Adlerian Theory

Welcome to the second in a series of posts about various counseling theories! This post will discuss Adlerian theory.

Adlerian theory differs from Freudian theory, or Psychoanalytic theory, in that it is not nearly as deterministic. The concept of free will is very important to an Adlerian therapist, who believes people are able to become self-reliant and decide how to live their lives. And if we have free will and choices, there is hope. More specifically, adults don’t relate to others the same way they related to their parents, they become individuals. In these ways, Adlerian theory is much less deterministic than Psychoanalytic theory. In fact, an Adlerian counselor might wonder what the point of psychoanalysis is (Personal Communication, Daniel R. Van Hoose, January 22, 2013).

The Creative Self

Adlerian therapists believe in the formation of the Creative Self, which is essential to healthy functioning. The Creative Self is formed by working on the Five Tasks:

  1. Community
  2. Vocation
  3. Romantic relationship (Love)
  4. Relationship with ourselves
  5. Spirituality

At midlife, these tasks start to come together, and all equal social interest. In this way, Adlerian therapy is also called “Individual Psychology.”

Social Interest

Social interest is the main concept of Adlerianism. How we contribute to mankind, how we can join in to make a better society is the ultimate goal for human development. We are all naturally pulled to superiority; pulled to the useful side of life. “Superiority” as an Adlerian concept differs somewhat from its usual definition; “superiority” to an Adlerian theorist means attaining the ultimate goal of completing the Five Tasks and making choices that support social interest. Inferiority, on the other hand, is what pulls us to the useless side of life. Inferiority is created by a lack of support or encouragement. Over time, this is how personality disorders develop (Personal Communication, Daniel R. Van Hoose, January 22, 2013).


Adlerians believe that feelings are a result of attitudes and beliefs. We have expectations about how things are going to happen, based on our beliefs. This is how we decide how to behave, and it is behavior that produces feelings.

Anger and fear are the most negative feelings. Anger is related to bad things that happened to us in the past. If something happens to us that triggers these bad memories, we feel anger. If we fear these things happening over and over, we will become avoidant. Thus, anger is about the past and fear is about the future (Personal Communication, Daniel R. Van Hoose, January 22, 2013).


Homework is a large part of Adlerian therapy. Giving the client a handout or assignment to take with them causes them to reflect. It is also important to assess level of investment the client has. If the client has not done their homework, then they are not invested in therapy, so you might say something like: “In order to accomplish these goals, here’s what we need to do to get there, but you didn’t do it, so let’s talk about what needs to change so you can reach your goals.”