Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Training of a Classical Adlerian
Depth Psychotherapist

Interview of Sophia de Vries, Ph.D.

By Henry T. Stein, Ph.D

May 3, 1980 - Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco

In the full two-hour discussion between Sophia de Vries and Henry Stein, nearly 200 topics about Classical Adlerian Depth Psychotherapy (CADP) are covered. Sophia de Vries studied with Alfred Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Fritz Kunkel, Ida Loewy, Martha Holub, Rudolf Dreikurs, August Eichorn, Charlotte Buhler, Karl Buhler, Ludwig Klages, Karl Jung, Ernst Kretschmer, and Maria Montessori. Her profund psychological insights and her masterful adaptation of the Socratic method make this transcribed interview an essential introduction to our unique training offered in Classical Adlerian Depth Psychotherapy. This transcription is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced, in whole or part, without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein (email:, tel: 360-647-5670).

Topics Discussed

Evaluating candidate for training - Principles looks easy, application is a difficult creative process - No "by the numbers" approach - Begin with a close relationship - Evaluating candidate for training - Principles looks easy, application is a difficult creative process - No "by the numbers" approach - Begin with a close relationship - Social interest is the core - Encouragement is primary - Adult treated with motherly kindness - "Doing a lifestyle" - Critique of the "lifestyle procedure" - Finding something positive in client to build courage - Pointing out a wrong step - Equality - Understanding and empathy - Client must join in the discovery - English translations of Adler are not always accurate - Gemeinshaftsgefühl is hard to translate - Many articles not yet translated - Advantage of learning German - Current books very limited - Time to learn how to do therapy - Long supervision necessary - Knowledge of other theories - NeoFreudians closest to Adler - Importance of a study-analysis - Maslow's conception of self-actualization - Therapist needs to overcome personal limitations - Client blames others for his problems - Explaining a lifestyle is not enough, goal must also be revealed - Danger of showmanship and aggressiveness in a therapist - Need for utmost gentleness in treatment - Adler suggested that therapists who do not follow his approach should not be Adlerians - Problem of misrepresenting Adlerian psychology - Therapist must overcome his faulty point of view with a study-analysis - Long supervision with experienced Adlerian - Demands of a private practice - Therapy as a creative process - Living in a creative way - Every case is unique, requiring a creative not systematic approach - Creative cooperation - Diplomatic interpretation - Filling up with impressions - Looking for hidden movement - Radius of activity - Intuition, logic and imagination - Therapist's feeling tone and empathy - Encouragement that life can be different - Climate of discovery - Client is missing a feeling of connectedness - Negative social influences - Financial difficulties - Overpopulation - Preoccupation with money - Popular misconception of money as security - Conquering of difficulties yields feeling of security - Mistake of looking for the "easy life" - Dynamic "doing" vs. static "having" - Philosophy and values - Maslow's deficiency motivation - Maslow's "being-values" - Clients can change their value system - First contact with client on telephone - Impressions from phone call - Being on a even level with client - Asking simple questions - Asking about religion - Cultural background - Family constellation - Asking about problem - Discovering the real reason for client's problem - Letting client talk freely - Ending first meeting - Emphasizing "working together" - Expressing a deep interest - Frequency of visits - Talking about fee - Predicting length of treatment - Client who sets limits on time - Reason for limits - Teaching therapy - Stages of therapy - Relationship stage - Information stage - Holding off interpretation - Finding the real problem - Example of sleeplessness - Overcoming a loss - Discovering a pampered life style - Getting early memories - Written memories - Not remembering - Questioning early relationships - Focusing on action rather than feeling - Connecting past to present - Person mentioned first - No rules in interpretation - Talking about siblings - Current and past feelings about siblings - Early childhood aspirations - First day of school - Confirming guesses - Compressing life style into image - Direction of help - Connect complaints to the life style - Client's self-evaluation - Not giving advice - Challenging client to think and act differently - Client feels better about new success - Living with a "report card" - Not measuring up to a tremendous image - Montessori method of self-evaluation - Punitive approach of schools - School hierarchy - Observing appearance - Noting physical movements - All clients are discouraged - Client who talks all the time - Filling up with the person - Feeling the way the client feels - Comparing actions to a norm - Private logic - Getting an image of client's totality - Evaluating wrong direction - Clarification stage - Going along in a illogical direction - Leading client to making corrections - Questioning a mistaken life style - Client must make conclusions - Promoting movement in a passive person - Client lets you know how much he can risk - Finding courage to do the unknown - Encouragement from success - Living life differently - Symbol of climbing a mountain - Habits block alternatives - Creative living - Anxiety with the unfamiliar - Anxiety from fear of failure - Anxiety about making mistakes - Correcting mistakes - Children dreading mistakes - Self respect - Exploring old problems - Bridge from childhood - Early fixation - Wrong goal - Showing where wrong goal leads - Timing for explaining life style - Encouragement and success before insight - Client blames others and the world - Discovering what is missing in client's actions - Example of how client overcame isolation - Client must decide new direction - Using helplessness to gain advice - Metaphor of leaves in the wind - Insight leads to action plan - World begins to look different - Timing for termination - Reducing frequency of appointments - Overcoming fear of difficulties - Easy life can be spoiling - Looking for challenges - Opportunity in the United States - Feeling entitled

de VRIES:= Sophia de Vries STEIN:= Henry T. Stein

STEIN: Sophia, what I would like to focus on with you in this discussion, is the training of a Classical Adlerian Depth Psychotherapist, and starting logically with what kind of person would be most adaptable, or suitable, to our Classical Adlerian training.  Is there any way of feeling out an applicant, a prospect, someone who has had the basic training towards licensing, towards a degreed program in counseling or psychology, who presents himself to us for training, and says "I would like to be an Adlerian". Would we basically accept anyone who expressed an interest or are there some ways of appraising a person as to the probability of his success or lack of success?

de VRIES: No I don't think you can begin with appraising people.  They come because they are interested and because they are dissatisfied with what they have learned so far, or what they have heard so far. Many people, of course, don't know too much about Adlerian Psychology when they start out, and in the beginning, (this is always the funny side of it) it looks like it is easy.  It is not hard to learn the principles, but then comes the application.  And Adler himself said that it was simple to learn the principles, but it was very hard to apply - in practice. Because what he wanted was a creative process and not anything that goes according to rules 1,2,3, 4, 5 etc.  You cannot start at a particular part of Adlerian Psychology and then apply that in practice and then go by the number 2 and the no. 3 and the no. 4, I have always called that painting by numbers. I have seen people who have been trained in Adlerian Psychology and they did exactly that, they went by numbers.  They said, "now, first I have to do this, then I have to do that". No, you don't.

The main thing (the way Adler has explained it to us) is that you establish a very close relationship to begin with. Because of the relationship you have established, you can go on and the person feels comfortable in cooperating with you. As a result of the cooperation he does something that he hasn't done too much of before, mainly he shows the beginning of applying a social interest.  The core of Adlerian Psychology is always the social interest factor. Other aspects, inferiority feelings, wanting to be on top, feeling that everybody has more than you have, and all these symptoms, come at a different moment, they are not so important.  You have to establish the relationship so the person can cooperate with you in what you are doing.  You have to encourage, encourage, encourage!

Another thing that Adler said, that I recall very well, was that you have to treat an adult with the same kindness and love that a mother would have for a child. No aggressiveness, no attacking, no hitting people over the head with what you have found. The result comes from everything that you work on together, and gaining insight. A real Adlerian therapy that is done very well helps people from the beginning, and they don't feel the frustration.

