Purpose of this chapter

This introductory chapter provides a bird’s-eye view of Adler’s system. We begin with a paragraph found on the inside front cover of every issue of the Journal of Individual Psychology, as written by Dr. Heinz L. Ansbacher, its editor from 1957 to 1973.

The Journal of Individual Psychology is devoted to a holistic, phenomenological, teleological, field-theoretical, and socially oriented approach to psychology and related fields. This approach is based on the assumption of the uniqueness, self-consistency, activity, and creativity of the human individual (style of life); an open dynamic system of motivation (striving for a subjectively conceived goal of success); and an innate potentiality for social life (social interest).

In this chapter we shall examine this statement in detail. We recommend that the reader re-read, this summary. We shall now expand on every important term of this statement in detail.


Is a human like a flower or like an automobile? Are we essentially unitary or are we made up of parts? Are we body/mind or are we body and mind? Are we an entity or an assemblage? Do we have a conscious mind and a separate unconscious mind, or do we have a mind with various aspects? Are we still ourselves when asleep or when drunk or when sick, or are we like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

Individual Psychology firmly takes the position that we are indivisible units. Like the flower which came from a single fertilized cell, we are a unity; we are not an assemblage of parts like a machine. Adlerians deny concepts such as those of Sigmund Freud that the human being can be divided into parts such as the ego, the id, and the superego. While such division can be done for heuristic (i.e., research, investigation) purposes, we deny that such thinking can ultimately be productive since the individual is a unity!

Now this may seem to be some abstract philosophical conception of little importance. Nothing could be further from the truth. In explaining human nature one always begins with basic hypotheses.

  • Should the basic hypotheses be incorrect, further assumptions based on these hypotheses will also be incor rect, and a whole system of resulting beliefs will be essentially erroneous.
  • For this reason it’s important to begin with patently true assumptions. However, since IP, like all personality theories, is not a proven theory, it is important for the reader to think for him/herself on this as well as on every other issue. What do you think: Are humans’ integrals or disjunctives?
  • Are you a unity, essentially a single individual, or are you composed of discrete parts in a clever assemblage? Do you have thoughts and feelings and desires and goals and memories, are you the sum of these or are they part of you?

The word individual in Individual Psychology does not mean the opposite of “social” or “group.” Individual Psychology is not a psychology of individu als as opposed to groups of people. The term individual in German has the connotation and denotation of a unity, an indivisible whole. It refers to the unique individuality of individuals.

Jan C. Smuts (1961) coined this word holism which we are discussing. Smuts said that personality was “fundamentally an organ of self-realization” (p. 290). According to Ansbacher (1961), Smuts himself was a self-realized or self-actualized man as described by Abraham Maslow (1954). Holism also relates to other concepts. One is the notion of Gestalt-the idea that the total is more than the sum of its parts. A simple example would be to take three equal straight lines. Line them up next to each other and you have one configuration; put them so that the end of each touches the end of another and you now have a different configuration.

The first set is three parallel lines, but the second is a triangle! Surely the two configurations are not the same. The reflex-arc concept (Dewey, 1896) which introduced the concept of a non-elementaristic view of behavior is still another associated idea. Holism is also related to creativity. If anything happens only because something else caused it, then everything is determined. Then there would be no responsibility. No one would create anything. A poem would be caused, not created, as would any work of art.

Holism presents a challenge to the sciences of physics and chemistry based on Isaac Newton’s laws of thermodynamics, specifically the first law, which reads, “Quantities of heat may be converted into mechanical work and con versely.” This law represents a fundamental view of the conservation of energy: What goes into something cannot be more or less than what goes out. Smuts (1961) said, “Either the first law of thermodynamics must be given up, or life and mind are nullities” (p. 164). Physics and chemistry and biology are physi cal sciences. Newton’s laws hold for the human body as a machine that uses calories of heat to operate, but this law of conservation does not apply to the mind.

According to Ansbacher (1961, p. 146), Adler appreciated the work of Smuts. Smuts reciprocated his feelings for Adler and stated that Individual Psychology was “in a way closer to common sense and kinder to human nature than was the science of the nineteenth century” (p. 285).

