Adlerian Therapy, developed by Alfred Adler, views the therapeutic relationship as being a joint journey between client and counselor. His views on human behavior as deeply rooted in early childhood experiences and he teaches that many people suffer from inferiority issues rather than mental disorders. In the following paper, these views, as well as Adlerian therapeutic approaches and limitations of Alders theory will be examined in depth, ending with the writer’s take on the theory and how it aligns with her views on the therapeutic process.
Adlerian Analysis and Framework
This paper will explore, in detail, the Adlerian school of thought on therapy. Alfred Adler, who developed this theory, had very specific ideas dealing with philosophy, human nature, theory of change, and the role counselors should play in the therapeutic process. These things will be discussed in further detail in this paper as well as intervention strategies and legal and ethical implications of using these methods of counseling. How this theory aligns with this learners own philosophy, values, and views of the therapeutic process will also be examined.
Origins of the Adlerian Theory
Alfred Adler is the creator of the Adlerian Theory of counseling practice. Adler, born 1870,”stressed the need to understand individuals within their social context. During the early 1900's, Adler began addressing such crucial and contemporary issues as equality, parent education, and the influence of birth order, life style, and the holism of individuals.“(The Theory and Application of Adlerian Psychology, 2007) Adler did not have an easy life. He felt great rejection by his mother. During his
early childhood he felt inadequate due to his size and appearance and those made him want to try harder to be popular and accepted by his peers as well as his family. These were things expressed by Adler. “He also said that he felt unattractive and small growing up so he worked very hard to be popular in school to compensate for the rejection he felt from his family life.” (Cosner, 2002). It would appear that the development of this theory is directly connected to these certain events in Adler’s life. This would explain his theory on inferiority.”Adler’s theory focuses on inferiority feelings, which he saw as a normal condition of all people and as a source of all human striving.” (Corey, 2009, pg 98). Adler had much time to consider this as in his early years of life he suffered from inferiority feelings. However, instead of turning them into something negative, he used them to develop his theory of the human mind. He decided that “Rather than being considered a sign of weakness or abnormality, inferiority feelings can be the wellspring of creativity.” Corey, 2009, pg 99). Thus, out of Adler’s childhood experiences, Adlerian Therapy was born.
View of Human Nature
Alder held the belief that humans begin to form certain approaches and view in life early on in age, typically in the first six years. “Indeed, at around 6 years of age our fictional vision of ourselves as perfect or complete begins to form into a life goal.” (Corey, 2009, pg 99). Adler also operated on the assumption that people are more motivated by social relatedness instead of sexual urges. (Corey, 2009, pg 99).This fits in well with his theory on inferiority. Adler states that “We are driven to overcome out sense of inferiority and to strive for increasingly higher levels of development.” (Corey, 2009, pg 99). Adler felt that people are not solely a product of their environment or their genetics; that nature and nurture are mixed together and are sometimes not factored in at all. “We have the capacity to interpret, influence, and create events. Adler asserted that genetics and heredity are not as important as what we choose to do with the abilities and limitations we possess.” 9Corye, 2009, pg 99). It is in our nature as human beings to influence our own paths and outcomes.
The theory behind change in Adlerian therapy is based on reeducation. In the beginning, a holistic approach is taken in order to assess the client to the best of the therapist’s ability, and form a relationship based on mutual trust between therapist and client. Once those things are accomplished the reeducation can begin. “The main aim of therapy is to develop the client’s sense of belonging and to assist in the adoption of behaviors and processes by increasing the client’s self-awareness and challenging and modifying his or her fundamental premise, life goals, and basic concepts.” (Corey, 2009, pg 104).
Adler on Psychopathology
The view Adler takes on psychopathology is described by Stein and Edwards (1998) as “deceptively simple” According to Adler, typically when there is a psychological disturbance/disorder present then there are one of two things happening inside the person; exaggerated feelings of inferiority or insufficient feelings of community. “Under these conditions, a person may experience or anticipate
failure before a task that appears impossible and may become "discouraged." When individuals are discouraged, they often resort to fictional means to relieve or mask--rather than overcome--their inferiority feelings.” (Stein, & Edwards, 1998). For example, a man taken care of his entire life by his parents without having to be responsible for his needs being met may become depressed once he is thrust into the real world and must support himself. He may become depressed by his situation and depend on his family to support his once again or rely on public assistance.
Forcing others to provide for him may yield a secret feeling of power and superiority that compensates for his feelings of inferiority. Unprepared for the normal challenges that might lead to failure, he pays the price for his painful depression, but uses it to maintain his passive self-indulgence and protect himself from a real test of his capacities.” (Stein, & Edwards, 1998).
