Theory: Adlerian Theory (Individual Psychology)
Illinois University – Quad Cities
Theory: Adlerian Theory (Individual Psychology)
Adlerian theory/therapy has been
a long-standing, humanistic base for many other psychotherapy approaches
throughout theoretical evolution. Developed by Alfred Adler and expanded and
revised by Jon D. Carlson, James Robert Bitter, and Rudolf Driekurs (to name a
few), Adlerian therapy builds on the roots of Freud’s psychoanalytic approach,
yet highlights a holistic approach to understanding human-beings (Corey, 2017).
The purpose of this theoretical paper is to review Adlerian therapy with its
unique attributes, and to explore the application and direction of Adlerian
therapy from a counseling perspective.
The primary aspects of Adlerian
theory enlist a holistic approach to counseling; meaning through personality,
past, patterns, values, and beliefs the individual can begin to be understood.
With the future in mind, it is important to suggest that where we have come
from is not as important as where we are wanting to go (Corey, 2017). In
essence, as clients and as individuals, we create ourselves rather than being
formed completely by our childhood and temperaments (Corey, 2017, p.98).
Following this, the Adlerian approach asserts that humans are guided through
life by social relations rather than sexual urges and that behavior is
goal-oriented and conscious (Corey, 2017). All in all, the Adlerian approach
puts a focus on reeducating clients to restructure feelings of inferiority,
changing internal beliefs values, and conclusions along with revamping the individuals’
perceptions of reality.
A key concept of Adlerian therapy is
the fact that clients have a subjective perception of reality which is
described as phenomenological. In short, each individual may see the same
reality and experience the same things, however, how they interpret and find
meaning from this reality is different from person to person. In other words,
the Adlerian counselor is to put themselves in the world of the client, and not
construct a reality for them. This also ties in closely with a holistic
approach to understanding the client; through personality, values, beliefs,
attitudes and character, a life goal is created and allows the client and
therapist alike to work towards this goal (Corey, 2017). Individuals strive for
goals, superiority, and develop a style of living. Adler saw humans as creators
and artists; he believed that we can consciously create new styles of living,
yet each are unique and constructed by the individual (Corey, 2017).
A major aspect of Adlerian therapy
includes an individuals social interest and community feeling. According to Baker
and Carlson (2017) “Adler held that individuals return
to health when they are encouraged, their sense of social interest is fostered,
and they develop a sense of belonging” (p.160). In short, clients need social
inclusion and a sense of belonging to feel included, needed and wanted.
Clients, through social engagement and community, develop empathy, compassion,
and cooperation which important in reshaping their lifestyle and daily beliefs
(Robey et al., 2017). Many problems that we face as humans are related to the
fear of not belonging; when we find a sense of belonging, we are better able to
address bigger problems of our own (Corey, 2017).
Another key concept of Adlerian
theory is three main tasks that we must master at all different levels of life.
The three tasks include:
building friendships, establishing intimacy, and contributing to society
(Corey, 2017, p. 102). These tasks are crucial to the basis of Adlerian
therapy and Adlerian values because it is believed that these tasks are the
basis for problems clients present at therapy. It is believed that our
personality is a result of the stances we take in relation to these three life
tasks (Bitter, 2012).
Lastly, a pioneering aspect related
to Adlerian beliefs is birth order and sibling relationships. Though not deterministic,
birth order is believed to increase an individual’s probability to being
exposed to different life experiences because of when and in what order they
were born (Corey, 2017). Tied into the important Adlerian aspect of social
interest, birth order can alter a person’s view and way of dealing with
situations and it is important to take into account to better understand a
client’s values and lifestyle. However, caution is required in order to not
stereotype a client’s personality solely based on their birth order.