We can contrast some psychological theories in terms of holism: One view is that people are made up of divisible parts, such as Berne’s (1961) Parent-Child-Adult, or Freud’s (1964) Ego-Id-Superego. The other point of view is that people are unitary organisms. Biologically, the issue is clear enough: We start life when the sperm and egg fuse into a single cell, the zygote. As the zygote begins to expand and divide, subparts or organs begin to develop, and so the final entity, the human body, originates from a single egg. It is not put together piece by piece, as occurs with an airplane, an automobile, or a foun tain pen.


Phenomenology essentially means “subjective, personal.” It refers to a per son’s direct experience. That is, if you look at a picture by Paul Klee or Pablo Picasso or Margaret Keene, that picture is that picture-it is the reality. But your reality is your impression of it-what it means to you. You may find one picture exciting, another dull, another ugly. These are all personal views-and they are true for you. Reality then is your impression, your view, your percep tion.

Adolf Hitler was idolized by millions and hated by millions. Every individ ual who had an opinion of Hitler had a personal, private view. This view for them was reality. If you come into a semi dark room and you see a dog on the bed, this is your reality at that moment and you will react to what you see as though it were really a dog. Say that what you saw was a coat: the “real reality” was a coat, the “subjective reality” was a dog. Now if you are afraid of dogs, you will be scared by the coat because to you at that time the coat was a dog!

IP deals with this “subjective reality”-our impressions, views, perceptions, apperceptions, conclusions-and not with physical reality. If you believe you are God, this is your reality.
Phenomenology has important human consequences. Consider two children and say that one of them is much brighter than the other-actually has greater brain power. Now let us say that this “bright” child actually does poorly in school compared to the other. This difference in actual accomplishment may be due to phenomenology. The bright child may be discouraged, may have feelings of inferiority, and may not like to study, and may want to punish his parents by doing poorly, and so on. The reason for the academic differences may be due to the phenomenology of the two children-one is ambitious, alert, and eager while the other is discouraged, resentful, and unwilling to learn.

This leads to one of the maxims of IP: Adlerian Psychology is a psychology of use rather than of possession. It is not what you have that counts, but rather what you do with what you have. Some people with advantages will fail while some people with disadvantages will succeed. Happiness, good grades, good children, and so on-the things that people want to attain-are a function more of phenomenology; that is, the person’s view, and not only of “facts” such as high IQ, good environment, or favorable opportunities.

Let us now put in a caveat. Adlerian psychology is not 100 percent phenomenological. We recognize the importance of reality, of limits. A child born without legs has no chance of becoming a high jumper; a child with Down’s syndrome will most probably never go to college. We recognize objective reality-conditions outside of and beyond the individual: physical, social, and economic factors set limits. For this reason, Individual Psychology takes an intermediate position relative to the determinism-indetermmism point of view. We neither say “You can become anything you want” (the pure indeterministic position) or “You are completely controlled by outside events” (the pure deterministic position) but, rather, we say, “Within the limits established by your biology and the environment, there is generally a lot you can do.”

We Adlerians see this as the only proper logical position one can take: phenomenology (that is to say, the individual’s total “mind”) directs the person, who in turn is limited by biological/social/environmental conditions.


Teleology means “purposive, moving toward goals.” IP sees individuals con stantly in the process of striving. We ask about a person when we don’t understand him: “What is he after?” By this, we mean: “What is his goal?”
Now this may sound very obvious, but let us examine other points of view. Some systems of psychology, especially those that view the human as object, see the person as the result of the past, controlled by past experiences. They conceive of people as “learned,” “trained,” “conditioned”-and otherwise not free. The past determines the present. The individual is seen at any moment as the result of his or her past. This deterministic point of view is best found in the behaviorist psychologies.

A second viewpoint is the here-and-now position. This view says that any person at any time makes decisions in terms of how the immediate moment is perceived. So, the past and the future are not that important; the now is important.
The third point of view, the one that IP sponsors, is the teleological (from the Greek telos-goal), which says that the individual is best understood in terms of where he is going. Adler said, “Ask not whence but whither?”

There is truth to all three positions. In any human situation, the past, the present, and the future are involved. We make decisions based on what has happened to us in the past, what the situation is now, and what we are after. Say that you are in your room studying for an examination. The phone rings. You answer it and a friend asks if you want to see a movie. Now you have to make a decision. Many factors will enter into the decision: your past pleasure at seeing movies, your present state of physical comfort, your future intention to do well. There is a dynamic interaction among the past, the present, and the future. No one can deny the effects of the past, no one can deny the importance of the moment, and no one can deny the force of the future. But which of these three views of time is the most likely to lead to understanding ourselves and others?

