Tag Archives: Adler

We Don’t Always Have to Get Along, But Let’s Strive to NOT Hurt Each Other: Lessons from Alfred Adler

ShoesUnless you’re in my Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories class and studying for your first exam, you probably don’t know much about Alfred Adler. Hence, this post–which happens to simultaneously be part of a study guide for Counseling Theories and part of what we need more of in American discourse.

Adler was a popular psychiatrist in the early 1900s. He was Freud’s contemporary. He wrote about Gemeinschaftsgefühl. But like lots of Adlerian things, Gemeinschaftsgefühl has been overlooked. Adler believed humans were naturally predisposed to work together, cooperatively, in community, with empathy, and positive social feelings. Lydia Sicher, an Adlerian follower, captured his ideas with one of the best professional journal article titles of all time: A Declaration of Interdependence.

Interdependence and Gemeinschaftsgefühl are so natural that, unless we’re broken in some way, we cannot stop ourselves from experiencing empathy; we cannot stop ourselves from helping others in need.

If you know something about Freud, or if you read Chapter 2 of the textbook, you probably recall that Freud was rather competitive. From his conflicts with Janet to his “booting” Adler out of the Psychoanalytic Society, Freud seemed focused on proving himself and holding a dominant position over others. In Freudian psychosexual terms, we might think of this as a fixation at the phallic developmental stage. From an Adlerian perspective, Freud’s behavior represents an excessive striving for superiority. Think about that as you think about contemporary American politics. Might there be an excessive striving for superiority in politics? I often wonder, if you’re already in a position of dominance, why is it necessary to “put down” others as they strive to have their voices heard?

The explanations for this consistent phenomenon across all political parties might be Freudian or they might be Adlerian. Either way, it’s important to learn something about how Adler’s responses to competition and superiority issues were much different than Freud’s. Even as a youth, Adler didn’t obtain gratification from dominating others. Mosak and Maniacci (1999) described a story about what was perhaps Adler’s one and only physical conflict:

Adler became embroiled in a conflict with a classmate, and a fight broke out. Adler struck the boy, and hurt him. He vowed not to fight again (p. 2).

Consider this. It appears Adler won the fight. He hurt the other boy. But instead of obtaining gratification from dominating or hurting someone else and wanting to repeat that behavior, he vowed never to fight again.

I share this story because it captures some of Adler’s theory of individual psychology. Perhaps because he already felt useful and as if he belonged, Adler obtained no additional gratification from having physical power over another. Instead, his aggressive outburst appeared to activate his social interest and compassion. He discovered he did not want to hurt other people. We could all use a little more Adler in our psyches. Not wanting to hurt others would generally be helpful in friendships, romantic relationships, and when conflict occurs. We can always argue and debate over ideas—but how about if we do that with respect and without any intent or motivation to hurt the other person?

In the anecdote about his fight, Adler is clearly not motivated or pulled toward proving his superiority. In another Adler anecdote, his biographer, Phyllis Bottome, described him as “very ordinary.” She wrote:

[He was] a very ordinary 57-year-old man who simply possessed a deep and abiding interest in the lives of ordinary people (Bottome, 1962 #234).

On that note, let’s review the theory and practice of Alfred Adler, an ordinary man who had an interest in ordinary people like you and me.

Theory Review: Dr. John’s Study Tips on Adlerian Theory

Adlerian theory is a little like an iceberg. It’s seems simple and manageable on the surface, but gets more complex as you dive down and try to explore it more completely. As a consequence, I recommend that you stay with the basics; if you decide to go the Adlerian path, there are many ways to explore the theory in greater depth. The following statements about people will help you get in touch with your inner Adlerian—at least for now.