STEIN: I have heard that it is somewhat common practice in Adlerian training to have people go through a process of what is called "doing a lifestyle" for a client, which seems to be a very intensive interview process by a therapist or an assistant, followed up by a summary of the person's assets and liabilities and lifestyle, and then an interview in which the therapist, or therapist and assistant, confronts the client with a summary of his lifestyle.  This appears to be done in about half a dozen sessions as a procedure.  What are your comments about this approach?

de VRIES: It is not what Adler ever did.  So (laugh) I have a tendency to call it un-Adlerian. I can see that people use it as a method when they do not use a creative approach.  Adler did not have the idea that you need two people to treat a person.  It seems to me if you would be in a fix and you would be accosted by two people who seem to know everything about you, that you would feel very inferior, and that you would feel very much pressed in a corner--that you can't get out of the corner. I would have to see how it works actually to make a conclusion. What Adler did was, he encouraged the person from the very beginning, that there was something that was positive in him.  So every time (and we were told this by Adler) every time the person leaves he has to have a little bit of courage that he is not as bad as he thought he would be, and that the circumstances can be changed, And that he can feel different about it if he gains the insight into what he is doing.  So every time- encouragement!  Now if I would hear a resume of what is ailing me, I would say, now, alright, now what am I going to do about it?  And Adler encouraged by saying "What would you like to do about it"?  The person was permitted to make a wrong step, but then Adler would, together with him, point out this is a wrong step, this is not what leads in the direction you want to go, so, let's look at it and let's change this.

STEIN: So it was more of a feeling of working together, rather than the expert who informs the client.

de VRIES: Absolutely.  Adler stressed the idea that you have to make the person feel that you both are on the same level.  He advised us to feel the way the client felt.  To have so much absorbed of what the client would do that you would say, "under the same circumstances, with the person that you are, I would have done the same thing." Then you have really understood what it was that made him go in the direction where he got stuck. 

STEIN: So you could sit in that person's seat with him.

de VRIES: Exactly.

STEIN: Saying, I know what that must have been like..

de VRIES: Yes!

STEIN: And so the person then does not feel so alone, so foolish..

de VRIES: The person should never feel alone.  I get the impression from what you just told me about the lifestyle procedure that that would be more a feeling of being attacked by someone who knows everything better. If you get that feeling, then dynamically you should feel more inferior because everyone else knows so easily what you couldn't find for yourself for a long time.  If you discover, step by step, what it was that made you act the way you did, then you are in on the discovery.  Otherwise, it is thrown in your face.

STEIN: Can we go back a little bit to the training? Assuming now that a person is going through the fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology, the basic principles and theory...

de VRIES: Wait a minute! Because you say an awful lot in a few words!  "Going through the whole theory." It was easy for the people in Europe because they knew the different languages and they could read all the Adlerian books that Adler has written in the original language and understand it.  In the English speaking countries there are only translations and some of them are not as...accurate, I would say, as the German, and the expression is entirely different.  So to understand...for instance, take the very important word "gemeinschafsgefuhl", translated into "social interest".  "Social interest" what is "social interest"?  "Gemeinschafsgefuhl" is so much more then an interest. 'Social'?  That means "for other people". No, it is much more, it is much deeper.  If you know German you know the quality of the word, and you know what is connected with it.  So it is the embeddedness, it is belonging, it is sharing, it is doing together, it is a whole lot of things.  That's where you have the difficulty of the language.

There are many articles that Adler has written and published that have not been translated, (I've tried to start working on these, but its very time consuming). In others, part of an article has been taken out and has been translated.  So it is different, and more difficult, I think, for people in English speaking countries, to get the real gist of the Adlerian theories, then for people who understand German.  I would advise people, if you really want to do a good job, learn German and read it in German. 

STEIN: An English student today is working at a bit of a handicap, as you put it, so he must work a bit harder, or search deeper, to find the real roots of the theory and principles, because the books that we have available today, although they are very helpful, are in fact limited.

de VRIES: Oh, yes, very helpful!

STEIN: We have the very real practical task in our Institute, of putting people through a training program. We devote so much time to the theoretical principles and we will use, for example, the very fine book by the Ansbachers on the theory of Adlerian Psychology...

de VRIES: That's excellent!

STEIN: ...we still must supplement this...

de VRIES: In order to get the real deep understanding, yes.

STEIN: Now, assuming that we are able to offer a student materials that fill in some of the gaps, that enrich the understanding of the theory, and let us say perhaps at the end of a year's work, the student then begins to work at the application, how to do therapy. Do you feel that within a space of a couple of years, perhaps two, or two and a half years of working, rather intensively, that a bright and sensitive and caring person, who is interested in Adlerian Psychology, could actually do the therapy as Adler intended it, or is this actually going to take longer?

de VRIES: I would think, under supervision, yes.  Because all of us who were trained by Adler have had a long supervision. We worked with an established Adlerian for a long time in order to be sure that we were in the right direction.  Another point that I haven't mentioned is, that Adler wanted us to be sure that we knew all the other theories.  We had to know the theories of Freud, of Jung, of all the new ones that came out.  He did that himself, he always compared, he always lectured and mentioned something new that had come out, what the content of that particular theory was, and how it compared to what he said.  Then you knew immediately - where do we stand? Do we choose a different direction or do we stay where we are? And he always left that open.

STEIN: Today, what other therapies or theories, do feel come closest to the Adlerian theory or approach?

de VRIES: I would say the NeoFreudians are very close to the Adlerians.  Freud has taken over a lot of ideas, from Adler, and has incorporated them, and has given them a different name.  But NeoFreudians are very close.

STEIN: So, as far as the relationship is concerned, how close would a Rogerian be.  I have seen the work of Carl Rogers and it seems that he is most empathic and most sensitive...

de VRIES: Yes, yes, so is Maslow, and they all have studied Adler.

STEIN: Since you bring up Maslow, in the development of an Adlerian therapist, it would seem that, aside from learning how to do the work, the understanding of the work, we also have the therapist as a person. What kind of person is this individual?  You have told me about the necessity, in the past, of an Adlerian study analysis. This is in addition to supervision. To what extent does Maslow's actualizing person represent a guideline for the development of the therapist?  Maslow was clear on what he felt a fully functioning person was. We don't hear this much in psychotherapy today, we hear it more in organizational development, but, the principals he listed are very clear, like an efficient perception of reality.  This seems like an understandable quality for a therapist.  He also mentioned "gemeinshafgefuhl" which I think he described as an "older brotherly" feeling towards the client. he went on, I think, for about 20 characteristics.  Do you think there is a relationship here?

de VRIES: Oh, yes, I think it is a close connection.  I know for sure that he was very much influenced by the ideas of Adler and has given it his own expression, but it is not contradictory, it is in essence the same thing.

STEIN: The reason I bring this up is because it seems to me that they are talking about the same development. I have heard that in the training of therapists, at times there has been a feeling that once one has achieved sufficient degree of insight into one's lifestyle, and one has a certain amount of control over, shall we say, one's bad habits, or negative tendencies, that it's practically enough to reach this point, and to perhaps rather flippantly, or jokingly say, "well, everybody's imperfect".  What I have seen and heard is somewhat of a feeling that the therapist may advise the client of how to be but its not necessarily applicable to one's self.  The therapist may be the exception to the rule.

de VRIES: I think that everybody is striving towards an improvement, and this is the Adlerian concept. Everybody is also striving towards getting rid of things that he is not satisfied with in himself.  Insufficiencies, shortcomings, faults, and whatever it is.  The person who doesn't work on that anymore and who says I can happily live with it is at a standstill, and I would not think could be a good advisor to another person on how to get rid of his imperfections that bother him so much. Out of his imperfections he has gotten into trouble.  Or he has found something that he can not do.

There always is a moment that a person finds, here is something that I cannot solve, but he doesn't know that he cannot solve it, and doesn't know how to do better. He believes that he has every right to protest. That is the moment when he feels "the world is against me" and then he comes to the therapist.  He accuses the world. He never sees that he has done something that is not adequate because he has developed that in his lifestyle. 

