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Adlerian pertains to the theory and practice of Alfred Adler (1870 - 1937), whose school of psychotherapy is called individual psychology (Individualpsychologie).[1]


Central to the Adlerian approach is to see the personality as a whole and not as the mere net result of component forces. Thus the term individual (indivisible) psychology.[2] Adlerians adopt a radical stance that cuts across the nature-nurture debate by seeing the developing individual at work in creating the personality in response to the demands of nature and nurture but not absolutely determined by them. The self-created personality operates subjectively and idiosyncratically. The individual is endowed with a striving both for self-development and social meaning - what Adler himself called "the concept of social usefulness and the general well-being of humanity"[3] - expressed in a sense of belonging, usefulness and contribution, and even cosmic consciousness.[4]


Neurosis and other pathological states reveal the safe-guarding or defensive strategems (largely unconscious or out of awareness) of the individual who believes her- or himself to be unequal to the demands of life, in a struggle to compensate for a felt weakness, physical or psychological.[5]

In "normal" development, the child has experienced encouragement and accepts that her or his problems can be overcome in time by an investment of patient persistence and cooperation with others. The "normal" person feels a full member of life, and has "the courage to be imperfect" (Sofie Lazarsfeld).

In less fortunate circumstances, the child, trapped within a sense of inferiority, compensates - or overcompensates, perhaps in grandiose fashion[6] - by striving, consciously and unconsciously, to overcome and solve the problems of life, moving "from a felt minus to a felt plus". A high level of compensation produces subsequent psychological difficulties.[7]


In cases of discouragement the individual, feeling unable to unfold a real and socially valid development, erects a fantasy of superiority - what Adler termed "an attempt at a planned final compensation and a (secret) life plan"[8] - in some backwater of life, which offers seclusion and shelter from the threat of failure and annihilation of personal prestige. This fictional world, sustained by the need to safeguard an anxious ego, by private logic at variance with reason or common sense, by a schema of apperception which interprets and filters and suppresses the real-world data, is a fragile bubble[9] waiting to be burst by mounting tension within and by assaults from the real world.[10] The will to be or become has been replaced by the will to seem.


At the heart of Adlerian psychotherapy is the process of encouragement,[11] grounded in the feeling of universal cohumanity and the belief in the as yet slumbering potential of the patient or client. By making the patient aware of their secret life plan, the therapist is able to offer an alternative outlook better adapted to the wider world of social interests.[12]

This process of encouragement also makes the Adlerian approach so valuable to all those professions that concern themselves with the development and education of children - therapeutic education being one of Adler's central concerns.[13]

Continuing influence[edit]

Henri Ellenberger wrote in the seventies of "the slow and continuous penetration of Adlerian insights into contemporary psychological thinking".[14]

Adlerians continue to flourish in the 21st century, some employing an eclectic technique integrating elements of other therapies, from the psychodynamic to the cognitive, others focusing on a more classical approach.[15]

Notable Adlerians[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brian Lake, 'Adler, Alfred', in Richard Gregory ed., The Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987) p. 5-7
  2. ^ J. & E. Sommers-Flanagan, Counselling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (2012) p. 82
  3. ^ Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature (1992) p. 141
  4. ^ Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) p. 609
  5. ^ Adler, Understanding p. 40
  6. ^ Adler, Understanding p. 70-1
  7. ^ Lake, p. 6
  8. ^ Adler, quoted in Eric Berne, What Do You Say After You Say Hello? (1974) p. 58
  9. ^ Adler, Understanding p. 188-9
  10. ^ Ellenberger, p. 608
  11. ^ J. Frew/M. D. D. Spiegler, Contemporary Psychotherapies for a Diverse World (2012) p. 116
  12. ^ Ellenberger, p. 620
  13. ^ Ellenberger, p. 621-2
  14. ^ Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) p. 644
  15. ^ Frew/Spiegler, p. 93-4

Further reading[edit]

A. Adler, 'Individual Psychology', in G. B. Levitas ed., The World of Psychology (1963)

External links[edit]