  1. People are unique (idiographic) whole beings (holistic) who act with a sense of purpose (purposeful behavior). This sense of purpose is there whether the person realizes it or not.
  2. Part of an Adlerian therapist’s goals is to help clients have insight or become aware of their purposeful behavior. This insight generates motivation. In some cases clients may not be able to become aware of their deeper behavioral purpose. If so, just becoming aware of the behavior and its negative price can be enough to ignite motivation for change.
  3. Not only is the concept of social interest unique to Adlerian therapy, but the idea that developing social interest, a community feeling or spirit, and having compassion and empathy for others as a therapeutic goal is radical.
  4. Social interest flows from or is related to Adler’s inferiority concept. Think about it this way: We all feel inferior in some ways. But if we focus too much on our own inferiority, it will almost always lead down the dead end of excessive self-interest in compensating for inferiority (e.g., acting superior) or buckling under to our inferiority feelings and complexes (e.g., chronic low self-esteem or depression). This is why focusing on others—and even on their natural inferiority feelings—can help move clients away from the narcissistic or depressive extremes associated with excessive self-interest.
  5. Everyone’s overall way of being is highly subjective. Our style of life (or cognitive schema about self, others, and the world) is created or constructed from our subjective experiences. If you have siblings or caretakers and you sit down and talk about shared memories, you may discover you hold differing perceptions of what happened—even though you were all there together!! This is an example of the subjectivity filter that affects our individual experiences (phenomenology) and that then contributes or feeds back into our style of life.
  6. Therapy is all about fixing our internal, cognitive map (style of life) so it works as perfectly as possible. This requires feedback, awareness, and motivation to fix the distortions in our subjective internal map. The therapist’s role is to guide or assist clients in looking at these distortions (basic mistakes) and making appropriate changes. Therapists explicitly encourage (or give courage to) clients so that clients can feel encouraged (and have courage).
  7. When clients are encouraged and motivated (because they see the maladaptive nature of parts of their lifestyle), they naturally move forward toward a more complete or perfect self that is able to better face and manage the six Adlerian tasks of life.

This is probably enough Adler for now. But if you’re interested in more, you can find it on a new and exciting website called AdlerPedia: https://www.adlerpedia.org/

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Adlerian Spirituality

John and Jon on M

In these uncertain times, I know you’ve been wondering about the future. You’re probably asking, “Who will prevail in the 2018 midterm elections?” “Will the evil New England Patriots win the Super Bowl again?” and “When will the coveted 3rd edition of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice finally be available?”

Predicting the future is complicated. My psychic powers tell me that the answers to those first two questions remain uncertain and are dependent upon various intervening events such as Hillary’s emails, the battle between fake and real news, economic inflation (as well as inflation of various footballs), and the health and well-being of several very old quarterbacks. However, based on the fact that Saturn has entered my 4th House and is dropping a psychological anchor, I can say with confidence that the 3rd edition of our theories textbook is coming soon . . . probably in April, 2018.

In the run-up (as the Brits like to say) to the publication of T3 (Theories, 3rd edition), I’ll be intermittently posting a few exciting T3 previews.

One new feature is a short section on how each primary counseling and psychotherapy theory intersects with spirituality. We’re including this feature because of the core role that spirituality plays for many clients (and many counselors and psychotherapists). In addition, spirituality is often a key component of multicultural sensitivity.

Way back in June of last year, I posted the spirituality section for psychoanalytic theory (chapter 3). You can read that here: https://wordpress.com/post/johnsommersflanagan.com/2571

Today’s post includes a look at spirituality from the Adlerian perspective (chapter 3). Keep in mind that these spirituality sections are very short samplings, designed only to help readers understand how spirituality can be viewed from specific theoretical perspectives. If you’re interested in additional (and deeper) information, we recommend you track down the citations from each chapter.

Here’s the spirituality taste or peek or snippet from the Adlerian chapter.

Adlerian Theory and Spirituality

Over the years, Adlerian theory has been open to client spirituality and has attracted practitioners and writers with strong religious convictions (Cashwell & Watts, 2010; Johnson, 2013; Sweeney, 2009). This is probably because of Adler’s emphasis on social equality and justice, but also because, as Carlson and colleagues (2006) wrote:

The cardinal tenet of Adlerian theory is social interest, something Adler equated with the mandate to “Love one’s neighbor as oneself” and the Golden Rule. (pp. 33–34)

Although the Golden Rule is a Christian concept, Adlerian writers and practitioners are consistently open to other religious and spiritual perspectives. In particular, Johansen (2010) provided guidelines for integrating individual psychology (IP) concepts into Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. Overall, as described in the theoretical principles section of this chapter, Adlerians view spirituality as a life task that can contribute encouragement and meaning into clients’ lives (Bluvshtein, Belangee, & Haugen, 2015).

