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Something Old IS Something New: Adler's Humanistic and Positive Psychology Approach to Counseling (Revised 6-29-15)



(Revised 6-29-15) - Many counselors and counselor educators may not be aware of the evolution of Alfred Adler’s theory development: from his early psychoanalytic (1902-1911) and post-psychoanalytic (1911-WWI) phases, to his humanistic and constructivist post-WWI developments (ca. 1920-1937). This presentation (a) delineates key tenets of Adler’s mature theory, including the enormous--but often overlooked-- influence of Adler of contemporary counseling theory and practice, (b) discusses how Adler theory is a pioneering humanistic and positive psychology approach to counseling and (c) addresses the implications of Adler’s mature theory for contemporary counseling practice.
Something Old
Something New:
Adler’s Humanistic and Positive
Psychology Approach to Counseling
Richard E. Watts, Ph.D.
Sam Houston State University
6/22/2015 Richard E. Watts
Many counselors and counselor educators may not be aware of
the evolution of Alfred Adler’s theory development: from his
early psychoanalytic (1902-1911) and post-psychoanalytic
(1911-WWI) phases, to his humanistic and constructivist post-
WWI developments (ca. 1920-1937). This presentation (a)
delineates key tenets of Adler’s mature theory, including the
enormous--but often overlooked-- influence of Adler of
contemporary counseling theory and practice, (b) discusses how
Adler theory is a pioneering humanistic and positive psychology
approach to counseling and (c) addresses the implications of
Adler’s mature theory for contemporary counseling practice.
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
Adlerian Psychology
Individual Psychology (IP), or Adlerian Psychology (AP), is
often misunderstood as primarily focusing on individuals.
However, Adler chose the name Individual Psychology (from
the Latin, “individuum” meaning indivisible) for his
theoretical approach because he eschewed reductionism. He
emphasized that persons can not be properly understood as
a collection of parts but rather should be viewed as a unity,
as a whole.
An integration of cognitive, constructivist, existential,
humanistic, psychodynamic, and systemic perspectives,
Adlerian theory is a holistic, phenomenological, socially-
oriented, and teleological (goal-directed) approach to
understanding and working with people.
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
Adlerian Psychology
IP/AP emphasizes the proactive, form-giving and fictional
nature of human cognition and its role in constructing the
“realities” that persons know and to which they respond.
Adlerian theory asserts that humans construct, manufacture,
or narratize ways of viewing and experiencing the world. It
is an optimistic, positive psychological theory affirming that
humans are not determined by heredity or environment.
Rather, they are creative, proactive, meaning-making beings,
with the ability to choose and to be responsible for their
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
Key Concepts in Adlerian Theory
Emphasis on client’s subjective experience
Teleology (Goal-directed)
Gemeinschaftsgefuhl (community feeling/social
interest) and self-realization (completion)
People are neither “good” nor “bad.” Optimistic.
Freedom within limits: Humans can creatively choose to
respond to their genetics and environment (focus on
use rather than possession)
Developmental perspective based on observation and
direct study of children.
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
Key Concepts in Adlerian Theory
Significant influences on development: Family
constellation, culture, and society
Egalitarian: People are equals, “neighbors.
Women and minorities may feel inferior because they are
Emphasizes the primacy of the client-counselor
Holds a non-pathological view of maladjustment.
Stresses an encouragement-focused process of facilitating
adapted from Carlson, Watts, & Maniacci (2006); Mosak & Dreikurs (1973), Watts
(1999, 2003); Watts & Shulman (2003)
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
Adlerian counseling is a growth/wellness model. It is an
optimistic perspective that views people as unique,
creative, capable, and responsible.
Adlerian counseling emphasizes prevention, optimism
and hope, resilience and growth, competence, creativity
and resourcefulness, social consciousness, and finding
meaning and a sense of community in relationships.
Because Adlerians believe the growth/wellness model
of makes more sense than a sickness model, they see
clients as discouraged rather than sick.
Thus, Adlerians are not about “curing” anything;
counseling is a process of encouragement.
Encouragement, for Adlerians, is the interpersonal
conveyance and therapeutic modeling of
community feeling/social interest
Community Feeling: affective and motivational aspects
sense of belonging, empathy, caring, compassion,
acceptance of others, etc.)
