Individual psychology

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Individual psychology is the psychological method or science founded by the Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler [1]. The English edition of Adler's work on the subject (1925) is a collection of papers and lectures given mainly in 1912–1914, and covers the whole range of human psychology in a single survey, intended to mirror the indivisible unity of the personality.

In developing the concept of "individual psychology" Adler broke away from the psychoanalytic school of Sigmund Freud [2]. In this development, Adler did call his work "free psychoanalysis" for a time, but he later rejected the label of "psychoanalyst" [3]. His method, involving a holistic approach to the study of character [4], has been extremely influential in later 20th century counselling and psychiatric strategies [5].

The term "individual psychology" (German: Individualpsychologie) does not mean to focus on the individual. Adler said one must take into account the patient's whole environment, including the people the patient associates with. The term "individual" is used to mean the patient is an indivisible whole.

Adler's psychology[edit]

Adler shifted the grounds of psychological determinance from sex and libido, the Freudian standpoint, to one based on the individual evaluation of world. He gave special prominence to societal factors. According to him a person has to combat or confront three forces: societal, love-related, and vocational forces. These confrontations determine the final nature of a personality. Adler based his theories on the pre-adulthood development of a person. He laid stress on such areas as hated children, physical deformities at birth, birth order, etc.

Adlerian psychology shows parallels with the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow, who acknowledged Adler's influence on his own theories. Both individual psychology and humanistic psychology hold that the individual human being is the best determinant of his or her own needs, desires, interests, and growth.

The theory of compensation, resignation and over-compensation[edit]

According to Adler, an individual derives his personality traits from these essentially external factors. The character of the individual is formed by his responses to their influence in the following ways:


Whenever a person suffers from any disadvantages that make him or her inferior to others, his or her main aim becomes to bring those disadvantages to an end. Those who are able to do this become successful in their lives on both social as well as individual bases.


There are those who give in to their disadvantages and become reconciled to them. Such people are in the majority. The attitude of the world towards them is of a cool, rather uninterested sympathy.


There are some persons who become so infatuated with the idea of compensating for their disadvantages that they end up over-indulging in the pursuit. These are the neurotics.

Thus, the external factors are vital in character formation.

Examples of psychologists and therapists who could be called "individual psychologists" in the sense of being Adlerian include Rudolf Dreikurs and Henry Stein.

Classical Adlerian psychotherapy[edit]

Notable Adlerians[edit]


  • Adler, A., Über Den Nervösen Charakter: Grundzüge Einer Vergleichenden Individual-Psychologie Und Psychotherapie, (3rd, revised edition, J F Bergmann Verlag, Munich 1922).
  • Adler, A., Praxis und Theorie der Individual-Psychologie: Vorträge zur Einführung in die Psychotherapie für Ärzte, Psychologen und Lehrer (Bergmann, 1st edn. Wiesbaden 1919, Munich 1920, 2nd ed. 1924, 3rd ed. 1927, 4th ed. 1930).
  • Adler, A., The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology, translated by P. Radin (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1925; revised edition 1929, & reprints).
  • Adler, A., Die Technik der Individual-Psychologie. 1: Die Kunst, eine Lebens- und Krankengeschichte zu lesen (1st edn., Bergmann, Munich 1928).
  • Adler, A., Die Technik der Individual-Psychologie. 2: Die Seele des schwer erziehbaren Schulkindes (Bergmann, Munich 1928: Fischer Verlag 1974).
  • Adler, A., Problems of Neurosis: A Book of Case-Histories, edited by Philip Mairet, with prefatory essay by F. G. Crookshank, "Individual Psychology: A Retrospect (and a Valuation)", pp. vii–xxxvii (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & co., London 1929).
  • Adler, A., The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, H. L. Ansbacher and R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.) (Harper Torchbooks, New York 1956).

Papers contained in Individual Psychology (1929 English revised edition)[edit]

  • "Individual-Psychology, its assumptions and its results" (1914)
  • "Psychical hermaphrodism and the Masculine protest: the cardinal problem of nervous diseases" (1912)
  • "New leading principles for the practice of Individual-Psychology" (1913)
  • "Individual-Psychological treatment of neuroses" (1913)
  • "Contributions to the theory of hallucination" (1912)
  • "The study of child psychology and neurosis" (International Congress lecture, 1913)
  • "The Psychic treatment of trigeminal neuralgia" (1911)
  • "The problem of distance"
  • "The masculine attitude in female neurotics"
  • "The concept of resistance during treatment" (1916)
  • "Syphilophobia" (1911) (phobias and hypochondriac states in the dynamics of neurosis)
  • "Nervous insomnia" (1914)
  • "Individual-Psychological conclusions on sleep disturbances" (1912)
  • "Homo-sexuality" (Lecture to Jurististisch-Medizinische Society, Zurich, 1918)
  • "Compulsion neurosis" (Lecture in Zurich, 1918)
  • "The function of the compulsion-conception as a means of intensifying the individuality-feeling" (1913)
  • "Neurotic hunger-strike"
  • "Dreams and dream-interpretation" (Lecture, 1912)
  • "The role of the unconscious in neurosis" (1913)
  • "Life-lie and responsibility in neurosis and psychosis - A contribution to Melancholia" (1914)
  • "Melancholia and paranoia - Individual-psychological results from a study of psychoses" (1914)
  • "Individual-psychological remarks on Alfred Berger's Hofrat Eysenhardt" (Lecture, 1912)
  • "Dostoevsky" (Lecture, Zurich Tonhalle, 1918)
  • "New view-points on War neuroses (1908)"
  • "Myelodysplasia (Organ inferiority)" (summary from Studie uber Minderwertigkeit von Organen)
  • "Individual-psychological education" (Lecture, Zurich Association of Physicians, 1918)
  • "The Individual-psychology of prostitution"
  • "Demoralized children" (Lecture, 1920)


Karl Popper argued that Adler's individual psychology like psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience because its claims are not testable and cannot be refuted; that is, they are not falsifiable.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Fall, Holden, & Marquis, 2002)
  2. ^ (Dinkmeyer, Pew, & Dinkmeyer, 1979)
  3. ^ (Hoffman, 1994)
  4. ^ (Mosak & DiPietro, 2006)
  5. ^ (Oberst & Stewart, 2003)
  6. ^ Popper KR, "Science: Conjectures and Refutations", reprinted in Grim P (1990) Philosophy of Science and the Occult, Albany, 104–110. See also Conjectures and Refutations.


  • Dinkmeyer, D.C., Pew, W.L., & Dinkmeyer, D.C., Jr. (1979). Adlerian counseling and psychotherapy. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.
  • Fall, K.A., Holden, J.M., & Marquis, A. (2002). Theoretical models of counseling and psychotherapy. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
  • Hoffman, E. (1994). The drive for self: Alfred Adler and the founding of Individual Psychology. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing.
  • Mosak, H.H., & Di Pietro, R. (2006). Early recollections: Interpretive method and application. New York: Routledge.
  • Oberst, U.E., & Stewart, A.E. (2003). Adlerian psychotherapy: An advanced approach to Individual Psychology. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

External links[edit]