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Soul Metaphors: Contents

Chapter 2

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Chapter 1: Why Care About Alfred Adler?

Early memories serve as metaphors for our personal philosophies of life.

I know I didn’t care about Alfred Adler. I was a psychology major in college, and freshman year a professor assigned one of Adler's few books still in print in English, Cooperation Between the Sexes. I recall being introduced to a strange and vaguely Freudian concept called “masculine protest.” My professor briefly mentioned that Adler, along with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, was considered one of the three main founders of modern dynamic psychiatry, but he offered nothing to justify this statement. I then went on to take other courses in other subjects and I didn’t think about Adler again.
            Until 1993. While living in Vienna, Austria I met an American man, Conrad Kaplan, who defined himself as a second-generation Adlerian because his own therapist, Edith Foster, had studied directly under Adler. Conrad had moved to Austria from the United States in order to interview some of the last living patients of Alfred Adler. He had, himself, been analyzed according to the methods of Individual Psychology, the school of psychotherapy that Adler founded. When I met Conrad, he practiced the key element of Adlerian therapy; early memory interpretation.
            Soon enough, I asked Conrad to interpret my memories. My motive was largely curiosity, because I would be leaving the country shortly and I wanted to experience the technique while I had the chance. As it happened, our one-hour session affected me deeply. As a result of the interpretation, I decided not to leave the country after all. My memories had shown me that I was adventurous to the exclusion of behaving responsibly. I also made changes in my personal relationship. For the first time, I saw that I had been attracted to my partner because he made me feel lonely; not through any fault of his own, but merely because of the broad differences in our tempraments. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to be in a lonely relationship anymore. In the subsequent weeks, months and years, I realized I had received an invaluable and ongoing tool for self-understanding.
            My reaction, I found, was not unusual. Conrad had analyzed hundreds of early memories, and many times he had seen people make radical changes in their lives based on what they learned about themselves in his sessions. People made U-turns in careers, got married, got divorced. As one friend of mine described early memory interpretation, “It’s like having your fortune told.” Delving into your early memories is exciting, and it prompts you to rethink your goals and your priorities once you understand what your true inner motives really are.

People often make fundamental changes in their lives based upon what they learn from their early memories.

            Individual Psychology maintains that early memories serve as metaphors for your personal philosophy of life. Thus, childhood recollections can help you to unlock the unconscious beliefs that guide your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and, ultimately, your entire approach to life. Memories, for Adler, are keys to uncovering the “lifestyle” – a term he introduced into popular psychology.
            After my startling initiation, I turned to learning early memory interpretation myself. I was tutored by Conrad. I read Adler’s writings, and, most importantly, I started interpreting early memories – of friends, of volunteers, of famous people who had shared their recollections in interviews and autobiographies. Only three years after I met Conrad, he died unexpectedly. I tracked down his teacher, Edith, in California and went to visit her for three days. We became acquainted, discussed Conrad, Adler and Individual Psychology, and interpreted each other's lifestyles. Edith confirmed that the method Conrad had taught me was the method Adler had taught her.
            My purpose in writing this book is to present this powerful and moving technique to a broader public. In Adler’s writings, he offers tantalizing hints of how to interpret memories, yet he never presents a full exposition of early memory interpretation. Adler’s technique, today, remains largely in the realm of Individual Psychology and is primarily reserved for therapists’ use. Most Adlerian practitioners have cobbled together their own methods for interpreting early memories based on the hints in Adler’s writings. Few have had the opportunity to learn directly from one of his personal students.

This book should be used as an interactive tool. Work through the various exercises, and also recruit people to practice with you.

            While memory interpretation is practiced primarily by Adlerian therapists, the technique can also be used much more broadly: for people wanting to understand better their approaches to career or to personal relationships, for people who want to make changes in their lives, or for people simply wishing to undergo a journey of self discovery. Adler never limited his interpretations to the realm of doctor/patient. He practiced in Viennese schools, interpreting the memories of entire classrooms of students to help each child improve, not only at school, but also in his or her broader approach to life. He also worked with prisoners and former convicts.
            This book provides you with the tools you need to analyze your own and others’ early memories. It includes:

  • Brief overviews of the theory behind early memory interpretation.
  • Practice exercises for analyzing sample memories.
  • Numerous examples of real early memories.
  • Questions and techniques for conducting a full-length interview in order to uncover a person’s lifestyle.
  • Transcripts of three lifestyle interviews. (In this book, I distinguish between “lifestyle interviews” which explore a person’s entire life, and “early memory interpretation” which focuses just on early recollections. The latter, early memory interpretation, makes up a part of the lifestyle interview.)
  • Suggestions for how you can use the hidden meanings in your early memories to make substantive changes in your own life.
  • Suggestions for how memory interpretation can be used in many different venues.

            While it is possible to learn simply by reading through the exercises and examples in Soul Metaphors, this book should ideally be used as an interactive tool. This book can be worked through individually, or in pairs or small groups. The practice exercises included through Chapter 15 should first be completed on your own, but you may enhance your understanding of these exercises by discussing your interpretations with other people. The second half of this book calls for you to work in a group in order to learn from one another’s observations.
            Chapter 20 provides advice on how to go about interviewing people in ways that are both constructive and respectful; early memory interpretation can reveal a person’s deepest beliefs, dreams and even fears, and it is not to be handled capriciously. Ultimately, you will reach the point where you may wish to interpret the memories of people you know – family members, friends and acquaintances – in a nurturing and beneficial forum.
            When it comes to interpreting your own early memories, this book will provide you with all the tools necessary to do so. At the same time, because you are so intimately attached to your own memories, it can be difficult to be objective and wrest the most information out of your memories when you interpret them for yourself. For the best possible interpretation that throws the most light on your character, it is helpful to ask at least one other person to examine your memories for you.
            As I learned early memory interpretation from Conrad, as he learned it from Edith, and as she learned it from Alfred Adler, I offer you the keystone to Individual Psychology. I hope that what you discover in these pages brings you great joy and a deeper understanding in life.

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(Copyright Ellen Alderton, www.WeLoveAdler.net)