Adlerian Therapy

What Is Adlerian Therapy?

Adlerian therapy is a short-term, goal-oriented, and positive psychodynamic therapy based on the theories of Alfred Adler—a one-time colleague of Sigmund Freud. Adler focused much of his research on feelings of inferiority versus superiority, discouragement, and a sense of belonging in the context of one’s community and society at large. According to Adler, feelings of inferiority can result in neurotic behavior but, in the right setting, can also be used as motivation to strive for greater success. Adlerian therapy focuses on the development of individual personality while understanding and accepting the interconnectedness of all humans.

When It's Used

Adlerian therapy is an evidence-based approach that can be applied successfully in the treatment of any type of psychological disorder or mental illness. Adlerian therapy may be used in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches such as play therapy, art therapy, and culturally sensitive counseling, as it best suits the needs of the individuals involved. An Adlerian approach can be employed with children, adolescents, adults, individuals, couples, families, or other groups.

What to Expect

Adlerian therapy proceeds in four stages:

  1. Engagement, or creating a collaborative relationship with your therapist
  2. Assessment of your personal history, with an emphasis on birth order and early childhood memories
  3. Insight, wherein the therapist helps you view your situation from a different perspective
  4. Reorientation, wherein the therapist suggests active steps you can take outside of therapy to reinforce newly developed insights and perhaps learn even more about yourself and your capabilities

Overall, the focus is on reframing the attitudes, beliefs, and lifestyle choices that block success, so that you are more effective at reaching your desired goals.

How It Works

One of the core tenets of Adlerian therapy is that individual behavior must be explored within the context of a client’s sense of “fitting in” with their 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. Adlerian therapists often work in schools, clinics, corporations, and other community settings, helping to create learning environments that provide a sense of belonging and respect for all. These therapists work especially with those people who are most in need of positive, future-oriented counseling and encouragement.

What to Look For in an Adlerian Therapist

An Adlerian therapist is a licensed psychotherapist with a Master’s degree or doctorate and specialized training or experience in an Adlerian approach. The North American Society of Adlerian Psychology and other academic institutions offer certificates and degree programs in Adlerian counseling and psychotherapy. When you 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 person. Note that other professionals, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, and counselors, may also incorporate Adlerian principles into their work.

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