Categorized | History, Philosophy

Wilhelm Reich vs. Alfred Adler

Article by Stephan Simonian M.D.

Wilhelm Reich vs. Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was a Viennese psychiatrist and a student and colleague of Freud’s.  Although he studied under Freud, he later came to dissent from Freud’s theories of infantile sexuality.  Adler instead emphasized the child’s sense of inferiority due to domination.  He believed that the resistance against domination and the drive of self assertion and superiority were more important than the sexual drive in influencing the personality structure.

Alfred Adler

Adler believed that a need for power arises in the child due to his inferiority feeling and that this results in compensatory superiority reactions which Adler termed “masculine protest”.   He believed that the “will to power” grows with the drive to superiority, prestige and achievement and that neurosis arises from the way in which one seeks to compensate his inferiority feeling and maintain a false sense of achievement.  Adler emphasized power and prestige as motivation and said that the treatment approach for this was re-education.   His work gained vast acceptance for a short period of time, but it quickly fell to it’s demise, and today, one rarely hears of Adler.

Adler’s departure from Freud’s sexual theory was not unique to Adler. Most of Freud’s disciples one by one moved away from Freud’s sexual theory, the libido theory, and elaborated on other theories that he developed later on, such as the structural theory (id, ego, superego) and the topographic theory, (the theory of conscious and unconscious).   Reich however realized the significance of Freud’s libido theory.  In the book Reich speaks of Freud, Reich says, “basically, Freud discovered the principal of energy functioning of psychic apparatus, the energy functioning principal.  That is what distinguished him from all other psychologists, not so much the discovery of unconscious.  The theory of unconscious was, to my mind,  a consequence of a principal he introduced into psychology.  That was the principal, the natural scientific principal, the energy-the libido energy”.  Reich continues, “ I consider my bioenergetic work with the emotions to be a direct continuation of the energy principal in psychology”.

Reich’s first encounter with Adler was when he was a medical student.  In the book The Function of the Orgasm, Reich states that in January of 1919, during a lecture in anatomy, a hand written paper was passed around from desk to desk.  It called upon interested students to set up a seminar on sexology. Reich says “In the fall of 1919, I was elected to the chairmanship of these seminars. In this position I learned to bring order into scientific work…. As chairman of the student seminar, it was my job to procure literature.  I paid visits to Kammerer, Steinach, Stekel, Bucura (the professor of biology), Alfred Adler, and Freud.  Freud’s personality made the greatest and strongest and most lasting impression…. Adler was disappointing, he railed against Freud.  He, not Freud was the one who had the real insight.  According to Adler, the oedipus complex was nonsense, the castration complex was a wild fantasy, and further more, his theory of masculine protest contained a much better version of it.  The fruit of his ultimate ‘science’, was a petty bourgeois community of reformers.  At some other time, I shall have to describe the areas in which he was right, the injustices he suffered, and the reasons why his theory did not hold up.”

The following is a letter that Reich had written to Adler in March 10, 1920, when he was a medical student.  This letter is published in the documentary supplement correspondence section of the book Reich Speaks of Freud (Courtesy of the Wilhelm Reich Infant Trust).


(Reich to Adler) Vienna, March 10, 1920

Seminar For Sexology:

My Dear Doctor:

Your lecture on the “Foundations of Individual Psychology” at the Society for Social Medicine prompts me to write you on a subject which has long been on my mind and which has provoked lively discussions in our seminar.

In full appreciation of and admiration for your doctrines of ego psychology- or rather, just because of this- I could not dismiss certain rising doubts, not about their validity but about their comprehensive applicability, especially to the field of neuroses and perversions.  So if I take the above – mentioned lecture as a vehicle for discussion, it is done because the case histories you presented from your practice lend themselves to illustrations of my argument.

I will not touch on everything but will confine myself to those points which seem to me in greatest need of clarification.  If I did not state these objections at the end of your lecture (motion for discussion submitted by colleague Hartmann), it was, among other things, because I know from experience that such discussions, especially when only a brief fifteen minutes is allotted to them, are usually unproductive.

1. I am completely mystified as to what motivated you, in a lecture plumbing the depths of individual psychology and touching on the problems of almost every aspect of our emotional life, to neglect the sexual phenomenon to the point of not even mentioning it, even though, in my opinion, the latter exerts at least as much influence over our emotional life as those elements which (in the adult) rightly play an important role (will to power, instinct of self-preservation). Or am I to understand that the final case you mentioned–the girl who did not want to get married (I shall revert to this below)– contains the germ of an explanation, namely, that even sexuality is subject to the “will to power”? I shall further on elucidate the nature of the doubts-more than that, the reasoned objections-which make this explanation unacceptable to me. —