IP states simply that we understand people and their behavior best in terms of their goals. If we know what a person wants, then we can best predict that person’s behavior.

Field Theory

This concept is rather difficult to explain. Let us try to make clear what it means to say that IP is a field theory by examining some basic concepts.


Aristotle thought in terms of dichotomies. “Man is either an animal or he is not.” “Things are either hard or they are soft.” “People are either good or they are no good.” Galileo, however, thought not in terms of dichotomies but in terms of degrees. “This man is a bit taller than that woman.” “He is twice as hungry as he was an hour ago, but is one-half as hungry now as he will be in two hours.”


Some people reduce things to their basic components. By dissecting, and otherwise analyzing, they reduce things to their elements. In our prior discus sion on holism, the individual was seen as a totality who cannot be broken into parts: doing so prohibits a complete understanding of any person.


The Adlerian is concerned with verbs and not nouns: “In psychology, all nouns should be understood as verbs” (Rom, 1977, p. 27); that is what psychology is all about: wanting, desiring, moving, going, pushing, shoving, and things of that sort. All these terms represent action and imply interaction with the “environment.” Some other psychological systems are static and directed to elements such as nouns-for example, the IQ, the Unconscious, Archetypes, and abilities.

IP is a relational psychology in which the individual is seen always in movement in a social field. Though one is a unique individual, he or she is not apart from others. We shy away from terms such as schizophrenic since it is a class designation, a category, and does not explain the richness of a striving person in a social field. Adler saw people in movement, directed toward personal goals, and these movements were always in a social field. In a field-theoretical point of view, all elements within the system affect each other Consequently IP represents a dynamic point of view.

Social Orientation

This aspect is perhaps the most unique of Adler’s contributions. Every other personality theory, as a matter of principle sticking to the rigid scientific viewpoint characterized by objective sciences, refuses to concern itself with such issues as goodness and badness. Some systems openly state that they do not contain any view whatever of morality. They are objective.

IP, in contrast, is subjective, taking a strong viewpoint relative to human happiness and success, and says that good comes from social integration and social concern. The central concept, which we shall now only touch on briefly, is Gemeinschaftsgefuhl.
Adlerian Psychology says it is not enough to know what human nature is -how we develop, how we change, how we relate, what makes us human. All this is fine and good, and is part of science, equally important is using knowl edge for general human good, permitting people to grow and develop and advance and enhance themselves. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is fine, but the use of knowledge is more important. Therefore, the student of human nature should not only tell the world things but should also give messages, should give instructions. The analogy might be in medicine: of what use is it to discover that smoking cigarettes develops cancer if this information is kept in professional journals and medical books? The information should be broad cast so that people win know enough to stop smoking if they want to avoid the risk of cancer.

The analogy is not perfect, no analogy is. Of all the major personality theories, only the Adlerian forthrightly states that to be happy and successful in life you have to be “good”-in a socially connected way. We have put the word “good” in quotation marks because as shall be discussed in Chapter 5, the concept of Gemeinschaftsgefuhl, usually translated as “social interest,” is quite complicated and has a considerable number of definitions.
The term social orientation contains still another concept. The individual is embedded in his/her society and cannot be studied in isolation. We have referred to this aspect already in considering field theory. We gain our stan dards from others; we do things because of others; our lives are fully related to others.

Common Sense

Up to this point in commenting on the Journal of Individual Psychology statement we have finished analyzing the first sentence. Before we go on more we would like to point out that the reader may have noticed something unusual. All we have written probably sounds familiar. You might even begin to wonder at this point what is new and different about IP. It all sounds so reasonable, so full of common sense. After all, people, you may say, are entities; they are unique individuals. After all, psychology involves one’s unique perceptions and reactions to life. After all, you may think, a good way to understand people is to know what then- goals are; and you may say that to point out that we are social creatures and need one another and find happiness by belonging and participating is nothing new. In short, you may dismiss what you have read as being simply common sense.
Adler was once criticized exactly for this: “But what you have said is nothing but common sense!” someone stated after one of his lectures. Adler is reputed to have said, “And, what’s wrong with common sense?”

