Alfred Adler wrote a book defining his key ideas in 1912: Uber den nervosen Charakter. He argued that human personality could be explained teleologically, separate strands dominated by the guiding purpose of the individual's unconscious self ideal to convert feelings of inferiority to superiority (or rather completeness). The desires of the self ideal were countered by social and ethical demands. If the corrective factors were disregarded and the individual over-compensated then an inferiority complex would occur, the individual would become egocentric, power-hungry and aggressive or worse.

His efforts were halted by World War I, during which he served as a doctor with the Austrian Army. Post-war his influence increased greatly into the 1930s, he established a number of child guidance clinics from 1921 and was a frequent lecturer in Europe and the United States, becoming a visiting professor at Columbia University in 1927. Therapeutically his methods avoided the concentration on adult psyche by attempting to pre-empt the problems in the child by encouraging and promoting social interest and also by avoiding pampering and neglect. In adults the therapy relied on the exclusion of blame or a superior attitude by the practitioner, the reduction of resistance by raising awareness of individual behaviour and the refusal to become adversarial. Common theraputic tools included the use of humour, historical instances and paradoxical injunctions. Adler's popularity was related to the comparative optimisim and comprehensibility of his ideas compared to those of Freud or Jung. He famously commented The test of one's behavior pattern: relationship to society, relationship to one's work, relationship to sex.

In 1934 the Austrian government closed most of Adler's clinics because he was a Jew and in 1935 Adler left Austria for a professorship at the Long Island College of Medicine. His death in Aberdeen, Scotland, 1937, was a blow to the influence of his ideas although a number of them were taken up by neo-Freudians. Nonetheless, there exists presently several schools dedicated to carrying on the work of Alfred Adler such as The Adler School of Professional Psychology which was founded as The Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago by Adler's protege;, Rudolf Dreikurs. There are also various organizations promoting Dr. Adler's orientation towards mental and social wellbeing. These include ICASSI and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology (NASAP).

His key publications were The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (1927) and Understanding Human Nature (1927). The Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington has recently published the first six of the ten-volume set of The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler, covering his writings from 1898-1937.