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Adler’s Individual Psychology Research Paper



The field of psychology has benefited from the works of many theorists and scholars. The paper discussed Alfred Adler’s contributions to the field through Individual Psychology. A brief history of Adler and his connection with Freud is given. The major principles of his theory are given, and the importance of human strive for superiority articulated.

The paper also discusses the principles of subjective perception, Unity and Self-Consistency, social interest, and lifestyle. Some practical applications of Individual Psychology are given. The paper highlights the most frequent criticisms of Adler’s theory and concludes by reasserting the significance of Adler’s Individual Psychology.


Alfred Adler is one of the most influential psychology theorists of the 20th century. While at first a follower of Freud’s psychoanalysis theory, Adler deviated from this view and implemented his Psychology Theory. Adler presented his theory of Individual Psychology as a holistic framework that took into consideration the complex interplay between the individual and society.

His works had a profound effect on later theorists who borrowed his views and incorporated them into popular works such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and Carl Rogers humanistic approach. This paper will engage in an in-depth review of Alfred Adler and his contributions to the field of psychology. It will begin by offering a brief biography on Adler and proceed to explain the main principles of his Psychology theory.

Biography of the Theorist

Alfred Adler was born in Austria on February 7, 1870, as the second born to a Jewish merchant father and a homemaker mother. In his childhood years, Adler was weak and prone to ailments. He contracted pneumonia at the age of five years and almost died, and this experience motivated him to work hard and become a physician in the future (Hoffman, 1996).

Adler was an average student in elementary school, and he did not show any great talent in medical school. He received his medical degree in 1895 and then fulfilled his military obligations in the Hungarian army. Adler then studies for his postgraduate degree in Vienna after which he practiced for a while as an optician. His career as an optician was short lived since he quickly shifted to psychiatry.

Alfred Adler has a historical connection to the renowned founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. These two theorists met in the late fall of 1902 and were a part of the Psychological Society established by Freud to discuss psychology and neuropathology (Hoffman, 1996). Adler was keen to contribute to Freud’s psychoanalysis, but Freud did not agree with most of his input.

While Freud’s theory hinged on the impacts of repressed sexual thoughts, Adler thought that psychoanalysis ought to be broader than this. In line with these thoughts, Adler published the “Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Psychical Compensation” in 1907 (Engler, 2008). This publication surmised that physical deficiencies were pivotal to human motivation. From this point, Adler became convinced that Freud’s theory was too narrow. He expressed his opposition to the sexual inclinations of Freud’s psychoanalysis theory.

A significant year in Adler’s life is 1911. On October of this year, Adler resigned as president and a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society founded by Sigmund Freud. This break marked the end of a professional relationship between these two theorists. The break was prompted by irreconcilable intellectual and theoretical differences between Freud and Adler.

Following his resignation from Freud’s society, Adler created the Society for Free Psychoanalytic Research. By 1912, Adler had come up with a new approach which he named “Individual Psychology” ((Engler, 2008). “Individual Psychology” therefore became the title for Adler’s school of thought, and it has remained influential in the field of psychology.

Adler continued to advance his theories through lecturing and instructing teachers who wanted to follow his concepts. He was a frequent visitor to the US, where he gave lectures on his theories at various universities. Adler died in Aberdeen, Scotland of a heart attack at the age of 67. Mozdzierz and Andrea (1997) contend that in spite of having established the influential theory, his name is less well known since he did not establish a formal organization to perpetuate his theory or write critical books containing his thoughts.

The Basic Principles of the Theory

A core principle in Adler’s Individual Psychology theory is that all human motivation is driven by a strive for superiority or success. This striving is always directed towards achieving some goal. Each person creates a personalized goal that is determined by his or her creative power as opposed to heredity or the environment (Day, 2008). Adler’s Individual Psychology included the concept of movement where the individual was striving for superiority.

He stated that people were driven by a compensating force to overcome, attain completion, and move towards self-enhancement (Lemonides, 2007). This movement is aimed at ending the inner insecurity that plagues all human beings. Individual Psychology borrows some concepts from the Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory (Engler, 2008). This association is because Adler was a close associate to Freud before he broke away and developed his theory.