Now if you start explaining a lifestyle, that is not enough. A person has to know in which direction does his lifestyle go, what is his personal goal. We know very well that every movement that a person makes, psychologically, and otherwise, is directed by a goal.  You do not make a movement just out of a clear blue sky, without a goal.  If I want to come to San Francisco, then I take a bus.  I don't go in a bus if I don't know where that bus is going. 

STEIN: As you talk about this I am thinking of some of the work I have seen demonstrated at some conventions and conferences where the Adlerian therapist is working with the client, probably in a demonstration, and the attitude of the therapist, seemed to reveal a goal of being a showman, or a rather aggressive approach which` one was intimidating to a client.  The therapist, too, reveals his goals, in the way he works. I wonder to what degree some Adlerians have been honest with themselves in the manner in which they do therapy.  I've seen Adlerians work who are not very warm, not very caring, but who seem quite sharp and intellectually brilliant in being able to observe and interpret behavioral dynamics.

de VRIES: Well, I think also results will be according to what the therapist is like.  Adler's saying was that even if you get a grownup man in therapy who needs to be helped, he has to be treated by you the way a mother would gently treat her child, always with utmost gentleness.  So it is the opposite of what you are telling me...

STEIN: Yes, because this is often what I see is missing in demonstrations. This gentleness is what I have learned from you, and what I have attempted to do myself. It makes sense, clients respond to this, usually so very well. But I don't see this frequently enough to have it verified as the stamp of the Adlerian approach.

de VRIES: That reminds me of what Adler said, "people who don't agree with me and don't agree with Adlerian Psychology or Individual Psychology", he mentioned, "I would rather not have in our group".  That's what he said, literally!  He expressed that very clearly, that was in one of the lectures he gave and it impressed me very much, it always stuck in my mind.  "If you can't do it the right way, then I really don't consider you to belong."

STEIN: Which I think is quite reasonable.  This is a slight digression, but one of the problems that we've had in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been coming up against a resistance, in the academic community, against what many of the professors believed Adlerian Psychology to be. Several years ago some Adlerians came out to the West Coast and presented, and left a very strained feeling about Adlerian Psychology.  The common denominator in many of the comments seemed to be "it was so aggressive, it was rather caustic", and there was kind of a bad feeling.  One of the challenges we have today is to try and correct this impression. I think its somewhat unfortunate, but I think its one of the tasks that must be done.

de VRIES: Adler always warned, that everybody is bogged down by his own point of view. A person, out of personal need, can become an Adlerian Psychologist and not get rid of his shortcomings if he has not gone through an analysis.  That is why it was stressed in Vienna that everybody would take a study analysis so that he could get rid of his own shortcomings.  I have met people who were quite advanced in Adlerian Psychology who admitted that it was too bad that they had not taken their personal analysis in Adlerian Psychology.  In Holland, when we were having a study group, we always asked that everybody who would go and do therapy would take a study analysis. That was one of the demands that we made, and it helped people.

de VRIES: The next thing was that the work should be supervised for a long time and you should work with a well-trained, well-established Individual Psychologist in order to see if you could still improve. Finally, you would feel completely free and you would know that you were in the right direction.  It is very strengthening if you are being trained that way.

STEIN: This brings up a practical consideration.  How many Adlerians in the United States are capable of giving such a study analysis?

de VRIES: Well, I have not the faintest idea because I don't know them all.  I've been too busy in practice to meet everybody. I've been even too busy to go to all the conventions and meet everybody, so I don't know.

STEIN: I wonder if this is not a somewhat common problem, and that there are perhaps several people who have the ability to train and to counsel who have not had that much exposure like yourself because they have been so busy working.

de VRIES: It could very well be. People have asked, "Why don't you write"?  Well, I have had no time to write because I was too busy with the people I had to help. You can't do two things in one time! (laugh) Its not possible.

STEIN: Yeah, I would wonder how a person who was lecturing all around the country, who was appearing East coast, West coast, Europe, how this person would have a practice. How they would be able to do work with individuals. 

de VRIES: You would have to ask them personally. I can't see it, because the people I have had as clients needed me to be present and I prepared them, when I was going on a vacation, ahead of time, so that they would accept it, and would be able to take a vacation from me.  I have had some serious cases that really needed help, right then. Not just something superficial, where you can very quickly give them advice and people catch it and that's that. 

STEIN: There is one somewhat subtle aspect of doing therapy which we have talked about a few times, but I'd like to focus on it for a moment, and that is the creative part.  Let us say the person has the brains to understand and has the feeling to deal with clients in a very nourishing way. In order to do creative therapy and to use the principles creatively, it sounds almost like the individual must have a kind of artistic nature, is that the implication?

de VRIES: If you equate creativity with artistic capacity, yes.  One can live in a creative way and not particularly be an artist. The creative way is away from rules, understanding what the fundamentals are, what the important points are, and applying them in a creative way, not in a "one, two, three way".

STEIN: So creative means absolutely original...

de VRIES: OriginalEvery case is original!  Yes.

STEIN: So, then as you are doing therapy, and you are empathizing with what a person is presenting to you, and then you begin to see something, a relationship, and you present it, you then think to yourself, I have never thought this thought before, this is coming out right now, spontaneously, in a very unique way. It seems to fit and I never could have anticipated it.

de VRIES: Exactly!

STEIN: That is the creative moment.

de VRIES: That is the creative way.  And it is the result of what you do together, that's the beauty of it too.

STEIN: Yes, you are using what the individual has given you and you are seeing it from a little different point of view. You are abstracting different relationships and presenting it with a clarity the individual never experienced.

de VRIES: Because he mixes it with your knowledge. The knowledge is what your client doesn't have, but you have the knowledge.  So what happens in your brain is that the mixture is with what you know, and you apply that knowledge and..., I would say automatically, that part of your knowledge that you need comes to the fore, and right there it is, and there you have the creative act. Then, using the contact you have with your client, you tell him: "could it be that..."? You never hit him over the head with "And this is so and so"!, that we don't do.

STEIN: This concept of automatic knowledge is fascinating.  I've heard you say in the past as you work with a client, to fill yourself up with the impression of the client, without trying to get something, without trying to extract something, but simply to absorb and hear. Then, if you have done your preparation, if you have trained yourself well, something will come to you, its a trusting attitude...

de VRIES: Yes, because you still follow certain guidelines. You look for the movement that is hidden in all the things that the person is telling you.  You get that movement out because you are keen on detecting it. You want to know, what the movement is that the person makes. Also you want to know the radius of his activity, and that radius shows you where it stops, where he couldn't function any longer, where the problem is. Then you immediately get the impression, "here it is, now I see it very clearly; now I have to be very cautious in how I present what I have found to my client".

STEIN: Sounds like the left and right side of your brain are operating in a great cooperation, because there are intuitive leaps that you make across time and space, going from the past to the present; imagining relationships, graphically and psychologically; and then putting it all in a format which then is spelled out clearly and logically so the person is able to understand it.  Sometimes an image is helpful, but an explanation is helpful too; and therein lies that connection between the left and the right brain functioning.

So there is a dual demand on the therapist to be both intuitive and imaginative, and take creative leaps, and then be very logical and express oneself very clearly.

de VRIES: Also the feeling tone of the therapist is expressed, in the warmth of voice, the way you look at the person, the way you listen to what the person has to say, and showing empathy from the very beginning - "I understand that this is very difficult, I know that this must have given you a lot of misery..." Then the encouragement of: "it can also be different".  Every time a person leaves your office he has to feel encouraged that it can be different, that he will not be stuck in this.  That he and you together are working on this.  That is why it is so important that he immediately learns to cooperate, and that he is not being told what is the matter with him, but he learns to discover, together with you, what is bothering him.  Because what is lacking, we know very well, in people (and more so nowadays then ever before), is really their feeling for other people, their connectedness with other people, their embeddedness in society, and in a society that they reject in many aspects.  How can you be embedded while you reject so much?  That's a puzzle by itself. Still we have to do this in order to improve what we disapprove of.

