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Adlerian Psychology


Alfred Adler stressed the need to understand individuals within their social context. In the early 1900's Adler began addressing such crucial and contemporary issues as equality, parent education, the influence of birth order, life style, and the holism of individuals. He believed that we all have one basic desire and goal: to belong and to feel significant. 

When we are encouraged, we feel capable and appreciated, and will generally act in a connected, cooperative way. When we are discouraged, we may act in unhealthy ways by competing, withdrawing, or giving up. It is in finding ways of expressing and accepting encouragement, respect, and social interest that will help us feel fulfilled and optimistic.

Adlerian theory and practice have proven especially productive in application to the lives of children.  Adlerians believe that “a misbehaving child is a discouraged child”  and that helping children to feel valued, significant, and competent, is often the best strategy in coping with difficult behaviors. Adler's "individual psychology" focuses on the efforts people invariably make in order to compensate for their (self-perceived) inferiority to others. These feelings of inferiority may derive from one’s position in the family constellation, particular early experiences of humiliation, a specific physical condition or defect, or a general lack of social feeling for others. 

Adlerians are concerned with understanding the unique and private beliefs and strategies (one’s life style), that each individual creates in childhood and which then serve as the individual’s reference for attitudes, behavior, and one’s private view of self, others and the world.  It is when we have looked at our early life experiences, examined the patterns of behavior that repeat themselves in our lives, and the methods by which we go about trying to gain significance and belonging that healing, growth, and change occur.

To encourage is to promote and activate the social interest, that is, the sense of belonging, value, worthwhileness, and welcome in the human community.  Encouragement is a major aspect of Adlerian psychotherapy and counseling.  The loss of courage, or discouragement, is understood by Individual Psychology to be the basis of mistaken and dysfunctional behavior.  The discouraged person has the same goal as the person with courage:  to belong, to be valued, to have the respect of others, etc.  However, he or she lacks the courage to operate on the useful side of life in line with the social interest, and may seek to achieve a place on the useless side through neurotic, sociopathic, or psychotic processes and operations.

It is the Adlerian’s belief that every human being has the goal of belonging, of making a place in his or her world.  Discouraged children, who find themselves unable to accomplish this goal on the socially useful side of life through cooperation and contribution, may develop mistaken goals in their struggle to belong.  Dreikurs posited four mistaken goals of the discouraged child.  They are (1) attention, (2) power, (3) revenge, and (4) the display of inadequacy.  The acting out of discouragement is a call for understanding on the part of the childs’ parent(s). Dreikurs and Adler believed that the most effective way to deal with discouragement (misguided goals / misbehavior) is through logical and natural consequences.

Natural consequences follow the child's behavior without parental intervention.  Parents must simply allow the child to experience the outcome of his or her actions.  Logical consequences, however, must be discussed and agreed upon among the affected family members in advance of their applications (otherwise, they may be experienced by the child as punishment from above to below rather than as an outcome of personal choice and actions).  The use of natural or logical consequences enhances the child's developing sense of him or herself as a responsible participant in shaping the experience of life.