The second principle of Adler’s theory is that perceptions are subjective. The individual’s interpretation of events, and not the events themselves, shape his/her personality (Day, 2008). This suggests that a person’s perception of reality influences their actions. Individual Psychology advances that every person is driven to achieve success to make up for the innate inferiority feelings.

However, the actions taken to achieve this success are shaped by the individual’s subjective perception of reality. Adler reveals that individuals have fiction goals that they created for themselves in the early stages of their lives (Silver, 2009). Most people do not realize that these notions are fictitious, and they treat them as if they were a reality. A person can, therefore, be expected to act consistently throughout his life based on his subjective perceptions.

Individual Psychology states that every individual is a unique and complete entity. A human being is a unified whole comprised of interdependent parts. As a physician, Adler saw this interdependence as an important means by which the body compensated for deficiencies.

Lemonides (2007) asserts that compensation, which is the body’s physiological response to organ inferiority, served as the Adlerian template for psychological adjustment. According to Adler, a disturbance in one part of the body will have effects on the rest of the person, and as such, the disturbance should not be looked at in isolation.

Another principle of Adler’s theory states that social interest influences all human activity. Adler introduces the notion that social influences play a critical role in the individual’s personality development. Tedrick and Wachter (2011) note that Adler’s theory of Individual Psychology is built around a social interest or connection with people around oneself.

As such, the struggles undergone by a person do not occur in isolation but within the context of society. Adler declared, “Because human beings are socially embedded, the very nature of inferiority is relative to the environmental demands, to the total situation” (Lemonides, 2007, p. 400).

Individual psychology also introduces the concept of style of life. This term refers to the personal goals, self-concepts, and attitudes towards life that a person develops. Style of life is a product of multiple influences, including genes, environment, and the person’s creativity. Adler states that healthy individuals have a flexible lifestyle, while unhealthy individuals lead rigid lives (Weber, 2003). A rigid life is marked by an inability to adapt to new situations or events.

Adler also addressed the concept of dysfunction through Individual Psychology. The health functioning individual can properly balance his weaknesses through his strengths. In other words, the strengths of the health functioning person can balance or surpass his weaknesses. This ensures that actual or perceived inferiorities are overcome though the will to power of an individual. Adler suggests that dysfunction occurs when a person experiences a damaging childhood (Stein, 2008).

In this environment, the individual is inadequately prepared, and this leads to an adverse effect from the natural feelings of inferiority. The feelings of inferiority lead a person to withdraw from society instead of propelling him to strive for superiority. Lemonides (2007) states that the pathological feelings of inadequacy lead the dysfunctional person to protect himself from confrontations.

Practical Examples

Identifying Faulty Logic

There are several practical applications of the principles of Individual Psychology as presented by Alfred Adler. This theory can be used to assist a person to effectively cope with an event or situation which the person deems to be intolerably difficult.

Tedrick and Wachter (2011) discuss how Adler’s Individual Psychology can be used to assist Kate, a 19-year-old university student who is distressed at finding out that she is pregnant. According to the Adlerian perspective, a child in the family setting will create a role that fulfills an important function within the family and larger cultural environment.

This image of the ideal way of being developed into a lifestyle that the child grows up with. As such, the individual may adhere rigidly to ways of being that were adaptive in their families instead of taking up new practices that are accepted in the larger culture (Stein, 2008). With this in mind, the counselor should understand the experiences from the patient’s perspective.

The counselor should observe how the client’s lifestyle affects experiences of and responses to life events. She should then encourage the client to create more appropriate responses to deal with the current situation. The client should be made aware of the unconscious motivations for her behavior and thoughts.

Building Confidence

Adlerian therapy can be used to build confidence in students and increase their self-efficacy. From the Adlerian perspective, students are viewed as “unique individuals with the ability to be self-motivated, creative, and have the power to contribute both positively and negatively toward their environments” (Brigman & Villares, 2011, p. 409).

Individual Psychology can be used to help the students to achieve their lifestyle goals. Brigman and Villares (2011) declare that the counselor can use Individual Psychology to help students to be more capable, connected, and contributing.

This can be achieved by developing an understanding of the student’s phenomenological perspective. The therapeutic process is centered on trying to gain an understanding of the patient’s lifestyle and movement. The therapist will assist the student in identifying mistaken goals and faulty assumptions they may have developed over their lives (Silver, 2009). Application of Individual Psychology intervention in the school setting is desirable since it leads to higher self-esteem, lower anxiety, and better social skills and problem-solving skills.

