top of page

Summary on individual psychology


People as goal-oriented beings

Individual psychology was established by Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937) at the beginning of the last century. In giving it this title, Adler purposely distinguished himself from Freud‘s psychoanalysis: The individuum refers to the holistic idea of man in individual psychology which means that biological, cognitive and emotional functions of man all work together for the preservation of the entire organism.

In order to convey a short insight into Adler’s theory and idea of man, it is best to explain the concept of “Style of Lifeˮ which is the most central term in individual psychology.


Everyone has a unique movement pattern

The style of life refers to the individual movement pattern by which every person distinguishes their unique personality. Understanding this movement pattern and its rules is the task that an individual psychologist is aiming at with his clients. The style of life of a person is shown in their way of thinking, feeling, speaking, actions, how they view the world, how they deal with conflicts and crises, their gestures, their attitude, etc. 
When one studies the rules which this pattern follows, one can then recognize that they are a product of a private logic system which connects all of the rules with one other. This logic consists on the one hand of the meaning that a person gives to life and on the other hand of the conclusions he draws out of his convictions which show him the direction to strive for in life. The orientation point of this movement is the fictional goal (life conditions) which promises the best possible security (belonging, self worth, capability, overview, and satisfaction). After all every person strives, as Alfred Adler said, continuously from a minus to a plus. As a means of striving for this goal they have their (subjectively valued) potential and methods or strategies. To recognise the purposefulness of people, the method in their actions is therefore characteristic to individual psychological counseling and therapy.


Development of style of life

The style of life in its basic form-the concept of private logic and the movement pattern connected with it – is created already in early childhood. This is how a person builds up the necessary tools to find his way in the “jungle of life” and to survive. Thanks to the highly developed consciousness of humans and their ability to learn from experience, this creative power is not just possible, but an imperative need. This is because, unlike animals, the strength of instinct is stunted for humans so that it would be impossible for them to survive in this world with all of its challenges and dangers without the help of their self-created orientation. 
For children, the limited radius of the family and their immediate surroundings represents their whole world. The development of a style of life means that on the one hand, their own identity is created by distinguishing themselves from their environment, and on the other hand, to adapt to the surrounding system and to find a place within it. This is influenced by various factors such as family values, family atmosphere, style of upbringing, parenting models, sibling position, etc. They are furthermore confronted with their own physical constitution and gender.


Humans are group animals

They always were dependent on each other - only in the group our ancestors could affront the threats of the environment. Also the newborn baby experiences at the outset its dependency. Without the help of mother and other family members, without being fed and protected, it would not be able to survive. The need to belong is therefore essential for the feeling of safety for humans, and every child strives to find its place within its familial environment.
Where a child makes encouraging experiences in its quest for a place in the family, this feeling of belonging is strengthened, and accordingly its self-confidence and social interests will grow. But where a child experiences repeated failure and discouragement, it develops methods and strategies in order to compensate for the feeling of insufficiency and to avoid future failure.
Whatever the circumstances are, a small child is always trying to make the best of its situation. So it is no wonder that a child whose parents put excessively high demands on it develops the conviction that “only when I do the very best I’m good enough to be loved and accepted”.
On the other hand, a child who is repeatedly punished can come to the conclusion that “the world is a hostile place. I have to gain the upper hand for that I won’t be hurt by others”. A neglected child may feel as if it is unimportant to others and that it is all alone.