STEIN: You say, people today seem to be more disconnected.  What are the influences that you think today create such a mass difficulty?

de VRIES: I have known the times before the world wars.  That was entirely different.  We lived in an entirely different society. The influences that we have now from society are much more demanding.  There are lots of things people cannot be satisfied with.  There are the influence of drug abuse, of young children drinking, of alcohol abuse.  We have all these different things.  There is a different relationship between the parents, where very often two parents work and the child coming out of school, doesn't find the mother home. There are many social influences that make it much harder to grow up.  And we have to look at that.  Adler never left social influences out.  And he has worked under very bad circumstances after the First World War. Then of course the Second World War came and he had already died, but he saw what was happening. He saw what was coming.  And he saw the threat all around.  He recognized that very much. And those are tremendous pressures. 

Think of children now in a family where the father is laid off. They have that much less money to go around for their daily needs, and everything else.  They are being helped, oh yes, but what do they do about it? Then how is the atmosphere in the house?  Are people complaining? Or are they trying to do something?  There are all kinds of influences. 

I'm sorry to find that we still have a tremendously high concentration of people in big cities and a tremendously high population, an overpopulation, which doesn't help people to feel comfortable.  Where do children have a place where they can safely and freely play?  So it begins in early childhood, and an awful lot of adjustment has to be made. Now, you know very well that if children have to adjust they also can protest.  Many of them do, and you find all kinds of protests.  In the schools, not wanting to learn, and thinking that everything that is difficult you shouldn't do. There you have the beginning of the wrong lifestyle.  Adler was the one who always stressed that we have to start in the schools with the young children, and we have to start with the mothers. 

STEIN: In addition to these influences that you talk about, it seems in this country there is in many cases, a preoccupation with money as an end in itself. 

de VRIES: Oh yes.

STEIN: Now we are seeing some of the crisis that develop as result of this preoccupation.  Do you have some thoughts in this direction as to why people would be so preoccupied with the pursuit of money, or possessions, or wealth, rather than the self-development and the connectedness, and the helpfulness to other people?

de VRIES: I think because people have that wrong belief that money makes it safe, to live.  And it doesn't.  Money has never made anybody particularly safe.  And the people who have an awful lot, have a lot of anxiety that they will lose it.  So money by itself doesn't do it.  But the conquering of skills so that you can help yourself, in another word, a creative way of living, is what gives a tremendous amount of feeling of safety, no matter where you are. Then you even can camp in a tent if it is necessary, you don't have to have all the luxury.  They have that competition of outdoing each other and having a bigger car, or having a more expensive car, or going on a longer trip, or possessing nicer furniture, or whatever.  They believe that that is their value.  They don't see the value of being with each other, helping each other, and of conquering something.

STEIN: So the individual, then, who tends to drift towards the easy life, has not learned to conquer difficulties, and enjoy that conquest, and is retreating into a kind of self pampering, easy life...

de VRIES: ...and possessing things.  If you start that then you know very well that things begin to possess you.  So instead of conquering something, and enjoying the conquering, and the doing, it is the having, which is a dead end street.  It is static, it is not dynamic. 

STEIN: So, part of Adlerian therapy is really philosophy, because we are talking about values...the client may have values that are not helpful to him, or to other people, and those values really need to be discussed and alternatives considered.

de VRIES: Usually the values, and talking about the values, comes out at the end of therapy, if necessary, but I would think it is the last thing.  It is not at the beginning. There are people who hang on to everything, to objects that they can touch. But it is not particularly necessary to talk about these things.

STEIN: As you talk about this what comes to mind is also what Maslow had to say about motivation.  He talked about deficiency motivation, people being motivated by what they feel is missing in them. They feel that approval is missing, or acknowledgement, fame, security, or love is missing, and they pursue it with an intensity and a compulsiveness; it is almost like there is an "it" that is missing. 

But when an individual, according to Maslow, begins to function in a self-actualizing way, they transcend these assumed needs and begin to live according to what he called the "being values", which he said may have a particular emphasis for one individual or another, but they tend to be talking roughly about the same thing.  For example, a person may find that the pursuit of truth motivates him, or the pursuit of uniqueness, or justice, or order. That perhaps in his own way...perhaps a person may be an attorney, or a psychologist, or an artist, or a philosopher, or a teacher, the individual is going after a basic value which stimulates and motivates him, rather than trying to make up for something that was missing, that one can't get enough of.  So, I guess, depending upon how far the individual comes in their capacity for discussing this, one could get into such a deep philosophical conversation...

de VRIES: Oh yes, that happens, that does happen. Also people, very often, soon begin to see the relativity of what they have been pursuing and change over to something entirely different.  So they change their value system, if the therapy goes well.

STEIN: Let's get back to therapy going well!  The very first contact I assume you have with an individual who is interested in therapy is a telephone conversation.  Let us say that you have this first contact from a perspective client.  He calls you, and would like to make an appointment.  Do you generally ask for any information on the phone or do you simply make it a matter-of-fact cordial appointment time?

de VRIES: I ask for their name and their telephone number, and usually the address, and then we make an appointment. 

STEIN: O K.  Do you make any conclusions from the way the person talks to you over the phone, or are you leaving it very open at that point? Do you start "guessing" at the point of the phone call?

de VRIES: Well, yes, you cannot help but guess, because you get an impression, and some people are very rushed and want to come in an hour practically, and other people can wait a few days and are accommodating to the time that you have, and some people are very desperate and say "well, can I not come any sooner?" You get your conclusions out of that and you keep them on the back burner to see if this is real or if it is forcing you into something.  I have found that some people who want to come "right now" are trying to force everybody to do what they want them to do, so I keep an open mind and think, "what is the meaning of this, and are you really very desperate"?  And usually they are not so desperate, it is part of their lifestyle, that they have done this.

STEIN: Let us say now, the person comes for his appointment and you meet him for the first time. What is the impression that you want to give the person?

de VRIES: The impression I want to give the person?

STEIN: Yes, what..if you could sort of stand back and look at yourself, or...looking at it from the client's point of view, what do you want them to see, what kind of attitude...?

de VRIES: A person who is not any better than he is.  We are on an even level.  So, I do not want to have any impression of knowing better or of being someone special. I think it makes it very comfortable if you begin to ask immediately, "may I have your full name and your address and your telephone number, do you work, may I have your telephone number at work, are you married, do you have children, do you belong to any religion"? Then you have an overall impression, very quickly. In the beginning, people are used to giving some information like that, and you gain an initial idea.  I always include religion too, because I know that people sometimes are brought up in a specific way.  It is very important as an Adlerian, that you know the different aspects of different religions, so that you can understand what the upbringing of the child has been and what the child may have misunderstood or understood, used, abused, or not used at all, out of that part of the upbringing. 

STEIN: I know you have mentioned this many times, and also the cultural background...

de VRIES: The cultural background is important, yes.

STEIN: And I see so little of this in the Adlerian literature.  There is a lot of emphasis given to family constellation, (which is understandable, because it is so useful), to early memories, to the character of the parents, and to the atmosphere at home, but I think these two elements need more emphasis, the religion and the cultural aspect.