When it comes to a person like this “inferiority feelings seem so overwhelming and the feeling of community is
so underdeveloped that they retreat to protect their fragile yet inflated sense of self.” (Stein, & Edwards, 1998).
When using the Adlerian theory the therapist/client relationship is based on mutual trust and respect. “One way of looking at the role of Adlerian therapists is that they assist clients in better understanding, challenging, and changing their life story.” (Corey, 2009, pg 104). The Adlerian therapist does not use labels of diagnosis for their clients but rather looks for mistakes in thinking and values in order to help them overcome these things and reshape their life and beliefs. Together, the therapist and client come to conclusions about what the target of the therapy should be for best results.
Adlerian Intervention Strategies
When using Adlerian theory to counsel clients there are many techniques that can be used that align with the concepts that the theory fosters. One such technique is subjective interviewing. During
this process the client is encouraged to tell a through story of his or her life. This technique requires much active listening and empathy on the therapist’s part. “Throughout the subjective interview, the Adlerian counselor is listening for clues to the purposive aspects of the client’s coping and approaches to life.” (Corey,2009, pg 109). It is important for the therapist to get a clear view of the client’s position and have a good understanding of the client. Hearing the client’s life story can give solid clues as to the root of their issues and show patterns in their lives.
Another way to do this is with the early recollection technique. With this technique the therapist asks the client to pull out of their memory the earliest memories that they can recall typically up until the age of 6. “Early memories cast light on the “story of our life” because they represent metaphors for our current views.” (Corey, 2009, pg 111). These early memories can be used by the therapist to assess the client and their views as well as assess the client’s strengths and
weaknesses. By finding life themes and strengths and weaknesses the client and therapist can then begin to reshape views and behaviors that can help to change the client’s life as well as reeducate the client.
Limitations of Adlerian Theory
Many people view a counselor as an expert or authority figure and therefore expect answers from them. This does not fit into the egalitarian approach in Adlerian therapy and therefore can be considered a limitation depending on the client and their expectations of therapy. Culture can also present a limitation. As mentioned in the techniques section, the therapist typically wants a detailed and personal life story from the client. For a person who comes from a culture where private family matters are not shared this could be a definite hurdle.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
With any Adlerian therapy, and any other theory that deals with person-centered approaches,
there can be some confusion as to what is to take place is sessions. A therapist who practices using only Adlerian principals should represent themselves as such a therapist. For instance, a client may come to therapy seeking more of a psychoanalytic approach to their treatment and become upset upon finding out later in the sessions that this is not the way their counselor does things. This is where informed consent comes into play. The counselor must be upfront about how they see therapy and the therapeutic relationship and allow that client to decide if it is right for them. Another, and a less common concern in this writer’s opinion, is counselor influenced memory recollections. A person can become quite vulnerable in a therapeutic setting and the therapist must let the client lead when dealing with their own life story and memories. Leading the client, or helping them remember, would be unethical and lead to the client suffering harm.
Writers View of the Therapeutic Process
In the opinion of this writer, the Adlerian theory is one of the most valid theories in our
practice today. So many of the counseling theories choose not to focus on past experiences and only are interested in the present and future. I am of the opinion that the root of our present can be found in our past. If that cannot be brought to the surface and dealt with then how can the present issues be dealt with successfully I also feel a connection with the subjective and objective interviews. To me, these techniques are invaluable in getting a deep understanding of the client and actually stepping into their shoes. This theory aligns with this writer’s views almost to the point of perfection.
Bornsheuer, J., & Polonyi , M.A. (2011). Adlerian counseling with hispanic clients and families. Unpublished manuscript, Counseling, Sam Houston State University, Humble, Texas. Retrieved from http://www.shsu.edu/~piic/AdlerianCounselingwithHispanicClientsandFamilies.htm
Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Cosner, L. (2002). Psychography:alfred adler. Retrieved from http://faculty.frostburg.edu/mbradley/psyography/alfredadler.html
Heffner, C.L. (2002). Personality synopsis [Chapter 5 Section 2]. Retrieved from http://allpsych.com/personalitysynopsis/adler.html
PsyWEB, Initials. (2011). Psychotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.psyweb.com/mdisord/MdisordADV/AdvPsych.jsp
Stein, H.T., & Edwards, M.E. (1998). Classical adlerian theory and practice. In P Marcus (Ed.), Psychoanalytic versions of the human condition New York City: New York University Press.
The theory and application of adlerian psychology. (2007).Psychology, Adler Graduate School, Richfield, MN. Retrieved from http://www.alfredadler.edu/overview/adlerian.htm