forget that we have a say in what we want to use with our heredity. We can say what we want to use of our circumstances and in which way we want to influence our environment."
She goes on to say that one of the most difficult implications of being human is the role that people play in their own and others' lives. Another problem: those who do not want to play a role at all.
Sicher presents a strong argument with vivid examples that both men and women protest that men have more value. Although this does not contradict what Adler stated, his examples are those of women resenting their inferior positions and striving to overcome. In popular literature the notion that men attempt to protect their superior positions is not understood. The term "masculine protest," if used at all, frequently is thought of as similar to Freud's notion of penis envy, which only women have. She relates the difficulties that men and women have in cooperating and communicating with each other. Both sexes may see themselves moving on a vertical plane rather than on a horizontal one, thus, they compete and strive to overcome each other.
Sicher's humor usually has a tinge of serious commentary as in her view of the missing link. "I am sometimes very malicious. I am quite convinced that we are the famous missing link that people look for between the apes and the humans. We know something about the monkeys and suddenly there were human beings. But where is the missing link? It seems that we do not know where it is, so I always call us the missing link. We have not developed too far from the animals, in general, and we have lost our tails, which is the greatest tragedy in my opinion, as it was a very useful instrument."
Her unique perspective on the human condition is always a positive and hopeful one. She points the way toward correcting our mistakes by improving our connection with others (social interest). In this, she follows Adler's great contribution to all of us.
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