A discussion of their positive aspects in the theraputic context



Born in Vienna Austria Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was a popular lecturer and teacher in the United States. In 1911 Adler left the orthodox psychoanalytic school to found a neo-Freudian school of psychoanalysis. He contended that the function of the psychoanalyst is to discover and rationalize feelings of inferiority and break down the compensatory, neurotic will for power that they engender in the patient. (1p3)

He balanced the equally important needs for individual optimal development and social responsibility. He sought to not reduce psychotherapy to a by-the-numbers procedure, but practice it like an art requiring creative innovation. He proposed that social interest, and consequently mental health, can only be attained with success in the three basic tasks of life: work, love, and social interaction. Adler strongly disagreed with his precursors and peers (such as Freud) because his theory revolved around the notion that one has control over one's life. (1p3)

Overview (6p194)

Adler maintained that personality difficulties are rooted in a feeling of inferiority deriving from restrictions on the individual's need for self-assertion††

An attitude of inferiority develops when an individual feels deficient in comparison with others. Adler postulated a basic striving for superiority of self - assertion, which leads a person with an attitude of inferiority to seek compensation. But he saw this negative kind of idealism as a perversion of the more positive understanding Freud was afraid that it would detract from the crucial position of the sex drive.

Adler postulated a single "drive" or motivating force behind all our behavior and experience. By the time his theory had gelled into its most mature form, he called that motivating force the striving for perfection. It is the desire we all have to fulfill our potentials, to come closer and closer to our ideal. It is, very similar to the more popular idea of self-actualization.


Adlerís theory from Adlerís perspective (7p23)

We all have problems and our personalities are accounted for by the ways in which we do or do not compensate or overcome problems.

(Adlerís thinking evolved through a number of stages before maturing into individual psychology:

masculine protest (7p35)

Adler noted that boys were held in higher esteem than girls. Boys wanted to be thought of as strong, aggressive, in control and not weak, passive, or dependent ie "feminine." (Because so many people misunderstood him to mean that men are, innately, more assertive, lead him to limit his use of the phrase).

striving for superiority (7p23)

Later Adler used the phrase ďstriving for superiorityĒ. His use of this phrase reflects one of the philosophical roots of his ideas: Friederich Nietzsche developed a philosophy that considered the will to power the basic motive of human life. Although striving for superiority does refer to the desire to be better, it also contains the idea that we want to be better than others, rather than better in our own right. Adler later tended to use striving for superiority more in reference to unhealthy or neurotic striving.††††††††

individual psychology (6p194)

Finally Adler felt that, in order to understand people, we have to understand them more as unified wholes than as a collection of bits and pieces, and we have to understand them in the context of their environment, both physical and social. This approach is called holism. Adler decided to relabel his approach as Individual Psychology).


Life Style (7p23)

Life style refers to how you live your life, how you handle problems and interpersonal relations.


Teleology (future goal focus) (7p23)

That lifestyle is "not merely a mechanical reaction" is a second way in which Adler differs dramatically from Freud. For Freud, the things that happened in the past, such as early childhood trauma, determine what you are like in the present. Adler sees motivation as a matter of moving towards the future, rather than being driven, mechanistically, by the past. We are drawn towards our goals, our purposes, our ideals. This is called teleology.

Since the future is not here yet, a teleological approach to motivation takes the necessity out of things. In a traditional mechanistic approach, cause leads to effect: If a & bhappen, then x & y must happen. But you don't have to reach your goals or meet your ideals, and they can change along the way.


Finalism (7p23)

Ultimate truth will always be beyond us, but for practical purposes, we need to create partial truths or constructs. Finalism refers to the teleology aspect: The fiction lies in the future, and yet influences our behaviour today.It is impossible to understand a person without understanding that person's fictional finalism.


Inferiority (1p69, 7p35)

We are, all of us, "pulled" towards fulfillment, perfection, self-actualization. And yet some of us end up terribly unfulfilled, baldly imperfect, and far from self-actualized. If life is getting the best of you, then your attentions become increasingly focussed on yourself.