The significance of the style of life for adults

What appears to be true from the subjective perspective of a child can often present itself later in life as error. Those who believe they must always stand out in their achievements will be repeatedly confronted with resentment and rejection from others. Those who always seek the leadership position can set themselves up for the hostile reactions of those who feel oppressed by them.
Those who live by the conviction that they must handle life alone have developed the appropriate methods for keeping others at a distance. They thus deny themselves the opportunity of finding their place among their fellow men and to experience the feeling of social connectedness.
Throughout the course of a person‘s life, the immanent private logic concept in the style of life is constantly required to adapt to new systems be it at school, among friends, in partnerships or at the workplace. This is due to the fact that the subjective reality of an individual to which also his apperception has tendentiously aligned, is constantly confronted with the realities of others. If this adaption succeeds to a person’s satisfaction, it means a relativization of his private logic, an extension of consciousness and a stronger sense of connectedness to their fellow man.
However, should the irritation be too strong, the negative convictions of a person come into effect. It can then happen that the private logic of the style of life can turn into a dogma. Accordingly, the perception becomes more tendentious; i.e. outside information will only be received and processed insofar as it confirms a person’s private convictions. It then becomes harder and harder for a person to exercise objective judgement of his life situation and it’s difficult for him to recognize that he himself contributes a lot to his misfortune by his interactions with his environment. Through his actions he influences others, assigning roles to them and forcing them to adapt to the changes of his behavioral pattern. This often results in exactly that outcome of which he was the most frightened. This because also his fellow humans react subjectively, in their reality, guided by their perception.
Although the crises in which people find themselves look different, they are similarly trapped in the vicious circle of their private logic. Individual psychological counseling is therefore primarily a process of awareness and understanding. By recognizing these connections, the personal truth can be relativized and re-orientation is possible.


Work on style of life

In individual psychological counseling, great emphasis is placed on cooperative collaboration between the counselor and client. Goals for the counseling are outlined and methods are discussed together. The client should have a good idea of what is possible in counseling and where the limits to counseling work are set. The task of the counselor is to win his client over to get into a process where courage and work on himself are required.
Many people are afraid to seek psychological help for fear of their mistakes being pointed out or being classified as mentally ill. Others fear that problems might be established, which they are unable to cope with.
In individual psychological counseling work however, appreciation of the personality of the client is paramount. It should be an encouraging process for the client. Working on their resources (abilities, strengths, opportunities) and implementing them are in the foreground. Also, neurotic goals are not considered to be pejorative, but understood in connection with the personality development of the client and respected in their function to protect the client's self-esteem and safety.

The task of an individual psychologist is to first bring clarification to a confused situation. Through understanding an individuals personality development in context with his biography, through recognizing the impact of his behavioural pattern in interaction with his environment, a new level of consciousness is opened to the client.
Through understanding of his personality development in relation to his biography, through recognising the impact of his behavioural patterns in interaction with his environment, a new level of consciousness is opened up for the client. This enables him to consider his situation from the outside and to examine the goals of his behaviour. At the point where he sees that his behaviour does not bring the desired benefits, the process of re-orientation begins. Here he is challenged to deal with questions of meaning and to seek a deeper understanding of his personal fortune. Once he has decided to go new ways, to move into new worlds of experience, the counselor then takes on another function as a coach. He helps his client to reasonably estimate his potential and to set goals which do not overwhelm him. Togehter they develop methods and strategies for crisis management, conflict resolution and life enrichment, sometimes also through role-playing. What the client implements during the week is then evaluated in the counseling sessions and the further planning is adjusted to the clients needs.
The point where the client learns that, through his newly acquired knowledge and the effectiveness of his actions, he can actively influence his own life, is a very satisfying. The goal of individual psychological counseling is not to reach a problem-free final state, but to bring movement in a previously stuck situation.


Other fields of activities of individual psychology

In addition to individual counseling, individual psychology is also suitable for family and couples counseling.
Alfred Adler repeatedly referred to the significant influence that teachers and parents have on the personality development of children. He and his colleague were among others who were pioneers in the development of educational concepts. As early as in the twenties in Vienna, they founded experimental individual psychology schools and parental counseling centers which were successful ventures. Parents learned methods in how the self-confidence and the feeling of social belonging of children could be strengthened. Encouragement is the top priority in individual psychology education. The aim is to recognise the goals behind the behaviour of difficult children and to avoid all forms of punishment. Instead children should be won over to increase their social interest and act responsible and sociable.
Individual psychology education continues to be topical today.

bottom of page