Adlerian Therapy

Adlerian therapy is a short term goal oriented, and positive psychodynamic therapy based on the theories of Alfred Adler. Adler focused his research on discouragement, feelings of inferiority versus superiority, and a sense of belonging in the context of a person’s community and society in general. Adler believes that the perception of inadequacy, not belonging among other issues can result in neurotic behavior, although it can be used as a motivator in the right environment. The primary goal of Adlerian therapy is to help individuals feel confident and comfortable in their community or society in general.  The fundamental concepts of the Adlerian theory are essential in the practice of individual and group counseling since it enables people to appreciate themselves and positively contribute to a better society.


Adlerian therapy works in four major stages namely:

Engagement: the patient (s) has to form a trusting therapeutic relationship and agree to work collaboratively to solve the problem at hand.

Assessment: the therapist gives the individual (s) a chance to speak about their personal history, family relations, motives, feelings, beliefs, and memories. The self-assessment reveals the lifestyle patterns of an individual which can help the therapist have a better understanding of the problem.

Insight: the patient (s) is helped to develop a new attitude about his or her situation

Reorientation: the therapist encourages the individual (s) to do productive and satisfying actions that showcase their new approach (insight).

Discussion on the Seven Key Concepts of the Adlerian Theory in relation to individuals or a group


The first concept of the Adlerian theory is holism. Here, people are primarily social beings influenced and motivated by societal forces. So, the focus is to understand individuals within the social context of their life such as their family, school and work. The psychologist seeks to identify expressions of uniqueness in the people’s (patients) feelings, thoughts, beliefs, characteristics, and behavioral patterns. In a group or individual therapy, the concept of holism starts from the assumption that an individual can be better understood in their social environment. For that reason, the therapist uses methods that enable the patients to be understood by others. The conventional techniques employed in group therapy include; group discussions, counseling, consulting, group therapy and psychodrama. The same is employed in individual therapy only that the therapist becomes the patient’s partner. Whether the individuals are children or adults, the therapist considers them as inherently equal persons capable of accounting for their behaviors. The therapist encourages the patient (s) them to open up about themselves because this is the first step towards identifying the reason why one needs therapy.


Inferiority –superiority

The Inherent feelings of inferiority initiate a natural striving toward achieving a higher level of mastery and competence in life. Adler identifies that children are prone to experience inadequacy at one time during their development and that these feelings need not  be considered as negative, instead; they should be seen as motors to overcome the sense of self-worth to ascend towards authority (superiority). The focus on inferiority helps to understand the dynamics of people who feel oppressed, unlucky or unworthy. The goal of a group or individual therapy is to increase social interest and redirect the selfish manifestations of longing for superiority among the marginalized. A special needs person or one with disabilities can benefit from undergoing individual therapy using the Adler approach.  For instance, undergoing Adlerian treatment can help them benefit through the development of new insight and appreciating further compensation. The therapist encourages the patient(s) to try to do things that make them feel good about themselves or compensate for what they lack. For example, a student who thinks that he or she is not good enough for other students can try to do individual things that make him or her happy to compensate for not having friends.


Socially embedded

The concept identifies that the types of life consist of our worldviews about others, the world, and ourselves. According to Adler, individuals need to have a positive interest toward other people in society. The notion equates the sense of social importance with empathy. For instance, in a group, the general goals of the practice are to increase the self-esteem of those undergoing therapy, show genuine interest, disapprove assumption making, and ensure a feeling of equal to other group members. Adler identified that people’s mental health is embodied by their connection to others and their supportive contribution to society.  When people feel good about themselves, they will be kind to others which will leave them feeling good afterward. During group or individual therapy, the psychotherapist encourages individuals to feel capable of handling life. Doing so will make them ready to do volunteer work or other contributions in society. To achieve this, the therapist asks the patient (s) about their hobbies or what they like to do when free. The patient is then required to choose one hobby or activity that can make him volunteer or contribute to society.

Self-determining and creative

Human beings are creative, active, and decisional. Adler states that people are creative and they strive to become perfect and self-determined. To him, people have creative power which enables them to take control of their life. The creativity also can affect every aspect of a person’s life such as their perception, imagination, memory, dreaming, and fantasy. Adler goes on to state that an individual has to overcome the obstacles preventing him or her from being creative and self-determined. Imagination and fantasy are some of the things encouraged during therapy because they make an individual felt powerful and accomplished thus contributing to their happiness and social good.


Life goals give direction to behavior

Adler claims that a motivating force or drive is what influences our behavior and experience. For that reason, all action is seen as a movement towards a specific goal. People are drawn to their intents, purposes, or ideals in what is known as teleology. So, the concept brings people to the reality that life is hard and uncertain, although it always has a room or opportunity for change. For those in therapy, the therapist asks them to identify the goals that they wish to achieve and how they will make them a reality. Adlerian therapy helps an individual discover the desires that make him or her wish to live and the therapist have to ensure that individuals work towards fulfilling a goal.


The concept urges people to focus on understanding the individual’s perspective. Adler hypothesizes that heredity and the environment only influence one’s behavior. So, it is the responsibility of an individual to use his or her ability to interpret information and come up with positive conclusions that have a positive influence on the development of one’s lifestyle or personality. Group therapy provides patients to discover and understand things according to their understanding as opposed to seeing or believing things as dictated by society.


Role of the family

The Adlerian approach has put much emphasis on the part of the family. The family is a significant element in the development of the personality and an individual .issues such as the order of birth, femininity or masculinity. Family atmosphere, religion, values, and the responsibilities of the patient play a role in therapy. The family has a considerable influence on how a child grows up, and this can continue once they become adults. For instance, a child who has one sibling may feel unloved if most of the attention is given to the other one. Subsequently, a child may feel frustrated because the parents forbid him or her from doing certain things due to their gender. In this era of same-sex marriage, children brought up in such families may feel awkward or are confused about their sexual preferences in adulthood. In therapy, the counselor encourages them to develop a new insight by letting go of negative and behaviors used as a coping mechanism to allow them to develop self-positive relations with themselves and others. Adler recommends that the best way to deal will the hurt experienced from the family is to forgive and turn on a new leaf.



Adlerian therapy is a suitable model meant to deal with mental health issues. The therapy is useful given that it makes the identification of people’s conflicts easier, and provides the necessary treatment that has a corrective influence. The concepts discussed have one advantage for an individual or people;  a positive correction that contributes to better mental health and increased societal good. The four stages of Adlerian therapy correspond to the needs of counseling, and this is based on the idea of social involvement, self-actualization, and equality. The process allows the therapist and the patient to work together to explore the best way to deal with psychological issues.


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