In this section, important characteristics of Adler's approach to human development exploring lifestyle, birth order, family constellation, and early recollections are discussed.

Adler (1927/1946, 1924/1959) considered the developmental process as the formation of an individual's lifestyle. A lifestyle is unique and composed of a person's relationships with the self, others, and the universe. Like Freud, Adler saw the lifestyle or personality as established early in life and usually fixed at around age 5 or 6. At that point, new experiences tend to be interpreted within the terms of the established lifestyle rather than

causing further adjustment to the fixed lifestyle. From the moment of birth, a child begins to construct a lifestyle out of experiences that occur in the environment. As the child develops a particular style of fitting in, perceptions become increasingly selective, and actions and reactions become habitual. Values are learned from family and become set within a lifestyle.

Adler (1927/1946, 1924/1959) believed that humans have attributes that are purposeful, social, subjective, and interpretive in an approach to life. A child interacts and, in turn, becomes a shaping force in defining and redefining the family system. A child reacts on the basis of subjective perspectives, and those subjective interpretations may or may not match the actual facts of the environment. Many beliefs and perceptions are based on mistaken interpretations of the environment. Thus, an Adlerian counselor views lifestyle formation as an attempt to reach agreement with thoughts, feelings, and actions in the social environment.

Early Development

Adler introduced three concepts as guides to interpret the patterns of behavior an individual uses to give action to his or her lifestyle: birth order, family constellation, and early recollections. These concepts assist counselors in understanding the factors at work that affect an individual's development.

Birth order is one concept for which Adler is best known. He believed that birth order within the family is an important factor in the developmental process because it provides a template around which thoughts and behaviors can be understood. He constructed a framework of birth order characteristics based on a natural hierarchy created within a family. A child's parents are older, more experienced, and mandated by society on how to rear a child; therefore, parents should be the natural leaders in the family. The family unit is designed to influence a child's development. Adler then went a step further, proposing that a child or a sibling has as much or even more impact on the interactions of the family than do the parents alone. In most situations, a child's needs and behaviors affect the interactions in a family unit, with the resulting structure of relationships influencing the adults and other children in the family (Adler, 1927/1946). The interactions of all the members in the family and subsequent patterns of communication create a climate of relationships that Adler termed the family atmosphere.

Family atmosphere is unique to each family system. The relationship between the parents and a child or the parents and their children is often the clearest signal of what factors constitute the family system. Parents are the natural role models, and children often use them as the basis for gender-specific behaviors and communication and interaction styles with each other and outsiders. A child may experience parents as loving, angry, frightening, strict, joyful, easygoing, involved, protective, nurturing, respectful, or many other experiences. That subjective experience can determine which attributes will be incorporated into the child's set of values. Prevailing values play a significant role in the subsequent development of both the family and the child.

The family atmosphere is the coming together of everyone in the family and subsequent patterns of how everyone communicates within the family. Family members take a position relative to the family's values. Common areas in which family values develop include money, education, religion, and what is right and wrong. Within the atmosphere, family members can exhibit various types of communication that can be helpful, critical, demanding, caring, anxious, active, supportive, or competitive, among others. Family members' reactions within that milieu can create conditions that can be characterized by reactions such as tense, honest, inflexible, and afraid. A child learns to negotiate within the limits imposed by the family atmosphere and the patterns of communication established among family members. In the majority of families, the atmosphere is the social setting in which a child's growth and development occur and becomes the model for what is expected out of life.

An Adlerian counselor views an individual's description of the family atmosphere as an indicator of the development within the family system (Milliren et alv 2007). A counselor may observe and understand the family dynamics by asking family members how they subjectively experience the family atmosphere. For example, a counselor might ask parents to provide a description of each child in the family, which may reveal the effects of a child's birth order and how a child has adapted actions and reactions to engage or challenge the family system. The counselor may also ask for the child's descriptions of family members, which can be useful to reveal important indicators of a child's self within the relationships in the family. Thus, a set of characteristics might be developed from descriptions of each family member's subjective relationships to other members (Adler, 1927/1946). For an example of the latter, a child may describe the father as serious, meaning the father is stem. In this way, descriptors provided by a child reveal information about the child's sense of belonging and provide knowledge of the relationship that a child has with others in the family.

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