Once you get this initial intake information how do you invite the person to get into what brings him there? 

de VRIES: Oh, I ask him, "what can I help him with"?  What is the difficulty he finds right now?  Sometimes you get that and sometimes you don't get it, because there is an external factor that he mentions... and that, of course, is not the real difficulty.  What he tells you is something where he all of a sudden had a feeling "I hit my toe on a big stone, and now my toe hurts so much". He forgets that he is a whole person, and why he didn't see that there was a big stone, and how could he have avoided the big stone?  So there is more behind it.  But there is always something that is external, and once in a while a person comes with a real trouble that he cannot overcome, and then this leads to the real reason why he cannot overcome this.  So it is not what immediately what is brought up, that you really are working on.  He wants to get rid of that which causes the symptom.

STEIN: Would you, within the first or second interview, try to get information about the individual's childhood in the past? Would you wait for this or do you try to elicit it out?

de VRIES: The first interview I let the person talk as much as possible.

STEIN: In any direction?

de VRIES: In any direction. 

STEIN: Near the end of the interview, let's say the person is going on and on with a series of difficulties and distress, and you see its coming close to the end of the time.  Do you try to in any way give him some kind of hope, or perspective on what might happen, or what's possible?  Or do you simply say, "we're coming to the end of the hour, shall we make another appointment"?  How do you - finish off - that first interview, assuming now the person has simply been giving you a great range of information?

de VRIES: To begin with, I always have a first interview timed in such a way that I can go overtime. If you want to call an hour the regular time, then I can go somewhat overtime, so that I'm not pressed for time.  So if a person has to say an awful lot more, even if I have given extra time, then I say, "there is still an awful lot more that you want to tell me", (so I'm just mentioning what is a fact) "and I would like to continue for the next interview, can you come at such and such a time, you have already said quite a bit and we have to work on this together".  I make that "together" very, very clear.  "Would you like to come back at such and such a time. And I have never had a no, they always come back.  And then at the door (I always bring people to the door) I tell them "we are going to work on this, so next time we'll talk some more about this.  In the meantime, if there are other things that you find that you want to tell me, please keep them in mind, or write them down".  It is reassuring, that they know that I am very deeply interested in what they are telling me.

STEIN: How often would you like to see a person if they have the time and means?

de VRIES: That depends entirely on the difficulty and how deep the difficulty is. If he is very desperate, he should come back in a couple of days.

STEIN: But, ordinarily, if there is not the desperation, does once a week seem to be sufficient?

de VRIES: Once a week can be sufficient, yes.  Also, in the first interview, I always talk about the finances.  I have a set fee, but if they cannot meet that, then we decide what they can afford.

STEIN: The person says to you, "how long is this going to take"?

de VRIES: I say, "that is one thing that I cannot predict, because it depends on how well we work together." Now I strengthen the cooperation. 

STEIN: What if the person says to you, "look, I'm a busy person, I'm going to go on a trip, I can work for about two months". What if he proposes a time limit, or says "I don't want this to go on forever.  I"m willing to work for a month or two months".  How would you respond to this stated limitation that the person puts out?

de VRIES: I would want to know why he set the limit of two months. If, for instance, he says "I'm going away, or I'm going on a trip" or "I have no more time", then I say "well, then let's have daily interviews".

STEIN: We have talked about how Adlerian therapy is creative, that one doesn't actually follow steps in the therapy.  But for the sake of teaching therapy to students, its sometimes helpful to artificially divide the subject matter a little bit.

de VRIES: Oh yes, in the teaching, yes.

STEIN: OK.  So arbitrarily now, I'd like to make some proposed divisions, and see if it can be a springboard to discuss some elements.  Certainly in the early stage of therapy, first one is attempting to make a relationship. That is primary.

de VRIES: Yes.

STEIN: And within this relationship one is attempting to promote cooperation.  But then we need information, we need to find out what is bothering the person.

de VRIES: We get information while doing the other.

STEIN: When the person is talking about his situation, and he gives you a lot of information, you begin guessing and you have some ideas, and let's say you might even be able to interpret something.  Do you have a tendency to hold off explaining things, in the early stages?

de VRIES: Yes, because I want to be sure that I am not led on a side road. You have to train your memory in such a way that you recall all these things very easily.  Don't forget, that the person himself does not know what the real problem is, so you have to find how to interpret out of what he is telling you what the real problem is that is hidden behind what he is telling you.  He is telling you something that recently has happened, or that he cannot find... the solution for.

Say, for instance a woman comes to talk to you about feeling so miserable and she cannot sleep, and she has taken sleeping pills, and then she is groggy the next morning. What has recently happened?  Well, it so happens that half a year ago she lost her husband.  So you let her talk about the husband and the relationship.  You want to get some information about how the couple, as a couple, functioned, and their circumstances. She will tell you a lot, about that.  Now, what has she done to overcome the loss of her beloved husband? That is the question - to which you have to find the answer.  And she will tell you all sorts of things that have been going against her.  Now you have to conclude "what kind of a person does this"? What kind of a person is she?  So you want to know more.  And she can tell you more about children, and then, all of a sudden you get a picture of, "the oldest child has done this for her, and the next child had done that for her, and friends have done this for her" and logically, you have to ask her, "how much did your husband do for you"? And you find that she is a pampered child, who didn't do anything for herself who now misses the man who has done so much for her.  And the follow up was, in the first month of mourning, that the children took over the role of the father.  Now, where does she come in, and where does her activity come in?  So this is what is going through your mind, and how you get the picture, and how you get to find her lifestyle, and then we can go back and ask about early memories, childhood memories.

STEIN: How do you actually ask for memories?  Do you phrase the request in a particular way?

de VRIES: Well, I have found that it helps to get memories by establishing your relationship in such a way that people feel that you approve of them, that you have accepted them, then they will do something that pleases you.  And I have often said, "it seems to me that you have a good memory, well, how far does your memory go back, does it go back in early childhood?  What is your earliest memory?" And I get the memories. And we also have the forms that we can use to let people write out their memories.  This helps.  And they are very willing to give this, and I do this in the beginning, because they don't know what the conclusions are that I draw out of it.

STEIN: If a person gives a memory very briefly, without much detail, without much color to it, do you sometimes ask for a little more about it?  If he says simply, "well, my father picked me up in the air and sort of tossed me about, and then put me down", would you ask if anyone else was there?

de VRIES: I can wait until I get the memories I want, I don't have to press for them .  But, you may get this difficulty, that people say "well, I don't recall anything before my eleventh year".  Now I know that we have to find out what happened before those eleven years, that had to be so deeply buried that you can't remember anything.  So, then I am suspicious about the relationship between this person and his parents, and I ask a lot about the parents, and I get a lot of information about the parents, and then I come out with my conclusion about how this particular person reacted to his parents.  Then I ask, "were you terribly afraid of your parents, were you punished often, were you dissatisfied, did you disobey"?  Then there are conclusions that you get out of what he tells you about his parents.

STEIN: Would you ask a direct question "how did you feel about you mother or your father"?

de VRIES: I would rather come back to the doing, because the doing sometimes gives an immediate expression of the feelings, in the person's facial expression, and in what he tells you.  And then ask "well, did that make you mad?" I try to verify every expression I see.  You know that it connects with what they are doing now because, you see, you don't ask just to find out what happened in the past, but you know that you want to connect what happened at that time and was misinterpreted, to what is now still misinterpreted.  You make that connection.

STEIN: If you ask about the parents, would you attach any significance if the individual mentioned the mother or father first?

de VRIES: Sometimes, yes.  Sometimes, it is the person who is mentioned first who was the one who pampered, and sometimes the person who has the greatest influence is mentioned first, but that is not a rule... you have to be cautious with these things that you don't make a rule out of something that presents itself. 

