Applying Adlerian Principles of Lifestyle Assessment to Group Therapy

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            The Austrian Psychoanalyst Alfred Adler who developed the theory and founded the school Individual Psychology that focuses on each person’s uniqueness pointed out that a person’s action may be mainly motivated by the forces of his social interactions. This makes Adler’s theory become widely used and adapted in counseling. This kind of therapy can be said to more effective when utilized in a group because of the understanding that a person can fully understand and learn his underlying problems concerning himself and his environment when he hears and learns from the lives of others.

            Let us first identify the 3 major determining factors of personality from Alfred Adler. 1. His first assumption focuses on each person’s uniqueness wherein this can be derived from his motives, traits, interests and values which are manifested by his way of living through his actions and decisions in his life. 2. The second tells us that a man us more or less conscious in creating his own personality due to his learned experiential outcome and/or from the experiences of others to help him be directed to a specific life goal. 3. The third determining factor tells us that a man’s actions and characteristics are directed by his interaction in his environment – people at home, in the school, in the workplace, etc. We are motivated to act oppositely when we feel belittled or inferior. (Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 15, p.68-69)

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To Get Away from Inferior Feelings

            Based from Adler’s principles, we have a tendency to strive for a specific goal. He tells us that a person is able to think, feel or act because we are working to meet a specific goal.

            To be able to start a meaningful session within a group, it is essential to determine what makes each one from the group inferior. This will be our basis in helping us see in perspective the situations the clients were involved in. Adler’s principles are more common in figuring out solutions for the social problems and to assist clients understand even their own selves.

            The main driving force of people is to go away from the feelings of inferiority. Although as a human being, it is universally common to feel inferior. It is experienced by all and so it can be categorized as a normal feeling.

            Group therapy can help us track down each experience of the specified feeling. People within the circle should understand that since being inferior is common, it is then not a sign of weakness or abnormality. Each person is born with a great tendency to depend on adults and as one grows old, he may like to bring back equilibrium of his life through compensation. He continually grows resulting from his attempts to go away from his imagined or real inferiorities through effort and practice or by developing abilities.

            From the group’s answers, 3 sources can be gathered to find out if one is heading towards having an Inferiority Complex.

            Identify firsthand if any among the group is suffering from any body defects. It is only proper to integrate examples to be able to overcome such weakness. A person may be convinced to strive to maximize the use of his other organs in a more productive or artistic way. Bodily training is beneficial to cope up from the stress that this practice might produce. The group must be aware that having a defect should never be an excuse to complete their tasks because this would only lead them to feel more inferior and become to much helpless.

            Spoiled and pampered children may perhaps also develop inferiority complex for the reason that they are used to having their wishes gratified. Their feelings of inadequacy towards their inability to strive for fulfillment may add to such feelings because they are unused in having no attention. Therefore, when such time comes they would feel so inadequate to perform.

            Neglected and rejected persons whose parents have left them or are hostile may develop the feeling of worthlessness. These types of people tend to believe that everything that they will do will still be unacceptable from public because they were made to feel that way from their immediate environment.

            It was stated earlier that the feelings of being inferior is only but normal, however, to act inferior is different. (Mosak, 1995) It is truly detrimental to suffer from inferiority complex because people with such state may signify some neurotic adjustments. A person having this kind of personality possibly will feel that there is no hope in coping to the different demands that he come across in his life.

            It would help then to incorporate within the group that people can sometimes be made to believe that they are insignificant, dumb, and stupid. Every person can be compared from one to the other. Recognize that these terms and behavior are meant to degrade people. A true wise person should act not on what he hears but he should act based from his positive experiences and on how he positively perceive to answer comments in a tactful way.

Be Superior!

            The ultimate goal then is to help each one to strive for superiority optimistically. We do this not with the aim to belittle others but for our goal to perfect ourselves. To be whole since we have this inborn idea that we are incomplete.

            Some within the group may perhaps recognize the existence of fictional finalism wherein there are fictional goals or imaginary goals that frequently guide how one behaves. The finest example for such attribute is the feeling of Masculine Protest or the Oedipal Complex of Freud’s Theory. For example, the question of who is more superior, a Man or a Woman? is commonly asked. Adler’s concepts may help us to understand that being inferior is practically generalized because of the feeling of being incomplete after birth; hence the factor of masculinity or femininity of a person may be ignored without difficulty.

            The term finalism was applied because of the idea that each one is driven to move towards a final or ultimate goal. Each among the group can be viewed to have this kind of ideals. Everyone has its own uniqueness in creating and in dealing with his own fiction that is why comparison of one person to the other should be avoided. Persons within the group also have to realize the importance of their ability to create possible and logical solutions towards the goal that they have set and since it is only fictional, it would be difficult to test it against reality. A careful dissemination will then have to be given every session to avoid rampant criticism from every individual’s share in the therapy so as to avoid anyone make believe that his/her goal is unreasonable or impractical which will lead him/her to feel unhealthy and inferior. It can also be more helpful that besides giving no criticism, the therapist or people from the group may suggest a fictional goal that is better and more practical than what they have created.

