12 Basic Assumptions of Adlerian Theory

Adlerian theory, initially known as Individual Psychology, was crafted by the pioneering mind of Alfred Adler. This therapeutic approach offers a unique lens through which to understand human behavior, emphasizing the social embeddedness and meaning inherent in all actions. Adler viewed individuals as active co-creators of their realities, guided by a holistic, teleological, phenomenological, social, and constructivist perspective. His belief in the necessity of prosocial adaptation for a healthy life underlines the core principles of Adlerian theory.

In this article, we delve into the foundational assumptions that underpin Adlerian psychology. These assumptions serve as the common thread woven into various psychological theories, illustrating the versatility and integration of Adlerian principles. The relationship between Adlerian theory and other therapeutic approaches is explored, revealing overlaps in assumptions and methodologies. From cognitive-behavioral and solution-focused theories to positive psychology, attachment theory, and multicultural perspectives, we examine how Adlerian psychology provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and assisting individuals.

Originating during Adler’s collaboration with Sigmund Freud, Adlerian psychotherapy distinguishes itself by introducing concepts and assumptions that significantly diverge from Freudian principles. The collaborative, flexible, and active role of psychotherapists is essential in helping clients develop self-esteem, fostering an egalitarian view of others, and cultivating a proactive and constructive outlook on life.

As we proceed, we will outline the 12 basic assumptions of Adlerian psychology, shedding light on the fundamental principles that guide this holistic and socially embedded therapeutic approach. Whether you are an Adlerian practitioner or interested in the intersections of psychological theories, this exploration aims to enhance understanding and appreciation for the foundational beliefs that shape Adlerian theory.

1. Holism: Seeing the Whole Picture

Adlerians believe in looking at people as a whole, without dividing them into artificial parts like emotions versus intellect or conscious versus unconscious. Understanding individuals in their social context is crucial, as emotions and actions cannot be isolated from the person’s overall social experience.

2. Teleology: Understanding Life’s Purposes

Adlerian psychology focuses on purposes in life. It goes beyond analyzing what something is made of or what caused it; it explores the purpose it serves. For example, anxiety is seen not just as a physical or psychological reaction but as a signal prompting individuals to take charge and stay in control.

3. Creativity: People as Co-Creators

Adlerians view individuals as active co-creators of their worlds. While acknowledging the influence of parents on children, they also emphasize the impact children have on parents and how perceptions shape development. Each child’s experience in a family is unique, influencing and being influenced by others.

4. Phenomenology: Understanding Perception

In addition to understanding what individuals are born with, Adlerians focus on how they perceive their situations. Examining children’s perceptions provides insights into their worlds, as a seemingly positive trait might be perceived negatively. Adlerians recognize the importance of subjective experiences in understanding individuals.

5. Soft Determinism: Influences, Not Certainties

Adlerians advocate for soft determinism, emphasizing influences over strict cause-and-effect relationships. Choices are seen as influenced by various factors, not always indicative of true desires. Life imposes limits, and individuals may not always have unlimited freedom of choice. Responsibility is acknowledged without necessarily assigning blame.

6. Social Field Theory: Examining Social Context

Adlerians closely examine the social field in which behavior occurs. It’s not enough to know that someone is expressing an emotion; understanding where, with whom, and the effects on others is vital. Psychotherapists consider how clients navigate life’s tasks—work, community, and love—in their social context.

7. Motivation as Striving: Moving Towards a Goal

Adlerians view motivation as moving from a perceived “minus situation” to a perceived “plus situation.” The specific definition of these situations varies for each person, and individuals strive to overcome challenges and achieve personal goals.

8. Idiographic Orientation: Emphasizing Specifics

Adlerians prioritize the idiographic (individual) nature of people over generalities. Specifics of a case, such as how and when symptoms manifest, are more critical than general diagnostic labels. Understanding the unique details of an individual’s experience is crucial for effective treatment.

9. Psychology of Use: Active Utilization of Resources

Adlerians focus on how individuals actively use their psychological processes rather than merely possessing them. The emphasis is on understanding how emotions, memories, or cognitive abilities are actively employed in a person’s life.

10. Acting “As If”: Maps of Reality

People form mental maps of their worlds and often act “as if” these maps accurately represent reality. Adlerians analyze the usefulness of these maps given the particulars of individuals’ lives, recognizing that overly rigid beliefs may lead to difficulties in adapting to reality.

11. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Shaping Feedback

Individuals shape the feedback they receive by acting in accordance with their beliefs, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Adlerians emphasize the importance of understanding how one’s beliefs influence the responses received from others.

12. Optimism: Belief in Growth

Adlerians maintain an optimistic view of human nature, believing that everyone has the potential to improve. Education, encouragement, and acquiring new skills can help individuals feel better, do better, and be better. Hope, faith, and compassion are integral to the therapeutic process.

More Notes on Adlerian Psychology

Adlerian Psychology: Understanding Personality

The Theory of Personality

  1. Temperament: Inborn Traits
    • Refers to the inborn characteristics children possess, primarily genetic.
    • Quick modifications occur through learning and socialization.
    • Debate on the number of temperaments, but the presence of predispositions is evident.
  2. Personality: Traits and Socialization
    • Collection of traits and characteristics developed through socialization.
    • Shaped by temperamental predispositions and early childhood experiences.
  3. Lifestyle: Using Personal Traits in Social Context
    • Adlerians define lifestyle as the use of personality, traits, temperament, and psychological processes to navigate social life.
    • Focus on how individuals perceive and use their traits in socially useful or useless ways.
    • Link between lifestyle and attachment theory: Children act “as if” they must fulfill certain requirements to belong.
  4. Attachment and Belonging
    • Children believe they can only belong by conforming to perceived requirements.
    • Attachment theory emphasizes the importance of understanding how individuals form connections to find their place in social contexts.

Factors Influencing Lifestyle Development

1. Degree of Activity

  • Adler highlighted the importance of activity level, partly learned and influenced by temperament.
  • Mismatch between a child’s activity level and caretakers’ can lead to potential issues.
  • Childhood activity level often reflects adult problem-solving energy.

2. Organ Inferiority

  • Children with constitutionally inferior organ systems may undergo the law of compensation.
  • Compensation occurs somatically, sympathetically, and psychically.
  • Organ inferiority influences lifestyle directly through compensation and indirectly through perceptions of parents and others.

3. Birth Order and Sibling Relationships

  • Adler identified five birth-order positions, each associated with specific characteristics.
  • Sibling relationships crucial; time spent with siblings can influence lifelong choices.
  • Birth-order roles, although debated, manifest in adult socialization across various contexts.

4. Family Values

  • Maternal, paternal, and family values influence lifestyle.
  • Maternal and paternal values offer some freedom; family values are binding.
  • Acceptance or rejection of family values in childhood can become psychosocial stressors in adulthood.

5. Family Atmosphere

  • Emotional tone within families influences children’s moods as adults.
  • Prevailing family atmosphere shapes adult responses and coping mechanisms.
  • Hostile childhood atmosphere may lead to anxious adult mood for future preparation.

6. Parenting Style

  • Adlerians advocate for democratic parenting style for positive influence on children’s characteristics.
  • Autocratic, democratic, and permissive styles documented with varying effects on lifestyles.
  • Core structures of lifestyle assessed through factors like school, religion, economics, peers, and culture.

7. Other Influencing Factors

  • Factors like school, religion, economics, peers, and culture contribute to lifestyle development.
  • Lifestyle interview assesses these factors, leading to the formulation of core lifestyle structures.
  • Client’s self-concept, self-ideal, worldview, and ethical convictions are expressed during assessment.

8. Compensation and Incongruence

  • Discrepancies between self-concept, self-ideal, worldview, and ethical convictions lead to feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and guilt.
  • Incongruence in lifestyle convictions is normal; how it is handled is crucial.
  • Encouragement increases pro-social handling, while discouragement may lead to psychopathological symptoms.

9. Attachment and Belonging

  • Attachment is synonymous with survival; children may perceive or misperceive how to attach or belong.
  • Encouragement ensures a place despite feelings of inferiority, promoting healthy adaptation to life’s challenges.

