The Three Viennese Schools of Psychotherapy: What Drives Human Behaviour

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Vienna, the capital city of Austria, was the hometown of three of the most famous psychotherapists who have shaped much of how the modern western world views psychotherapy. Together the theories and work of Freud, Adler and Frankl make up what is referred to as the Three Viennese Schools of Psychotherapy.

We’ll analyze and compare each school of thought in a moment.  But first let’s consider the question: what is psychotherapy?

What is Pyschotherapy?

The term ‘psychotherapy’ covers a wide range of approaches and methods used in therapy. These approaches can use sessions that involve one to one talking. Or, more active and larger group therapies that use role-play, or even dance.

The overall aim of psychotherapy is help us to explore our emotions. With the help of qualified professionals, psychotherapy aids us in learning how to express our emotions. It also teaches us to increase our self-esteem and to gain a deeper insight into the issues we face.

Psychotherapies and theories have been developed all over the world as attempts to explain what motivates behavior. Behavioral therapy, cognitive analytic therapy or transpersonal psychotherapy are all examples of well-known therapies that fall under the psychotherapeutic umbrella.

One particular European city that has played a huge part in the development of psychotherapy is Vienna. Throughout the past one hundred years, Vienna has introduced three schools of psychotherapy by three very famous (or infamous) Gentlemen.

But first a personal anecdote that I must admit… I spent a weekend in Vienna once and found it a relatively boring city. Perhaps maybe I was looking for fun in the wrong places (nightclubs and not museums). I do wish I’d spent more time learning and exploring the influential work of Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler and Viktor Frankl. Let’s do that together right now.

1. Sigmund Freud: Psychoanalysis

Perhaps a little infamous, Sigmund Freud has to be one of the most discussed and debated psychologists of all time. Many academics dislike him, calling him out for having little scientific support and for being a little bit delusional and completely mad. Personally, I do think his ideas are a little bit farfetched and controversial. Yet, I admire his creativity, exuberance and his contribution to psychology and western culture.

Sigmund Freud was the founding father of ‘psychoanalysis’ in 1896. Which, at the time, was an entirely new approach to the understanding of human personality and was the first Viennese school of psychotherapy.

Undeniably, Freuds most enduring and recognized idea was that the human psyche (our personality) is composed of more than just one aspect. Freud proposed there are three parts of our personality: the id, the ego and the superego.

According to Freud, the id is the instinctual part of the mind. It contains our sexual and aggressive drives and our deeply hidden and repressed memories. Many imagine this id as a child, desperate for instant pleasure. The super-ego is more like a wise angel. It operates as our moral conscience and is motivated by always doing what is right.

Finally, our ego is the realistic and conscious part of our personality. The ego has the tricky job of mediating and resolving the conflict between the desires of the id and super-ego. This is what motivates our behavior, along with experiences from our childhood.

However, despite our ego motivating our behavior, Freud proposed that because so much of our behavior is unconscious, when we describe our motivational behavior we rarely give a true account of our motivation.

2. Alfred Adler: Individual Psychology

A little less known than Freud, Alfred Adler was a joint founder of the psychoanalytic movement. However, Adler went a separate way to Freud and introduced the idea of individual psychology. Adler claims that our behavior is motivated by our striving for superiority and power, based on this perspective, .

Adler’s approach is centered around the idea that the main driving force of our behavior is the concept of inferiority. Adler explains that we are all born into the world with a sense of inferiority as we are born weak and helpless. As we don’t like to feel weak or inferior, we spend our lives striving to overcome this sense of inferiority and to reach our self-ideal. In general, this motivation is good and encourages us to be the best versions of our self. However, in excess we can develop an inferiority complex. This means we become overwhelmed with the attempts to become the best version of our self.

Adler’s model of individual psychology is a holistic model, in that he believes that we operate at a self-conscious and whole system. Social interaction and relationships with others are what Adler firmly believes aid our understand of human behavior. And due to this, we have our will to power and the desire to move towards our goals and better ourselves.

Alder explained that every individual is unique and that our personality structure is unique. In order to understand what motivates us, we need to uncover our values and assumptions.

3. Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy

The third and final Viennese school of psychotherapy is logotherapy, introduced by Viktor Frankl after he spent many years of suffering in a concentration camp.

Logotherapy is based on the idea that the main driving factor of human behavior and our motivation is our search for meaning. Frankl firmly believed that life has meaning under all circumstances and that it is our one job to find this meaning. Frankl’s therapy focuses on the idea that we will all face some sort of suffering in our lives. But, it is not our suffering that causes despair, rather it is the feeling that we have nothing left to live for during our time of suffering.

Once we have found the meaning in our situations, our life quality will be greatly improved. Thus, we are motivated to find this meaning. Importantly, Frankl believed that when individuals fail to find meaning, they will turn to the pursuit of pleasure or power (see Freud and Adler) in the hope to fill a void.

So for Frankl, meaning is the key and the pursuit of pleasure or power comes only in the absence of finding true meaning.

Wrapping up the three Viennese schools of psychotherapy

Thanks for tuning in and I hope you have found this article is insightful and helpful. Many people don’t know about the three Viennese schools of psychotherapy. So, I hope this post has provided you with a brief, but interesting, insight.

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