IAIP – Internacional Association of Individual Psychology



23th Congress of the International Association of Individual Psychology
Ursula Oberst, Ph.D. Associate Professor Department of Psychology Ramon Llull University c/ Císter, 34 08022 Barcelona (Spain) Email: [email protected] Alan E. Stewart, Ph.D. Associate Professor The University of Georgia Department of Counseling & Human Development 402 Aderhold Hall Athens, Georgia 30602-7142 Email: [email protected] Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology (IP) is traditionally considered a psychoanalytic or “in-depth” approach. Similarities with psychodynamic schools notwithstanding, this paper considers that Individual Psychology has many similarities with other theoretical orientations in psychology and psychotherapy, which appeared following the emergence of psychoanalysis and IP, for example cognitive psychotherapy, humanistic and constructivist theories. In this paper, we will discuss IP within the frame of constructivist and humanistic metatheory. We consider that this discussion is not a theoretical exercise of little practical significance. On the contrary, we think that it can have important implications for counselling and therapy practice. The challenge of integration in psychotherapy In order to survive and to develop along productive lines, all psychotherapy approaches have to face the challenge of two current tendencies in psychotherapy: that of integration with other theories and that of constructivist metatheory. The proliferation of different schools of psychotherapy on one hand and the notion that there is not one exclusively efficient technical procedure in therapy on the other has led to various attempts to integrate different approaches into a broader system. This effort after integration often poses the question of: what are the elements shared by diverse therapies that have been shown as effective strategies and techniques for change? There are many different perspectives among the scientific community; with respect to IP, the most important integration theories can be summarized by the following: Purism represents the most conservative standpoint; for Adlerian Psychology, this would mean to preserve the theory “as it is” and to only maintain the classical tenets without admitting innovative, though theoretically consistent, features stemming from other approaches. Technical eclecticism represents a spurious picking out of what are considered the best (i.e. most effective) techniques of other therapies and applying them, under the name of Adlerian therapy. Theoretical integration would mean the fusion of Adlerian theory with other theories of and, in the extreme case, becoming a “hyphenated approach” (see Carlson, 2000), e.g. a “narrative-Adlerian”. Meta-theoretical integration (e.g. Neimeyer’s 1988 concept of Theoretically Progressive Integration) is an approach that proposes the integration of different psychotherapies that are epistemologically compatible in order to “cross-fertilize” each other. As we have outlined elsewhere (Oberst & Stewart, 2002), it is our position that Adlerian Psychology could be put under the umbrella of a specific meta-theory or epistemology, and benefit from the commonalities with other approaches, incorporate innovative techniques, and also inform these other approaches with respect to theory and practices. Constructivism and post-modern thought In the strictest sense, constructivism is not a psychology but an epistemic standpoint (i.e., a theory of knowledge), the basic postulate of which implies that it is the observer who actively construes his or her knowledge of the world and that reality can be interpreted in different ways. Realities (“facts”) are not discovered but rather constructed, in the sense that Reality is not the real world “out there”, but only our mental construction in terms of our previous experiences and meaning structures. And perception is not an act that allows us to know and to represent reality as Kelly (1955/1991) asserted, but it is a construing act. In this sense, our perception seldom gives us an objective image of an ontological reality (“the world as it is”), and thus, may rarely offer us the “Truth” about it. Things become clearer when we compare constructivism to its traditional opposite, objectivism. Following Botella’s (1994) suggestion, we can use four criteria in order to compare both approaches: view of human being, view of the world, conception of human knowledge, and nature of justification. In the traditional objectivist viewpoint, the human being is viewed as reactive, passive, and determined by circumstances. Constructivism, alternatively, sees the human being as pro-active, goal-directed and in a dialectical relationship with the material and social environment. In objectivism, the world view is mechanistic and subject to causality, while in constructivism it is organicist and contextualist. The conception of human knowledge in objectivism has been described as accumulative fragmentalism by George Kelly (1955/1991), the first author who formally introduced constructivism in a complex psychological theory. This expression