Adler's theory is comprehensive and addresses both normal and abnormal development using simple and understandable constructs. Adler disliked statistics and tended to use case studies and anecdotal information as the source of theory synthesis rather than statistical tools, control groups, or hypothesis testings (Uytman, 1967). Although his approach was not empirical, its soundness, the directness and familiarity of his observations, and his intuitiveness made his material credible. And although Adler never presented individual psychology in a systematic manner (Milliren et al., 2007), it was accepted by professionals and lay people alike because of its commonsense interrelatedness and integration of constructs.
Adler viewed an individual as a complete being; a person creates the self rather than the self being generated by levels of consciousness outside the control of the individual, as Freud proposed. The self consists of social aspects that begin with feelings of inferiority that are compensated for and fueled by "creative power to interpret experiences, both internal and external, influenced by both heredity and environment, in an individualist, subjective manner," a striving to belong (Milliren et al., 2007, p. 132). Adler stressed that a person is understood as a complete and integrated individual with the creative power to interpret experiences and manifest a lifestyle. Adler emphasized positive growth, believing that where a person is going is more important than where he or she has come from.
Adler (1927/1946) stressed the importance of choice and responsibility in life as well as how an individual tends to strive for success and perfection. From birth onward, an individual is socially embedded; this social embeddedness reinforces the responsibilities of society. The combination of self-direction and social connectedness led Adler to the following conclusion central to individual psychology: How a person is in the world results from social creation as much as genetic design. Adler said this social influence is so strong that almost nothing is more important than a person's social world. Within the social world, a person operates from private logic. Private logic is the evaluation of self and others and how a person cooperates with others (Manaster, 2009). Problems are created socially and occur as a result of the conflicts that arise as an individual performs the three life tasks of work, community, and love. Each individual has a unique private logic; however, a person must function in the common sense.
Adler (1927/1946,1924/1959; see also Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1959; Way, 1950) introduced the idea that inferiority feelings are normal and can be used as the source of striving to overcome the feelings of inferiority. He felt that inferiority feelings, or minus situations, are normal reactions when a person is aware that he or she is not able to function in a way that he or she wishes. These experiences then motivate an individual to strive toward a plus situation, or mastery, superiority, and completion. Adler proposed the direction of motivation is toward the future rather than trying to escape the conditions in the past. Working toward goals and purpose in life creates the momentum for continual striving.
Overall, a person is viewed as a social being within society who has the capacity to interpret and influence events (Way, 1950). An individual is proactive and can choose and act in a way that will lead to a goal. He or she views the world uniquely from a subjective frame of reference. Subjective reality is then defined as a person's feelings, beliefs, values, and understanding of the world. An individual's interpretation of the world, what is in it, and how experiences are viewed are important in determining how he or she meets social problems. A person who is connected to others and equipped to meet the three life tasks of work, community, and love will have a healthy view of life and will cooperate and contribute to social interest, whereas a person who is ill equipped will struggle with challenges in life and will have a negative viewpoint about others and the world.
Adler did not view individuals as specific types because of his belief in the unique, creative power of the individual. However, for instructive purposes, he suggested four basic types: (a) dominant or ruling, (b) getting or dependent, (c) avoidant, and (d) socially useful. The first three types describe people who are at least partly unprepared to meet life's demands. At various levels these types do not cooperate with others, do not contribute to society, and are in some way maladjusted. Individuals of these types may experience addictions, neurosis, psychosis, or other issues. The ruling type attempts to dominate others in relationships, the dependent type assumes everyone will take care of him or her, and the avoidant type attempts to avoid problems. Each of these types creates dysfunction in the family and society. The fourth type, socially useful, is willing to cooperate, contribute, and be active in contributing to others and the social world. This person is embedded in society with meaningfulness and connectedness to self, others, and the world. Socially useful people are similar to what other counseling professionals would see as self-actualized.