Categories:Anne at Work

Twenty years ago when I was presenting the LBC Radio Counselling programme I invited on to my programme two Adlerian trainers. Adlerian counselling they told me was based on Individual Psychology, the name given to the system of psychology conceived by Alfred Adler,a Viennese colleague of Sigmund Freud.. The radio programmes turned out to be fantastic and I was pleased, later on, to be invited to speak at the Adlerians’ annual Oxford weekend. This was the beginning of learning about the third great view of human psychology that provides rich contrast to those systems envisaged by his contemporaries. Adler was just as much part of the extraordinary Viennese psychological movement of the early 1900s as was Freud and Jung. Rediscovering him has been a joy: I have so much appreciated his psychology of common sense.


Such was my enthusiasm for the man that I wrote a book about him with co-author Jeremy Holford. Adler for Beginners (Writers and Readers) is a documentary comic book, containing easy to absorb explanations of Adler’s life and thoughts that are also funny!

If you would like to know more about Adler from this web site, please continue below:



(based on an ASIIP leaflet)

Students of psychology, psychotherapy and counselling will be familiar with the names of Freud, Adler and Jung. Freud was the first to develop modern theories of neurosis, unconscious motivation, personality and psychoanalysis. One of Freud’s most valued colleagues in the early days of psychoanalysis (1902-1908), Alfred Adler was the first to challenge Freud’s largely psycho-sexual theory of human development and motivation. Adler stressed instead the importance of the social context and ego, and he developed his own theories based upon his clinical experience of patients striving to overcome their feelings of inferiority.


With the Nazi occupation of Vienna in the 1930s, Freud and Adler were forced into exile: Freud came to live in London, Adler and his family went to New York; Jung remained in Switzerland. This had profound effects on the development of the theory and practice of Psychoanalysis and the ‘Individual Psychology’ of Dr. Alfred Adler. Individual Psychology introduced philosophical concepts that influenced the development of later humanistic and existential psychology. Adler observed that inequality in relationships between men and women and within social hierarchies is at the root of much neurotic behaviour. Before Adler, such ideas were not acknowledged outside of politics but, as we have seen, they have preoccupied psychologists for much of the 20th century.

What is ‘individual’ in Individual Psychology is the person, who is regarded as an indivisible whole, with a distinctive life style. One’s life style, which one develops in early childhood, encompasses how one sees oneself, other people, the world and one’s relationship and involvement with others. A person’s life style can often be ascertained in a short time, and any presenting problems will form part of the whole picture. In consequence, life style assessment is an invaluable diagnostic skill. Work with early recollections, dreams, family values, birth order and the family constellation provides the information needed to make hypotheses with the client. An important factor is that the practitioner works with the client and does not have to ‘get it right’. The client is invited to contradict, which fosters equality and invites collaboration.

Another Adlerian innovation was the identification of psychosomatic symptoms by asking the question “Imagine that you could get rid of your symptoms entirely, how would your life be different?” The client’s reply was found to reveal the degree of psychological motivation involved in the illness. While mainstream psychiatry pursued medical and reductionist models, Adler and his adherents subscribed to a more philosophical and holistic approach.

Adler’s book Understanding Human Nature was a huge publishing success in the United States, greatly eclipsing Freud’s combined American and European book sales through the 1920s and ’30s and was one of the first mass-market bestsellers. The establishment of the Adler Institute in Chicago ensured that Adler’s teachings continued and were disseminated widely in American during and after World War II.


Individual psychology is not yet widely known in the UK but since Adlerian practitioners are required to have some prior training in psychology, it is an ideal area for continuing professional development. It possesses a body of theory based on democratic principles and as such suits the 21st century better than autocratic models such as Freud’s, which was suited to the power relationships characteristic of the first half of this century. Adler’s originality lay in creating an enduring and sophisticated explanation of personality and behaviour using simple language, which appeals to ‘common sense’. The parent education training presently offered in the UK by many different groups is based on Adlerian principles. In the next 20 years we are likely to see child-rearing approaches drafted largely from Adler’s original model. To this end, a thorough grounding in Adlerian principles and practise represents a long-term investment.


The clinical application of Individual Psychology is relatively straightforward and familiar to many, because other humanistic schools have adopted Adlerian concepts or developed along similar lines, often without acknowledging the debt. However, a few of the concepts are challenging — for example, the proposition that all behaviour is purposeful. This is often easier to see in children than in adults. When applied to adults there is the implication of accepting responsibility for one’s own behaviour and feelings and concomitantly avoiding assuming responsibility for other’semotions. Adlerians hold that the ‘purpose’ of much neurotic behaviour lies in the avoidance of responsibility, but that this tendency is based upon mistaken beliefs from childhood, which the practitioner helps the client address.

Adler’s work with parents, children, educators and health providers (to improve conditions and tackle problems within Viennese schools, families and neighbourhoods following the First World War) led to considerable Adlerian expertise in ‘child guidance’. Adlerian training still emphasises family and teacher education as a main tenet, stressing the importance of equality and mutual respect in relationships throughout life, starting in the earliest days.


Individual Psychology lends itself to brief therapy, in which ‘normalising’ the client’s feelings is the chief objective. Adlerianpsychotherapy, which can be medium to long-term, requires the establishment of a genial relationship and is conducted as if between equals. Adlerian Family Therapy operates by disclosing to the child and the family the mistaken goal of the behaviour. The child is dealt with in the context of its family during counselling since this maintains normal social embeddedness. Getting everyone to cooperate is an art that is fostered by the counsellor as is the powerful skill of encouraging all family members.

Standard operational procedures provide the family with the means to assist the child in being independent of its parents. “Never do for your child what it can do for itself.” Adlerians provide tips and encouragement to parents and we help them structure parent support systems and groups, which can be set up and run independently of ‘experts’. Books like Happy Children, The Challenge of Parenthood or Social Equality: the Challenge of Today, all by Rudolf Dreikurs, provide the information required. Powerful teaching points are the concepts of: logical and natural consequences; encouragement which differs from praise and reward; and children’s need for encouragement much as plants need water.


Individual psychology offers a skilled yet classically simple method of re-evaluating early development and of helping clients in counselling practice do likewise. A strong body of supporting theory in published form is becoming available and there are many links between practitioners of Individual Psychology in Toronto, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Ireland, Austria and Germany. There are also regular summer training courses run by ICASSI (International Committee for Adlerian Summer Schools and Institutes) which offer a credit system to students.

For details of membership to the Adlerian Society (UK), plus professional development courses, plus list of monthly lectures (open to general public) go to