            Attainment of becoming perfect or superior is done through different behavior patterns. A person would be motivated to move towards Teleology or towards the future by developing a unique pattern of characteristics, behaviors, and habits.  The style of life of the person is next created. This is learned from a person’s social interactions which started from a person’s early stages in life. The birth order and the child’s relationship with the parent is essential in understanding the behavior of a person and on finding ways to help the person adapt healthfully to his environment. The style of life would also help people within the group understand what influences other person inside or outside the group to act or to behave as he does.

            The concept The Creative Self tells us that an individual creates and chooses his own style of life. “Heredity and environment provide the bricks, the final form of the building is up to us” (Theories of Personality of Alfred Adler, c. George Boerce, 1997). Thus, to be able to understand how each one among us answers the questions raised during a session or discussion, the counselor should be remarked that a free will in choosing a personality is still at work. A person is not shaped by his past, his heredity, nor his environment but rather the way he interpret these influences forms his basis of a creative construction of his attitude towards life. Once this is created, the style of life he has chosen remains constant throughout his lifespan.

Identify the Mistaken Style of Life

            Not all developed strategies of a person to confront their situations are healthy. Some maladaptive ways are used for their improvement. These adapted ways are commonly found in work, love, and social relationships,

            Encourage each one from the group to comment which of the three maladaptive styles of life are they familiar with and they normally use. It would be more in depth when during the sharing; the group would site a brief example on how such style is utilized. Comments for an alternative will have to be open and frank for them to be able to figure that there are positive alternatives for such incidents than allowing themselves to be trapped in using these maladaptive styles of life.


                                                                   High                                    Low

Healthy Style of Life
Getting Type
Ruling Type
Avoiding Type
Social Interest           High


Ruling Type. People with this kind of personality are high in activity but they have low social interest. They tend to seek to dominate others and this trait can be primarily seen on workplaces. Some are hard workers and overly competitive. This bossy type of personality has a high tendency to exploit, manipulate or put down others only to achieve their sense of superiority.

Getting type. People who are low in activity but they have high social interest with a high possibility to become depressed. They are often charming to be able to get their wishes or goal. They tend to lean on others and become dependent.

Avoiding type. People who manifest low activity and also low social interest who tend to be stubborn and lazy are people with the avoiding type of personality. They try every chance to steer clear of any problems to keep away from their possibility of defeat.

A therapist should determine the kind of style of life created – mistaken style or the healthy style of life. If it points towards the first, develop strategies for improving their maladaptive behavior. Include suggestions from the group on how a maladaptive behavior can still be avoided or can be converted to a positive outcome.

The Interest to Interact

            No person can entirely avoid other people. People are aware of the importance of having a social concern. This is developed, learned, and be given attention to be able to survive. The family atmosphere that one has been accustomed to can help a therapist determine whether a person is active/passive or constructive/destructive.

            Some examples of family atmospheres and the probable results for the person when exposed with such are shown below. The therapist may note from the discussion to check the effects of the group’s family atmosphere against the probable results listed here if they are parallel and to facilitate the next stage of the group’s therapy session.


– Overprotective Family that makes a person rely on others rather on the self
– Independence that makes one become self-reliant
– Overindulgence that leads to irresponsibility
– Respect that makes the person learn to be responsible
– Rejection wherein one feels discouraged about his self-worth
– Acceptance where one develops a positive self-worth
– Authoritarian Atmosphere lead to make the person depend on power and works to defeat the authority or becomes dependent
– Equality leads to make a person appreciate his self and others and believes all people are worthwhile.
– Excessive Standards that makes the person lack self-confidence and feel discouraged about his own ability.
– Realistic Standards makes a person set realistic and attainable goals and believe in his own ability.
– Practice of pity reactions consequently makes a person feels sorry for self.
– Practice of Confidence makes the person believe in his own power to handle life.
– Inconsistent discipline makes one feels a lack of trust and believes that life is unfair
– Consistent discipline makes a person trust life and self.
– Discouragements makes the person become cynical and pessimistic towards life
– Encouragement makes the person becomes optimistic about possibilities in his life.
– Denial of feelings makes the person learn to cover up or avoid feelings that he perceive to be unacceptable
– Expression of feelings makes the person not afraid of his own feelings or of others’.
– Competition within the family leads the person to become anxious who strives to be the most or become the “best worst” and is afraid to try things unless his success is guaranteed.
– Cooperation leads to the development of social interest where one can participate in give-and-take of life. The person like to try to attempt new experiences and accept the consequences.