Process of Adlerian Psychotherapy

  1. Stages of Adlerian Psychotherapy
    • Relationship Building:
      • Not strict stages but fluid processes occurring in a suggested order.
      • Relationship building is foundational, emphasizing mutual respect between therapist and client.
      • Collaboration is key, recognizing the client as an expert on themselves.
    • Investigating and Uncovering Dynamics:
      • Involves collecting lifestyle material to understand the client’s dynamics.
      • Lifestyle material aids in uncovering patterns, perceptions, and behaviors.
    • Interpreting the Lifestyle:
      • Focus on gaining insight into the client’s meaning attached to life, self, and others.
      • Interpretation aids in understanding the client’s worldview and self-concept.
    • Reorientating:
      • Process of teaching new skills and attitudes to promote community feeling and social interest.
      • Encourages a shift in perspective and the development of positive social connections.
  2. Adlerian Beliefs on Relationship
    • Adlerians emphasize mutual respect between equals in the therapeutic relationship.
    • Collaboration is crucial, recognizing both the therapist’s expertise in psychology and the client’s expertise about themselves.
    • Treatment goals are mutually decided, avoiding unilateral imposition to prevent therapy failure.
  3. Resistance in Adlerian Psychotherapy
    • Defined as a misalignment of goals between equals.
    • Imposing goals unilaterally by either the client or therapist may lead to resistance.
    • Successful therapy involves addressing and aligning goals collaboratively to achieve desired outcomes.

Adlerian Psychotherapy Process

  1. Investigation in Adlerian Psychotherapy
    • Lifestyle Assessment:
      • Involves gathering relevant historical material to formulate the client’s lifestyle.
      • Initial interview provides a cross-sectional understanding of the client’s life.
      • The general diagnosis, based on the initial interview, aids in nomothetic descriptions.
    • Key Areas in Initial Interview:
      1. Identifying Information:
        • Who you are, where you live and work, educational background, relationship status, medical history, and treatment.
      2. Presenting Problem:
        • Reason for seeking therapy, onset, circumstances, and impact on self and others.
      3. Relevant Recent History:
        • Duration of the problem, childhood interactions, friendships, relationships with teachers, past treatments, and their outcomes.
      4. Current Functioning:
        • Employment, leisure activities, preferences, social life, friendships, love life, satisfaction, and personal preferences.
      5. Treatment Expectations:
        • Desired changes, perceived causes, expectations from therapy, anticipated duration, and involvement of others.
  2. Interpretation in Adlerian Psychotherapy
    • General Diagnosis:
      • Presented initially through case formulation.
      • Involves summarizing the client’s background, issues, and expectations.
    • Lifestyle Summary:
      1. Family Constellation:
        • Overview of the client’s family structure and dynamics.
      2. Early Recollections:
        • Summary of significant childhood memories.
      3. Faulty Premises/Private Logic:
        • Identification of client’s erroneous beliefs, interfering attitudes, or growth-impeding convictions.
      4. Assets and Strengths:
        • Recognition of the client’s positive qualities and capabilities.
  3. Therapeutic Process
    • Collaborative Approach:
      • Emphasis on mutual respect and collaboration between therapist and client.
    • Goal Alignment:
      • Therapy goals are decided collaboratively to prevent resistance.
    • Resistance Defined:
      • Misalignment of goals between therapist and client.
      • Successful therapy involves addressing and aligning goals collaboratively for desired outcomes.

Mechanisms of Adlerian Psychotherapy

  1. Modeling in Psychotherapy
    • Adler emphasized the therapist modeling proper behavior.
    • Psychotherapeutic relationship as collaboration with empathy, goal alignment, and mutual encouragement.
    • Therapist aims to extend positive changes beyond therapy.
  2. Guessing in Psychotherapy
    • Adlerians use hypotheses or guesses, fostering a collaborative and feedback-rich environment.
    • Guessing speeds up treatment, demonstrates imperfection acceptance, strengthens the therapeutic relationship, and enhances problem-solving.
  3. Pattern Recognition
    • Clients, once accepted, recognize life patterns through lifestyle assessment.
    • Understanding connections between childhood and adulthood choices fosters a sense of control.
    • Awareness of lifestyle enactment in therapy aids in making new choices.
  4. Task Setting
    • Clients are given tasks in sessions, such as practicing social skills, role-playing, or writing.
    • Tasks assigned as homework to generalize learning to real-world situations.
  5. Encouragement in Adlerian Psychology
    • Encouragement defined as instilling courage in clients.
    • Discouragement seen as a key factor in psychopathology.
    • Reflection of feelings, gentle prompts, faith in clients, acceptance with flaws, and demonstrating respect are encouragement strategies.
  6. Early Recollections
    • Used for assessment and change facilitation.
    • Clients retell childhood memories, allowing restructuring for social usefulness.
    • Reveals patterns and helps clients recognize the “rhythm of reoccurrence.”
  7. Dream Interpretation
    • Adlerians view dreams as preparations for the future and rehearsals for actions.
    • Dreams generate emotions influencing waking states.
    • Used to address current issues and emotions.
  8. Questioning in Psychotherapy
    • Proficient use of questions to guide clients in finding answers.
    • “The Question” probes what would be different without symptoms, aiding in differential diagnosis.
  9. Family Sculpting
    • Action-oriented technique revealing family dynamics.
    • Clients physically arrange family members to represent perceptions.
    • Symptom dynamics often aim to move individuals from an initial to an ideal sculpture.
  10. Confrontation
    • Adlerians confront clients without hostility or demeaning.
    • Different from interpretation, confrontation provokes responses, increasing discomfort.
    • Holds clients accountable for choices, fostering meaningful dialogue.
  11. Spitting in the Soup
    • Borrowed from Dickens’ Oliver Twist, a tactic to reframe symptoms.
    • Interpretations aim to make symptoms distasteful or “spoiled” if continued.
    • Clients prompted to reconsider the social implications of their symptoms.

