Anabella Shaked, March 2012
Individual Psychology (IP) is the theoretical foundation for our Coaching Training Program.
I will present here a brief survey of IP main tenets. I will start with a single sentence which presents the theory in a nutshell:
According to IP, humans are social beings moving holistically toward a [psychological- fictive] goal. The goal is a self-created subjective idea of perfection or superiority. The idea can be more or less appropriate to life demands, and eventually can be changed [freedom of choice] (Shaked, 2010).
Let me now elaborate each on one of these principles.
Humans are social beings. The priority by which humans function is social rather than biological. The rationale of this principle is the fact that humans can survive only in social communities and that life itself depends on interrelatedness to others. Moreover, the meaning of one’s-life depends of his or her contribution to others. Every thought, feeling or action is thus related to other humans (Dreikurs 1991; Stone 2011).
Holism. The term “Individual Psychology” reflects this principle of Adler’s view of human nature – the in-divisible nature of personality:
The only way to understand a system is to understand that entire system. There is a qualitative distinction between the whole and the sum of its parts. The whole cannot be understood by examining the parts in isolation from the entire system (Strauch, 2003:452).
In similar vein, Abramson (2005), states that
All (human) parts are interconnected and inseparable, and all strive for the same goal, even when it does not seem to be so …humans are not made of different parts, pulling and pushing in different directions. The body, the mind, the soul, the intellect, the unconscious, moral values, desire and performance – are all parts of the same whole; all directed to the same goal which is chosen by the individual, as are thoughts, feelings and actions, at home, in the supermarket, at work, in love and war, awake or asleep…( p. 6).
The immediate implication of the holistic principle is that the individual cannot be divided into components, nor treated as a collection of traits or parts that he or she can exchange for others. All “parts”, as it were, move holistically towards one goal. For example, within Verhofstadt-Deneve (2000) dialectic approach, one can note a discrepancy between what the client thinks and feels and what she does. Adlerians may view this discrepancy not as one between feelings and actions, but rather between two opposite wishes. According to IP, we may have conflicting wishes in reality, and not inner conflicts in the psyche, which is indivisible (Dreikurs, 1971/2000).
Goal-orientation. Any human movement, i.e., any thought, feeling or behavior is perceived as oriented toward a single goal. The meta- goal of every individual is to reach a sense of having a place in the world – a sense of belonging, worth and meaning (Stone, 2011). Embracing this teleological thinking, Adlerians look for the purpose of behavior rather than its causes.
Subjectivity. According to this principle, everyone has her own private perception and interpretation of reality. This notion bears two major implications. First, we cannot really understand what another person says until we clarify what he means (Abramson 2005). The second, and even more striking, is that the subjectivity which makes each of us a unique individual is the basis for equality between us: if nobody owns “the truth”, all perceptions are equal. Equality, Adler believed, is the essential base for good relationships and for personal and social well-being (Dreikurs 1971/2000).
The whole subjective perception of an individual is his private thinking or private logic, which can be similar or different from the common logic or common sense. Common sense in Adlerian terms means responding to the demands of life out of social interest. This ensues from the feeling that one is embedded in the stream of life, and has concern for the welfare of others (Dreikurs, 1971/2000).
Subjectivity and goal orientation. The goal one creates and strives for in all one’s actions, thoughts and feelings is at the heart of Adler’s model of personality, and is entitled the lifestyle. As mentioned earlier, this meta-goal is a subjectively perceived goal of superiority.
Another related concept is that of movement. In Adlerian thought, each human act – be it emotional, cognitive or practical – is conceptualized as a movement. Each movement is controlled by the goal, and is directed to its achievement.
Every goal has advantages and disadvantages, or in other words, prices and profits. Every goal can be directed either to the useful or useless side of life. In the first case, the profit is achievement, self-esteem and respect, and the price paid is time and effort, the risk to fail, etc. In the second case, the price is anxiety, depression and anger. The profit is less evident than the price; the price, being more apparent, serves as the perfect alibi for a standstill or, in the case of movement – for failure.
Freedom of Choice. While recognizing the influences of genetics and upbringing settings, Adler believed that man has the creative power to choose what he will be and how he will live his life within the limits of facts or circumstances (Bettner, 2006). He thus believed that we can modify, broaden or even change our mistaken goal. Changing one’s goal is basically a cognitive change, which, in turn, generates a change in feelings and actions. A change based on a new choice is therefore one of the main goals of Adlerian practices.
Abramson, Z. (2005). The theory of Alfred Adler: Ten principles. Unpublished manuscript.
Bettner, B. (2006). The “creative force”: How children create their personalities. Pennsylvania: Connexions.
Dreikurs, R. (1971/2000). Social Equality: the Challenge of Today. Chicago: Adler School of Psychology, Inc.
Dreikurs, R. (1991). An Introduction to Individual Psychology. Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice, 47(1), 4.
Shaked, A. (2010). The five basic tenets of Adlerian theory. Lecture given at the conference of the Israeli Association for Focused Psychotherapy. Hertzlia: Israeli Adler Institute.
Stone, M. (2011) the meaning of life and Adler’s use of fictions. Journal of Individual Psychology, 67(1), 13-29.
Strauch, I. (2003). Examining the nature of holism within lifestyle. Journal of Individual Psychology, 59(4), 452-460.
Verhofstadt-Deneve, L. (2000). The ‘magic shop’ technique in psychodrama: An existential–dialectical view. International Journal of Action Methods, 53(1), 3-15.