Consistent with what is known about Adler, the specifics of client spirituality and religious belief is of minimal importance. Recall that the Adlerian position is that all behavior is purposeful. Consequently, what’s important is for what purpose religion is used, and not the particulars of a client’s theology. A couple Adlerian questions about spirituality might include: “Does the client use religion (or spirituality) to promote separation and violence? Or is religion (spirituality) used to bring people together as a working and compassionate community?

Given Adler’s valuing of social interest and interdependence, the latter of these alternatives is clearly the Adlerian way.

Why Children Misbehave — The Adlerian Perspective

Mud

Alfred Adler believed that all human behavior is purposeful. People don’t act randomly, they engage in behaviors designed to help them accomplish specific goals. Adler believed that although individuals may not be perfectly aware of the link between their behaviors and their goals, the link is there nonetheless.

In this excerpt from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories text, we describe the four goals of children’s misbehavior. Rudolph Dreikurs, one of Adler’s protégés, developed this theory of children’s misbehavior. Over the years, Dreikurs’s ideas have been extremely useful to many parents and parenting educators. It’s also useful to consider these ideas when trying to understand adult behaviors.

Here’s the excerpt:

Why Children Misbehave

Adler’s followers applied his principles to everyday situations. Rudolph Dreikurs posited that children are motivated to grow and develop. They’re naturally oriented toward feeling useful and a sense of belonging. However, when children don’t feel useful and don’t feel they belong—less positive goals take over. In his book The Challenge of Parenthood, Dreikurs (1948) identified the four main psychological goals of children’s misbehavior:

  1. To get attention.
  2. To get power or control.
  3. To get revenge.
  4. To display inadequacy.

Children’s behavior isn’t random. Children want what they want. When we discuss this concept in parenting classes, parents respond with nods of insight. Suddenly they understand that their children have goals toward which they’re striving. When children misbehave in pursuit of psychological goals, parents and caregivers often have emotional reactions.

The boy who’s “bouncing off the walls” is truly experiencing, from his perspective, an attention deficit. Perhaps by running around the house at full speed he’ll get the attention he craves. At least, doing so has worked in the past. His caregiver feels annoyed and gives him attention for misbehavior.

The girl who refuses to get out of bed for school in the morning may be striving for power. She feels bossed around or like she doesn’t belong; her best alternative is to grab power whenever she can. In response, her parents might feel angry and activated—as if they’re in a power struggle with someone who’s not pulling punches.

The boy who slaps his little sister may be seeking revenge. Everybody talks about how cute his sister is, and he’s sick of being ignored, so he takes matters into his own hands. His parents feel scared and threatened; they don’t know if their baby girl is safe.

There’s also the child who has given up. Maybe she wanted attention before, or revenge, or power, but no longer. Now she’s displaying her inadequacy. This isn’t because she IS inadequate, but because she doesn’t feel able to face the Adlerian tasks of life (discussed later). This child is acting out learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975). Her parent or caregiver probably feels anxiety and despair as well. Or, as is often the case, they may pamper her, reinforcing her behavior patterns and self-image of inadequacy and dependence.

Dreikurs’s goals of misbehavior are psychological. Children who misbehave may also be acting on biological needs. Therefore, the first thing for parents to check is whether their child is hungry, tired, sick, or in physical discomfort. After checking these essentials, parents should move on to evaluating the psychological purpose of their child’s behavior.

For more information on this, see Tip Sheet #4 on johnsommersflanagan.com: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/tip-sheets/

 

Happy New Year (or Not) from Me and my Buddy Sigmund

IMG_2481

On November 10, 2016, I decided to read Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. I was suddenly interested in how and why individuals and society develop an urge toward the death instinct. It’s light reading. I mean, the book is light, and it’s short. So there’s that.

Some people are unhappy that I’ve chosen to read something by Freud. He wasn’t known for his progressive feminist views. He didn’t even make it into the first wave. Maybe I should have read Adler or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But Freud was on my bookshelf. Besides, the person who doesn’t think I should be reading Freud is the very same person who gave me this particular copy of Civilization and Its Discontents.

