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Adlerian Psychotherapy: An Overview Of Theory And Practice

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Understand, interpret, direct. This statement is an oversimplification of sorts, but defines the essence of Adlerian psychotherapy. From this minimal overview of Adlerian theory, we can begin to elaborate and explore the intricacies of individual psychology. Adlerians are concerned with understanding the unique and private beliefs and strategies of the individual (private logic and mistaken notions) that we create in childhood, and which serve as a reference for attitudes, private views of self, others and the world, and behavior (lifestyle). Therapeutic work with clients involves short-term and intensive work to increase social interest, to encourage a greater sense of responsibility for behavior, and to support behavioral change. Insight is used therapeutically as an analytical tool to facilitate deeper self-understanding and personal growth.

Concept of the Person

Adlerian Psychotherapy employs a holistic approach to understanding the individual. Adler provides us with an all-encompassing view of the human being, who is a primarily conscious, rather than unconscious creature. Adlerians believe that the most important life problems are social and therefore, the individual must be considered within the social context (Daniels, 1998). Adlerian theory proposes that a human's principle motive in life is to strive for perfection and that his or her opinion of self, and the world, influences all of the individual's psychological processes. "Adlerian counseling seeks to correct mistakes in perception and logic that people make in their effort to fit into social relationships and to overcome feelings of inferiority" (Brown & Srebalus 1998). Once the individual has adopted a "mistaken goal", he or she will formulate other misconceptions to support the "faulty logic" (Brown & Srebalus 1998). Adlerian theory studies the whole person and how that person experiences life.

According to this theory, the individual possesses four "life-style convictions" (Mosak 1995). These are: "The self-concept - the convictions I have about who I am; the self-ideal - the convictions of what I should be or am obliged to be to have a place; the weltbild, or 'picture of the world' - convictions about the not self and what the world demands of me; and the ethical convictions- personal 'right-wrong' code" (Mosak 1995). When there is conflict between the self-concept and the ideal, inferiority feelings develop. It is important to note that Adlerians do not believe that these feelings of inferiority are abnormal. In fact, this theory proposes that, "to live is to feel inferior" (Mosak 1995). However, when the individual begins to act inferior rather than feel inferior, the individual is engaging in "discouragement" or the inferiority complex (Mosak 1995). "To oversimplify, the inferiority feeling is universal and 'normal'; the inferiority complex reflects the discouragement of a limited segment of our society and is usually 'abnormal'" (Mosak 1995). This theory views the healthy and "ideal" individual as one who engages in life experiences with confidence and optimism. "There is a sense of belonging and contributing, the 'courage to be imperfect,' and the serene knowledge that one can be acceptable to others, although imperfect" (Mosak 1995).

This theory uses subjectivity for understanding the person. In order to understand the individual, we must understand his or her cognitions. Harold Mosak (1995) identifies five underlying assumptions to the Adlerian theory. He states, "a) the individual is unique, b) the individual is self-consistent, c) the individual is responsible, d) the person is creative, an actor, a chooser, and e) people in a soft-deterministic way can direct their own behavior and control their destinies" (Mosak, 1995, p.87). According to Adlerian theory, people strive to attain goals that provide them with a place in this world, in turn giving them security and enhancing self- esteem.

"If strivings are solely for the individual's greater glory, he (Adler) considers them socially useless and, in extreme conditions, characteristic of mental problems. On the other hand, if the strivings are for the purpose of overcoming life's problems, the individual is engaged in the striving for self-realization, in contribution to humanity and in making the world a better place to live" (Mosak, 1995, p. 53).

Concept of Intervention

Like all therapies it is assumed that the individual's present way of living may accord safety but not happiness, and because there are not any guarantees in life, one must risk some 'safety' for the possibility of greater happiness and self-fulfillment. How each therapy goes about moving the client from a place of 'safety' to a place of relative 'risk taking' may differ. Adlerian psychology addresses the complete range of human experience, from optimal to pathological, and sees the 'therapeutic' relationship as a friendly one between equals (Stein, 1996). At the foundation of Adlerian theory and practice is an optimism about human nature and the premise that the primacy of a feeling of community (connectedness) is an index and goal of mental health (Stein, 1996).

The process (intervention) is really one of life-style investigation. The therapist tries to understand the patients life-style, how the individual engages his life, and how that life-style affects the client's current functioning. The goal of treatment is not merely symptom relief, but the adoption of a contributing way of living (Stein, 1996). Adlerians view pain and suffering in a client's life as the result of the choices the client has made. This value-based theory of personality hypothesizes that the values a client holds and lives their life by, are learned, and when they no longer work (evidenced by suffering or lack of happiness), the client can re-learn values and life-styles that work more 'effectively'.

Adler taught that a client's life-style can be viewed as a personal mythology. These mythologies are true for the individual and so the individual acts accordingly. These mythologies are "truths" and "partial truths," but they can also be myths that one confuses for truths. Adler calls these basic mistakes. Overgeneralizations such as 'people are hostile', 'life is dangerous' as well as misperceptions of life, 'life doesn't give me any breaks',



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