Although Adlerian counseling is viewed as a basic approach and written for the lay person as well as practitioners, some researchers and practitioners frequently criticize his theory for its lack of depth (Milliren et alv 2007). It has been considered somewhat superficial and without a foundation that fully deals with the vast array of psychological issues clients bring to counseling. Through its emphasis on birth order and early recollections, assumptions are made that have been seen as placing undue weight on concepts that are not always specific to human development. Some of the more general limitations to Adler's theory include being overwhelmed by the number of concepts, believing the concepts are difficult to define, lacking real meanings in the concepts, and focusing solely on the individual as the change agent.

One of the most often cited limitation to Adler's theory is the lack of empirical evidence and comparative analysis. With managed care providers requiring counselors to use techniques that are measureable, Adler's theory has limited concepts that have a history of being measured (Milliren et al., 2007). This in turn means that an experimental focus requires physical or behavioral variables that operate in terms of cause and effect. Adler's concepts are far from physical and behavioral, with feelings of inferiority, social interest, or striving for perfection serving as examples of unquantifiable phenomenon.

Summary Chart: Adlerian Theory Human Nature

Individual psychology has a simplicity that lends to the theory's accessibility and comprehension. Adler viewed humans as possessing attributes that are purposeful, social, subjective, and interpretive in their approach to life. Adler considered personality, or lifestyle, as established early in life. Birth order, family constellation, and early recollections are subjective interpretations in terms of lifestyle. A person's development is formed by lifestyle and is unique to the individual; thus lifestyle is in agreement with thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Major Constructs

Individual psychology includes three central principles:

Goal oriented: A central characteristic of Adlerian theory is striving toward a goal of superiority or success. Adler viewed people as imbued with an innate dynamic force, a striving that is intrinsic and involves a creative power.

Social interest: A person is a unique individual and is part of the larger social system with an innate potential for coping with society, termed social interest. Unlike an instinct, social interest must be evoked and developed by a person. It is important to lifestyle; it is the criterion of mental health; and it influences the direction of the striving.

Holism: The individual is not internally divided or developed with conflicting forces; rather, Adler viewed an individual as a whole organism or a unit in which all the parts (thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) function cooperatively, even when different within a family, culture, community, humanity, and the universe.


In a lifetime, a person will need to meet the three tasks of life: work, community, and love. A key goal in counseling is to assist clients with challenges when dealing with life tasks and cooperating and contributing to others and the world.

Change Process

Overall, Adlerian counseling focuses on helping a client identify and address mistaken thoughts and beliefs. There are four phases in which this process occurs: relationship, investigation, interpretation, and reorientation.


There are several traditional intervention strategies used by Adlerian counselors that address a client's lifestyle through an analysis of birth order, family constellation, and lifestyle. Core interventions include lifestyle analysis, encouragement, and helping clients have the courage to deal with life and use their strengths to make changes in life.


While most would agree that Adlerian counseling is viewed as a simple approach that is easily understood by the lay person, many researchers frequently criticize Adler's theory because it does not have an empirical base.

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