Can we at this point tell you a big secret about psychology? Many people think that psychology should be difficult to understand. If we present them with terms such as abreaction, archetypal image, awareness context, cathexis, collective unconscious, contra sexual, ctyptomnesia, and so on, they will feel awed and impressed. But if we talk simple language, some people may feel cheated.

Well, we have to admit it. IP is simple in its theory and simple in its language. We can explain all human behavior, be it neurotic behavior, delin quent behavior, or crazy behavior, quite simply. What’s more-we can readily prescribe behavior on the part of those who wish to change others. We treat maladjusted people as successfully as those who use more complicated terms. We have commonsense explanations. Let us give an example relating to the concept of the unconscious.
In the Freudian and Jungian conceptualizations, in an aspect of the individ ual called the id are found various horrible drives coming to the individual through the centuries, implanted in the genes of individuals. The child has a desire to kill its parents, or to have sexual relations with mother or father, has a built-in imprinted tendency to aggrandizement, and so on-all of these being biologically inherited. We Adlerians simply toss all these notions out as idle speculation; unproven fantastic theories with not the slightest evidence, and contrary to common sense.

As Adlerians we operate in terms of the simplest hypotheses, and reject anything cumbersome or mythological, which just does not seem sensible, especially if we can explain the phenomenon more simply. Certainly some people do have horrible thoughts. But they need not have inherited them. They could have invented them themselves. Sure, people do things without knowing why. Few of us have perfect insight into ourselves, but we need not posit an unconscious; we can simply say that memory, self-understanding, and so on, operate on a continuum and we may simply be unaware of some aspects of ourselves. Certainly what are known commonly as “Freudian slips” exist-but we need not posit any fanciful explanation to account for them. In short, it is possible to explain just about everything in psychology and do this simply. In a review of a book on psychodrama, J. L. Moreno complained that the author had made the complex simple. The author rebutted that Dr. Moreno had made the simple complex.
IP is a commonsense psychology, uses simple language, and yet can deal with the most complex problems.


In the explanation of Individual Psychology, this word calls for some com ment. We see each person as different from every other person, yet all people are alike! Harry Stack Sullivan said that people are more alike than different, and we would agree-but at the same lime each of us is a unique human being.

  • Now let us go into this subject a bit deeper.
  • Psychology is generally divided into three areas:
  • Cognition-thoughts, ideas, perceptions.
  • Affection-emotions, feelings.
  • Conation-willing, acting, behaving.

Each individual has a different personality. Adlerians call this one’s “style of life”-one’s unique way of operating. We each think, we feel, and we act differently. The unique combination of these three aspects of human behavior (we use the word behavior in two senses-a problem that plagues psychology: one sense is observable action, such as “I am right now typing this material, and so I am behaving”; but the other sense of the word has to do with implicit behavior-what goes on in my “mind”-my thoughts and feelings as I type) is what makes each of us a unique person.

Adlerians see the intellect-that is to say, cognition-as number one. We are what we think Both feelings and actions are subservient to thoughts. To understand individuals we presume that in the beginning was the thought; after that came feelings and actions. Now let us attempt to give a general picture of how we come to have our unique styles of life.
As infants, most probably all we have is awareness of strong stimuli; and these stimuli most probably can be divided into three types: (a) neutral ones -these simply let us be and live and grow; (6) painful ones-these make us cry and scream and thrash about; and (c) pleasant ones-these make us gurgle and coo and be happy. So the child at 2:00 p.m. is fast asleep at peace with the world-condition (a); then at 2:15 p.m. the child is hungry and has stom ach pains and cries-condition (b); and then while being fed, at 2:17 P.M., the child is happy-condition (c)

As the child goes through life, he wants to avoid condition (b)-pain-and he begins to generalize what to do to avoid being hungry, being yelled at, being spanked, being made fun of, and so on. These generalizations become precepts that he is not aware of-in short, they are in his “mind” but he has no awareness. This is what some of our psychoanalytic colleagues might call the unconscious.

At least we can all agree that this material is not conscious. Nevertheless, each of us as we develop in life begins to assemble a series of conclusions about life-what is right and what is wrong, how to get what one wants, what people are like, what we are like, and so on. This collection of personal concepts is known in Adlerian terminology as “private logic” and represents our deepest views of self and others and life-in short, they repre sent our philosophy.

