Tag Archives: Psychology

Creating the Adler Society

The Mitrinović Archive is an excellent resource for researchers with interests in the history of psychology, the emotions and mental health. It’s not quite clear to me exactly how Dimitrije Mitrinović first became interested in psychology, and particularly the Individual Psychology (I.P.) of Alfred Adler, but he had spent time in Vienna and Germany before coming to Britain, which were the lively centres of the field.

NAF 3-1-5 Ticket for Adler Society lecture, 1926

By 1926 the Archive documents that he was thinking of establishing a British branch of the International Society for Individual Psychology, also known as the Adler Society. He was soon in correspondence with Adler himself, and the Archive has a wonderful file of letters and postcards from this pioneer of Psychology.

This rather pleasing example was sent from America. I particularly like Adler’s comment on debating with Freudians!

NAF 3-1-17-1 Postcard from Adler re Freudians

Many letters date from Adler’s lecture tours of America and discuss his success in establishing his ideas there. Others show that Adler was putting people in touch with Mitrinović. For instance when he was unable to lecture himself, he might suggest that Mitrinović or someone else from the London branch do so in his stead. The letters and postcards have a friendly, professional tone, suggestive of a good working relationship between these two men.

This last point is worth noting as the early years of the Adler Society would bring about their moments of controversy. As the discipline of Psychology developed there was a tension between those who thought that only medical doctors ought to practice as psychologists, and those who considered that anyone might be trained to practice. A variation of this debate took place within the London branch of the International Society for Individual Psychology A Medical Section was established early on for doctors who wished to keep a practice-focused, patient-based view of Individual Psychology. The rest of the London branch, meanwhile, had many members interested in the widest implications of Adler’s belief that altruism went hand in hand with good mental health. It is the individual’s ability to see him or herself as part of a wider group, and society, that shows him/ her to be well-adjusted. For Mitrinović and his circle, this meant Individual Psychology fit nicely with their political views and ideas for economic reform, such as Social Credit. Some of these formed the Chandos Group, as a platform for political discussions. Others in the Society felt this politicised I.P. too much. For those under threat from the rise of fascist regimes in Germany and Austria, especially, it may have been simply too dangerous to publicly agree with Mitrinović.

First, the Medical Section split off from the main London branch. This letter is rather brief and polite, but was there more of an emotional rift than it suggests? Or was the need for a formal division increasingly obvious to both halves of the group? In the latter case, the letter might just be a formal acknowledgement of what everyone already knew.

NAF 3-1-16-31 Letter re Adler Society Medical Section

The next division was even more serious. Adler was compelled to cut London off from the International Society for Individual Psychology.

NAF 3-1-17-19 Letter from Adler, 1933

Mitrinović would continue to study and teach Psychology, giving talks and holding discussions on psychological topics. He may even have acted as a kind of Analyst. But his public focus moved elsewhere, and the Adler Society was the first of Mitrinović’s significant organisations in Britain to lapse – at least in its initial form. The London Branch’s Medical Section, alongside a later London-based group, ultimately formed the basis of the organisation known today as the Adlerian Society UK.

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End of a Friendship? Letter from James Young

In my last post I started to look at Mitrinović’s character, but there’s much more to learn about such a compelling, complex man. Perhaps the most revealing document I’ve come across so far when it comes to Mitrinović’s personality and personal relationships is a letter from James Young written in April 1925. Young was a psychoanalyst, who had studied under Jung, and written for The New Age alongside Mitrinović.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young Letter, 1925, p.1

The letter seems like an insightful and perhaps brutally honest analysis of Mitrinović’s character. It is also quite revealing of group dynamics in his circle, as Young complains that two group members were policing access to Mitrinović. He voices his worry that Mitrinović would burn out, recalling an incident where he had finally persuaded his friend to take a holiday, only for Mitrinović to use it as an opportunity to teach a young woman philosophy. Young felt she was already reeling under the weight of new ideas, further adding to the inappropriateness of the situation. He saw this incident as an example of Mitrinović’s unhealthy compulsion to teach.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young Letter, 1925, p.2 excerpt re compulsive

Young was also concerned about, and irritated by, Mitrinović’s habit of forming and dissolving groups focusing on achieving different aims in his project to change the world. In his view, Mitrinović was spreading himself too thin. He would achieve more by concentrating his energies.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young, 1925, p.6, excerpt

Some in his circle interpreted this behaviour as stemming from Mitrinović’s desire to retain his leadership role. By constantly moving the goal-posts, none of the students could surpass the master by becoming more expert than their guru. Others were more sympathetic, believing that Mitrinović kept the group moving on to new things so that they wouldn’t become fixated on one area at the expense of his holistic philosophy. Each new group worked to bring its members new insights, focusing on different subject matter. Others in his circle felt that Mitrinović was continually searching for the right ‘formula’ – a venture that would take off and wouldn’t need input from him, freeing him up for other work.

According to his biographer, Andrew Rigby, Mitrinović felt different audiences needed different messages, and the use of different channels for communicating that message. The constant stream of new ventures and campaigns may also have been part of Mitrinović’s attempt to shake the British public awake, getting them to see that urgent action was needed to avert disaster as the world dealt with the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler and Communist dictatorships.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young Letter, p.4, excerpt misunderstanding

Clearly Mitrinović’s way of working could frustrate and confuse even his closest friends. Being in his circle could be an intense, emotional experience and feelings could run high. We are fortunate to have this letter and others in the archive that record this atmosphere. They give us a vivid picture of what it was like to be caught up in the world of a charismatic guru in the eventful interwar period.

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