Adler on siblings

March 3, 2000

As an Adlerian counselling practitioner, I was very interested in the ideas in "Brother Cain, Sister Jane" (THES, February 4). Juliet Mitchell, contributing as a psychoanalyst, comments that "siblings seem to have gone missing from the human story told by every branch of psychoanalysis".

This is not so, since siblings have long been a primary consideration in individual psychology, a branch founded by Alfred Adler (1870-1937). Adler wrote extensively on the methods used by children to find a place in the family.

In working through the great psychoanalytic case histories, Mitchell has assumed that the great contributors to psychotherapy go no further than Freud, Klein, Lacan and the Object Relations school.

However, study of Adler's work makes it clear that it has not taken psychology 100 years to arrive at an appreciation of the role played by siblings.

In 1918, Adler presented his views on the importance of birth order and what he called the family constellation - the relationship each child has with siblings and how the family dynamic is affected by the arrival of every new child.

This emphasis on relationships highlights the interpersonal and social nature of Adler's theory.

Adler's influence on other leading theorists, including Karen Horney, Eric Berne and Erich Fromm, is widely recognised. It would be refreshing for psychoanalysts in particular to acknowledge Adler's contributions to psychotherapy and to recognise that knowledge can exist on branches that have broken away from the psychoanalytic tree.

Hugh Clarke Wood Green, London N22

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