Given any situation, we then tend to react in terms of these engrams, if we want to think of them as physical impressions on our brain or in terms of these unconscious structures, if we wish to think in psychoanalytic terms. They make up our uniqueness. It is this combination of thoughts that makes up our uniqueness, and it is this combination that psychotherapists of the Adlerian persuasion go after to understand the unique human being and to help modify the person.


By this time, some items in this introductory chapter will appear like old friends. Self-consistency should now be predictable. Adlerians view the human person as operating always in a consistent manner, operating to achieve certain goals. We do not believe in split selves or in internal conflicts or in anything, no matter how reasonable it may sound or how obvious it may appear, which in effect says that one part of the individual wants to go one way and one part wants to go another. The person, when viewed holistically, always operates in a consistent manner.

  • But-we can almost hear you shout this-how about conflicts? Say one has a real problem, such as duty versus love, or a real decision, such as whether to take another job or stay on the present job? What about this land of situation?
  • Explaining this is no problem at all. Some people are consistent in the sense that they never have such problems. When a decision is to be made, they think over everything, and they just make a decision.
  • Other people are consistent in that they never can make a decision and they agonize over everything. In short, the person who readily makes decisions is self-consistent in that respect; and the person who cannot make decisions is self-consistent in that respect.

But, you may persist, how about a person who has a really hard decision to make, and who is not a worrier, and who really does not know what to do?
We will agree that some decisions are difficult to make, such as whether to submit to an operation or not, whether to marry or not, whether to go along with another person’s decision or not-but this still in no way indicates any lack of self-consistency.

Here is an example of such a situation. Jim is in love with two girls and he cannot decide whom to marry. One day it is Jill and the next day it is Jasmine. He feels torn, and worries about his decision. “How is it,” he asks, “that one day I really love Jill and want to many her, and the next day I am with Jasmine and now I want to marry her?” Some people might reply, “Hey, you are inconsistent, you can’t make up your mind.” Not Adlerians-we would say: “You are very consistent; you don’t want to marry at all, and you are playing a game, and you probably play this ‘on the one hand I want this and on the other hand I want that’ type of game all the time.”

People are extremely consistent but they may appear inconsistent, and they may be consistent in being inconsistent. The person who is alternately kind and then cruel has developed a pattern of kindness/cruelty; the person who is gentle and then rough has developed a pattern of gentility/roughness; the person who is understanding at times and unreasonable at times has also developed this pattern. These are complicated patterns that people develop. We see it, for example, in alcoholics. Some have a pattern of drinking heavily every day. This type of consistency is evident. Some will be sober for a year and then go on a bender for a week. And they will repeat this pattern consis tently.


Two most important aspects of Individual Psychology applied to human be havior are (a) direction, derived from goal striving, and (b) activity. We see the human person as constantly moving toward goals. Consequently, activity -energy expended-is of great theoretical importance.

This concept does not necessarily relate to physical activity in the sense of someone being hyperactive but, rather, refers to rate of directed expended energy. Thus, one person will focus his or her energy to achieve a particular goal while another will scatter it in various directions. Another person will devote to a project only intermediate effort or partial effort.

The importance of activity relates to the major problem of psychotherapy: encouragement. Two people may have exactly the same goals, the same amount of energy, everything may appear identical, but one has courage and pursues goals actively, persistently, intelligently, and consistently, while an other person will hesitate, fumble, and back away. For this reason, directed activity-going after one’s goals in a sensible manner-is a prerequisite of a successful life and in psychotherapy is something that the therapist tries to get the client to achieve.


If you have taken courses in psychology or sociology, you may well have been told that human behavior results from two factors: heredity and environment. In some instances, you will be told, heredity is the more important component and in some instances environment is more important, but the two interact in practically everything-and they determine behavior. There just is nothing else! Anything else would be transpersonal-that is to say, mystical and specu lative.

Adlerians do not agree. We see both heredity and environment as important, providing possibilities and limits. We posit something else: creativity.

We say, yes, we all do have hereditary limits and we do have environmental limits, but what the individual becomes within these limits is a function of the individual’s self- creativity. In other words, we are self-made to some extent and we have to take credit for our personalities.