Parental styles was also mentioned by Adler especially the importance of the mother whom the baby first comes in contact with having the primary end essential social interaction who can either result to a constructive development or not. Some parental styles are being democratic and encouraging, overindulgent, over submissive, over coercive, perfectionist, excessively responsible, neglecting, rejecting, punitive, hypochondriacal, and sexually stimulating.

            To be able to recognize and change a dysfunctional parenting style to a more democratic one, it often requires the support and insight of an experienced Adlerian psychotherapist, since the parent’s basic style of life may have to be changed as well. In order for the person then to adjust from a dysfunctional parenting style, it would be helpful to use the empty chair technique where everyone can alternately act out their previous experiences or some are tasked to do such and the others will have to judge the image or metaphor presented and on how they can help change the person’s response when he becomes exposed to the presented parenting style. Interpersonal learning can be gathered from the activity because the distortions from a person’s self-concept and actions will have the opportunity to be recognized and analyzed by the group.

Family Constellation

Adler’s most important contribution is the idea that birth order plays a vital role in creating a person’s style of life because of the major influence it causes to create from childhood. An intensive sharing can be utilized if the therapist discreetly functions as being one among the participants in the group discussion. Everyone can openly share here their differences in their situation and adaptation inside their home. From onset, a part of the task of the therapist will be to check that at least one person belongs to a different birth order to facilitate learning from the statements of others on how their birth order differently affects each one in their development of their personality.

As we look into the Adlerian overview of birth order* characteristics developed by Henry T. Stein, PhD, we may learn from there that every position of a person creates diverse family situations and will result in dissimilar characteristics. Usually the difference in positions results to a goal to be superior but in unlike categories. For example, the aim of the first child to have authority and achievement differs from the goal of the second child to outdo everyone in terms of achievement.

Hence it can be said that psychological situation of each child in the family is different. A person’s opinion of himself and his situation determines his choice of attitude. There can also be times when a person’s birth order position may be seized by another child depending on the circumstance. Although birth order plays a major role in the development of our personality, other influences like organ inferiority, parental attitudes, social and economic position and gender roles may be considered. In time, birth order differences may be insignificant and would begin to disappear when families become more cooperative and democratic.

To facilitate a more artful type of sharing, a group activity (See Annex A) may be facilitated to encourage everyone participate and to have equal chance for everyone for their situation to be evaluated by the group. There is no need for a written output for it will only take the time of the whole session and it will only lead each of the group to think and relate not their situation but of others.


            Neuroticism is what is usually prevented when using the Adler’s concept in Psychotherapy because Neurotic patients usually manifest a Negative style of life and they usually show the avoiding type of personality. The therapy’s aim therefore is to help the person work through his inferiority complexes and his maladaptive style of life. Make the person become involved in the society and to face his underlying problems, not to run away from it.

The method of Early Recollections have been integrated within this discussion  to identify and reveal the primary interest of a person’s life and to set a more realistic goal in life that could cover a person’s ability and competency to handle.

Dream analysis may also be practiced because it can be used to integrate the person’s feelings about a current problem and what this person plans to do about it. It is an expression of a person’s style of life so it should always be used with consent from a person.

            Group therapy is in a larger scale more helpful because of the knowledge that other people also have inadequacies, self-doubt, and anxieties like his own. He can express his feelings and experiences with less fear because he finds out that he is not alone with it. Group methods are coming to be increasingly valued by clinicians however there could still be limitations like a desired change may be blocked by the presence of other people in the group.  Knowledge and research of the therapist is needed in order to help him decide when to recommend individual, when to group therapy, and when the two might be best combined.

Group Therapy Session

Teenage girls talk with a therapist, top right, during a group therapy session. Group therapy allows people to see how others deal with problems and to receive support and encouragement from group members.

Corbis/Richard T. Nowitz

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006.


I.                   Family Constellation

a.      Determine your birth order in the family and describe:

1.      your personality (traits, attitudes, preferences, values, lifestyle, etc.) compared to older and/or younger siblings.

      If a lone child, describe your personality

2.      your relationships with siblings, parents, other people.

II.                Family Atmosphere

a.      Describe your family atmosphere both encouraging and discouraging and discuss how these influenced you to become the person you are today.

III.             If you have a choice, which birth order and family atmosphere you prefer and why?


Rothenberg, M.G. (1995) Individual Psychology. In Encyclopedia Americana – International

 Edition (Vol. 15, pp.68-69). USA: Encyclopedia Americana.

Boerce, G.B. (2000). Alfred Adler ~ Core of Personality. Ultimate Theories of Personality

Dayton, T. (1994). Alfred Adler. Individual Psychology. Retrieved August 8, 2007 from


* For more comprehensive information about birth order, please read: What Life Could Mean to You by Alfred Adler; The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, edited by Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher, and Lydia Sicher; An Adlerian Perspective, edited by Adele Davidson.

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Applying Adlerian Principles of Lifestyle Assessment to Group Therapy. (2016, Jul 07). Retrieved from

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