Role as a Counselor
role and function of a counselor within Adlerian therapy is based on the fact
that client’s will feel better once they discover
and address their basic mistakes; therapists look for major mistakes including
mistrust, selfishness, and being unrealistic and help clients explore fears
that impact their lives (Corey, 2017). As counselors, the comprehensive
assessment of client’s functioning along with some sort of family constellation
offers insight into the current lifestyle and in-the-now issues a client faces
(Corey, 2017). Along with gathering present information about a client’s
lifestyle, early recollections (which include stories or vivid memories that
happened before the client was 10 years of age) give even more insight into the
world that built the client (Corey, 2017). The assessment process is crucial in
order to better get to know one’s client and to understand where a client needs
client/counselor relationship employs equal participation and collaborative
approach to therapy. Client’s are informed about this type of relationship and
work together with the counselor to set new goals and change existing beliefs. According
to Carlson et al. (2006), words such as “cooperative, collaborative, egalitarian,
optimistic, and respectful” have been used in Adlerian literature to define the
quality of the therapeutic relationship (p.72). According to the American
Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics
(2014) the role of the counselor is to make sure the client is receiving the
best care and relationship possible; this relationship is free of imposed
values, inappropriate relationships, and enforces informed consent, and a
client/counselor contract is encouraged (p.5-6).
Therapeutic Goals and Decision Making
therapeutic goals of Adlerian therapy in short, are to help the individual
strive toward self-actualization and help clients with a distorted view of self
through examining their ideal self and real self (Hallbur and Halbur, 2015). Maniacci, Sackett-Maniacci, and
Mosak (2014) developed these goals for therapy: helping clients connect with
their responsibility to their community, helping individuals overcome feelings
of inferiority, changing clients’ lifestyle to become more flexible and social,
changing poor motivation, encouraging equality and acceptance of self and
others, and helping people contribute their best self to society (p.55-94).
As one can see, the decision-making aspect of Adlerian therapy rests on the
shoulders of the client with the modeling teaching of the therapist. The
counselor can guide and help the client find their way through their crisis,
however, overall the client is the one that makes the decisions regarding their
goals and style of life. According to
Sommers-Flanagan and R. Sommers-Flanagan (2012),
believed every individual is responsible for his or her own behavior. People
have freedom to choose from a menu (sometimes a limited menu) of behavioral
options. Although the Adlerian position holds individuals responsible for their
behavior, it doesn’t blame individuals for their misdeeds (p.86)
The goals and decision-making aspects of
Adlerian therapy incorporate client’s in almost every facet. Though the goals
of this therapy may appear broad, they are client focused, derived from
misconceptions and misinterpretations of the client, and future focused to
ultimately help the client change and behave in fulfilling way for their
lifestyle and social interest.
Relationship Issues to Consider
A central principle to Adlerian Therapy,
a trusting and collaborative client/counselor relationship is a catalyst for
positive change. However, there are ethical and personal disclosures unique to
Adlerian therapy that can cause concern. For all counseling therapies, goodness
of fit is essential for therapeutic growth. If the general personalities of a
client and counselor do not mesh and there is little call for reconciliation,
the relationship may need to be terminated.
Adlerian therapist are very thorough
in their use of assessment and early childhood exploration. For some clients
who have pressing issues, these clients may be hesitant to discuss past matters
since they do not believe it is relevant to their issues (Corey, 2017). Along
with that, modeling and guidance are central aspects of Adlerian therapy;
careful monitoring of self-disclosure is crucial in order to keep therapy
client-focused and relevant to their lives.
Central Techniques of Preference
begin, Adlerian therapy is structured around four central principles that guide
therapy; these objectives include; establishing a therapeutic relationship,
exploring psychological dynamics that influence the client, encourage
self-understanding, and help the client make new choices (Corey, 2017). In
forming a relationship, Adlerian counselors focus on personal contact instead
of diving right into the problem (Corey, 2017). Listening and responding in a
caring matter is the basis for a strong relationship. From there, the
assessment process can begin using a subjective interview (to learn about the client’s
life from as far back as they can remember) followed by an objective interview
that includes aspects such as how a problem developed, medical history, social
history to name a few. After establishing a solid base, the third phase of therapy
includes leading the client to self-understanding and insight. In this phase,
interpretation is used to uncover client’s underlying motivation. Adlerian interpretations are
phrased in the form of open-ended questions (Corey, 2017, p. 113). This
process allows both the client and the counselor to understand motivations
behind client behavior, and what to do to fix the situation (Corey, 2017). The
fourth phase, reorientation and reeducation, is arguably where the work begins.
