Alfred Adler developed what is now known as individual psychology in the early 1900s (Fall, Holden, & Marquis, 2002). Adler’s theory separated him from Sigmund Freud, who was focused on the psychoanalytic school of thought. Individual psychology focused on the study of human character from a holistic standpoint, and continues to be influential in the field today (Fall, Holden, & Marquis, 2002). Adler was clear that individual psychology was not meant to focus solely on the individual. Instead, he stated that the person’s entire environment, including known personal associates, must be taken into account. The term “individual” is meant to describe the person as an indivisible whole.

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While Adler’s individual psychology theory could be approached in both short and long term therapy formats, many practitioners currently advocate for a short term approach (Garfield, 2002). For instance, Adlerian Brief Therapy (ABT) is a current example of Adler’s individual psychology theory. The goal of ABT is to improve focus and institute change within an individual’s life utilizing a limited therapy time frame (Garfield, 2002).

Adler’s work was heavily rooted in social and cultural contexts. He stated that an individual must confront three external forces during development: societal, vocational, and love-related (Fall, Holden, & Marquis, 2002). According to Adler, a well-developed individual does not focus on personal superiority. Instead, he or she focuses on every member within an ideal community. Adler’s work relies heavily on both relationships within humanity as well as empathy for each member in the community. This social foundation results in a community of individuals cooperating together for social advancement rather than individuals working alone for the sake of personal advancement (Fall, Holden, & Marquis, 2002). Adler used social interest as a gauge when examining mental health, with the belief that developmentally mature individuals carried a high level of social interest.

  • Fall, K., Holden, J., & Marquis, A. (2002). Theoretical models of counseling and psychotherapy. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
  • Garfield, S. L. (1989). The practice of brief psychotherapy. New York: Pergamon.