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Adlerian Therapy from a Christian Perspective

The following represents Arthur's opinions only and not necessarily those of Christie.

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Adlerian Therapy

Named after Alfred Adler, Adlerian theory primarily emphasizes birth order, individual life styles, social interests, and concepts pertaining to inferiority and superiority as principle components of personality.  For Adler, psychological health is determined by the level of social contribution beneficial to the greater community.  To the degree, that one integrates and furthers the social context, thus the measurement of his or her mental health.  Social contribution is increased through the reduction of mistaken beliefs, which frequently lead to maladaptive feelings of inferiority or superiority.  This goal of combating false beliefs is attained through an understanding of family constellations, early memories, and dreams.

For psychologists, translating the goals of Adlerian theory into a therapeutic process has resulted in an approach to counseling that varies widely among practitioners.  These goals are to bring about an increased social interest, modify self-destructive behavior, and solve problems more efficiently.  To reach these aspirations in a clinical setting, psychotherapy provides a choice to counselors as a base for identifying and addressing incorrect thoughts and belief patterns.  This influence of psychotherapy owes its’ origin to Sigmund Freud, an indirect contributor to Adlerian therapy. 

Initial sessions provide Adlerian therapists with an opportunity to observe and assess clients in order to gauge their family dynamics, present lifestyle, and early childhood experiences.  These assessments may be formal or informal using questionnaires or direct inquiry.  Further to this, therapists also rely on dreams and the interpretive meaning for the client’s current situation and struggles. 

Several practical techniques are used in Adlerian therapy.  Immediacy asks the client to communicate events at the present moment.  By focusing on the immediate here and now, clients are reoriented into a position conducive to a greater understanding of their situation.  The technique of encouragement helps to build rapport between therapist and client.  Counselors also use encouragement to assess client lifestyle to provide tools for overcoming inferiority and low self-concept.   Acting as if requests the client to presume the successful result of a not yet attempted action. 

Another technique, spitting in the client’s soup, requires the counselor to make certain behaviors less attractive to the client.  Once a particular behavior is seen as repulsive, it is less likely to recur.  The question tests the client in order to identify the existence of a psychological problem through the use of deliberately constructed questions by the counselor.  If the client makes a connection between the answer to the question and another problem altogether, the therapist then presumes the root of the illness is to avoid the problem connected by the client.  Finally, Adlerian therapists often assign homework as a means to assist clients in solving problems outside the counseling session.

In Adlerian therapy, the relationship between the client and counselor requires mutual trust and respect in order to maximize clinical success.  Client and therapist should have similar goals to reach this end.  When client goals do not match therapist goals, the Adlerian counselor will work to educate as to the more appropriate goals.  To accomplish this, some Adlerian therapists have their clients sign a contract detailing the goals of their counseling process. The clear synchronization of goals in early treatment provides the framework for a healthy relationship between client and counselor, upon which the remainder of counseling objectives are built.

Adlerian therapy is diverse, both in practice and in theory.  This flexibility is seen by many as one of its greatest strengths.  Because of its emphasis on goals, the social leanings of Adlerian therapy are greatly beneficial to couples, families, and groups.   Finally, the incorporation of psychoanalysis provides additional options to the counselor, bringing to the session room a wide range of techniques to cover numerous client issues.

Adlerian therapy is frequently criticized for its lack of depth.  Seen by many as somewhat superficial, it lacks the constitution necessary to fully deal with the vast array of psychological issues clients bring to the counseling room.  While its flexibility is wide in scope, its fortitude is frail, and many see it as a therapy that is akin to one who dabbles in everything but masters in nothing.  Through its emphasis on birth orders and early recollection, untestable assumptions are made that many psychologists see as placing undue weight on concepts not critical to human growth.

Overall, Adlerian therapy focuses on applications in individual psychology with intent to provide prevention services designed to assist during growth.  This educational focus is utilized with teachers and parent to identify the importance of social interaction and the development of social interests.  Further, parents are taught the importance of family relationships and the legacy that is passed between generations through birth order and individual personality. 

In the use of group work, Adlerian therapy works to develop group cohesion, which mirrors healthy functioning in social settings.  Members of the group are able to develop a sense of belonging and community that may be unavailable in their present situation.  Due to the flexibility and integrative nature of this theory, individuals, families, and groups are helped with the tools of this approach.  Contrasting this however, Adlerian therapy has its limitations, as it does not provide immediate solutions to client problems with more of a long-term focus.  With less of a simplistic approach, this therapy is suited more for individuals who are prepared to take the time to understand family of origin issues.

Personal Evaluation

Adlerian thought has at its base, a socialistic ideology.  The pervasiveness of socialism in Adlerian theory owes itself to the inspirations of Karl Marx; one of Alfred Adler’s professed influences.  A presupposition against capitalism, private property, and acquired wealth was, I believe, a driving force behind his theory.  Because no part of his theory (that I could determine) conflicted with socialist philosophy, I believe that Adler used this ideology as a basis when forming his theory, forcing his theory of personality to conform to his communist philosophy.  Because of this, I do not acknowledge Adler’s theory as scientific in an empirical sense, but rather a reflection of his personal views.  While his views on the importance of birth order are interesting and certainly original, I do not see them as having a great deal of merit.    If there is any effect that birth order has on an individual, I believe it is due to localized parenting factors at the microenvironment rather than some kind of objective truth about birth order at a macro level.  Because I am a true capitalist, I hold little value for communistic thought and see it as a threat to my way of life. 

Christianity is not compatible with socialism. Jesus discarded the abundant tithes of the pharisees and treasured the widows mites because she sacrificed, and gave from her heart. True Christian giving must always come from the individual. Socialism institutes a secular government that takes by force, and redistributes. When a government takes money by force and gives it to the poor, an individual should not assume he has "fed the poor" by proxy. God would rather an individual man give of his own free will to feed the poor, then a secular government taking money by force from the man to feed the poor. Every act of service in Christianity requires the individual heart. Socialism, by definition, purges the individual and replaces it with Big Government, and is therefore an antithesis to Christianity. When the church of Acts gave up all of its possessions, this was not socialism, because each individual chose freely to give. Jesus Himself said that even sinners take care of sinners, but that doesn't make a society Godly. A perfectly humanistic society where all the poor are fed and no one goes hungry is still in utter depravity and an enemy to God (note that plenty of people in this world who commit evil and despise God are well fed). God is about individual souls, not about making sure no one is poor. Remember it was "Big Government" that was brought down by God Himself at the tower of Babel. Because of this fundamental philosophy in my world view that utterly rejects secular socialism, I therefore reject the foundations of Adler's theories.

In a more positive light, I value his emphasis on family unity and group cohesion.  Adler understood the difference between developing individual self esteem and fostering it within a group.  I am a strong believer in the strength that teamwork can impart on an individual’s self worth.  To belong to a group and functioning purposefully in that group is a strong motivator towards positive change.  Of course, this requires that the agenda and mission of the group is conducive to growth and not void of moral recognition.  As beneficial and powerful as group dynamics can have on an individual, equally dangerous is the possibility for mechanistic depravity as can be seen in the “mob mentality” that forms when the morality of a group erodes while its cohesion remains.

 

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