Sunday, October 29, 2006

Adler Institute in Israel - Opening Day Ceremony

Well , I’m back. I had a hectic two weeks and I simply did not have the time or energy to blog. I think that’s over now and I expect to be back to a regular blogging schedule. I haven’t forgotten that I promised to write about the way I met my wife, but first I want to get this out of the way – an event I attended last Sunday. The first part gives the details, and the second part my conclusions.

An Account of the Event
About a year ago I went to a lecture sponsored by the Adler Institute here in Israel. At the time I was writing a piece about Adlerian Theory, and I wanted to get a feel of what is going on here in Israel. I was just on the verge of revisiting that essay, translating and re-writing it for the Repairing Israel Series, when I received an invitation to this year’s opening day ceremony.

I have been receiving constant information and invitations from the Institute ever since last year’s event when I stupidly gave them my real address. But this time I thought it would be a good idea to refresh my memory and get one more impression of the work Adler’s advocates in Israel are doing. So last Sunday evening the wife and I went to the opening day ceremony. This is my eyewitness account, relying on my memory, and some notes I took .
The invitation was for a meeting of counselors, students, family members and guests, gathered to celebrate the beginning of a new year of activity. The flier specifically stated, in bold letters that “ as usual, this convention is in the spirit of “one friend brings another”, and you are welcome to bring family members, friends, and acquaintances so that they can get to know us, and get exposed to the contents and the road we travel together.”
In short, this meeting was as much a promotional effort, including selling books and signing up for courses as it was an internal ceremony of Adlerian practitioners. According to their timetable, opening words were to be delivered by the Head of the Adler Institute, Osnat Harel, and Head of the School, Irit Menashe at a quarter to eight, after a half hour of informal gathering. I skipped that part and arrived at eight o’ clock. At a quarter past eight things started to roll – which is unusually, even rudely punctual by Israeli standards. A middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Tirza – without explaining who she was or what her role is – started the evening. She welcomed us, and asked how many people here were not familiar with Adler’s theory. I estimate that a little less than one half of the people present raised their hands to indicate that they were indeed guests at this event. Despite this evidence, Tirza did nothing to acknowledge the presence of all these newcomers and proceeded to summon Irit Menashe to the front of the room. Irit mentioned in passing a few principles of Adler (phrases like: “Adler is all about encouragement” and “Building self-confidence is central to our philosophy)” while giving the standard speech about how exciting this is and so on – this took no more than five minutes, and then a recent graduate of the four year long Parent’s Councilors Course was called upon to share her experiences. But all she did was to say how great the experience was, without telling what it was or what she personally went through, and how much she thanks her teachers and colleagues, mentioning all of them by name which bored me pretty much, and took about another ten minutes. The head of the Institute, Osnat was not called on to speak, and no explanation was given.
Suddenly, another small, bird-like woman stepped forth and began to call people to the front, handing them flowers and a certificate. I figured out that we were witnessing the graduation of several students. It was unclear to me who was graduating from what and everything happened so fast and looked so weird that it reminded me of a badly directed school play. In any case, this took no more than ten minutes, and then the stage was cleared for the main event – an hour long lecture titled “ The Family – An Emotional Roller Coaster?” by a graduate of the Adler program, a social worker and specialist on family therapy and also a guide at the Adler Institute.

The Audience
Before I get into that it is worthwhile to examine the audience. I would estimate that there were about a hundred people present, a majority of them women. In fact, I recall seeing no more than two or three men other than myself. Judging by appearances, most of the audience was of Western or Eastern European origins. I also noticed that not a few of those present were orthodox people (Religious- Zionist) – about fifteen percent I would guess. As I mentioned before, almost half of the people present had no prior connection to Adlerian theory.