Social Interest
cognitive and behavioral aspects
thoughts and behaviors that contribute the common
good; the good of the all at both micro-and macro-
systemic levels.
Both are required for a holistic understanding of Adler’s
“For me Alfred Adler becomes more and more correct
year by year. As the facts come in, they give stronger
and stronger support to his image of (humankind)”
(Maslow, 1970, p. 39).
When Maslow introduced his “third force,” subsequently
named “humanistic psychology,” he listed Adlerians
first among the groups included . . . . He also invited H.
L. Ansbacher, as representing Adlerian psychology, to
become a founding sponsor of the Association for
Humanistic Psychology and member of the editorial
board of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. (Watts,
1997, p. 153)
Raskin and Rogers noted that Adler was among theorists united by
six basic premises of humanistic psychology.
1. People’s creative power is a crucial force, in addition to heredity
and environment.
2. An anthropomorphic view of humankind is superior to a
mechanomorphic model.
3. Purpose, rather than cause, is the decisive dynamic.
4. The holistic approach is more adequate than an elementaristic
5. It is necessary to take humans’ subjectivity, their opinions and
viewpoints, and their conscious and unconscious fully into
6. Psychotherapy is essentially based on good relationship.
(Ansbacher, 1977, p. 51, cited in Raskin and Rogers, 1989, p. 158)
Psychotherapy and practice literature often acknowledge
Rogers as the first theorist and therapist to emphasize the
importance of developing a warm, accepting, and empathic
relationship (e.g., Bachelor & Horvath, 1999; Day, 2002; Kelly,
1994; Lambert & Barley, 2001)
Although the work of Rogers significantly increased attention
given to the warm and empathic therapeutic relationship,
Adler emphasized its importance several decades earlier
(Ansbacher, 1990, Watts, 1995, 1998)
Rogers mentions Adler only briefly in two nondescript
statements (Rogers, 1967, 1980)
Yet, Rogers and Adler knew each other professionally at the
Institute for Child Guidance (NYC) in 1927-28 when Rogers
was a doctoral intern and Adler was a visiting instructor
“I had the privilege of meeting, listening to, and observing Dr.
Alfred Adler. . . . Accustomed as I was to the rather rigid
Freudian approach of the Institute seventy-five-page case
histories, and exhaustive batteries of tests before even
thinking of “treating” a child I was shocked by Dr. Adler’s
very direct and deceptively simple manner of immediately
relating to the child and parent. It took me some time to
realize how much I had learned from him. (Quoted in
Ansbacher, 1990, p. 47)
The three core conditions proposed by Rogers parallel the
qualities Adler attributed to “gemeinschaftsgefuhl”
(community feeling/social interest) in Adlerian therapy (see
Watts, 1996, 1998)
The therapist-client relationship is cooperative, collaborative,
egalitarian, optimistic, and respectful (Carlson et al., 2006;
Watts, 1998). These qualities and characteristics of the
therapeutic relationship that emphasize clients’ assets,
strengths, abilities, resources, and strengths are embedded
Adler’s therapeutic model of community feeling/social
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
Positive psychology: Identified by adherents as a “new
approach” because “psychology and its sister disciplines . . .
focus on the weaknesses in humankind.” In affirming the
positive qualities of humankind: “no science, including
psychology, looks seriously at this positive side of people.
Shane Lopez
The goal of positive psychology is to move from a preoccupation
with pathology to a more balanced perspective that includes the
idea of “a fulfilled individual and a thriving community” by
emphasizing that building strengths in people “is the most
potent weapon in the arsenal of therapy.” Marty Seligman
Adler’s evolution parallel’s Seligman’s goal: From deficit and
pathology focus to an encouragement focus that emphasizes
strengths, health, and prevention.
Normal human growth and development;
distance from the medical model perspective that is, a
focus on mental health and clients’ strengths, resources, and
abilities rather than psychopathology and clients’
a focus prevention/education rather than merely
an emphasis on topics such as holism, social equality and
social justice, spirituality, and wellness.
