Early research reviews based on only four empirical studies

Early research reviews based on only four empirical studies

Individual Psychology and
Adlerian Therapy

Chapter Three


    • Today we’ll be focusing on individual psychology which is a theory and therapy approach developed by Alfred Adler.


    • This approach is typically referred to as Adlerian therapy.


  • Although some people still refer to Adler as one of Freud’s students, he was Freud’s contemporary and developed his own, very different, approach to counseling and psychotherapy.

Adler’s Way of Thinking

  • Most contemporary writers consider Adler to have been far ahead of his time. In the following quote, he captures much of the essence of cognitive theory and therapy.

“In a word, I am convinced that a person’s behavior springs from his [or her] idea. . . As a matter of fact, it has the same effect on one whether a poisonous snake is actually approaching my foot or whether I merely believe it is a poisonous snake” (Adler, 1964, pp. 19–20).

Biographical Information: Alfred Adler

    • The second eldest of six children born to a Jewish family outside Vienna.


    • He was sickly and experienced a challenging childhood.


    • His father was very supportive of him and believed in him.


  • He married Raissa Timofeyewna Epstein, an early socialist and feminist.

Historical Context

    • He defended Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” and then was invited to what became the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.


  • He had already published the Healthbook for the Tailor’s Trade.

Historical Context II

  • In 1896, he presented a paper on “The Masculine Protest,” which was a social perspective on gender-related behaviors.
  • He and a few colleagues left the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and formed the Society for Free Psychoanalytic Research, later called the Society for Individual Psychology.

“Their response to human problems was characteristically ethical and practical–an orientation that stood in dramatic contrast to the biological and theoretical focus of psychoanalysis.” (p. 130)

Theoretical Principles

    • The Whole Person
    • Unity of thinking, feeling, acting, attitudes, and values


  • Striving with Purpose
  • Biological traits
  • Environment
  • Attitude toward life

Theoretical Principles II

    • Social Interest and Community Feeling
    • Adler emphasized the interpersonal nature of humans and the importance of striving beyond self-interest and toward social interest or community feeling.


  • Social Interest, or Gemeinschaftsgefühl
  • Community feeling in action.
  • This is also a therapeutic goal.


Theoretical Principles III

  • Striving for Superiority
  • People naturally strive toward creating a positive for themselves and in themselves.
  • But too much self-interest is pathological.
  • This is also translated as a striving toward completeness.
  • Overcome their deficiencies
  • With an attitude of social interest
  • Complete or perfect themselves


Theoretical Principles IV

  • Phenomenology
  • An Idiographic Approach
  • Adler was generally against generalizing about individuals from group data or information. He stated: “A human being cannot be typified or classified.” (Adler, 1935, p. 6)
  • Soft Determinism
  • Individual psychology is not a deterministic approach.
  • Behavior is multidetermined.
  • Every individual is responsible for his or her behavior.


Theoretical Principles V

  • Style of Life (Lifestyle): The Biopsychosocial Map
  • Like Vaihinger (1911), Adler believed we each create our own world and live by the rules we’ve created.
  • We’re pulled forward by our guiding self-ideal.
  • But we also create and live by “basic mistakes” that cause us problems and which therapy can help address.


Theoretical Principles VI

  • The Adlerian Tasks of Life
  • Work or occupation
  • Social Relationships
  • Love and marriage
  • Self
  • Spirituality
  • Parenting and family

Theoretical Principles VII

    • Work or Occupation: This is a life demand that we all must face and work through.


    • Social Relationships: Humans need to belong and are interdependent and must also face the life task of dealing with relationships.


  • Love and Marriage: Adler viewed marriage as a partnership.