FAQs about Adlerian Theory

Q1: Who is the founder of Adlerian Theory, and what was his relationship with Freud? A1: Alfred Adler is the founder of Adlerian Theory. Initially influenced by Freud, Adler eventually parted ways due to his belief that Freud’s theories were excessively narrow in emphasizing biological and instinctual determination.

Q2: What is Adler’s view of human nature? A2: Adler believed that individuals begin to form an approach to life in the first six years. He focused on how interpretations of early life events continue to influence the present. Humans are motivated by social relatedness rather than sexual urges, and behavior is seen as purposeful and goal-oriented.

Q3: What are inferiority feelings in Adlerian Theory? A3: Inferiority feelings are considered a normal condition for all people and serve as a source of striving. They motivate individuals to strive for mastery, success, and completion, driving them to overcome these feelings.

Q4: How does Adler view human behavior in terms of heredity and environment? A4: Adler asserts that human behavior is not solely determined by heredity and environment. Instead, individuals have the capacity to interpret, influence, and create events, emphasizing the importance of personal choice and responsibility.

Q5: What is the focus of Adlerian Therapy? A5: Adlerian Therapy focuses on reeducating individuals and reshaping society, with an emphasis on the subjective perception of reality and understanding the whole person in the context of their life.

Q6: What is fictional finalism in Adlerian Theory? A6: Fictional finalism refers to an imagined life goal that guides a person’s behavior. Adler replaced this term with “guiding self-ideal” to account for striving toward perfection.

Q7: What are the therapeutic goals of Adlerian Therapy? A7: Therapeutic goals include forming a relationship based on mutual respect, holistic psychological investigation, reeducation, reorientation, and fostering social interest. Changing faulty motivation and helping individuals become contributing members of society are also emphasized.

Q8: How does Adlerian Therapy view clients in terms of sickness or cure? A8: Adlerian Therapy follows a growth model and does not see clients as sick or needing to be cured.

Q9: What is the most powerful therapeutic method in Adlerian Therapy? A9: Encouragement is considered the most powerful method for changing people’s beliefs, building self-confidence, and stimulating courage.

Q10: What is the therapist’s role in Adlerian Therapy? A10: The therapist’s role is to operate under the belief that clients will feel and behave better once they discover and correct their mistakes. The therapist actively assesses the client’s functioning, explores family constellation, early recollections, and private logic, and plays an active role in therapy and interpretation.

Q11: How does Adlerian Therapy address multicultural perspectives? A11: Adlerian Therapy addresses social equality issues, cultural context, and recognizes the effects of social class, racism, sex, and gender. It offers flexibility and a holistic perspective on life.

Q12: What are the limitations of Adlerian Therapy from a diversity perspective? A12: Limitations include a primary emphasis on changing the autonomous self, assumptions rooted in the western nuclear family, and potential cultural mismatch for clients uninterested in exploring past experiences.

Q13: What are the contributions of Adlerian Theory? A13: Adlerian Theory is flexible and integrative, allowing various therapeutic techniques. It is suited to brief, time-limited therapy and has influenced other psychological schools, contributing to the community mental health movement.

Q14: What are the limitations of Adlerian Theory? A14: Some limitations include the difficulty of following Adler’s written presentations, perceptions of his ideas as somewhat loose, simplistic, and limited research supporting the theory’s effectiveness.

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Antony Lawrence. (2023, November 19). 12 Basic Assumptions of Adlerian Theory. EssayHelper.me. Retrieved from https://essayhelper.me/blog/12-basic-assumptions-of-adlerian-theory/

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