Heart's Desire Life Coaching
Lynn Marrs
Lynn M. Marrs, MSW, LICSW
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What Does "Adlerian" Mean?

What Does "Adlerian" Mean?

Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937) was a physician and psychiatrist. He is the founding father of Individual Psychology and believed in personal freedom, social responsibility and the rights of children and women. His practice of psychology was highly respectful of people. He saw people as creative, self-determining individuals with a subjective outlook, meaning the world is not how others see it, but how WE see it. He took a holistic view of people, and believed that the complete person, mind, body and spirit within a social context taken together is what counts. Ideas about a person's behavior and motives are suggestions, not statements of fact. He saw the individual as the expert on their personality and behavior and believed that people may just need a little guidance to understand what makes them “tick.”

Adlerian theory is based on the belief that there are three major areas of life (life tasks) in which people participate. The areas are work, friendship and intimacy. Life-style refers to one's style of dealing with life. This is formed based on how a child learns to become established within the family, so they feel a sense of belonging. An individual's life-style is his or her way of “acting, thinking and perceiving” and a “schema for ways to live.”

Anne Hooper and Jeremy Holford in their book, Adler for Beginners, summarize some of Adlerian theory with the following points:

  • We are all self-creating beings
  • We have a subjective view of the world.
  • All behavior is goal-directed
  • All behavior is socially embedded
  • We are born into a human group and develop a sense of belonging.
  • Each person's Life-style (literally its style of dealing with life) is created in the first few years of life.
  • Early recollections are a key to finding out about Life-style.
  • Private logic is composed of ideas conceived in infancy which may or may not be appropriate to later life.
  • Social interest affects our Life-style.
  • There is logic behind a child's attention-seeking behavior.
  • Humans constantly move towards goals, whether or not they are aware of this.
  • Movement and consciousness, mind and body are inseparable.
  • Children need encouragement.
  • The relationship between doctor and patient, counselor and client, must be one of mutual respect.
  • The outside world shapes our consciousness as does the world of the family.
  • All humans have goals but the goals will differ. The ultimate universal goal is to feel a sense of belonging.


We cannot change what has happened in the past. We can only change our behavior in the here and now. If our interpretation of our past leads to discouragement, it may take some time and energy to make changes in our life. Adlerians believe that although people cannot change past events, they can change their attitude towards these events. Parental encouragement focuses on stressing the positive and letting children learn from disappointment. It is the negative event rather than “punishment” that teaches a child to change his or her behavior.

The Mistaken Goals of Children

Adlerians believe that people move towards goals and that these goals are unconscious, and chosen based on our early perceptions of life. Rudolf Dreikurs, a devout Adler follower and interpreter of Adlerian phiolosophy, expanded this notion further and identified four mistaken goals that lead to misbehavior in children who are trying to achieve a sense of belonging. These mistaken goals are attention, power, revenge and inadequacy.




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