Adlerian Therapy

As did Jung and Erikson, Alfred Adler worked with Freud and studied psychoanalysis. Instead of viewing people as a collection of drives and instincts, Adler saw a person as a complete whole. The future of a person was more important then the past, which was in direct conflict with Freudian psychoanalysis. Adler and Freud parted company, with Freud calling Adler a heretic. Adler went to form his own theories, which became known as Adlerian Therapy. Adlerian therapy came to include many components, such as the study of human nature, perception of reality, patterns of human personality, social and community interests and the dynamics of birth order.

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler was born in 1870 in Vienna. His childhood was difficult as Adler almost died of pneumonia at four years old. Adler was often sickly, leaving him weak and frail. His parents did not think he would live to adulthood. Adler was a poor student, and his parents were told he would not amount to anything. Despite setbacks, Adler worked hard and eventually became top of his class. Adler’s difficult childhood played a role in the development of this theories, where birth order was a major component. Adler worked with Sigmund Freud, and was trained in psychoanalysis. Adler parted company with Freud and began to develop his own theories. Adler focused on child rearing practices, school reform and prejudice. During World War I, Adler served as a medical officer, and helped to create 32 child guidance clinics in Vienna after the war. Adler worked hard through much of his life, and became a leading figure in Psychology. He died in 1937 of heart failure.

Views on Human Nature

Unlike Freud, Adler felt humans were driven more by the conscious rather than the unconscious. During the first six years of life, a child begins to form a basic personality. While past events are an influencing factor, humans have the ability to choose their paths, allowing people to make conscious decisions. Instead of being driven by sexual urges, a person is driven by social urges, more in the line with Erickson than with Freud.

Feelings of inferiority are also important, as they can become a source of strength and motivation. Adler’s sickly nature as a child helped him to see his limitations and to raise to the challenge. Instead of a weakness, understanding one’s own limitations can help foster creativity, resulting in success. It is important to understand one’s weaknesses, and to find methods to compensate for them.

Unlike many theories, heredity and environment are not the sole contributing factors when it comes to success. Adler believed choice was a central component, as humans have the ability to choose their future regardless of their past or genetic makeup. While Adler felt choice was important, he was also a realist, as humans cannot choose to be anything they wish, because their choices are limited to their environment.

Subjective Perception of Reality

Adler believed in order to understand someone, you must look at life through their eyes. The way a person views the world will directly impact their behavior. By looking at someone’s perception of reality, the therapist can gain insights as to why the client makes the choices they make. This is a very important component of Adler’s theory, one that most other theories will adopt. Instead of looking at solutions for a client, it is better to understand the client’s viewpoint, as to better help the client come up their their own solutions for their problems.

Patterns of Human Personality

In order to fully understand someone, the whole of the person must be explored. To do so, one must look at goals, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, convictions, attitudes, traits and actions.

  • Behavior as purposeful and goal oriented: All human behavior has a purpose. People form goals, then work to achieve them. All actions taken are in service toward these goals. Adler saw humans as future oriented, and goals allowed a person to form plans for their future.
  • Striving for significance and superiority: All humans wish to strive for mastery and superiority, without being taught. During early years of development, children are often reminded on the things they cannot do. These feelings of inferiority begin to drive the child to learn and accomplish. Weaknesses become strengths and serve as motivation.
  • Lifestyle: The core beliefs and assumptions held by an individual help form a person’s lifestyle. The entirety of a person’s actions, values, and perceptions help formulate a person’s lifestyle. Adler saw humans as actors, creators, and artists.

Social Interest and Community Feeling

Humans are not islands into themselves; they are a part of a larger community. By becoming part of a larger community, one can become larger than oneself and can work to diminish lingering feelings of inferiority. Happiness and success largely revolve around others; therefore it is in our best interests to form a community that looks towards the future. There are three universal life tasks all humans must master: building friendships (social task), establishing intimacy (love-marriage task), and contributing to society (occupational task). All people must work towards all life tasks, regardless of age, culture, or nationality.

Birth Order

Adler’s theory is unique because it values birth order as important to psychological development. Adler identified five psychological positions: oldest, second of only two, middle, youngest, and only. These positions lead to different psychological traits, and are important to consider.

