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Adlerian therapy is a model for psychological therapy developed by Alfred Adler. A psychoanalyst and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Adler was elected as the first president of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. The Society had begun meeting in Freud's apartment and eventually came to focus on Freudian theory. Adler eventually resigned.
Individual Psychology Therapy
Alfred Adler's own theoretical framework was psychoanalytic, similar to the well-known Freudian model in many ways. The Adlerian therapeutic model became known as Individual Psychology (IP) because of its core conception of the personality as something the individual is an active participant in creating. Other psychological frameworks tended to treat personality as more or less immutable; an individual can learn to cope with and manage his personality, but significant alteration is not a goal.
Adlerian Therapy Patients
In Individual Psychology therapy, the psychologist assists the patient in developing a self-understanding. Using respectful, non-confrontational dialog (in contrast to the aggressive argumentation of the later approach by Albert Ellis, the therapist assists the patient in correcting faulty assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes so they can self-develop their personality in accord with a more realistic worldview. Therapists also engage in encouragement of the patient's efforts, giving Adlerian therapy a more positive orientation than most other models.
Alfred Adler's theory of personality stressed the following:
- Growth and mastery of the environment as a means of overcoming feelings of inferiority that are a natural part of childhood.
- Adler believed that people have the ability to control and shape their personality.
- He stressed those that do not learn how to adapt to the environment or do not learn to improve as they age are destined to suffer negative effects such as an under or overly exaggerated sense of self.
One of the most appealing aspects of Alfred Adler's personality theory deals with the differences between his theory and that of his contemporary Freud. Unlike Freud, Adler believed that people do have the ability to monitor and control the direction of their lives. Adler did not believe that the unconscious shapes personality, but rather, that each individual is unique and that each individual has the ability to shape the sort of person he or she will become.
Additionally, Adler believed that people strive to improve in order to be better than others. He posited that individuals have the ability to adapt to their environment and to improve in areas needed. According to Adler, as individuals age they strive to overcome the feelings of inferiority they felt as children. He used the term compensation to describe the process individuals undergo in order to overcome inferiorities and weaknesses.
An unappealing, but true, portion of Adler's personality theory is that of overcompensation. According to Adler, people attempt to make up for their weaknesses in one area by overcompensating in another area. For example, if a person is bad at sports he or she might try to excel at music in order to hide his or her weakness. Adler believed people overcompensate as a means of denying a weakness to oneself as well as to others. This tendency prevents people from accepting and acknowledging who they really are.
Another unappealing part of Adler's personality theory has to do with the way people overcompensate. Some individuals develop an inferiority complex, whereby they believe they are incapable of excelling to the same level of others. This is unappealing in that many people use a real or imagined inferiority complex as a means to avoid taking risks that might lead to great rewards. Others take the exact opposite route. Instead of developing an inferiority complex they develop a superiority complex whereby they believe they are better than everyone else. This type of individual tends to exaggerate his or her self-importance.
Alfred Alder's personality theory stressed that individuals are unique beings who possess the ability to adapt to their environment. Moreover, they have the talents and skills needed to grow and develop in a manner that allows them to minimize weaknesses while stressing strengths. The unappealing aspects of Adler's theories are those that ring most true. Individuals who do not adapt and grow develop either an inferior or exaggerated sense of self. Adler's theory is important in that it stresses continual growth as vital to the development of a healthy personality.