Theoretical Principles VIII

  • The Self Task
  • Survival of self
  • Body image
  • Opinion
  • Evaluation
  • The Spirituality Task
  • Relationship to God
  • Religion
  • Relationship to the universe
  • Metaphysical issues
  • Meaning of life


Theoretical Principles IX

  • Parenting and Family
  • Democratic-authoritative
  • Autocratic/authoritarian or permissive
  • Responsive
  • Problem-solving
  • Encouragement
  • Punishment
  • Contemporary parenting authorities


Theoretical Principles X

  • Theory of Psychopathology
  • Psychopathology is often defined as discouragement.
  • Although feelings of inferiority are natural, they can also become pathological.
  • Objective inferiority
  • Inferiority feelings
  • Inferiority complexes

The Practice of Adlerian Therapy

  • In the practice of Adlerian therapy, there are four phases:

1. Forming the therapeutic relationship

2. Lifestyle assessment and analysis

3. Interpretation and insight

4. Reorientation


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy II

  • Forming the therapeutic relationship
  • The relationship is egalitarian and characterized by listening and caring.
  • The therapist is like a friendly teacher or business consultant.
  • Clients are encourged to be active participants in therapy.


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy III

  • Therapist-client goal alignment is important; sample goals include:
  • Fostering client social interest or community feeling
  • Helping clients overcome feelings of inferiority and discouragement.
  • Helping clients change the basic mistakes embedded in their lifestyle.
  • Shifting client motivation from self-focused superiority to a community focus.
  • Helping clients believe and feel as equals in their relationships.
  • Helping clients become contributing members to society.


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy IV

  • The therapist focuses mostly on positives and not pathology.
  • Focus on client strengths.
  • There is also sometimes a focus on client problems.


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy V

  • Initial Lifestyle Interpretations


“Near the end of your first session, you should be able to share with your client a few important things you’ve learned about them.” (H. A. Walters, 1983)


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy VI

  • Lifestyle Assessment and Analysis Approaches
  • The family constellation interview
  • The question
  • Earliest recollections


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy VII

  • The Family Constellation Interview
  • Early childhood experiences
  • Description of each family member
  • Interaction of family members
  • Psychological birth order


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy VIII

  • The Question
  • How would your life be different if you were well?
  • What would you be doing in your life if you no longer had your symptoms?
  • This question is a method to look for underlying motivations or secondary gain (remember: all behavior is purposeful).


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy IX

  • Earliest Recollections
  • This is a method for understanding the client’s lifestyle.
  • It helps clarify the self ideal.


“Early recollections are not a reflection of the past but a forecast of the future” (Sweeney, 2009, p. 105).


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy X

  • Reorientation is the final phase of Adlerian therapy.
  • This is where many specific teaching and learning strategies are employed, including:
  • The future autobiography
  • Creating new images
  • Acting “as if.”

The Practice of Adlerian Therapy XI

    • Reflecting As If
    • Reflecting
    • Planning
    • Implementing


  • The Push-Button Technique


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy XI

Spitting in the Client’s Soup

  • Develop a friendly and supportive relationship with the client characterized by good listening and encouragement.
  • Identify a repeating and unhelpful behavior or thinking pattern (basic mistake) that the client uses repeatedly and plans to use in the future.
  • Ask and get the client’s permission to share an insight.
  • Succinctly share the repeating and unhelpful pattern that the client is planning to continue using.
  • Be open to discussing the client’s reaction to having his/her soup spat in.


The Practice of Adlerian Therapy XII

  • Catching Oneself
  • Self-awareness and self-control
  • Help clients become aware of their maladaptive behaviors and goals.
  • Help clients to catch themselves when they slip into old unhelpful behaviors.
  • Task Setting and Indirect Suggestion
  • Paradoxical Strategies
  • Advice, Suggestion, and Direction

Cultural and Gender Considerations

    • Adlerian theory and therapy is not value-free.


    • His feminist perspective is, of course, welcomed by feminists.


  • His emphasis on family and family dynamics as influencing the individual also plays well in multicultural counseling.

Evidence-Based Status

  • Early research reviews based on only four empirical studies of Adlerian psychotherapy, indicate that the procedures are slightly more effective than placebo treatment and efficacy similar to psychoanalytic and person-centered therapy (Smith et al., 1980).


  • Despite the prominent use of Adler’s concepts, direct empirical research attesting to the efficacy of Adlerian therapy is sparse. Perhaps the greatest reason for this is the fact that Adler found nomothetic research that compares group outcomes to be relatively useless. Consequently, the Adlerian focus has been and primarily continues to be idiographic case studies.

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