means that accumulating more and more knowledge facts about the world we gradually come to an ever better understanding of it. As a consequence, the nature of justification is the truth value of knowledge claims. Our knowledge of the world is valid if it is correct, objective and represents the Truth. According to Kelly, from the constructivist epistemic viewpoint, knowledge is not simply the progressive accumulation of isolated facts; instead, facts about reality can be weighted differentially to allow multiple, adaptive perspectives on the same person, event or object in the world. Kelly called this flexibility in meaning-making constructive alternativism. This means that there is also no absolute Truth about reality, but only the pragmatic value of our claims. In psychological terms this also means that, according to Kelly, the human being creates “constructs” (a concept very similar to Vaihinger’s and Adler’s “fictions”) and tries to adapt them to reality. The adjustment is not always perfect, but without these constructs (or fictions) we would be unable to find meaning in the world. Kelly writes: “”We take the stand that there are always some alternative constructions available to choose among in dealing with the world. No one needs to paint himself into a corner; no one needs to be completely hemmed in by circumstances; no one needs to be the victim of his biography. We call this philosophical position constructive alternativism.” (Kelly 1955/1991, p. 11) Some theorists claim that constructivism is the most adequate epistemic position in a post-modern world. Postmodernism (or postmodernity) is considered to be the contemporary cultural condition of the developed post-industrial societies. It is thought that this postmodern turn is a consequence of the increasing dissatisfaction with the project of modernity with its rationalist concepts and its belief in the values of Enlightenment, such as Reason, Truth, Progress, Science, etc. In postmodernism, these beliefs in universal values have been replaced by a progressively relativist attitude: incredulity, ambivalence, and disbelief (Botella 1995). Postmodern thought has even been associated with a mentality of “anything goes”: any artistic, philosophical, political, etc. expression or standpoint is as valid as any other, none is better or preferable (MacKay, 2003). As basic themes of postmodern thought, Polkinghorne (1992) identifies four aspects: foundationlessness (as we have no direct access to reality, we have no sure epistemological foundation upon which knowledge can be built), fragmentariness (the real is a disunited, fragmented accumulation of disparate elements and events, so knowledge claims should be concerned not with the search of context-free laws, but with these local and specific occurrences), constructivism (knowledge is not a mirrored reflection of reality, but a construction built from cognitive processes), and neopragmatism: given the three other aspects, the only valid criterion for accepting a knowledge claim is not its correspondence with the inaccessible reality, but its predictive usefulness for guiding human action to fulfil intended purposes. Adlerian Psychology as a constructivist theory Several authors have already identified the constructivist elements in Adlerian Psychology or even re-define it as a constructivist theory (Master, 1991, Shulman & Watts, 1997, Oberst, 1998; Oberst & Stewart, 2002). Adler can be clearly considered as an early constructivist because of his reliance upon Vaihinger (1925). If we analyze Adlerian Psychology with respect to the four criteria of constructivist psychology, we can state the following: With his ideas of goal-directedness, social-embeddedness, pro-activeness, tendentious apperception, the creative self and, especially, the notion of fictions, Adler’s view of the human being as well as his world view can clearly be considered as constructivist. With respect to the conception of knowledge, the quotation above from Kelly (1955/1991, p.11) could stem from Adler. For Adler, individuals always have the possibility to respond alternatively to their experiences (Adler’s notion of the “opinion”). Adler suggests in a quite constructivist way: “No experience is a cause of success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences – the so-called trauma – but we make out of them just what suits our purposes. We are self-determined by the meaning we give to our experiences, and there is probably always something of a mistake involved when we take particular experiences as the basis for our future life. Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meaning we give to situations.” (Adler, in Ansbacher and Ansbacher, 1955 , p. 208) Thus, we have no problem in classifying the Adlerian conception of knowledge as constructivist. Social interest and Constructivism The difficulties arise when it comes to the nature of justification. As we have said, constructivism claims that there is no absolute Truth and therefore no universal ethical principle that could guide our moral acts. But Adler does seem to have the idea of the existence of a general principle, capable to distinguish true from false, right from wrong, psychologically healthy from neurotic: that of social interest. Whereas in the realm of personality, with its notions of fictions and fictionate goals, holism, proactivity, social embeddedness, etc., IP can be considered constructivist, the concept of social interest versus striving for superiority as criterion for mental health clearly does not contribute to the constructivist view of IP. For constructivists, the criteria of truth are only our own fictions, therefore Truth itself cannot exist. Instead of Truth, Botella (1995) proposes the pragmatic value of our knowledge claims, their predictive efficiency, their viability and fertility. In other words, their usefulness. But Adler has a different concept of “usefulness”, which extends beyond individual knowing and individuals goals: while (neo-)pragmatic usefulness refers to the practical value of successfully helping individual to fulfil their intended purposes (Polkinghorne 1992), Adler’s view of usefulness refers much more broadly to social interest-orienting towards others to a greater or lesser extent. Adler’s meanings for useful (“nützlich”) extend more broadly to include those thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that are useful for an individual’s sense of adaptation and belonging within the community as well as for the community as a whole. Thus, if “anything goes”, it may be acceptable and highly “useful” (pragmatic) to kill your hated mother-in-law and get away with her money. Constructivism has no answer to this dilemma, because it is epistemologically neutral to moral values. In a pragmatical sense, it may even be useful to behave in a prosocial way, because of the advantages that getting along well with other confers to the individual (because the other people may return you a favour or because it allows you to feel morally superior, etc.). In the Adlerian sense, usefulness has a connotation that goes beyond the utilitarian idea of “it’s good to be good, because then people will be good to me”. In its strictest interpretation, for Adler it is not acceptable to behave in a prosocial or altruistic way in order to be returned the favor or in order to feel “morally good”, as this attitude can be interpreted as an expression of striving for power and therefore, as a lack of social interest. Some constructivist authors (e.g. Botella and Figueras, 1995) point out that constructivism confers to the individual precisely the personal responsibility for his or her acts, because the gradual loss of the existent legitimating systems (e.g. Philosophy, Religion, political theories) in postmodernity denies him or her the commodity and the security of a universally valid principle. In contrast, Adler does claim a universal criterion for truth. Some of Adler’s writings seem quite objectivist and Adler himself often seems convinced of being in possession of knowing what is right and what is wrong. Not only does he qualify some cognitions as “erroneous” (which implies the existence of a correct point of view), but also as “antisocial” cognitions (which implies even a value-laden standpoint). In some of Adler’s publications, the concept of social interest sounds like an absolute, eternal, and universal truth (“the iron logic of social life”). In their interpretation, Ansbacher and Ansbacher (1956), Adler’s “absolute truth” only expresses his conviction that human beings in their interactions with other people need a reference point for their orientation, therefore social interest itself would be only a fiction, maybe the most pragmatic one, or, in Vaihinger’s terms: the most expedient error. Oberst & Stewart (2002) have discussed in detail how the concept of social interest could be interpreted or re-interpreted in constructivist terms; but the constructivist nature or not of social interest remains controversial. Adlerian Psychology and humanistic theories As Neimeyer and Stewart (1999) already stated, Adler’s view of the human being, his orientation away from an exclusive intrapsychic determinism, the adoption of Vaihinger’s idea of fictions, etc. allow us to see Individual Psychology as a first approximation of constructivism in psychology and psychotherapy. From Adler’s bibliography we can appreciate the evolution of his personal epistemological standpoint and learn how the young Adler (before World War II) struggled to free himself from Psychoanalysis and the medical model, and how the adult Adler elaborated an innovative and early constructivist theory. In contrast, the mature Adler (approximately from 1925 on) seems to turn his back on some of his theoretical constructivist standpoints for the sake of his humanistic and sometimes even missionary desire to improve the psychological conditions of mankind and the living together of people. Some scholars believed that this turn in Adler’s focus and energies stemmed from his experiences as a physician in the military during World War I (Hoffman (1994). Adler was intrigued by the possibilities of the potential welfare and wellbeing that could be achieved if the destructive capabilities of nations were redirected for communitarian