The Lecture
Up to this point the proceedings were brief, and to the point and everything was moving swiftly. Now things would slow down for a lecture that was supposed to take about an hour.
The lecturer was a young-looking handsome man, wearing a kippah and a noticeable Anglo-Saxon accent. He started with this odd statement: “ you are probably asking yourself how old I am”. Presumably he thought that he looked too young to be giving lectures to anybody. I have no idea why he would think that, and it seemed just a way to needlessly garner attention. After that he told an anecdote designed to help the audience focus on what is really important in our lives – our children. This was mildly interesting, but things went quickly downhill from there. I started by jotting down the more coherent statements but I soon stopped, realizing all of a sudden that the guy was moving his lips, without actually saying anything meaningful. The rest of the time I conversed with my wife, writing down our impressions. She agreed that it was gibberish, pointing out that he was making a lot of senseless jokes, and acting like a stand-up comedian more than a therapist. My wife was also bothered by the numerous cynical observations he made about adolescent children. Obviously cynicism and therapy are not a very healthy combination, but the audience seemed to like it, and was laughing along. In fact – as much as we were bored – the rest of the audience seemed fascinated, and the room was silent and attentive throughout. (Except for yours truly). In any case – we managed to pull through the whole hour without dying from boredom. The most interesting thing to me was that the word Adler was not mentioned once in all that time. His philosophy wasn’t explained and his principles almost never mentioned. The lecturer did make a point of quoting several neo-Freudian psychologists. He did not share with us any illuminating experience he had with Adlerian psychology and in fact most of his stories never actually ended – they just faded away inconclusively.
The lecture ended, people started to rise and stretch out. As we were getting set to rise from our seats, there was a rush of people towards the lecturer who was still standing in the front of the room, about ten feet from us. I thought to my self, half jokingly, that they probably want to kill the guy for wasting their precious time but I was completely wrong – I heard people praising the fascinating lecture, and others asking questions. So you can tell that I was a definite minority here.

One Last Question
We got up to leave but there was still one question that I had to ask, something that had been bothering me ever since I wrote the essay on Adler last year. At the time I noticed that Adler practitioners, even senior ones, did not seem to be fluent in his theories, so I wondered if anyone is actually researching the theory, developing it, and refining it accordingly, or is it just a stagnant body of theory, rehashed over and over again with no regard to the evolving reality. I thought if no one was developing the theory that would be a good reason for the lack of interest and intimate knowledge of it.
I searched the room, looking for someone to question, but most everybody looked busy. Finally my wife pointed out one woman who, as she put it “ looks like the most intelligent one in the room”. She was free so I just walked up to her and popped the question. She said that there is a school in Chicago that does a lot of research, and also gives out graduate and doctorate diplomas in Adlerian studies, but that no research is being done in Israel. When I tried to find out how the research is being implemented in Israel, if at all, she seemed a little angry. In fact, my first question itself seemed to annoy her a bit. She asked me who I was, and I started telling her that I was writing about personal Repair but she interrupted and said she didn’t like that terminology: “Repairing something implies that something is broken and that is negative thinking” she said. We argued a bit about that. It was not very pleasant, and of course I didn’t get to tell her why I was interested in Adlerian psychology. Also, it turned out that I was talking to the head of the Adler institute herself – Irit Menashe. I also had to ask one more question – how did it happen that Adler was not mentioned even once during the lecture which was directed, if I may remind you, my reader, to an audience half of which had no prior knowledge, and was there to get a first impression?
“Oh, but that wasn’t Adler at all” said Irit cheerfully, and continued to explain “ we believe in subjectivity, the importance of the personal interpretation, just like Adler said, so that was just his (the lecturers) personal interpretation, of his own experience with Adlerian psychology.” That more or less ended the evening for us. We small talked a bit with Irit, and then left to go home, discussing between us what we had to learn from this evening. Here are the highlights of that conversation, between my wife and I.