Adler began his theoretical work considering organ inferiority ie the fact that each of us has weaker, as well as stronger, parts of our anatomy or physiology. The inferior organ can be strengthened and even become stronger than it is in others, or other organs can be overdeveloped to take up the slack, or the person can psychologically compensate for the organic problem by developing certain skills or certain personality styles.

Some compensate by becoming good at what we feel inferior about. More compensate by becoming good at something else, but otherwise retaining a sense of inferiority. And some just never develop any self esteem at all.


Striving to become adult (1p80)

As children we have a desire to grow up, to be big, to be an adult. This kind of compensation is really identical with striving for perfection! Many children, however, are left with the feeling that other people will always be better than they are they develop an inferiority complex. ††††††††


Psychological types (1p161+)

Three (four) types could be distinguished based on the different levels of energy they involved. (Adler hated lumping large groups of people into broad categories but felt that describing basic lifestyles would make the concept easier to understand. His types are only intended to be rough estimates of the infinitely large number of personalities).

ruling type (1p161+)

They are, from childhood on, characterised by a tendency to be rather aggressive and dominant over others. Their energy (the strength of their striving after personal power) is so great that they tend to push over anything or anybody who gets in their way. The most energetic of them are bullies and sadists, less energetic ones hurt others by hurting themselves (eg depressives, alcoholics, drug addicts and suicidal patients).

leaning type (1p161+)

They are sensitive people who have developed a shell around themselves which protects them, but they must rely on others to carry them through life's difficulties. They have low energy levels and so become dependent. When overwhelmed, they develop what we typically think of as neurotic symptoms: phobias, obsessions and compulsions, general anxiety, hysteria, amnesias, and so on, depending on individual details of their lifestyle.

avoiding type (1p161+)

These have the lowest levels of energy and only survive by essentially avoiding life -- especially other people. When pushed to the limits, they tend to become psychotic, retreating finally into their own personal worlds.

socially useful type.(1p161+)

This is the healthy person, one who has both social interest and energy. Note that without energy, you can't really have social interest, since you wouldn't be able to actually do anything for anyone! These people believe in doing good for the sake of society. They also believe they have control over their lives.

(Adler noted that his four types looked very much like the four types proposed by the ancient Greeks. Adler believed very strongly that each person is a unique individual with his or her own unique lifestyle. The idea of types is a useful fiction not an absolute reality!)


Childhood (1p69, 7p23)

The prototype of your lifestyle tends to be fixed by about five years old. New experiences, rather than change that prototype, tend to be interpreted in terms of the prototype††††† .

Most will go through life with a strong sense of inferiority, a few will overcompensate with a superiority complex. Only with the encouragement will some truly compensate.

Pampering (1p69, 7p23)

The pampered child fails in two ways: First, he doesn't learn to do for himself, and discovers later that he is truly inferior, and secondly, he doesn't learn any other way to deal with others than the giving of commands. And society responds to pampered people in only one way: hatred.

Neglect (1p69, 7p23)

A child who is neglected or abused learns what the pampered child learns, but learns it in a far more direct manner: They learn inferiority because they are told and shown every day that they are of no value; They learn selfishness because they are taught to trust no one.†††††††††


Birth order (1p33, 7p23)

Adler considered birth-order another one of those heuristic ideas - useful fictions - that contribute to understanding people, but must be not be taken too seriously.†††

First children (1p33, 7p23)

They are more likely than others to be pampered. More positively, first children are often precocious.

Second / Middle children (Adler was a middle child) (1p33, 7p23)

Second-born children are the most well adapted of all positions. They act as the peacemakers and pace-setters. They often succeed, but many feel as if the race is never done, and they tend to dream of constant running without getting anywhere.