This phase “puts insights
into practice”; clients are encouraged and challenged to take risks and change
their style of life (Corey, 2017, p. 113-114). Overall, encouragement is
a distinctive and unique aspect of Adlerian therapy. Encouragement is
increasing the courage of a client, so they have the motivation and strength to
change. (Corey, 2017, p. 114). Through encouragement, the clients learn they
have the strength to change their daily lives, even in between sessions; this
change can come in the form of catching oneself falling into old behavior, and
applying their new mindset to making a difference in their community (Corey,
2017). It is important to remember that those these techniques are a standard,
they may not all be suitable for each client.
techniques employed by the Adlerian therapist may include “immediacy, advice,
humor, and silence” (Corey, 2017, p. 116). These techniques, combined with
encouragement, goal-oriented thinking, assessments, and truly understanding a
client all contribute to the success and approach of Adlerian therapy.
Approach to Issue of Cultural Diversity
With roots in a westernized
society, Adler’s view of human nature (including his theory on birth order)
tends to focus on ideals and values of western society and may not take into
account the cultures and attitudes of other populations. Some collectivist
cultures may not buy into disclosing their intricate personal lives and may
view the assessment process as intrusive (Halbur and Halbur, 2015). Along with
that, some cultures may view therapy as a fix-all and they want the therapist
to be directive in nature (Halbur and Halbur, 2015). As we know, Adlerian
therapy is a collaborative and equal partnership, and participation is needed
for full effectiveness. With these limitations, cultural awareness and
sensitivity to one’s client is always an important and relevant practice to
keep in mind.
My View of Human Nature
To me, human nature is not
deterministic, yet we can not ignore past experiences and temperament traits.
We humans face a multitude of different stages of our lives, and these
experiences, influenced by our own values and beliefs shape our behavior and
outlook on life. Our environment plays a vital role in our development;
however, I believe how we perceive our environments makes us who we are. I
believe most all behaviors can be changed if the will and tools in which to
change are present and implemented correctly. I am a firm believe in the fact
that our past influences our futures. To me, even though we may have worked
through a difficult time, or broke an old habit etc., the memory and
associations are still there. We as humans, are so complex that it is easy to
say we can change via a few simple steps. Yet, I believe there are both
conscious and unconscious forms of motivation that require practice and
self-belief to change. To me, humans are born innocent, the world, society, and
culture in which they live shape their mental and physical lives. When it comes
to drive, I believe that humans are driven by social and personal interactions
and feelings rather than unconscious impulses most of the time; it is not to
say, however, that I do not believe humans have a gut instinct, because I do!
Overall, human nature is always up for debate, and change is expected for my
How My Theory has Evolved
At the beginning of this process, I
was not even sure what a theoretical orientation was let alone which one I
aligned with. I did know however that I believed the peoples past, the
environment, and their behaviors could shape their perspective on the world.
After taking the STS-R, I was amazed at all the different schools of thought
and how similar yet very different they were from one another. I would like to
compare my selection process to the sorting hat in the infamous Harry Potter series; all the theories
seem to fit in ways, yet there is a group of them that match better than the
others. For me, this had been the humanistic school of thought. After first
aligning most with Gestalt, Person-Centered, and Cognitive Behavioral therapy,
after learning about each therapy in depth, I felt myself shifting my beliefs
and mindset. After re-taking the STS-R, Adlerian therapy was my number two
match, though I feel more aligned to it than Gestalt theory at this point. At
the end of the day, I am not shocked at my results, yet I was amazed to see the
transformation in belief and especially understanding
of these theories (and terminology!) since I was first introduced.
When it comes to diversity, the
Adlerian approach offers a strong basis for cultural sensitivity with it’s
holistic approach. However, “making global conclusions about a certain
population of people” is still at risk for any practicing professional (Aleksandrov
et. al., 2016, p. 82). To address this issue, research suggests examining
levels of acculturation and enculturation during the assessment process of
therapy to get a better feel of how much an
individual has adapted to the westernized culture (Aleksandrov et. al., 2016).