purposes. Thus, at the threshold of postmodernism, Adler decided to take an alternate path from an otherwise direct course towards postmodernism to follow a course instead that embraced a humanistic world-view. The similarities of Adlerian Psychology and humanistic theories have been pointed out earlier (Birnbaum, 1961; Ellis, 1970; Frankl, 1970; Maslow, 1979 Dreyfus & Nikelly, 1979; see also Oberst & Stewart, 2002). The humanistic aspects of Adlerian theory refer mainly to such concepts like the therapist attitudes, the view of people being inherently good, the idea of people striving for personal improvement and being endowed of a free will and therefore being responsible for their acts. And of course, social interest occupies a key role in this therapeutic approach. If we accept with Adler the idea of social interest as being a) the sense of life (“the goal of pursuing the welfare of all mankind”; Adler, 1933), b) the (unattainable) goal of perfection c) the ethical criterion for mental health, then the concept of social interest takes on a humanistic colouring. Adler’s embrace of a humanistic orientation in discussing the nature of social interest as attitudes and behaviours that demonstrate care for others may seem to some psychologists as quaintly-dated in the face of economic globalization over the last decade. Unprecedented levels of competition exist among people, communities, corporations, and even nations as these entities seek positions of economic security or excellence. This climate in westernized cultures, especially in the United States with its emphasis on American exceptionalism, makes postmodernism or constructivism particularly appealing approach insofar as one’s epistemology can serve one’s motives. In this climate, it may seem self-defeating or strategically disadvantageous to think of another in a socially-interested way or to behave in a manner that makes one less competitive, and so forth. To encourage people (clients) to enact social interest in this manner may even smack of imposing the therapists’ value system on the client. Although asserting the existence or iron logic of social interest may seem to transgress constructivist assumptions regarding the know-ability of the world and peoples’ abilities to act upon this knowledge in a value-free manner, it is a given that humans must coexist with each other. The reality that all people must respond to the social-to find a way to conceptualize and respond to other-cannot be dealt with by assuming that a real world or the truth (the social included) simply does not exist. Finding a way to peacefully and productively coexist not only has survival value but can be of immense psychological value as the vast literature on social support has documented (e. g., Folkman & Lazarus, 1980; Uchino, Cacioppo, Kiecolt-Glaser, 1996; Yoshikawa, 1994). Social interest: humanistic by nature, constructivist in conception and essence How can we reconcile the humanistic essence of social interest with a constructivist epistemic concerning the view of the world and of the human being? Social interest and its humanistic essence embrace constructivism in at least two ways: 1. in conceiving of what is a healthy and productive stance towards other people, and 2. how this conception is enacted behaviourally. With respect to the former, one need only to consider what may be of help or use to another (or to the community) and to consider what one wishes to accomplish (i. e., what are the goals or motives)? Each person can develop his or her own unique approach to these tasks of life without having to consult or uncritically adopt the value system of another. For any person’s particular conceptualisation of social interest, there may be many ways to enact it, again without adhering to a single objectively-defined standard. The viability of a person’s conception and enactment of social interest ultimately can be evaluated by how others receive it. Here, people may differ in how receive another person’s offering of social interest (i. e., assessing the act and attempting to discern motives). Overall, myriad ways exist for people to find some way of orienting towards others such that they experience the psychological benefits (i. e., health according to Adler) that attends a sense of belonging (Baumeister & Leary). According to Adler the individual exercises a high degree of creativity and uniqueness to construct a viable orientation towards others-there is no one right way to do this. What might this look like in therapeutic practice? First, although the therapist knows of the significance of developing social interest, the tentative and client-oriented approach characteristic of Individual Psychology precludes the therapist adopting a directive, objectivist stance in steering the client towards an outwardly-supplied objective. Instead the therapist helps the client to come to his or her own conclusions regarding the viability and adaptability of his or her interpersonal manoeuvres (i. e., attention-getting, attempting to dominate others, etc.). Many alternative approaches may be tried before the client discovers that moving towards others in a