Youngest children (1p33, 7p23)

But, with all those "pace-setters" ahead, the youngest can also be driven to exceed all of them. †††††††††††

Note: As with everything in Adler's system, birth order is to be understood in the context of the individual's own special circumstances. Adler did acknowledge that while actual birth order was usually a good prediction of behavior, psychological birth order also played a role.


Adlerís theraputic approach

He spent time obtaining a detailed medical history looking for significant physical conditions since birth.

He would then probe to identify the patients mental health by identifying how socially aware they were and where they were in society in terms of position / job / marital status. He was also concerned to identify the patientís life style within that societal context.

As a therapist he did not remain distant - he almost became the patientís friend and coach.

He probed to identify earliest memories eg if your earliest memory involves security and a great deal of attention, that might indicate pampering.

Goals were very important to Adler and he spent time working with the patient to agree those future goals. He did not dwell on the past greatly apart from questions relating to birth order and general background.

He encouraged patients to remember their dreams and daydream because he believed that daydreaming (and isolation, laziness, lying) may be various ways of avoiding facing one's inferiorities. Usually he asserted, they reflect the goals you have and the problems you face in reaching them. For those unable to remember their dreams he reccommended that they simply fantasize about them in the consulting room.

Adler asserted that even sleep postures may contribute some insight.

He also delved into his patientís work life, school experiences, exams gained, career decisions made and the patients current and past jobs.


Adler: Positive Aspects

Note: Adler was open to the less rational and scientific, more art-like side of diagnosis: He suggested we not ignore empathy, intuition and guess-work. It is one of the most socially responsible psychologies in a field that frequently becomes focussed on the ďselfĒ. Adler sought to not reduce psychotherapy to a by-the-numbers procedure, but practice it like an art requiring creative innovation.

Never allowing the patient to force the therapist into the role of an authoritarian figure.

Patient resistance is just a sign of the patient's lack of courage to give up their neurotic lifestyle. ††††††††

It is the patient, not the therapist, who is ultimately responsible for curing him or herself.

By developing a genuine human relationship with the patient, the therapist provides the basic form of social interest, which the patient can then transfer to others.

Many other psychologies have adopted aspects of Adler's theory but none have embraced Adlerís central concept - the feeling of community as an indicator of mental health.

It is more than a collection of techniques - it establishes philosophical ideals for individual and group development.

It does not rely on typologies, but attempts to capture the absolute uniqueness of each individual using terms are easily understood.

The goal of treatment is not merely symptom relief, but the adoption of a new way of living and thinking.

Focus on goals to motivate the patient - avoiding the past in favour of the future.


Referencing method employed:

(99p999) (<publication><page><page number>)

(99) (<publication>) {for example a non-page numbered web-page}

(1) Adler - Alfred,Wolfe - W Beran, 6th Edition, 1946, George Allen and Unwin, London

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(16) Rinpoche - Akong TalKu, 1994, Taming the Tiger, Rider, London

(17) Wolpe, Joseph, 1990, 4th Edition, The Practice of Behaviour Therapy, Pergamon Press, New York

(18) Wolpe, J, (1958), Psychotherapy by Reciprocal Inhibition, Stanford, Stanford University Press, USA

(19) Wolpe - J, Lazarus - A, 1966, Behavior Therapy Technique, Pergamon Press, New York

(20) Bass, Bernard M, Leadership, 1960, Psychology and Organisational Behaviour, Harper International, New York USA

(21) Steiner - D, Fishbein - M, 1966, Current Studies in Social Psycolology, Holt - Rinehart and Wilson Inc, New York USA

(22) Storr, Anthony, 1998, The Essential Jung, Fontana Press, London

(23) Christopher - Elphis, McFarland Solomon - Hester, 2000, Jungian Thought in the Modern World, Free Association Books, London / New York

(24) Trupp, Michael S, 2000, On Freud, Wadsworth Thomson Learning, UK / US

(25) Kline, Paul, 1995, Psychology and Freudian Theory, Routledge, London

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