STEIN: Let us say the individual talks about brothers or sisters. Are there particular things that you'd like to know there, such as the relationship, or the estimate of oneself in relationship to the brothers and sisters?

de VRIES: There is an awful lot that comes out, and that you evaluate when a person begins to talk about brothers and sisters.  There is a preferred one, and usually there is one that they haven't liked, and sometimes they got along with everybody.  I also want to know which place they have in the family constellation. I want to know more about their feelings that they express now towards the brothers and sisters and the feelings they had when they were children, because usually there is a similarity.  We find a lot out of the response that the person gives by his telling how he dealt with a particular sister or brother or what they were doing or how they teamed up. It is the actions, and the things that counted, that stick in a person's memory.  They may be true, or they may not be true, that doesn't make any difference. It gives you an impression of that person's lifestyle and how he dealt with certain circumstances and with certain people. 

STEIN: Would you want to know anything about the child's early aspirations, like what he wanted to be when he grew up?

de VRIES: Well, sometimes, but that also changes very much.  I would be very cautious and say, "do you still recall what you wanted to become as a child"?  You very often get, "well, I don't remember, but I think I wanted to be a conductor on the train", or something like that, always things that are not realistic. If they want to be in the driver's seat you know that that is a particular thing to watch.  And if you get an affirmation, then you know a lot about that person.

STEIN: Would you be interested in their early school situation...

de VRIES: Oh yes!  Because that is getting into a new situation The first day of school is important to know, also how they acted in school, and what they did with their work. His attitude towards work shows very much in what he is doing, or was doing with homework and schoolwork. Preparation for work actually can be found very much in what he did in school.

STEIN: That beginning attitude towards tasks...

de VRIES: Oh yes, very much! But, again, I say all these things have to be confirmed.  What Adler stressed, and I can't tell you how often he told us this, "when you come to a conclusion, write it on the blackboard with chalk, and have the sponge in the other hand".  And he said the same thing about diagnosis.  He said "be very cautious".

STEIN: When you make your "cautious" diagnosis, do you have a preferred form or style of doing this. Do you like to give it a kind of an image, do you like to put it in terms of a goal?  I've heard you talk about a person having a princess or a queen lifestyle, which seems like a very neat abbreviated compression of a point of view.  Do you tend to make such abbreviations in your mind?

de VRIES: Yes, I do.  Then I know in which direction to help the person.  You help this person change towards a different goal.  Because you know we cannot have so many queens and so many princesses in daily life.  People have to function together with each other, and not feel above each other.

STEIN: What do you do with the "imperious queen", who looks down on the others and tries to rule with various devices?

de VRIES: Sometimes at the beginning you cannot explain very much. Then if there is another complaint coming, you bring the complains and the unfortunate thing that they tell you that has happened in their lives, in perspective to the idea of the queen or the princess or whatever it is. Then they begin to see that they really acted that way. If you then say "is this the way you really want to function"? they invariably say "no, I don't, but I see that I did".  Then it is recognized, and then they come with examples that they have found in themselves where they tried to do this and caught themselves and didn't do it anymore.  Sometimes he gets very lost in "what do I do instead"?  And there you have the creative side again. You ask, "well, what would you suggest doing?  I'm not giving him any advice, I'm not telling him what to do". I always ask, and keep asking and keep asking long enough until I get an answer. Then I say, "well, that would be something that you might try" even if I know that it is not the right answer yet.  Because then they make new experiences and come out with "but I didn't particularly like this" or "I didn't like that aspect". "All right", I say, "now how could you change that, what would you do next time, how are you going to handle that situation?" If you have to do that situation over, how would you handle it now?" He says, "Well, when I come to think about it, I could do..." and then he has another idea.  You see I don't do anything, I just challenge so that he begins to think and begin to act in a different way.  And then when he feels that the success is so much better, that all of a sudden he can sleep much better, that he doesn't need sleeping pills anymore, that he meets other people and feels that he is not judged all the time.

One of the very bad things in this society is, that most people live with what I call a report card.  And they constantly judge what they are doing, whether they did the right thing or not, how people will judge them, what they will think about them, what they will say behind their back, etc., People are constantly afraid, (there you have the inferiority feelings) that they don't measure up to the tremendous image that they want to present.  So the tremendous image has to change to normal proportions of being just a human being, and the report card has to be burned.

STEIN: When you say "report card", it somewhat suggests the idea that the schools have been an accessory to this problem.

de VRIES: Well, I cannot deny that.  I think it was very fortunate that I studied at one time with Maria Montessori.  In Holland we had Montessori schools that went up to University level.  The system was that children could judge themselves and could go at their own speed.  They didn't know what a report card was.  There were some who went through elementary school, and then went to other schools that were not Montessori. They were trained in their last half year to know that you could get a report card with numbers on it (here it is the alphabet and we had the numbers from 1 to 10). I have seen the reaction of these children because I was very intrigued to know how they felt, and they laughed their heads off, they said "this is so funny, there is a number for what I have been doing!" They thought it was funny, so they were completely oblivious of the fact that your product can be expressed in a number, or in a letter. It didn't affect them that badly because they worked for the result that they wanted, and if they were not satisfied they corrected it, or they helped each other to correct it. That is why I liked the Montessori school so much, in Holland.  They were asked to cooperate, to work with each other.  And a stronger pupil was put to one that didn't know his subject so well, and they helped each other.  And then they went to sit in another part of the room. 

STEIN: So that's much better training for a self evaluation.

de VRIES: Yes! Here I find that we have quite a punitive situation in schools.  I have seen, at least, plans for what to do if children have misbehaved, or if they have been playing hooky. Instead of helping them and letting them stay in school they were sent home!  Now, I thought "what is going to happen if both parents work, for instance, and the child is sent home"?  I can't see it.

STEIN: Apparently the teachers are not that well trained to understand and deal with the problem.

de VRIES: Well, maybe a lot of teachers want to do differently, but there is the hierarchy of "who dictates what".  And you all have to obey under that hierarchy.  And that is not, I think, very helpful.

STEIN: Let us, if we can, come back then to the working with the client.  Do you place much emphasis in the appearance of a person?  How they dress, and how they groom themselves, does this catch your eye unless its very unusual?

de VRIES: If it is unusual, yes. But if it is ordinary, well, then it is nothing particular.

STEIN: What about the movement itself, like the way a person sits, the way he gestures, his general carriage, do you deliberately, or intuitively, appraise this as part of the picture?

No, I do not mention it, but I note it.  People who are very discouraged of course, stand and sit and walk very differently from people who are courageous.  I have never seen a courageous person come in.

STEIN: Good point.

de VRIES: No, they usually have a lack of courage.  Sometimes people are very apprehensive and they do not dare to let go, so they are afraid to be found out.  Yes, all these things are signs, and they tell you something about the person.

STEIN: What about the tone of voice, or the choice of words, how much do you ascribe to this?  Is this something you may note?

de VRIES: I make a note of it, yes.  I don't know in the beginning how much weight it carries, that will come later.  Also, the interruptions, or a person who wants to talk and talk and talk.  Which rarely happens, but it has happened at times, that the person kept talking all the time, and then the only thing I can do is praise them that they have talked a great deal and that next time we have to talk together about the things they said.

STEIN: A gentle hint. 

de VRIES: A gentle hint in the direction of cooperation.

STEIN: Yes.  Now we've talked also about empathy, being "tuned in" to the person's situation, his thinking and feeling, and you once described to me an image for this, where its almost as if you either fill up on the person, or permit yourself to enter into his world, or his shoes.  Do you have the sense of really almost identifying with the person or letting go of yourself and becoming the person?  How far does this get carried in your own experience?

de VRIES: I think that I close myself out and identify very strongly with what the person said, so that I "feel" the way the person "feels"; and under the circumstances if I had been that person I might have acted in the same way. In this way I have a deeper understanding of where the person went wrong by making a comparison to what is a more "normal" way of handling the situation.  It is "in comparison to". So yes, you go along all the way with what the person tells you.  And say to yourself, "oh yes" but under those circumstances I would have done entirely differently. 