Contributions of Adlerian Theory

Adler’s theory made some significant contributions to psychology. To begin with, his theory had a positive view of human nature. It suggested that people have great control over their own lives and can, therefore, make changes to overcome negative behavior (Weber, 2003). This view was monumental considering that the prevailing theory of the time was Freud’s theory that stated that humans were motivated by instinct.

Adler’s Individual Psychology highlighted the importance of parental training. Parents are individuals with the primary responsibility for the growth and development of the child. They are the people in a position to influence the child during his/her formative years. Belangee (2007) confirms that the family atmosphere has a significant impact on the life of the child. The parent’s values and beliefs are incorporated into the child’s life, and they end up forming the child’s individual core beliefs.

The Adlerian intervention aims to restore courage and social interest in the patient since a deficiency of these two attributes is the cause of faulty behavior. The Adlerian counselor endeavors to develop the patient’s social interest by changing the faulty social values that cause its deficiency.

The patient undergoes a reeducation of his lifestyle and his relationship to life tasks. Lemonides (2007) elaborates that the patient learns the basic mistakes in his cognitive map and is provided with an opportunity to move away from this unhelpful way and embrace new useful ways.

Criticism of Adler’s Theory

A major criticism of Adler’s theory is about the role of the counselor. From the Individual Psychology perspective, the counselor exerts some influence on the patient about their behavioral change. This criticism arises from the fact that Adlerian therapists aim to guide the client to modify his/her views and goals (Engler, 2008).

The counselor helps the client to identify counterproductive lifestyles and thought. The client is then assisted to change these behaviors and take up ones that are more productive. Critics argue that the counselor’s job is to assist the client in attaining a healthy mental frame and not to influence them directly to change behavior.

Adler’s theory is also criticized due to its tendency to oversimplify the cause of human problems. According to Adler, inferiority feelings are the trigger for humans to take action. These feelings are often the result of mistaken appraisals of self-worth (Engler, 2008). In addition to this, Adler views the lack of courage and confidence by patients as the cause of their mental problems.

Critics argue that such a simplistic outlook cannot be used to explain severe mental illnesses that afflict patients. Adler’s theory is also criticized for suggesting that people can overcome all the psychological problems they face by modifying their behavior.


This paper set out to discuss one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Alfred Adler. It started by offering a brief history of these theorists and highlighted his most significant contribution to psychology. The paper has demonstrated how Individual psychology attempts to understand experiences from the individual’s phenomenological perspective.

The paper has articulated the principles of Adler’s Psychology and proceeded to discuss the contributions that Adler’s theory made to psychology. Some of the criticisms leveled against the theory have also been offered. Particularly, the oversimplification of human nature has been highlighted as a major weakness of Adler’s theory. Even so, Adler’s personality is mostly viewed positively, and its tenets continue to be applied by many scholars and psychologists to date.


Belangee, S. E. (2007). Couples and Eating Disorders: An Individual Psychology Approach. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 63 (3), 294-305.

Brigman, G., & Villares, E. (2011). The Efficacy of Individual Psychology Approaches for Improving Student Achievement and Behavior. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 67 (4), 408-419.

Day, S.X. (2008). Theory and design in counseling and psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Engler, B. (2008). Personality Theories: An Introduction. New York: Cengage Learning.

Hoffman, E. (1996). The Drive for Self: Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology. Boston: Perseus Books Group.

Lemonides, J.S. (2007). Toward an Adlerian Approach to Organizational Intervention. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 63 (4), 399-413.

Mozdzierz, G.J., & Andrea, B.M. (1997). A Brief History of the Journals of Individual Psychology. Individual Psychology, 53 (3), 275- 285.

Silver, H. (2009). Reflections on Alfred Adler: A Social Exclusion Perspective. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 65 (4), 319-329.

Stein, H.T. (2008). Adler’s Legacy: Past, Present, and Future. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 64 (1), 4-20.

Tedrick, P., & Wachter, M. (2011). Integrating Crisis Theory and Individual Psychology: An Application and Case Study. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 67 (4), 364-379.

Weber, D.A. (2003). A Comparison of Individual Psychology and Attachment Theory. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 59 (3), 246-262.

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