Life is not simply determined by heredity and environment: the individual has choice, has freedom of will. We are not simply pawns in a complicated calculus of factors beyond our selves. We are thinking units who, although caught in the web of influences of biology and society, nevertheless can extricate ourselves and move around freely and self-directed. We have the unique capacity among living creatures to determine our destiny to a considerable extent.

This view comes close to some religious and legal views. We are not afraid of being at times closer to the ideas of philosophy, theology, or jurisprudence than to academic psychology. There may be great wisdom in what “people believe,” especially if these ideas are shared by many over a long tune, It is just possible that folk wisdom, religious ideas, and other so-called superstitions may be correct and that so-called scientific knowledge may be incorrect.

In any event, Adlerians believe in a creative self, in the ability of people to make decisions independently of direct influences of heredity and environment. We see people as responsible, not mechanically driven; as independent units with the ability to make free decisions; and we see a normal individual’s behavior as being under his or her control.

Freedom of Choice

From our point of view, the so-called scientific systems of psychology-reductionistic and materialistic-are essentially disrespectful of humans. Adlerians take the position that individuals are self-directed, creative, and able to make decisions. In a beautiful passage, Mosak (1979) writes:

If my feeling derives from my observation and conviction that life and people arc hostile and 1 am inferior, I may divorce myself from the direct solution of life’s problems and strive for personal superiority through overcompensation, through wearing a mask, through withdrawal, through attempting only safe tasks where the outcome promises to be successful, and through other devices for protecting my self-esteem, (p. 46)

We are not fooling ourselves when we think we have the ability to make decisions. Far from our being machines, the human condition include choice, even though the choice may be “contaminated,” as it was, by past experiences. People are able to rise above their surroundings and make surprising decisions.

Open Motivation

What most people call psychology is what psychologists call motivation. We often say, “I wonder why he did what he did?” or “Why does she act as she does?” Both questions, hi effect, ask about motives.

Many systems of psychology concentrate on “needs”-meaning tissue re quirements, like water or food; or “drives”-meaning instinct like pushes within the body such as sexual desires; or about social pressures-the demand that people conform to others. Adlerians agree to some degree; but since IP is a psychology of use rather than of possession, these social or biological forces are not seen as primary. Rather, the creative self directs the individual in terms of subjective goals using and fulfilling these needs, pressures, and so on, as appropriate for the individual in his movement toward his goals.

How can we make this vital point clearer? Throughout life we want. The child may want attention and direct his life to getting his parents’ attention. He grows up and now still wants attention, and may try to get it through athletics. One person may try to get attention by being attractive, another by being witty, another by being clever, another by unusual mannerisms, and so forth and so on.

Adlerians view people as being on the go, in action, moving forward, con stantly looking for short-term and long-term goals, mobilizing their biological and social resources, looking for their personal, unique, subjectively deter mined goals for success, goals which are their own inventions, the results of their creativity. To live means to make choices.

Social Interest

Adler felt strongly that mental health-personal success in life-was a func tion of an individual’s social interest, which means “identification with human ity,” a “feeling of community,” or “belonging to life.” Social interest is viewed as an innate aptitude, a potentiality that must be consciously developed, possi bly the best antonym for social interest might be “selfishness,” although “ano-mie” also conveys an opposite of social interest. According to Adler all important life problems are social problems-occupation is a social issue since it relates to what one does, which in turn affects others; the family is a social institution, and how one operates within the family affects others; and society is a greater social unit, and certainly how one operates in society affects others.
Adler (1912), commenting on this topic, stated:

  1. It is such children [lacking in social interest] who become the criminals, problem children, neurotics and suicides. They are lacking in social interest and therefore in courage and self-confidence, (p. 341).

Other Concepts

Striving for Perfection

Adler’s theory has often been largely, and sometimes we think purposefully, misinterpreted by a large number of “authorities.” For example, ask many otherwise well-informed people about Adler and you are likely to hear two concepts: “power” and “inferiority feelings.” But when “power” is explained, the wrong interpretation will be given: namely, that Adler preached the impor tance of individuals becoming superior, attempting to subdue others, and ultimately taking over the world. As the reader knows by now, exactly the opposite is true. How could such a misinterpretation take place?