Recent research by Leak and Leak and Barlow, Tobin, and
Schmidt indicate that community feeling/social interest is
related to numerous aspects of positive psychology,
including hope, other-centered values, optimism, prosocial
moral reasoning, psychosocial maturity, and subjective well-
Striving or teleological/telenomical movement
Adler, Horney, Jung, Maslow, Rank, Rogers, White
Constructivist, evolutionary, & positive psychologies
“The striving for perfection that represents the realization of
one’s true potential” Ryan and Deci (Positive Psychology)
This quote is identical to the position Adler posited in 1933.
Striving and the role of Community Feeling/Social Interest
Adlers unique perspective
The manner one chooses to strivewith or without Community
Feeling/Social Interestconstitutes Adler’s criterion for mental
The Ubiquitous Presence of Adler
Whether or not counselors identify themselves as Adlerians,
nearly all counseling approaches now reflect some of Adler’s
The crucial importance an egalitarian, respectful, and
cooperative counselor-client relationship (therapeutic alliance)
The focus on social equality and social justice
The real or perceived impact of early childhood/family
constellation (system) experiences on current functioning
The importance of taking a holistic approach that considers
mind, body, and spirit
The need to view people contextually; in their family, social, and
cultural contexts
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
The recognition that thinking influences emotions and behavior.
The emphasis on strengths, optimism, encouragement,
empowerment, advocacy, and support
The relevance of style of life and goals
The need to identify, understand the purpose of, and modify
repetitive self-defeating behaviors
The importance and benefit of counselors and clients developing
realistic and mutually agreed upon counseling goals (goal
The recognition that having problems, difficulties, and
differences is a normal part of life and can be viewed as
opportunities for growth rather than “pathology
The view that counseling is educational, preventative, and
growth-promoting, not merely a remedial one (Watts & La
Guardia, 2014)
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
Recognition of Adler
Adler seems to have paved the way for current
developments in both the cognitive and constructivist
therapies. . . . A study of contemporary counseling
theories reveals that many of Adler’s notions have
reappeared in these modern approaches with different
nomenclature, and often without giving Adler the credit
that is due him. . . . It is clear that there are significant
linkages of Adlerian theory with most present-day
theories. (Corey, 2013)
Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (9th ed.)
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
Recognition of Adler
Adler was clearly ahead of the learning curve in psychotherapy.
His social recasting of Freudian theory initiated psychodynamic
therapy; his task assignments foreshadowed the development of
behavioral and other directive therapies; his specific
techniques involving basic mistakes and “as ifanticipated the
cognitive therapies; and his community outreach and
psychoeducational programs foreshadowed contemporary
community mental health. Many of Adler’s ideas have quietly
permeated modern psychological thinking, often without
notice. It would not be easy to find another author from which
so much has been borrowed from all sides without
acknowledgment than Alfred Adler. (Prochaska & Norcross,
2010, p. 91)
Systems of Psychotherapy (7th ed.)
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
“Different clients may require different therapeutic metaphors.
One client may prefer or be best served using cognitive-
behavioral techniques, another may prefer solution-focused
procedures, and yet another systemic or narrative oriented
methods. Adlerian therapy allows the therapist to tailor
therapy specifically to clients’ unique needs, situations, and
expectations, rather than forcing clients into one therapeutic
or technical framework. The Adlerian approach provides a solid
base for integrating diverse treatment modalities and
formats.” (Carlson, Watts, & Maniacci, 2006, p. 10)
Adlerian therapists tailor therapy according to the unique
needs and situations of clients. A vital aspect of Adlerian
therapy is its integrative flexibility. Adlerians can be both
technically integrative, whilst maintaining theoretical
Being a
Therapeutic Chameleon
BACK TO SLIDE 15: Common ground between Adler and Positive
Psychology is ALSO common ground between Adler and the
long-time emphases in the profession of counseling. Thus, in
the mature phase of Adler’s evolution, Adler sounds much more
like a counselor than a psychologist or psychiatrist. Thus, I
believe Adler’s theory and approach to counseling provides an
excellent theoretical foundation for counselors and the
counseling profession.
For literature support of this presentation’s contents, please
email me and I will forward the resources to you.
Phone: (936) 294-4658
1/9/2015 Richard E. Watts
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.