STEIN: O. K.  Now, you've put yourself in his place and you can "feel" what he is feeling.  Can you also get a sense of actually being able to "think" in the way that he thinks, his private logic?

de VRIES: His private logic is demonstrated in the way he presents things to you because he uses the same "tactics" with you in the beginning. So, you get that, I would think, in a different way.

It is very hard to separate these units, because it comes as a totality! You cannot divide it in pieces, you have to take it as a totality, and maybe get parts of the totality and later get a complete totality.  But, it is not a division of several aspects.  I would say the total person comes and gives me the image and out of that I know in which direction he has gone wrong and where I can help. So I can immediately, at the end of the first interview, encourage him that we together, are making an effort to work this out. 

STEIN: One more question about your approach at this empathic stage.  I've heard one therapist talk about how in trying to get into the feelings of the other person, he would go so far as to duplicate the posture of the person, to get a kind of a parallel sense of how that person might be feeling.  Do you ever find yourself doing this?

de VRIES: I don't need it, no.

STEIN: No, you just observe it and sense it?

de VRIES: Yes.

STEIN: O. K.  Another stage we have talked about in the past is the clarification stage.  Which is talking about the person's misconceptions, his mistaken thinking, dealing with what might be irrational thinking about different aspects of his life.  What comes to mind now, is the work of Albert Ellis and his rational emotive therapy, where there is a very deliberate attempt at confronting and challenging irrational thinking, and presenting what amounts to rational, or sensible thinking.  Do you have any comments about this?  As when a person is describing something, or explaining something and there is in fact a lot of what you might say are "irrational" assumptions, what might you do in a situation like that?  Would you question them in a sort of classical Socratic dialogue and lead them into a conceptual trap?

de VRIES: More in that direction than in any other, because sometimes, the person has already learned that many people don't accept him at face value, so he would deny it if I would go in that direction.  If I go along, and go at it "absurdum", then we get to a point where he cannot go any farther because he has trapped himself.  And that is the direction that I usually follow.  I just tag along in the illogical direction. This usually happens in only one session, it usually doesn't take more than one. Then all of a sudden the person finds, "but I can't make this come true, I can't even prove this, this is not so, this is not logical". Maybe I say, "no, it is not logical, where did you really get off the main trail, and how could you do differently?" Then he makes the correction, and this is what I want; I don't want to make his corrections, I don't want to suggest his corrections, he has to make them himself. 

So, it is the challenge to have the person find his insights and find his corrections and carry out his corrections.

STEIN: So, the creative challenge here is to lead the person further along then he has gone in his thinking, to an absurdity perhaps, or to the conclusion that he himself realizes "this is untenable, this is foolish".  I recall a situation when consulting on a case, and the man was living in a manner that really didn't suit the twentieth century.  And I remember your comment stating how it might be helpful to ask him how he might have felt if he were in a different period, a different culture, which really seemed very suitable to his lifestyle, that of a "prince", I recall asking this question, very gently and at the right moment, asking this question, rather innocently, and there was a smile on his face, when he recognized, "Oh, this direction seems to be a little foolish", but he then backed off and did not permit himself the full realization.  But I could see where carrying it further, to this illogical extreme puts the person in a dilemma. 

de VRIES: Yes, and he recognizes that and then he does something about it.  Because you see again, we want the action from the client.

STEIN: In order to get some action, particularly in a passive person, we're talking about encouraging a person to make moves.  Now, in some cases the person may make some moves which are not so logical or not so productive.  But, particularly in a passive person, what we're trying to do is to promote some kind of a movement out of this passive position.

We've also talked about the idea of very little steps.  In so many cases the person feels that any movement away from the direction they've been going seems immense, seems incredibly large.  Do you have particular images, or ways that you approach this idea of shrinking these "felt" impossibilities down to little bite-sized, manageable steps.

de VRIES: This is talking very much in the abstract, and every case is different in this respect.  A person lets you know very quickly how much he can take and how much he is willing to "risk" and to venture.  It is always astonishing to me to see when people begin to go in a positive direction, how they find that life is new to them, that they have never experienced life this particular way.

Suppose a person never has had courage to do unknown things and all of a sudden he ventures out to do something that is completely new to him, that he has never done before. He gets the thrill of the newness of a thing, and if he's halfway successful with it, he gets the encouragement out of it to do more of the same. 

What we try to do, in reality, is to help people see that things can be different, that what they have done all their lives doesn't have to be repeated again and again, they can do it in a different way, they can have a different approach, they can look at it from a different angle.  There are people who have a difficult life, and if they have that difficulty in finances, and sometimes with illness and other things, I say, "yes, you are busy climbing a mountain".  And they agree "yes, it is climbing a mountain".  I say "now, you see, a mountain has different sides. And there are many people who have the same difficulty so they have the same type of a mountain to climb.  And there are people who say 'it is very, very hot to climb that mountain', because they climb on the south side, and there are other people who say 'it is very, very cold to climb the mountain' because they climb on the north side.  Now, you can also have the east and the west, and you can also go around.  And you probably never thought about that." Now this is a symbol.  But I have never found that people can't understand this.  And they usually smile, and they say "yes, I could do things a little bit differently".  And then, they begin to invent - because I don't give them advice how to do differently - they invent what they can do things differently.  And the same task they have had, all of a sudden is not so heavy anymore. They feel it as lighter because they approach it differently. 

STEIN: Why is it, that generally intelligent people, become so blind to alternatives about solving certain problems. Is it because the alternatives do not permit them to have the kind of victory or the superiority feeling that they are seeking, is this the excluding factor?

de VRIES: One of the factors, yes. One of the worst ones is habit formation. People form habits in their approach to problems and to different circumstances in life. They keep repeating that same pattern all the time. So, the more people live in a creative way, the less habit patterns they have.

STEIN: And it becomes easier to change what might be, what may be, an efficiency habit, for something that is suitable to the situation, or that might be an improvement.  We have then, perhaps, the question of the anxiety that may come with what is unfamiliar.

de VRIES: Not only that, but anxiety mostly is connected with result.  "I am so afraid that if I try something different, that I will fail." That is so often, I mean I see that in people all the time!

STEIN: But failure that is often anticipated is not a failure of being totally useless or incompetent.  The failure is simply perhaps not being as wonderful, or as superior as one imagines one should be.

de VRIES: Again, that is the ideal people have about themselves, and what they have created as an image that they want to present to the world.  But also, there is a tremendous anxiety about making mistakes, and failure.  And people do not know, that you learn the most from a mistake.  They do not want to make a mistake, and they do not want to look at it.  The amazing thing is, that if they look at it, and they make an attempt at correction, they have conquered something that they couldn't have conquered any other way. 

It begins with children, you see it in children.  They are dreading making mistakes in their work. If they make mistakes, they feel dumb.  And I say to them, "look, what is more, the amount of mistakes you made or the amount of things that you have right?  The amount of things that you have right is what is more, isn't it?  So all you have to learn is how to correct these few mistakes, and then you know it all"!  Now I also use this principle with adults, "you made a mistake in this particular situation.  How often have you done things correctly?  So all you have to do is look at what did not go well, and find out how to correct this."

STEIN: And if the person says, "I don't know how to correct this, I have never been able to correct it, why should I be able to correct it now?  You tell me how to correct it." What if they present it that way?

de VRIES: I invariably answer, "that is not my life, it is your life, and I would not want to intrude on your life".