2. I visualize the extent of the importance which you attribute to the will to power and its final directional goal for the emotional life of the individual and his position in the community; I acknowledge the struggle between it and the community of feelings innate to all of us, as it takes place in the adult at the height of his individual development; but I definitely feel that your exposition about the first beginnings, the most primitive germinations contains certain ambiguities.  I feel that the analysis of the emotional stirrings attending this will to power, their synthesis into a virtually tangible from of the mechanism of the will–striving , surpassing others, extolling one’s own personality (ambition) — is completely successful.  But your explanation of its auto-genesis starts at a stage which surely cannot be the point of origin.   For if this will to power originated from the desire to become like the father (reinforced by the [inferiority] feeling that this cannot be done), the explanation would suffice if we did not have to ask ourselves: in what respect does the four-year-old boy want to become like his father?  If he feels the stirrings of inferiority, this must have a cause- and what is it? However, our curiosity will scarcely be satisfied by this answer: the youngster wants to become and engineer or a shoemaker like his father; he wants to build equally fine houses, etc., and since he cannot do this, his inferiority feelings awaken, and along with them the will to surpass his father.  We can even occasionally observe that little boys show preference for games imitating the occupations of adults, the closest model being the father.  But we will have to say that this is not always the case, and if it does happen, it is frequently an imitation, free of envy, whose strongest motives must be sought in entirely different areas.  We should even admit that nothing could be more alien to the child that the reality, burdened with worries and sorrow, which in the log run cannot be concealed from him, particularly if he is intelligent; that he will select from this reality only that which gives him the most pleasure– that is, only the marvelous freedom, the come-and-go-as-you-please, above all the freedom from the paternal whip that keeps coercing him back in the narrow circle he tries to break by every available means.  And, here, alone, we would find the relation you have emphasized: cause-effect, pressure by the father (by all education)–inferiority feeling (and the will to surpass the father, i.e., to overcome him, to be free of him).

But when we pursue our investigations, we soon come upon the inexorable truth that the final meaning of our sexual life is invariably the ultimate and highest pleasure, and that in children we find pleasure-directed actions which in adults are know as perversions; that, for example, we cannot describe the child’s unquestionably pleasurable voyeurism and exhibitionism is anything but sexual (we have no reasonable grounds for not doing so); that, furthermore, since the child subscribes to the pleasure principle, it frequently takes great efforts to bring him back to the reality function inhibiting his need for pleasure, but that the sexual instincts belong to the former and the ego instincts to the latter principle; and that in the final analysis and primarily (I am not claiming, exclusively) the inferiority feeling has its origin in the sexual (pleasure) intimidation by the father, which is needed for the gradual integration of the child into cultural community life.  –Now if one infantile root of the will to power might be found in the inferiority feeling caused by sexual intimidation–(to avoid any misunderstandings ab ovo, let me emphasize that I would never think of shifting this source of will to power to the adult personality)–then I would like to mention another which was omitted in your lecture: sadism.  I would like to point to the enormously conspicuous circumstance that persons with a particularly highly developed will to power also show a distinctly sadistic character trait.  Sadism is an indispensable tool of the will to power: in striving for his stated goal, the individual is not merely content with overtaking and surpassing his fellow beings, but he also endeavors to push them back and inflict harm; he is like a runner who will trip up his rivals to secure his own victory.  But that sadism has a sexual origin can scarcely be refuted in the face of sadistic perversion. Here I would like to remark that one of the most important mechanisms in the individual’s development seems to me that process in which certain sexual impulses–mostly those which in their extreme forms constitute the momentum movens for the corresponding perversions–are shifted from the sexual constitution into the ego constitution (Freud: sublimation), where they find their gratification in forms  which do justice to the ego without clashing with the demands of culture. Time and again we simultaneously find splinter products of these sublimated drives in the sexual constitutions, for example, in the sadistic trait of the male’s sexual wooing.  The impulse to usurp (?) with its more physically potentiality for gratification;  its psychic correlate, the drive for knowledge (it is an established fact that the child’s curiosity is primarily directed toward the mysterious, which is largely the sexual), major facets of the voyeuristic impulse, among others, gradually, with advancing development, are put into the service of the ego, and just here lie most of the guaranties against psychic illness in the individual.

If I finally add that, in my opinion, the “inferiority feeling” appears to be identical with the concept of the “castration complex” of Freud’s school, only modified in that it is shifted to the ego constitution; if I further find that your explanation for case II (young man, second-eldest son, God-fearing, etc.) compulsion neurotics into the (anal-) sadistic phase, I am doing it in order to ask you to uncover any possible error in this view; the same goes for my perhaps erroneous assumption that you have isolated the one aspect of infantile development, namely, sexual intimidation (see castration complex),and have elaborated it far beyond general doctrines, assigning it in later life as “inferiority feeling” to the ego constitution as the foundation stone of ego psychology.–

Hence my questions might be summarized as follows:

  1. What is your opinion on tracing the inferiority feeling back to earlier stages of development?
  2. Is the inferiority feeling the expanded form of the castration complex, taken from the sexual constitution?
  3. Is there any connection at all?
  4. If not, then what is the first cause which generates the inferiority feeling?