cooperative, interested, and benevolent manner yields results that are beneficial. In some cases the Adlerian therapist will test hypotheses about a client’s motives, behaviours, or the outcomes of interpersonal transactions. Suggesting alternatives along these lines does not necessarily render the therapy objectivist. Rather, the way in which the therapist’s experience of the client is offered, the process and timing components, affect how it is received and whether the client is more likely to experience it as an authoritarian prescription that precludes the client making his or her own meanings. Conclusion As a conclusion of the abovementioned challenges – integration in psychotherapy and constructivism – the authors of this paper want to present their personal perspectives on the metatheoretical assignment of IP: We consider neither purism nor fusing with other theories as a valid option for the future of Individual Psychology. On one hand, we propose to preserve the Adlerian essence: its view of psychological problems (“neurosis”) as a consequence of the self-defeating attempts at compensating inferiority feelings by striving for superiority; its view of neurosis as an excuse for not adaptively and productively interacting with others (i. e., demonstrating social interest), which is a goal of the neurotic symptoms; its view of social interest as an innate positive tendency in the individual that has to be fostered in early childhood; its claim for fomenting social interest in therapy as an important element of healing. We propose to keep the Adlerian commitment to an ethical stance and to a humanistic attitude. On the other hand, we want to encourage Adlerian psychologist to explore the constructivist view of human being and of human knowledge and its many possibilities of applying new points of view and innovative therapy techniques stemming from other (constructivist) psychotherapies. In this sense, we also encourage the investigation with respect to meta-theoretical cross-fertilization in order to develop innovative and effective therapy techniques. Beyond theoretical questions and practical applications in psychotherapy, Adlerians have always viewed Individual Psychology not only as a psychotherapy approach but also as a theory that can address the questions of social living. In this sense, we consider that the Adlerian commitment for an ethical stance may be a valid option for individuals, if we understand social interest in the sense a socially shared fiction and not an absolute truth somebody possesses by virtue of being an Adlerian psychologist. In this sense, social interest can represent a conscious and responsible act in face of relativism. Here is precisely a new opportunity for Adlerian Psychology within a constructivist and post-modern framework: to explore to which degree social interest can become an acceptable answer to the ethical questions that emerge from the post-modern condition. References Ansbacher, H.L. & Ansbacher, R. R. (1956). The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler. A systematic presentation in selections of his writings. New York: Basic Books. Baumeister, R. F. & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529. Botella, L. & Figueras, S. (1995). Cien años de psicoterapia:¿El porvenir de una ilusión o un porvenir ilusorio? Revista de Psicoterapia, IV (24), 12-28. Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1980). An analysis of coping in a middle-aged community sample. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 21, 219-239. Hoffman, E. (1994). The drive for self. Alfred Adler and the founding of Individual Psychology. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. MacKay, N. (2003). Psychotherapy and the idea of meaning. Theory and Psychology, 13, 359-386. Neimeyer, R.A. (1988). Integrative directions in Personal Construct Therapy. International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 1, 283-297. Neimeyer, R. A. and Stewart, A. E. (1999) Constructivist and narrative psychotherapies’, in C. R. Snyder and R. E. Ingram (eds) Handbook of Psychotherapy: The processes and practices of psychological change, New York: Wiley. Oberst, U.E. & Stewart, A.E. (2002). Adlerian Psychotherapy: An advanced approach to Individual Psychology. London: Brunner-Routledge. Uchino, B. N., Cacioppo, J. T., Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (1996). The relationship between social support and physiological processes: A review with emphais on underlying mechanisms and implications for health. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 488-531. Yoshikawa, H. (1994). Prevention as cumulative protection: Effects of early family support and education on chronic delinquency and its risks. Psychological Bulletin, 115, 28-54.

Authors’ note: part of this article is based on the conference given by U. Oberst at the 23rd Congress of the International Association of Individual Psychology. Torino, Italia, 26-29 de mayo de 2005. Which kind of Adlerian Psychology?: Adlerian Psychotherapy and its relation to constructivism and humanistic therapies.


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