STEIN: Boy, you're a devil!

de VRIES: But you have to! You see, when they say a thing like that, they don't show respect for themselves, and for their life and what was given to them.  And I talk about how life was given to them and they have to make something out of it, "don't they agree?" "Yes, but I have always been unhappy, and I have always been unfortunate".  "So, can you give me an example of where you were unfortunate?" And we go into the detail of "what could you have done differently under the circumstances now that you look back on it and are that much wiser"?

STEIN: Now there is the point that the person needs to make a bridge to, that they are not the child that they once were.

de VRIES: Exactly. And sometimes I say to them, "which size shoes do you wear"?  Then I say, "well, that's not the size you wore as a child but you act as if you still were a child".

STEIN: Now its "as if" the person at the moment almost leaves his adult thinking and feeling and acts "as if" he is 7 or 8 years old. Its almost like a fixation on a particular issue, which is caused by the discouragement and the lack of conquering something that the person has never passed through.

de VRIES: And they couldn't have any more courage because they had a wrong goal.


de VRIES: So if we already have shown them what their goal was, and that it led nowhere, that you have to have a goal that leads somewhere, towards mankind, and to be useful, and to give your share, then they know already that what they have been doing in the past was useless - but it was maybe self serving. 

STEIN: At what point, generally, do you help a person see what he has been doing, or what his goal and lifestyle is?

de VRIES: I cannot tell you at what point.  It follows logically out of what we are doing.  Sometimes it is very quick and sometimes it takes a little bit longer.  I have not a set rule for this.

STEIN: O.K.  I've had the impression that after a person had made some movements in a new direction he was in a better place to look at what he had been doing.

de VRIES: Oh yes, definitely.

STEIN: So that instead of saying right up front, "your trouble is that you do this, and this is a mistake, and that's your problem, now go out and correct it", you're encouraging the person to move in a new direction.  If he moves in this direction, feels a little better, feels a little stronger, then you say, "and do you know, do you remember what you used to do"? then you point out the goal.

de VRIES: Exactly.

STEIN: So that is more of a gentler recognition of the lifestyle.

de VRIES: It is a recognition that you can do differently even if you have made mistakes. Also, that you brought something on yourself that you first blamed on the world.  Because mostly, people blame others, or the world, or circumstances, or that they don't have money, that their father did so and so, or that their mother did so and so, and that is why they became the person they were. 

STEIN: Now when somebody blames the world, they're going in the wrong direction. It also seems to me a kind of avoidance of something, there's something that's being left out. It is what is being left out that may be difficult to see, because you're not looking at an action saying, "this is a mistaken action".  You have to imagine what the person is not doing.

de VRIES: Yes, but he usually brings that out very clearly. 

STEIN: Well let's say, for example, the individual who has not really had an interest in other people, and has left out a feeling for other people. This person is probably not going to bring this up. 

de VRIES: That depends what the need of the person is. If a person sees that he has isolated himself by his own actions, sometimes this takes a while.  I'm thinking of a case that I had, oh, a very long time ago in Holland. A person who was older, felt very desperate, and said "life doesn't mean anything to me anymore, I don't know what to do".  And finally we came to the conclusion that he really had done nothing to connect with other people.  And he always stayed away from other people.  And now he had a feeling that you have to do something with other people in order to exist for your own feelings.  And he found by himself a kind of activity that brought him in contact with other people where he was helping other people out. It was first a business-like connection, and finally he became so interested in other people, that he started doing a lot for the community.  It was amazing how he came out.  He really became a happy human being. But he was tremendously unhappy and completely isolated when he first came in. 

STEIN: Let us say an individual working with you, comes to an understanding of what he has been doing that doesn't work, what he has been omitting, and he has made some attempts in a direction for an improvement, and then begins to say to you, "I think I need to go in a new direction, but I don't know what this is".  Its like he comes to a realization that his whole life has been going in a wrong direction.  Does the person have to struggle with this by himself as to what this new direction is?

de VRIES: I'm afraid so, yes.

STEIN: It sounds like a very critical moment.

de VRIES: It is a very critical moment. You are describing a person who is using helplessness to get out of what he should be doing, so probably we have already a collection of events where he did not do anything about the situation he was in, but waited until it was done to him, or for him. I often have these people, they are quite common, because it is always nice to be the follower and not the one who takes the initiative. I say to them, "you know, life is often like when the wind is blowing, and there are a lot of leaves that have fallen off the tree, and the wind blows the leaves and they go in all directions.  What you are telling me reminds me of this".  And they catch on very quickly, that yes, they are blown like a leaf by the wind.  They have not taken any action themselves.  Then they recognize this and say , "then I should do something about it".  And I invariable say "I think your conclusion is correct, what are you planning"?  Then I hold on, and I don't let go until I know what plan they are making.  "I don't know what to do they may say".  "Well then, let's think about it, lets talk about it."

STEIN: And then if the person says, "but how can I talk or think about it if I don't know what to do.

de VRIES: They don't do that.  Because if we are that far, they really want to act. If they come to that insight they are already far enough.

STEIN: It would seem, from my experience, that when a person then begins to make really significant steps in a new direction, that the world looks very different to him, he really undergoes an enormous change.

de VRIES: Oh, yes!  Oh, I have had people, at that moment, who had been coming once a week, and they say "I have to come sooner, because what I have discovered I have to discuss with you", and then they have a flood of things that they have discovered. They say "it is an entirely different world from what I thought it would be"!  I've heard these things and they begin to connect with people, so, its very gratifying.

STEIN: When do you feel the work is finished with the client?  What is your sense of "this person is ready to terminate".

de VRIES: Well, usually we both feel that. People have a feeling that they can do so much more. They start telling me frequently what they have been doing. Their action is better, their results are better, their cooperation with people is better, they feel for other people. They are functioning in other words, in every dimension.  And I say well, maybe, would you like to come back next month, instead of in two weeks or so. (We diminish gradually).

Sometimes people call me after three or four months and say "I would like to talk to you once to tell you all the things that I've been doing, and how I feel", just as an evaluation, and as a kind of friendly discussion. Then everything goes well, and the problems are solved.  Younger people, who have had a lot of difficulty in finding a companion, or finding a future wife, or a future husband, now have found the person.  They have built up the relationship, and see how different it is from when they had so-and-so, which ended so miserably, and they were so heartbroken. They tell me what they are planning, and how the work is going well, and the relationships with friends goes well, and that they meet new people. Then I know they are on their way, and they can handle a difficulty when it comes. Because they are not afraid of it anymore. You can't take difficulties out of life, but if people have learned how to handle difficulty, they are functioning. And sometimes, maybe something happens that is such a calamity that we can't solve it.

Personally, I would dread a third world war.  I think it would be terrible.  But I wouldn't go down.  I've survived a second one, and the occupation in Holland, so you also learn if you have conquered a thing like that, that pretty rough circumstances can be taken in stride.

STEIN: That seems like an experience that many people are not too familiar with, the experience of conquering something that is very difficult. 

de VRIES: Oh yes!

STEIN: Its not very common.

de VRIES: No, but hasn't life in general, after the world war, especially in the United States, hasn't life been easy? And comfortable?  And spoiling?

STEIN: One can always look for challenges that make life interesting, and exciting, and meaningful. Having it easy may simply mean that one is freed from some laborious tasks that maybe one doesn't prefer, but then one is free to take on something that is more meaningful.

de VRIES: Yes, and many people do! Many people do!

STEIN: So, having an easier life does not mean that one necessarily will be spoiled.

de VRIES: No, absolutely not. But it is what you do with what you've got. America has offered so much. Just look at all the people from other countries who come here, and say "this is paradise!" as compared to where they came from.  So then also people think, it is logical that "I am entitled to all this". Well nobody is things. 

STEIN: You have given us a great deal today. Thank you so much.

Purchase the Video DVD of "Training of an Adlerian Psychotherapist"
Back to the Adler Institute Home Page -