  • Oldest: The oldest child will often receive a majority of the attention, especially when they are the only child. Once a sibling arrives, the oldest may feel threatened by the new sibling for attention and may grow to resent the new sibling.
  • Second Child: The child shares attention from birth with the older sibling, and feels is in a race with the oldest sibling for attention. This may lead to competition between the two children, as the second child looks for weakness within the oldest.
  • Middle Child: The middle child may feel cheated as the first born and newest child receive the majority of attention. This can lead to feelings of inferiority. However, the middle child may become the peacemaker between the first born and newest child.
  • Youngest Child: Often is spoiled and pampered, will receive much attention from parents. The child will often do things in their own way, often in ways not expected by the family.
  • Only Child: Will often possess high achievement and drive, but may suffer from a lack of social skills especially with other children. The only child may relate better with adults than with children. The only child can become pampered resulting in dependence on one or both parents.

Named after Alfred Adler, Adlerian theory primarily emphasizes birth order, individual life styles, social interests, and concepts pertaining to inferiority and superiority as principle components of personality. For Adler, psychological health is determined by the level of social contribution beneficial to the greater community. To the degree, that one integrates and furthers the social context, thus the measurement of his or her mental health. Social contribution is increased through the reduction of mistaken beliefs, which frequently lead to maladaptive feelings of inferiority or superiority. This goal of combating false beliefs is attained through an understanding of family constellations, early memories, and dreams.

Adlerian Therapy, Theory and Practice introduces the reader to Alfred Adler's seminal approach to psychotherapy. Starting from the principle that human behavior is goal oriented and socially embedded, Adlerian therapy is a brief psychoeducational approach that emphasizes understanding individuals' characteristic ways of moving through life—the life style—before working toward change. The authors demonstrate the relevance of Adlerian therapy today by illustrating how Adler's ideas have influenced current practice and emphasizing the short-term nature of its interventions. In addition, the authors show how Adlerian therapy works in practice with individuals, couples, families, and groups, as well as in educational settings.

Adlerian psychotherapy is both humanistic and goal oriented. It emphasizes the individual's strivings for success, connectedness with others, and contributions to society as being hallmarks of mental health. Birth order is considered important in understanding a person's current personality, yet the therapy is future-minded, rather than retrospective.

Hosted by Dr. Gary VandenBos, the session shows Dr. Jon Carlson working with a 35-year-old male teacher who is experiencing problems with perfectionism. The patient is the youngest of two sons and reports being very close to his parents. Using a positive and hopeful approach, Dr. Carlson demonstrates the four stages of Adlerian Therapy: creating a relationship, assessment, insight, and reorientation.

This book is for practitioners of all orientations who want to ground their practices in a holistic theory that makes sense for today's world. Students will also benefit from learning about Adler's theory and flexible strategies. Readers will find a model of diagnosis that can be used to complement DSM diagnoses, many case examples to illustrate important Adlerian concepts, and helpful therapist-client dialogues with interpretive comments that show the counselor's active approach to assessment and collaborative problem-solving.

For psychologists, translating the goals of Adlerian theory into a therapeutic process has resulted in an approach to counseling that varies widely among practitioners. These goals are to bring about an increased social interest, modify self-destructive behavior, and solve problems more efficiently. To reach these aspirations in a clinical setting, psychotherapy provides a choice to counselors as a base for identifying and addressing incorrect thoughts and belief patterns. This influence of psychotherapy owes its origin to Sigmund Freud, an indirect contributor to Adlerian therapy.

Initial sessions provide Adlerian therapists with an opportunity to observe and assess clients in order to gauge their family dynamics, present lifestyle, and early childhood experiences. These assessments may be formal or informal using questionnaires or direct inquiry. Further to this, therapists also rely on dreams and the interpretive meaning for the clients current situation and struggles.

Several practical techniques are used in Adlerian therapy. Immediacy asks the client to communicate events at the present moment. By focusing on the immediate here and now, clients are reoriented into a position conducive to a greater understanding of their situation. The technique of encouragement helps to build rapport between therapist and client. Counselors also use encouragement to assess client lifestyle to provide tools for overcoming inferiority and low self-concept. Acting as if requests the client to presume the successful result of a not yet attempted action.

Another technique, spitting in the clients soup, requires the counselor to make certain behaviors less attractive to the client. Once a particular behavior is seen as repulsive, it is less likely to recur. The question tests the client in order to identify the existence of a psychological problem through the use of deliberately constructed questions by the counselor. If the client makes a connection between the answer to the question and another problem altogether, the therapist then presumes the root of the illness is to avoid the problem connected by the client. Finally, Adlerian therapists often assign homework as a means to assist clients in solving problems outside the counseling session.

In Adlerian therapy, the relationship between the client and counselor requires mutual trust and respect in order to maximize clinical success. Client and therapist should have similar goals to reach this end. When client goals do not match therapist goals, the Adlerian counselor will work to educate as to the more appropriate goals. To accomplish this, some Adlerian therapists have their clients sign a contract detailing the goals of their counseling process. The clear synchronization of goals in early treatment provides the framework for a healthy relationship between client and counselor, upon which the remainder of counseling objectives are built.