Having an impulse to read about the death instinct is ironic. Or maybe it’s funny. But if there’s one thing that’s not especially funny, it’s Freud. I know he has a book on Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, but I’m betting right now—without even looking at it—that it doesn’t make people laugh.  If Civilization and Its Discontents is any indication, Freud may have written about jokes, but he was no joker.

Here’s a little glimpse of his optimistic discourse.

Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution. Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience. We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body, which is doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot even do without pain and anxiety as warning signals; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to [others]. The suffering which comes from this last source is perhaps more painful to us than any other. (1930/1961, pp. 23-24)

Okay. So maybe when Freud wrote this he was a little short on serotonin at his pre-synaptic cleft [as if I believe that neurochemical imbalance nonsense]. Seriously, what Freud needed was some regular aerobic exercise . . . and maybe yoga combined with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy so he could embrace nonjudgmental acceptance. I think Freud would have gotten into mindfulness because it would have allowed him to bask in nonjudgmental acceptance of all things except for people who didn’t practice mindfulness. Or maybe he would have been better served using individual emotion focused therapy with Leslie Greenberg; that way he could talk to a chair and emote. And if you read Freud, it’s easy to conclude he needed to do some emoting because his self-analysis was sort of like late 19th century self-injurious behavior. . . VERY PAINFUL.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud starts by confessing that he feels troubled over his apparent inability to have religious experiences. He seems to long for an “oceanic” experience of being one with the universe that might be attributable to God or religion. Although he seems rather reluctant to openly admit that. Later, he trudges through an analysis of “Love thy neighbor.” Unfortunately (at least for his neighbor), Freud ends up making more of a case for hating the neighbor. His logic is flawless, at least from his perspective. In the end, Freud embraces the likelihood of a death instinct which, in his time, was probably related to Hitler’s rise to power.

But what was Freud’s solution to the death instinct and Hitler’s ascension?

He had no solution. Or at least he had no solution in which he had much confidence. His last two sentences mark the battle lines. He admits to an incontrovertible aggressive and destructive impulse in individuals and in society. That’s much less fun than riding in a convertible. But more to the point, will hate, aggression, and destruction dominate? Freud seems to say—paraphrasing here, “Maybe so, maybe not.” The future, according to Freud, is in the hands of Eros.

With regard to the final outcome, Freud implies, “We shall see.”

This is like when your television show ends with the phrase, “To be continued.” Only now with internet streaming, rarely do we have to wait a whole week for the stunning conclusion. Sadly, Freud died before he reached the stunning conclusion.

But here’s where things get interesting.

Freud died on 23 September 1939 and John Lennon was born on 9 October 1940.

According to Buddhist philosophy, the soul can be reincarnated somewhere between 49 days to 2 years following death.

This leaves open the possibility—or even likelihood—that Freud was reincarnated as John Lennon and eventually, in 1967, wrote and sang, along with his Beatle friends, “All You Need is Love.” The point that Freud, reincarnated as John Lennon, was trying to make is that we all need to be liberally spreading Eros around as a Death Instinct antagonist.

There’s much more to say about this, but for now, I think the obvious take-home message is for us to all practice loving our neighbors even though we might be able to make a better intellectual case for hating them. We should probably love our enemies too. And I’m adding a twist to this for 2017: sometimes this isn’t going to be fluffy gooey love. It’s going to be some bad-ass, in-your-face tough love.

This is my New Year’s resolution—to be a practitioner of good-old Freudian in-your-face tough Eros.

Although I’m ending this with a wish for you all to have a Happy New Year, I’m also recognizing that the pursuit of happiness is aptly phrased because just when you think you’ve got it, it goes and flits off to somewhere else and you have to keep chasing it.

Good luck with the chase and good luck with that Eros thing.

Why You Should Listen to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcasts

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is live at:  http://tinyurl.com/ppppod

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that even though the PPPP has been live since October 31, John and Sara still haven’t become famous podcasters.

Apparently, these things take time.

Even so, we’ve gotten a couple fabulous reviews. Here’s one from Brittany Moreland: “For whatever reason, I have avoided “parenting manuals” of any type BUT folks this is awesome. Not only can I attest that one of the hosts (John Sommers-Flanagan) is a great person and parent, but objectively this is worth any parent’s time.”

