Adlerian Theory of Personality

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Adlerian Theory of Personality

  • Adler stressed a positive view of human nature. He believed that individuals can control their fate. They can do this in part by trying to help others (social interest). How they do this can be understood through analyzing their lifestyle. Early interactions with family members, peers, and teachers help to determine the role of inferiority and superiority in their lives.

View of Human Nature

  • A Person’s Perceptions are based on His or Her View of Reality (Phenomenology)

    • Adler believed that we “construct” our reality according to our own way of looking at the world.
    • “I am convinced that a person’s behavior springs from this idea…because our senses do not see the world, we apprehend it.” (Adler, 1933/1964)

View of Human Nature

  • Each person must be viewed as an individual from a holistic perspective.

    • Adler suggested that dividing the person up into parts or forces (i.e., id, ego, and superego) was counterproductive because it was mechanistic and missed the individual essence of each person.
    • In his view, understanding the whole person is different than understanding different aspects of his life or personality.

View of Human Nature

  • Human Behavior is Goal Oriented (Teleological)

    • People move toward self-selected goals. “The life of the human soul is not a ‘being’ but a ‘becoming.’” (Adler, 1963a)
    • This idea requires a very different way of viewing humans than the idea that behavior is “caused” by some internal or external forces or rewards and punishments.
    • Understanding the causes of behavior is not as important as understanding the goal to which a person is directed. Since we have evolved as social creatures, the most common goal is to belong.


    • Moving through life, the individual is confronted with alternatives.
    • Human beings are creative, choosing, self-determined decision-makers free to chose the goals they want to pursue.

View of Human Nature

  • Conscious and unconscious are both in the service of the individual, who uses them to further personal goals (Adler, 1963a)

View of Human Nature

  • Striving for superiority to overcome basic inferiority is a normal part of life.

    • Mosak(2000) reports that Adler and others have referred to this central human striving in a number of ways: completion, perfection, superiority, self-realization, self-actualization, competence, and mastery.

View of Human Nature

  • Social Interest and a Positive involvement in the community are hallmarks of a healthy personality.

    • All behavior occurs in a social context. Humans are born into an environment with which they must engage in reciprocal relations.
    • Adler believed that social interest was innate but that it needed to be nurtured in a family where cooperation and trust were important values.

Style of life or Lifestyle

  • Style of life or Lifestyle

    • A way of seeking to fulfill particular goals that individuals set in their lives. Individuals use their own patterns of beliefs, cognitive styles, and behaviors as a way of expressing their style of life. Often style of life or lifestyle is a means for overcoming feeling of inferiority.

Four areas of lifestyle:

  • 1. The self-concept

    • the convictions about who I am.
  • 2. The self-ideal

    • convictions about what I should be.
  • 3. The Weltbild, or “picture of the world”

    • convictions about the not-self and what the world demands of me.
  • 4. The ethical convictions

    • The personal “right-wrong” code.

Adlerian explanation of Behavior (Theory of Personality)

  • Family Constellation and Atmosphere:

    • The number and birth order, as well as the personality characteristics of members of a family. Important in determining lifestyle.
    • The family and reciprocal relationships with siblings and parents determine how a person finds a place in the family and what he learns about finding a place in the world.

Adlerian Theory of Personality

  • Social Interest:

    • The caring and concern for the welfare of others that can serve to guide people's behavior throughout their lives. It is a sense of being a part of society and taking responsibility to improve it.

Adlerian Theory of Personality

Adlerian Theory of Personality

  • Superiority Complex:

    • a means of masking feelings of inferiority by displaying boastful, self-centered, or arrogant superiority in order to overcome feelings of inferiority.

Adlerian Theory of Personality

  • Inferiority:

    • Feelings of inadequacy and incompetence that develop during infancy and serve as the basis to strive for superiority in order to overcome feelings of inferiority.

Adlerian Theory of Personality

  • Inferiority complex:

    • A strong and pervasive belief that one is not as good as other people. It is usually an exaggerated sense of feelings of inadequacy and insecurity that may result in being defensive or anxious.

Adlerian explanation of Behavior

  • Birth order:

    • The idea that place in the family constellation (such as being the youngest child) can have an impact on one's later personality and functioning.

Adlerian Theory of Personality

  • Early recollections:

    • Memories of actual incidents that clients recall from their childhood. Adlerians use this information to make inferences about current behavior of children or adults.

Adlerian explanation of Behavior

  • Basic mistakes:

    • Self-defeating aspects of individuals' lifestyle that may affect their later behavior are called basic mistakes. Such mistakes often include avoidance of others, seeking power, a desperate need for security, or faulty values.

Adlerian Theory of Personality

  • Assets:

    • Assessing the strengths of individuals' lifestyle is an important part of lifestyle assessment, as is assessment or early recollections and basic mistakes.


  • A lifestyle analysis helps the Adlerian therapist to gain insights into client problems by determining the clients' basic mistakes and assets. These insights are based on assessing family constellation, dreams, and social interest. To help the client change, Adlerians may use a number of active techniques that focus to a great extent on changing beliefs and reorienting the client's view of situations and relationships.


  • Life tasks:

    • There are five basic obligations and opportunities: occupation, society, love, self development, and spiritual development. These are used to help determine therapeutic goals.


  • Interpretation:

    • Adlerians express insights to their clients that relate to clients' goals. Interpretations often focus on the family constellation and social interest.


  • Immediacy:

    • Communicating the experience of the therapist to the client about what is happening in the moment.
  • Encouragement:

    • An important therapeutic technique that is used to build a relationship and to foster client change. Supporting clients in changing beliefs and behaviors is a part of encouragement.


  • Acting as if:

    • In this technique, clients are asked to "act as if" a behavior will be effective. Clients are encouraged to try a new role, the way they might try on new clothing.


  • Catching oneself:

    • In this technique, patients learn to notice that they are performing behaviors which they wish to change,. When they catch themselves, they may have an "Aha" response.
  • Aha response:

    • Developing a sudden insight into a solution to a problem, as one becomes aware to one's beliefs and behaviors.


  • Avoiding the tar baby:

    • By not falling into a trap that the client sets by using faulty assumptions, the therapist encourages new behavior and "avoids the tar baby" (getting stuck in the client's perception of the problem).


  • The Question:

    • Asking "what would be different if you were well?" was a means Adler used to determine if a person's problem was physiological or psychological


  • Paradoxical intention:

    • A therapeutic strategy in which clients are instructed to engage and exaggerate behaviors that they seek to change. By prescribing the symptom, therapists make clients more aware of their situation and help them seek to change. By prescribing the symptom, therapists make clients more aware of their situation and help them achieve distance from the symptoms. For example, a client who is afraid of mice may be asked to exaggerate his fear of mice, or a client who hoards paper may be asked to exaggerate that behavior so that living becomes difficult. In this way individuals can become more aware of and more resistant from their symptoms.


  • Spitting in the client's soup:

    • Making comments to the client to make behaviors less attractive or desirable.
  • Homework:


  • Push-button technique:

    • Designed to show patients how they can create whatever feelings they what by thinking about them, the push-button technique asks clients to remember a pleasant incident that they have experienced, become aware of feelings connected to it, and then switch to an unpleasant image and those feelings. Thus clients learn that they have the power to change their own feelings.

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