What Adler said in effect was that each person strove for self-improvement, having an innate desire to become better, to become superior, to move forward and onward. This is what is known generally as “growth force,” and it is found in various guises in the writings of many personality theorists.

Adler stated that every person moved “from a perceived minus to a per ceived plus”-as we have discussed in taking up the notion of activity and direction. Striving for perfection is movement directed at self-improvement and greater competency. This is different from striving for superiority over others, which clearly implies that the goal is to be above others, but certainly not “interested in their interests.”

Fictional Finalism

This concept refers to the unconscious elements of the individual in establish ing personal private goals, which are only partly in awareness. It is the goal that the individual created, and on which he acts. In short, we usually do not know what we are really after, but we behave consistently as if reality and our goals were not our own perceptions and our own fictions. This is one of the purposes of psychotherapy: to learn who we are and what we are about.

Life Style

The correct Adlerian term would be “style of life”-or one’s unique personal ity. All the elements discussed so far add up to the dynamics of the life style. Essentially, what others see and what the individual knows about self is based on deeply established personal constructs, the so-called private logic. The beliefs that compose the music of one’s behavior are together-the composi tion and the music-the individual’s life style.

Inferiority Feelings

Behavior is usually affected by feelings of inferiority. Awareness of our defi ciencies may generate feelings of distress and ideas of what we must be so as not to be inferior within our own self-perceptions. Feelings of inferiority are common, normal, and functional, in that they serve as motivators to move ment, but the direction taken as a result of suffering from inferiority feelings determines whether the subsequent behavior is useful or useless.


Now that we have cut up Individual Psychology into a lot of pieces, let us see if we can assemble everything into a meaningful whole. IP is essentially a philosophy of life and a theory of personality relatively simple in structure. IP has been accepted by many people as the best explanation for human nature, the best vehicle for dealing effectively with people socially, educationally, organizationally, therapeutically-the most useful guide for successful human behavior.

The Individual Psychologist sees people as unique, coordinated, logically related, intact, indivisible units-and not as assemblages of parts. People oper ate in terms of their phenomenology-perceptions, memories, ideas, concepts, values. Their outward behavior is a function of these elements, the so-called • mind. The mind can be arbitrarily broken into cognition (thinking) and affec tion (feelings). Of the two, cognition is the master; affection (emotion) serves the purposes of the intellect. Our emotions are not simply the result of outside events but, rather, are due to our interpretations of these events. Every human being is goal-directed. Human behavior is the result of the tendency of individ uals to move toward private goals, some not even known to the individuals. If a person is unsuccessful in life and wants better self-understanding, he/she may go for therapy. In Adlerian therapy, one of the main objectives is to understand a person’s motives, which in turn are embedded in what is known as a person’s private logic or personal constructs.
Individual Psychology gets its name from the basic notion of holism, that the person is an Individuum – that is to say, an invisible unit. Yet individual Psychology is really a social psychology in that it stresses strongly that the individual is meaningless except in social terms, and that the person operates in a social environment. Also, the normal, healthy, and successful individual belongs to life, sees himself/herself as part of the humanity-has social inter est.

Moreover, while it is agreed that individuals are formed and directed to some extent by hereditary and environmental factors independent of the indi vidual, nevertheless, people in the IP view are responsible and creative, and consequently responsible for themselves.
Putting this together in a different way, we see people as self-directed, unique, integrated, responsible, moving toward private goals (often without too much self-understanding) and basically always wanting to be part of humanity. If they are successful, they have social interest and therefore have courage. They feel they are part of humanity, not against it or outside of it.

Individual Psychology is an optimistic point of view. It sees the individual as central, intact, integrated, hi control of self. It views life as an ongoing process, and sees people as striving for success, represented by their unique goals-fictions that they have developed.
This point of view is applicable and represented in all of life-in activities such as child guidance centers, parent training centers, schools, individual psychotherapy and group psychotherapy, mental institutional organizations, counseling of adolescents, of school children, of married people, dealing with psychosomatic problems, babies, diagnoses of personality disturbances, cul tural conflicts, religion, business psychology, correctional psychology, social problems such as poverty and crime, substance abuse treatment, sexual prob lems, problems of old age, projective techniques, school systems, learning problems, mental retardation and its handling, and a host of other issues and . problems.


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