Adlerian psychology, alternatively known as Adlerian theory or Adlerian therapy, is based on the work of Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Much of this theory focuses on feelings of inferiority and cultivating a sense of belonging.
Who was Alfred Adler?
Alfred Adler was born near Vienna in 1870. Working as a general practice physician in a low-income area of Vienna, he saw many patients from a nearby amusement park and circus. Learning about the performers’ unusual talents and weaknesses helped him form theories based around individuals’ feelings of inferiority, compensation, and roles within the community.
Although Adler became a colleague of Freud, the two parted ways over diverging opinions of psychology. One significant difference is that Freud emphasized a person’s inner mental state and thoughts, while Adler focused on a person’s belonging in their community and society. He emphasized both personal choice and the importance of relationships and cooperation.
What does Adlerian therapy look like?
Adlerian therapy takes a holistic view, accounting for a variety of factors affecting the whole person. It considers the person as a part of society, not an isolated individual. Adler placed enormous importance on social relationships. He also believed all individuals and their decisions were goal-oriented, and encouraged growth based on working toward healthy goals and behaviors.
According to Psychology Today, there are several key stages to Adlerian therapy:
- Engagement: The therapist and client develop an empathetic, collaborative relationship.
- Assessment: The therapist learns about the client’s past and their present challenges, including family dynamics and thought patterns.
- Insight: The therapist uses this information to help the client discover why he or she thinks and acts in certain ways.
- Reorientation: The therapist and client work to develop new ways of thinking and behaving to help the client reach his or her desired goals.
The Adlerian approach can be used for any situation where psychotherapy is called for. It can also be used in combination with other types of therapy, such as art therapy, or other treatment approaches, such as medication. It can be used in individual, group, couples, or family therapy settings.
Licensed behavioral health professionals can receive additional training in the Adlerian approach. Institutions such as the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology offer programs focused on Adlerian theory and counseling.
Why is Adlerian psychology important to know?
While Adler himself is less famous than Freud or Jung, his ideas persist in modern psychology and therapy. We now know that mental and physical health are closely linked, which supports Adler’s holistic view of the person. Adlerian theory and therapy is evidence-based and is worth consideration for treating individuals with a variety of behavioral health conditions.
One commentary published in Focus discusses the value of a collaborative relationship between therapist and client, as emphasized by the Adlerian approach. A bond between the two, and agreement on treatment goals, can make a significant difference in a client’s outcome.
A study of college students in Turkey, published in the Journal of Individual Psychology in 2017, found that an Adlerian approach was effective for group counseling. Another study in the Journal of Humanistic Counseling found that discoveries in neuroscience support Adler’s theories about a person’s role in society.
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