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Alfred Adler’s psychoanalytic theory of individual psychology has had a large impact. This lesson will provide a brief overview, explain key concepts, and explore the therapeutic technique used by Adler.

Alfred Adler

Have you ever disagreed with someone you really liked and admired, like a teacher or a good friend? That’s what happened to Alfred Adler. Adler was a psychiatrist in the late 1800s.

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He worked closely with Sigmund Freud and was the first president of Freud’s psychoanalytic society. He really liked and respected Freud and his psychoanalytic model of psychology, which said that many psychological issues came from repressed emotions.However, Adler didn’t agree with everything Freud said. Adler’s ideas were based on a humanistic view of life, which says that people actively seek to improve themselves.

This was completely different from Freud, who believed that people were motivated by things they lacked. Adler also felt that personal values and the desire for social involvement should be a central idea in psychoanalysis. He called his new theory individual psychology. Let’s look a little closer at individual psychology and the way that Adler changed psychology.

Individual Psychology

Adler’s individual psychology has had a broad impact on the social sciences.

He pioneered ideas and techniques that became the basis for many theories that followed. For example, Adler was one of the earliest theorists to describe a short-term approach to psychotherapy that focused on finding immediate solutions to patients’ problems. Individual psychology assumes that people are motivated by social factors and are responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

It also assumes that people are driven by purposes and goals, tending to look towards the future.Because of these things, we are not helpless victims and are able to create our own lives. From this point of view, we have the capacity to interpret and influence events. While biology and environmental conditions can limit our ability to choose, these factors are not as important as the choices we make.

Attempting to understand the world from the perspective of the person in therapy is essential. This is because each person bases their individual reality on their personal beliefs. You must understand how all dimensions of a person are interconnected components. This idea of integrating the whole person is essential to individual psychology.Since social interests and the desire for a feeling of community are significant concepts in Adler’s theory, there is more emphasis on interpersonal relationships than on individual internal psychodynamics. For example, a patient of individual psychology might explore the way she relates to her family, friends, and coworkers much more than simply examining the way she feels inside.


A basic goal of individual psychology is to help you participate more fully in a social world.

It accomplishes this by helping you identify and change your mistaken beliefs about yourself, others, and life. The successful completion of life tasks is an important concept to individual psychology.Adler felt that there were three life tasks that you must successfully master:

  1. Social tasks, like building friendships and healthy relationships with others.
  2. Love-marriage tasks, which involve establishing intimacy with another person.
  3. Occupational tasks, which is a job or career that allows you to contribute to society.

For example, Maggie has a hard time getting close to people. She has lots of friends and has a good time with them.

In addition, she’s a teacher and has a healthy relationship with her students and her coworkers. But she can’t seem to let anyone close enough to be in a healthy relationship. Maggie has mastered social and occupational tasks but is struggling with the love-marriage tasks. So, what should her therapist do to help Maggie out?In individual psychology, there are four phases of therapy.

They are:

  1. Establish the proper therapeutic relationship by developing an equal partnership. For example, Maggie needs to feel like her therapist is invested in her success.
  2. Explore the psychological dynamics of the client by performing an assessment. For example, Maggie’s therapist might ask her about what she thinks and feels and try to understand Maggie’s problems.
  3. Encourage the development of self-understanding whereby the client can gain insight. This is when the real work of therapy is done.

    Through self-understanding, Maggie can see what’s keeping her from finding love and intimacy.

  4. Help the client make new choices by reorienting and reeducating them. Maggie’s therapist might suggest that she try new things or that she think about some of her decisions in life.

Lesson Summary

Alfred Adler was a psychiatrist who founded individual psychology, a school of psychology that focuses on a person’s interpersonal relationships and his or her place in society. According to Adler, there are three types of tasks that a successful person must master: social tasks, love-marriage tasks, and occupational tasks. In order to help patients master those tasks, therapists must establish the proper therapeutic relationship, explore the psychological dynamics of the client, encourage the development of self-understanding, and help the client make new choices.

Learning Outcomes

Completion of this lesson should enable you to:

  • Identify Alfred Adler and discuss his contribution to psychology
  • Define individual psychology
  • List the three tasks Adler believed people need to master
  • Name and paraphrase the four phases of therapy in individual psychology

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