By Vidya Hattangadi
Alfred Adler created the ‘personality theory’ that he called ‘individual psychology’ because he believed that people are unique and each one requires a different treatment. Adler initially followed Sigmund Freud’s teachings, but he disconnected after a disagreement. Freud’s theory says that human behaviour is driven by sex. Adler’s ‘personality theory’ says that the base of human behaviour is to overcome the feelings of inferiority. This is the fundamental difference between Freud’s and Adler’s theories.
Adlerian therapy is a short-term, goal-oriented and positive psychodynamic therapy based on the theories of Adler, who focused a good deal of his research on feelings of inferiority versus superiority in people; besides the amount of obstacles one faces in life. He also observed that each one craves for a sense of belonging in one’s own community and society. According to Adler, feelings of inferiority can result in irrational behaviour. But, in the right setting, an individual can be motivated to strive for greater success. Adlerian therapy focuses on how individual personality is interconnected with the society at large.
Usefulness of the theory: Adlerian therapy is useful in any type of psychological disorder or mental illness. This therapy may be used in combination with other therapeutic approaches such as insightful counselling, music therapy or art therapy, as it best suits the needs of the individuals involved. An Adlerian approach can be employed with children, adolescents, adults, individuals, couples, families and business organisations.
The therapy applies in four stages: engagement, assessment, insight and reorientation.
Engagement: The therapist must be empathic towards the client; he/she must make the client comfortable so that the client feels secured and is able to open up or vent his/her problems. The client and the therapist begin to establish a therapeutic relationship. The relationship should consist of a teamwork towards addressing the client’s problems. The therapist should offer support. Adler laid emphasis on knowing birth order of the client among his/her siblings and the client’s early childhood memories. Birth order refers to the order a child is born in his/her family; for example, first-born, second-born or youngest. Birth order is often believed to have a profound and lasting effect on psychological development.
Assessment: A common approach to assessment in this therapy is to assess the client’s lifestyle. At this stage, the therapist works to learn more about the client’s background, including early memories and family structure and family dynamics. In this part of therapy, the therapist tries to understand how the client may have developed certain styles of beliefs that no longer are helpful to him/her.
Insight: The therapist helps the client to view the situation from a different perspective. The therapist makes the client understand his/her lifestyle meanings, morals and goals that need a fresh perspective, and how the client needs to change the dysfunctional or flawed pattern of thinking/behaviour. The Socratic method of asking questions and stochastic (random guessing hence unpredictable) guessing method are employed. Socratic approach is a form of cooperative dialogues between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying suppositions.
Reorientation: In this stage, the therapist suggests his/her client to take steps to reinforce newly-developed insights. Often, the client learns more about his/her unknown capabilities and strengths. It happens quite often that we learn about our capabilities from others. In fact, occasionally, we find a good counsellor in a friend, sibling, parent, neighbour, teacher, etc. In this stage, the therapist encourages the client to make changes, to develop courage, alter some habits to overcome the flawed thinking/habit.
Where does Adlerian therapy help? It focuses overall to reframe the attitudes, beliefs and lifestyle choices that block success of people. The therapist focuses on the approach in which the client effectively reaches the desired goals. One of the core tenets of Adlerian therapy is that individual behaviour must be explored within the context of a client’s sense of ‘fitting in’ with his/her community, and society at large. In some cases, this extends to birth order and how one’s role within the family affects the development of one’s personality and future relationships. This therapy works well in schools, clinics, corporations and other community settings, which helps in providing a sense of belonging and respect for all. This therapy works especially well with positive orientation.
What qualifications does an Adlerian therapist require? He/she is a licensed psychotherapist with a Master’s degree or doctorate, and specialised training or experience in an Adlerian approach. If you are seeking this therapy, you must speak to the potential therapist; ask if he or she takes an Adlerian approach to treatment. Once it is established that a therapist has the credentials and experience you are looking for, it is important to make sure you are comfortable working with that therapist. It is possible that other professionals, such as doctors, nurses, teachers or counsellors, may also incorporate Adlerian principles into their work.
The base of Adlerian therapy: Inferiority is a feeling that humans have since they are born. They grow up being dependent on their parents and to a great extent they are influenced the way they are treated by their caregivers. Children shape up as what their parents think of them. Later, they get influenced by teachers, siblings, neighbours, etc. When they take up a career, their peers, bosses, colleagues influence them. Each individual tries to ‘fit in’ in societal norms. We feel motivated if a majority of people in our life think positively about us. If we get negative feedback, our inferiority complex gets more cemented. It is a human drive to overcome inferiority and become superior.
The author is a management thinker and blogger