Don’t delay. Right now you can access three PPPP episodes on our podcasting website: http://tinyurl.com/ppppod

You can also listen to all of the live episodes on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2#episodeGuid=2d80f23353e2c7f9d21af865f190d2c4

If you listen on iTunes, be sure to give it a rating. If you’re uncertain about what rating to give, we generally recommend 5 STARSJ.

On Monday, a new episode goes live. It’s titled: Get Curious, Not Furious: Discipline Again and Again and Some More.

Just so you’re up-to-date, here’s a list and description of the line-up through January:

Podcast Schedule

New podcasts will become live on a twice-monthly schedule.

October 31 – Episode 1: Dear Mom and Dad, Please be my Parent and Not my Bestie

Modern parents want high-quality relationships with their children. In this podcast Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the downside of forgoing parental responsibilities in favor of parent-child friendships. A balanced relationship where parents have strong emotional connections combined with parental decision-making authority is recommended.

November 14 – Episode 2: Practically Perfect Positive Discipline

Discipline can be a dirty (and misunderstood) word. In this episode, Dr. Sara and Dr. John knock-out old negative notions about discipline and replace them with new and research-based methods for using positive approaches to discipline.

November 28 – Episode 3: Discipline, Part 2

Dr. John and Dr. Sara continue their discussion of how parents can maintain structure and discipline in the family. In this episode they focus like a laser on specific techniques parents can use to set limits and teach their children positive family values and helpful lessons about about life.

December 12 – Episode 4: Get Curious, Not Furious: Discipline Again and Again and Some More.

You can’t get too much information about positive approaches to discipline. Seriously. That’s why Dr. Sara and Dr. John can’t stop talking about it. This episode will help parents step back and get curious about what causes misbehavior. John and Sara will review the four psychological reasons why children misbehave and focus on how to break through the obstacles that get in the way of using positive discipline strategies. This episode’s special guest: Meg Akabas, author of “52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom: Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids.”

December 26 – Episode 5: Sleep Well in 2017 and Beyond

As a locally renowned expert on helping children sleep, Dr. Sara shares her story of being an exhausted parent and offers her tips for parents who want to embrace the value of healthy sleep in their families. Special Guest: Chelsea Bodnar, M.D., a Chicago-based pediatrician and co-author of “Don’t Divorce Us: Kids’ Advice to Divorcing Parents.”

January 9, 2017 – Episode 6: Sleeping like a Baby (Should)

In this episode Dr. Sara continues providing tips on healthy sleep habits, this time focusing on babies. Medical and developmental guidance is included. Special Guest: Chelsea Bodnar, M.D., a Chicago-based pediatrician and co-author of “Don’t Divorce Us: Kids’ Advice to Divorcing Parents.”

January 23 – Episode 7: Post-Partum Depression

In this post-Thanksgiving special, Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the natural challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. The signs and symptoms of postpartum or peri-natal depression are described and specific recommendations for coping with PPD are offered.  Special Guest: Jane Honikman, M.S., author of “I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families.”

General Program Description and Co-Host Bios

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast features Dr. Sara Polanchek and Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan discussing cutting-edge parenting issues, offering specific guidance, and sharing parenting resources. This podcast is a valuable resource for all parents interested in the art of parenting well. It’s also recommended listening for parenting educators, counselors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and other school personnel who want more information on basic and contemporary parenting issues.

Sara Polanchek, EdD, (aka the Sleep Guru) is a licensed clinical social worker and Clinical Director in the University of Montana’s Counselor Education department.  Previously she was the Parenting Director at Families First in Missoula and continues to present at workshops and write articles on many issues pertaining to parenting and intimate relationships.

John Sommers-Flanagan, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Counselor Education at the University of Montana. He is the former cohost of “What is it with Men?” on Montana Public Radio and former executive director of Families First Missoula. He is author or co-author of nine books (including, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk” published by John Wiley and Sons) and many professional articles, blogs, and rants.

*All podcasts are sponsored in part by a grant from the Engelhard Foundation and support from the National Parenting Education Network.

ry-and-twins