What I Learned From Opening Day at the Adler Institute:
Before I get into this part I would like to stress that I am a great admirer of Adlerian theory – I have read enough to become very familiar with it, and I have also implemented the theory in my life very successfully.
That said, my second personal encounter with Adler’s protagonists in Israel re-emphasized the impression I got the first time, that there is a large disconnect between Adlerian theory and practice.
For instance, Adlerian practitioners pride themselves on their people skills, their ability to communicate easily and clearly with other people, and yet, the beginning of the evening was almost autistic in it’s disregard for at least half of the audience who had no way of recognizing the people who were speaking or understanding what exactly was going on, because no one bothered to explain this clearly.
The graduation ceremony, if that’s what it was, was very disrespectful, and very secular, in the Israeli sense that abhors intimacy, and recognition of others. I would be really embarrassed if that was the way I ended my studies there.
Advertising the evening as a promotional event, inviting newcomers and guests to such an evening and then giving them a lecture that had almost nothing to do with Adler is to me irresponsible, rude and also dishonest. I would have been extremely disappointed and even angry if I had come for the express purpose of getting to know Adlerian theory a little better. Admittedly, the Head of the Institute said in her defense that it was a subjective presentation of Adlerian theory. If that’s the case, they should have printed the information on the invitation, clearly stating that the lecture is a personal, subjective interpretation of the theory, by Mr. So and So. Of course, if they had done that many people would not have come…
I also find it difficult to accept this “subjectivity in theory” idea. First of all, Adler was talking about the importance of recognizing how subjective our experiences are. At the time this was a very significant idea, and a truly progressive step in therapy. But we heard nothing about the subjective experiences of the lecturer. In fact, this is a point common to many Adlerian practitioners – the inability, or unwillingness to share personal experiences and feelings. Inevitably, where there is no intimacy, we will eventually encounter cynicism, as was the case here also.
A second point is that even a personal interpretation of Adlerian theory should bear some resemblance, some visible, obvious connection to the original – but no such connection was to be found. If all of Adler’s adherents in Israel in fact do hold such personal “interpretations” of Adler’s theory, than that would explain why they seem so uncomfortable discussing the theory and practicing it.
The third point is this: if there is one overwhelming virtue to Adlerian theory, it is this: it is simple. It is clear, easy to understand, easy to teach. It is not, as some would have it, simplistic. In fact it is deceptively simple – because the difficult part of Adler is not understanding the theory but practicing it, implementing it in your daily life, and accepting responsibility for the results of your actions. So really, there is no need for a subjective interpretation of the theory. There is no need to over think and overcomplicate the theory. The only reason I can think of that anyone would want to do that is this: an inability to implement the theory. If you have no where to go with the practice, you will either leave Adlerian theory, or else begin to conceptualize, and abstract what is otherwise plain as pudding.
Finally, one last problem – how is it that while my wife and I were disappointed, disillusioned and disgusted with the proceedings which seemed to us annoyingly superficial, most of the audience seemed perfectly content, they were involved in what was going on, and even fascinated. Was it really that bad, or was I exaggerating? Whose impression was the correct one and why?
It’s hard to tell without talking with the other people present, and it’s a bit too late for that now. I can offer to myself one possible explanation – after years of practicing Zen, delving deep into Jungian theory and practice, and finally going through the Imago Exercises with my significant other – these kind of social gatherings where everybody is so careful not to disturb appearances, where the truth is something to run away from or conceal at all costs, this kind of socially acceptable dishonesty seems a waste of time.
At my age and level of experience I just want to meet honest, sincere people, who have left behind their pretensions in the search for the truth about themselves and the world they live in.
That particular evening in Jerusalem, for a couple of hours, such people were nowhere to be found.

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Henry T. Stein, Ph.D. said...

Sadly, your experience with an Adlerian group in Israel is not uncommon elsewhere in the world. You astutely critique the disturbing omission of reference to Adler as well as the lack of congruence in many presenters. Since Adler's death in 1937, there have been too many dilutions, deviations, and distortions of his legacy that erroneously bear his name. In North America, most students at universities and training institutes are not advised about the substantial differences between Adler and other "Adlerians" who have drifted far away from his teachings-- a serious and misleading oversight. However, there is hope on the horizon. The Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington emphasize the importance of Adler's original teachings, and consequently have recently published a complete twelve-volume set of The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler. At these institutes, every therapist-in-training must engage in a personal-study analysis to ensure his/her congruence with Adler's philosophy. I invite you to visit and read about "Classical Adlerian Psychology." Our focus on creative depth psychotherapy has awakened the interest of many psychodynamic clinicians who previously considered the Adlerian approach only suitable for child guidance and brief counseling.

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Jerusalem Joe said...

Dr. Stein,
thanks for taking the time to read and comment - i appreciate it.
i discovered your site about a year ago while writing an essay about Adler. as far as i can tell it is the best, most comprehensive and informative site about Adler on the net. it was and still is very helpful to me.i'm also glad to see that you have finished publishing his works. unfortunately, it is near impossible to find anything in hebrew that was written by Adler himself, which in itself explains a lot.
all the best

westbankmama said...

"I just want to meet honest sincere people...."

This sentence summarizes why I like to real personal blogs. I don't think I could share my stories with others in any other format, and I don't think I am alone!

Jerusalem Joe said...

WBM - i agree with you - but isn't it weird that we have to go anonymously online to be honest and sincere?
i would like to live in a community where everyone is like that.
i can dream can't i?

mother in israel said...

These Adler parenting courses are very popular around here, and in the religious zionist community too as you mention. I am pretty skeptical and would much sooner recommend The Life Center's programs. What do you know about the Adler courses?

Jerusalem Joe said...

what is the life center program?never heard of it.
i'll be doing a review of adler's theory and the situation in israel pretty soon. probably within the month.

mother in israel said...

Life Center is run by Shoshana Hayman of Elkana. They published Faber and Mazlish in Hebrew and a few other books.