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Adlerian Theory

Alfred Alder was born in Austria in 1870.  He was a very sick child and also witnessed a death of a younger brother.  This brought him to want to study medicine.  Initially, Alfred Alder was part of Sigmund Freud’s group and together they took part in a journal endeavor.  However, Alfred Alder started to disagree with Freud’s theories and decided to part ways with Freud, developing his own theories.  Alfred Alder started in child psychology and started to offer what is known as the first ever family counseling.  This is where he developed his theories about birth order and how early childhood played a significant role in how a child develops.  After he died suddenly in 1937 his followers continued to explore his well-known theories and today the Adlerian Theory is still practiced by many.

The Adlerian Theory is a positive approach that provides encouragement to the client.   The Adlerian approach has been updated over the years adding ways to work with different classes of people such as children, teens, parents etc.  The Adlerian approach also works well in helping with many mental disorders such as anxiety and conduct disorders.  The benefit of using the Adlerian Theory is that it is very adaptive and can be used with almost anyone at any time.   The basis of this theory teaches people that they control their own fate.  The emphasis of this theory focuses on personality, birth order, individual life choices, and social interests.

Adlerian counselors teach and educate their patients by evaluating their patients in a way that looks back in time for specific causes that are making their clients behave a certain manner.  Adlerian counselors are very opinionated in their relationships that they have with their clients and focus mostly on building a therapeutic alliance.  By doing this, the counselor must be warm, friendly, understanding, and empathetic.  Adlerian counselors focus mostly on the client’s mind, body, and soul with a goal of helping their client’s overcome their problems by readjusting their lifestyle.  The counselor’s goal is to gain the client’s trust.  Without the client’s trust, counseling will not work.

When a client is in therapy that uses the Adlerian approach, the counselor is always going to analyze and assess the client.  The counselor will analyze their client’s lifestyle by digging deep into early memories, dreams, and other events that have occurred in a person’s life that may contribute to their current lifestyle.   A counselor will typically gather as much family history as possible to get an idea of how the client’s history relates to their current actions.     The Adlerian Theory believes that early memories and reoccurring dreams play a significant role in a client’s lifestyle and the choices they make.    A counselor will also look at a client’s priorities when analyzing and assessing the client.  Once the counselor analyzes and assesses the client they then will provide insight and implement techniques that will help the client become more aware.   During this insight the counselor will give honest feedback and opinions of how to deal with their life and will help teach the client how to modify their behavior.   They may assign homework or tasks that relate to helping, induce healthy confrontation, or push their buttons so to speak.  There are a few different techniques that a counselor could use and this is called reorienting.

There are drawbacks to using the Adlerian theory.  The approach seems to be a bit vague in way that many counselors can use their own opinions to adjust or implement certain activities.  It’s hard to know if what the counselor is doing fits the criteria for using the Adlerian approach if there isn’t a very specific guide to follow.  This theory tends to not take many emotions into consideration and can be a little too structured for some which may lead to early termination.  Other critics suggest that the unconscious mind is not in a client’s control therefore the theory is a too expectant of a person’s ability to understand that they are in control of their own mind.  The same goes when speaking to a certain class of individuals who may not fully understand the logic behind the theory.  If a counselor is expected to lower their standards of teaching the approach then the benefits may not be fully appreciated.





Hoffman, Edward. The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1994.

Gladding, Samuel T. Counseling Theories: Essential Concepts and Applications. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2005. Print.