Adlerian therapy is diverse, both in practice and in theory. This flexibility is seen by many as one of its greatest strengths. Because of its emphasis on goals, the social leanings of Adlerian therapy are greatly beneficial to couples, families, and groups. Finally, the incorporation of psychoanalysis provides additional options to the counselor, bringing to the session room a wide range of techniques to cover numerous client issues.

Adlerian therapy is frequently criticized for its lack of depth. Seen by many as somewhat superficial, it lacks the constitution necessary to fully deal with the vast array of psychological issues clients bring to the counseling room. While its flexibility is wide in scope, its fortitude is frail, and many see it as a therapy that is akin to one who dabbles in everything but masters in nothing. Through its emphasis on birth orders and early recollection, untestable assumptions are made that many psychologists see as placing undue weight on concepts not critical to human growth.

Overall, Adlerian therapy focuses on applications in individual psychology with intent to provide prevention services designed to assist during growth. This educational focus is utilized with teachers and parent to identify the importance of social interaction and the development of social interests. Further, parents are taught the importance of family relationships and the legacy that is passed between generations through birth order and individual personality.

In the use of group work, Adlerian therapy works to develop group cohesion, which mirrors healthy functioning in social settings. Members of the group are able to develop a sense of belonging and community that may be unavailable in their present situation. Due to the flexibility and integrative nature of this theory, individuals, families, and groups are helped with the tools of this approach. Contrasting this however, Adlerian therapy has its limitations, as it does not provide immediate solutions to client problems with more of a long-term focus. With less of a simplistic approach, this therapy is suited more for individuals who are prepared to take the time to understand family of origin issues.

Personal Evaluation

Adlerian thought has at its base, a socialistic ideology. The pervasiveness of socialism in Adlerian theory owes itself to the inspirations of Karl Marx; one of Alfred Adlers professed influences. A presupposition against capitalism, private property, and acquired wealth was, I believe, a driving force behind his theory. Because no part of his theory (that I could determine) conflicted with socialist philosophy, I believe that Adler used this ideology as a basis when forming his theory, forcing his theory of personality to conform to his communist philosophy. Because of this, I do not acknowledge Adlers theory as scientific in an empirical sense, but rather a reflection of his personal views. While his views on the importance of birth order are interesting and certainly original, I do not see them as having a great deal of merit. If there is any effect that birth order has on an individual, I believe it is due to localized parenting factors at the microenvironment rather than some kind of objective truth about birth order at a macro level. Because I am a true capitalist, I hold little value for communistic thought and see it as a threat to my way of life.

Christianity is not compatible with socialism. Jesus discarded the abundant tithes of the pharisees and treasured the widows mites because she sacrificed, and gave from her heart. True Christian giving must always come from the individual. Socialism institutes a secular government that takes by force, and redistributes. When a government takes money by force and gives it to the poor, an individual should not assume he has "fed the poor" by proxy. God would rather an individual man give of his own free will to feed the poor, then a secular government taking money by force from the man to feed the poor. Every act of service in Christianity requires the individual heart. Socialism, by definition, purges the individual and replaces it with Big Government, and is therefore an antithesis to Christianity. When the church of Acts gave up all of its possessions, this was not socialism, because each individual chose freely to give. Jesus Himself said that even sinners take care of sinners, but that doesn't make a society Godly. A perfectly humanistic society where all the poor are fed and no one goes hungry is still in utter depravity and an enemy to God (note that plenty of people in this world who commit evil and despise God are well fed). God is about individual souls, not about making sure no one is poor. Remember it was "Big Government" that was brought down by God Himself at the tower of Babel. Because of this fundamental philosophy in my world view that utterly rejects secular socialism, I therefore reject the foundations of Adler's theories.

In a more positive light, I value his emphasis on family unity and group cohesion. Adler understood the difference between developing individual self esteem and fostering it within a group. I am a strong believer in the strength that teamwork can impart on an individuals self worth. To belong to a group and functioning purposefully in that group is a strong motivator towards positive change. Of course, this requires that the agenda and mission of the group is conducive to growth and not void of moral recognition. As beneficial and powerful as group dynamics can have on an individual, equally dangerous is the possibility for mechanistic depravity as can be seen in the “mob mentality” that forms when the morality of a group erodes while its cohesion remains.

In Conclusion

Unique from the works of Freud, Adler’s Adlerian Therapy incorporates choice, motivation, birth order and social consciousness. Adlerian therapy became well known, and influenced many future theories within Psychology.



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