Heinz Ansbacher, 101, Adlerian Psychology Expert, Dies
By HOLCOMB B. NOBLE
Published: June 24, 2006 in the New York Times
Dr. Heinz L. Ansbacher, whose encounters with the psychologist Alfred Adler in 1930, first in a lecture hall and then in a therapy session, led to a lifetime of scholarship devoted to his work, died Thursday at his home in Burlington , Vt. He was 101.His death was confirmed by his son Max.
Dr. Ansbacher, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Vermont, was an authority on the works of Adler, who developed the theory of the inferiority complex and its role in the drive for power. Over 30 years, Dr. Ansbacher wrote a trilogy in collaboration with his wife, Dr. Rowena Ansbacher, in which they analyzed and commented on Adler's works. The books were widely regarded as indispensable in the fields of individual and abnormal psychology. The best known was "The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler," originally published by Basic Books in 1956. It was printed in more than 25 editions and in several languages.
Dr. Ansbacher and his wife were often credited with being more successful at disseminating Adler's theories than Adler was, because they wrote about his work more clearly than Adler did.Dr. Guy J. Manaster, a former editor of The Journal of Individual Psychology, called Dr. Ansbacher a "central figure worldwide in his mission of systematizing, disseminating and advancing Adlerian theory." Dr. Ansbacher was editor of the journal in the 1950's and 60's.
Adler, along with Freud and Jung, was an important force in modern psychology. He eventually broke with Freud, a fellow Austrian, over the predominant role that Freud gave to sexual desire and repression in neurosis and abnormal behavior. Adler, who died in 1937, placed more emphasis on the importance of individuals' relationships to the people around them. Adler believed that it was all but inevitable that feelings of inferiority would develop early in childhood, when the infant, surrounded by adults, feels helpless. The need to compensate for early feelings of inferiority, Adler said, could become extreme, stirring a thirst for power and control as ways to stamp oneself as superior. Though his ideas eventually gained wide acceptance, Adler had difficulty translating them into readily comprehensible writings. They were often dense, disorganized and unclear. It was here that Dr. Ansbacher and his wife were able to help.
Heinz Ludwig Ansbacher was born on Oct. 21, 1904 , in Frankfurt , a son of a banker and financier. After completing two years of college, the young man struck out for America in 1924. In New York , he took a job on Wall Street. His first encounter with Adler was in the spring of 1930, when he attended a series of lectures that Adler gave at Columbia University, where he was a visiting professor. Dr. Ansbacher was fascinated, he later recalled, and he was also unhappy with his Wall Street job and had just broken up with a longtime girlfriend. He sought out Adler for counseling at Adler's home at Gramercy Park .
In an account published in 1974, Dr. Ansbacher said Adler had been quick to sense his interest in psychology and suggested a career in it. Dr. Ansbacher enrolled at Columbia and earned his doctorate there. Adler also introduced him to a colleague, Rowena Ripin, who had recently earned her doctorate in psychology. They were married in 1934. She died in 1994. Besides his son Max, of New York , surviving are three other sons, Benjamin, of Burlington , N.C. ; Theodore, of White Plains ; and Charles, of Cambridge , Mass. , as well as seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
In World War II, Dr. Ansbacher studied the effectiveness of American propaganda in Europe for the United States Office of War Information. After the war, he started teaching at the University of Vermont , where he stayed for his entire career. He resumed his passion for the ideas of Adler, often recounting his first brush with the pioneer, listening to him at Columbia .
"I have my notes: 'Individual psychology is concerned with how a person looks at himself. How does he want to use his powers,' " Dr. Ansbacher wrote in his 1974 memoir. " 'The 5-year-old has already formed a goal. The question is which is a desirable goal. The goal must be a cooperative one, and the ability to cooperate is the result of proper training. The task of individual psychology is to see which goal a child is headed for, and how he faces the problems of life we all must solve.' "