Alfred Adler's Theories: Overview & Summary

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  • 0:05 Alfred Adler
  • 1:09 Individual Psychology
  • 2:52 Therapy
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

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. 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:

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Alfred Adler's Theories:

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of about two to three paragraphs that compares and contrasts Alfred Adler's theories with those of Sigmund Freud.

Example: While Adler subscribed to Freud's theory about repressed emotions, Adler was unlike Freud in that he believed that people were motivated to improve themselves.

Essay Prompt 2:

In at least one page, write an essay that explains how individual psychology works.

Example: In individual psychology, a person's interpersonal relationships are examined.

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Make a poster, chart, or other type of graphic organizer that lists and briefly describes the three main life tasks that Adler said humans must accomplish. Feel free to use illustrations if you are a visual learner.

Example: For love-marriage tasks, you could draw a heart with wedding rings on it.

Graphic Organizer Prompt 2:

Create a poster, chart, or other type of graphic organizer that lists and explains the four phases of therapy in individual psychology. As an alternative, you could make an educational brochure designed for therapists on how to implement the four phases of individual psychology in therapy.

Example: A good rapport between the therapist and client is necessary in order to accomplish the first task.

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