Research completed by cultural psychologists conclude that “four major
characteristics need to be examined when working with individuals from a
cultural perspective: integration, assimilation, separation, and
et. al., 2016, p. 82). Integration involves maintaining one’s home culture
while adapting to a new culture. Following this, assimilation refers to
rejecting ones original culture for the new culture. Separation occurs when the
new culture is rejected, and marginalization is when an individual has no
desire to hold cultural values (Aleksandrov et. al., 2016). As counselors, it
is critical to maintain an open and evolving mindset when it comes to working
with a richly diverse population.
therapy has many applications, but one of it’s better known applications is
with children, schools, and children who have suffered abuse. Adlerian play
therapy follows essentially the same phase structure as adult therapy, yet
incorporates fictional scenarios and is often times projected on other objects
like dolls, puppets, or through drawings.
Research shows “the importance of
family relationships, parental attachment, and school experiences in relation
to self-perceptions about one’s ability to cope with life’s stressors” (Lopes
& Moleiro, 2011, p.79) Along with that, research also supports the Adlerian
belief that life’s early social scenarios at home and at school greatly
influence how children develop their coping skills (Gfroerer et. al., 2013). With the child abuse population, rough
beginnings and poor social aspects may have more consequence than one may
think. This area of research further supports that a major protective
factor for children is a sense of belonging (Koraiek, (1999). Koraiek (1999)
believed “children who develop an attachment with at least one positive role
model or experience acceptance within their peer group appear to be more
resilient and better able to cope with negative life events” (p.295). For
Adlerian therapists, this may come in the form of encouragement. “Providing
encouragement for children helps them develop a sense of internal, self-regulated
control, and thus develop the important coping resource of positive self-talk” (Gfroerer
et. al., 2008, p. 298). Children, in general, are a special, at-risk population
since they are still developing the skills needed to be a healthy human being.
Adlerian therapies positive, now-focused, and holistic approach make it very
applicable to this population.
Adlerian therapy focuses heavily on social interest, it is natural that social
justice aspect falls comfortably in the range of this therapy. Incorporating
positive psychology, CBT, among other types of therapies that were derived from
Adlerian therapy, the mindset that an individual determines their own destiny
regardless of circumstance is inspiring and motivating from a social justice
perspective (Ziomek-Daigle, 2008). In general,
current research “…supports what Adler realized a century ago, that one of the
best ways to remedy problems is to focus on identifying and developing client
strengths, rather than focusing exclusively on their pathology” (Ziomek-Daigle,
2008, p. 255). This translates to social justice in the fact that change is
possible if one focuses on strengths rather than focusing on the problem
details and getting caught up in the little things.
Adlerian therapy, with a holistic
scope, puts the client, or situation in the bigger picture. Adlerian therapy is
built for advocacy; with the entire individual or population in mind, general
strengths and encouragement can be applied to help strengthen social bonds and
a sense of belonging with society. After all, it is how an individual perceives
the world; if that can change for one person, those techniques and approaches
can be applied to the masses as well.
Adlerian therapists are often leaders
in schools, school boards, and community centers, and bring Adlerian ideals and
focus to the clientele they work with. These leaders use Adlerian Therapy to
help students and clients understand their strengths and abilities along with
their interests and values (Ziomek-Daigle, 2008). This alone, can create
systemic change on a small scale with the ever-present possibility of large
scale application. Adlerian counselors are especially skilled at developing
consultation models in forms of developmental trainings, and parenting classes
for all parties involved (parents, teachers, and administrators) along with group
therapy models (Ziomek-Daigle, 2008). With the transformation of the school
counseling profession in recent years, a focus has shifted to the counseling
role of school counselors. Adlerian therapists are at an advantage from a
theory standpoint alone, and can utilize their tool kit to full avail
including; Adlerian play therapy, group counseling application, and
incorporating a holistic perspective. By doing this, Adlerian counselors in
schools create an equity-based, equal learning opportunity for all students and
advocate based on data from their Adlerian interventions to create a socially
just learning environment.
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I certify that I am
the author of this paper titled My Theory: Adlerian Therapy (Individual
Psychology) and that any assistance I received in its preparation is fully
acknowledged and disclosed in this paper. I also certify that this paper was
prepared by me specifically for this course. I understand that falsification of
information will affect my status as a student in CNED.
Shelby Tracy ______12/6/17
Student’s Signature Date