Training of a Classical Adlerian
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 360-647-5670).
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
- 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
- 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
- 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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
STEIN: This brings up a practical consideration. How many
Adlerians in the United States are capable of giving such a
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
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
STEIN: So creative means absolutely original...
de VRIES: Original! Every 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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
STEIN: If you ask about the parents, would you attach any
significance if the individual mentioned the mother or father
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 entitled...to things.
STEIN: You have given us a great deal today. Thank you so
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