Case III: Young girl, beauty; wants to get married but rejects all suitors.

You explained that the girl did not want to get married because she refused to be oppressed and neglected like her mother had been.  However, aside from a circumstance to be mentioned below, this contradicts the experience that can be observed hourly and daily: to wit, that the married state is the ideal for almost every woman unless she just has a masculine disposition; that every girl’s most ardent wish is to have a husband; that, in contradiction to your view, the passive and subordinate are inherent in the nature of the female; that the inferiority feeling of the average woman-and she alone can be considered in this context- is rooted in the chains imposed on her in sexualibus by basic cultural morality.  But it is far more logical to interpret the traditional complaint of girls during puberty and later,  “I’d give anything to be a boy!”, to mean: “Then I would have all the (sexual) freedom I want!”, rather than: “Then I could do great things!”– For the road to social achievement is wide open to modern girls and women, and still the wish to be a man persists; quite apart from the fact that the average middle-class girl wants anything but a profession, while the proletarian girl has to work anyway, and would still rather be a man.  Here the question arises as to why the absolutely and relatively greater inferiority feeling of the female sex does not produce, by way of overcompensation, a will to power far stronger than the man’s… In explaining this case, you mentioned the father’s extraordinary love for his young daughter and later, it seemed to me, you did not refer to this very important circumstance again.  Is it not likely, then, that the girl returned her father’s love, could not emancipate herself from him and rejected all suitors, regardless of her wish to get married, which even seems to have tormented her?

Had she always articulated the conscious wish to be married?  And how am I to interpret your explanation that she did not want to get married?  The foundation of this diagnosis is lacking.

You stated yourself that the patient suffered from sexual conflicts, but you continued to attribute the cause of her illness to the will to power.  The only possible conclusion: sexuality is subordinated to the will to power; but sexuality is demonstrably subordinated to the sexual drive which strives solely for pleasure and nothing else, and not for power.

There is no question that a person who has set himself too high a goal owing to his over developed will to power (case I), can be cured if he can be made to exchange it (which seldom works) for a deeper, more accessible goal (final cure).  But cannot such an individual also be cured if the causes of his ambition which are rooted in earliest childhood are disclosed to him (causal cure)?

I could add a few more comments, but this is probably more than enough and the other matters are of secondary importance.

Very respectfully yours,

(signed) Wilhelm Reich

Student of Medicine

IX Berggasse 7/16

This post was written by:

- who has written 64 posts on The Journal of Psychiatric Orgone Therapy.

Dr. Simonian is a general and child and adolescent psychiatrist. He completed medical school in Shiraz University, Shiraz Iran. He completed his general psychiatric residency training and fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at New York Medical College, Metropolitan Hospital Center. Concomitant with his psychiatry and child psychiatry training, Dr. Simonian completed the New York Medical College Psychoanalytic School Didactic Courses, including his own required personal psychoanalysis. In 1990, Dr. Simonian started his personal psychiatric orgone therapy, Reichian therapy, with Dr. Morton Herskowitz and in 1991 became a member of the Institute of Orgonomic Sciences (IOS), an Institute which is dedicated to promote and preserve Dr. Wilhelm Reich's work. Dr. Simonian started his private psychiatric practice in Milford, Massachusetts in 1984 and he was a chief of psychiatry department of Milford Regional Hospital for several years. He started his practice in Glendale, California since 2003. Dr. Simonian is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

2 Responses to “Wilhelm Reich vs. Alfred Adler”

  1. Robert Hare (Germany) says:

    Could you please public the German original text of the letter Reich to Adler?
    Best regards

  2. Dr. Stephan Simonian says:

    The English translation of the original letter is published in the book, “Reich Speaks of Freud” in the section of Documentation. The original German version of it should be present in the Willhelm Reich Museum, in the possession of the trustee, Ms.Mary Higgins.

    Stephan Simonian


Leave a Reply

Please Donate

Be part of the progress. Help to preserve and promote Wilhelm Reich’s legacy and his infant trust fund, the best and only hope for peace, health and prosperity of human race. Make financial contributions to promote orgonomy and its institutions. All contributions are tax deductible.

Select Payment Method
Personal Info

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $5.00

Webinar: The Institute for Orgonomic Science and its Work in Orgonomy

Wilhelm Reich (oil on canvas) by Morton Herskowitz, D.O.

Subscribe Via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Wilhelm Reich – Founder of Orgone Therapy

Annals of The Institute for Orgonomic Science (December, 2022)

Featured Book: My Cancer & the Orgone Box

Available for purchase via the Magcloud.

Browse our Archives