In our modern world we desire life to be less hassle, preferring the quick solution. We do not like complications, we have come to like app’s, medication, one-day delivery, instant streaming, convenient easy solutions. We are developing what can often be thought of as magic thinking, silver bullet thinking, one solution fits all. These trends that have been with us over the years that have promised us this easy fix. The list of quick the fix is long and continues to grow promising a convenient solution to mental health issues. What also has become more prevalent is the ever valued diagnosis, the label to live by, I’m a….bulimic, alcoholic, introvert, addict, type b, achiever, controller etc.
As Adlerian psychotherapists the world of individual psychology began with the walking out of the psychoanalytic society. A movement away from fixed meanings, typology and separation & division of the individual. Adlerian’s move into a realm where typologies are only seen as descriptors to clarify the movement of individuals towards their chosen hidden goals.
However due to contemporary therapy, psychology and very much psychiatric diagnosis our culture has become more fixed in its approach when working with people, and typology is more attractive in the search to find solutions that work for the entire population as what happened in modern medicine. We speak of type A, extrovert, inferior, pleasers, sociopaths, controllers, avoiders, superiors, bulimic, survivors, abusers, psychotic etc. With this idea we have begun to label individuals and move away from looking at goals. Within this way of working there is a further trap, the prison of dichotic thinking. Health & sickness, right & wrong, good & bad, CBT & counselling, praise & encouragement, inferiority & superiority. If we are to look at what is the purpose of a behaviour, we need to return to the five basic Adlerian principles:
- Unity of the unique Individual
- We are Goal Orientated
- We are Self-Determining and Unique
- We are whole and indivisible
- We desire belonging , a feeling of Community (Gemeinshaftgefuhl) (Adler 2005)
The purpose of behaviour is to attempt to achieve an ideal; to be happy, to be liked, to feel good, to have confidence, to feel loved by using behaviours such as pleasing, controlling, seeking power, finding adventure, owning things, or avoiding etc. to achieve our goal. This realisation of the difference between types and goals allows us to view the person as investing in the skills they possess to achieve their chosen private goals.
This is the reason why Adlerian therapy is so powerful, it allows practitioners to help people to change their goals, adapt and improve their skills rather than investing in one particular set of characteristics, supplying the illusion of a type.
In Adlerian basic principles there is at its core the individual meaning to live by, the scheme of apperception, with a shared common sense, a sense we all have in common/gemeinshaftgefuhl (Adler 2005). This concept of individualism and community allows for flexibility and not fundamentalism. Within fundamentalism there is only one way and it’s perceived incorrect opposite and in the psychopathology of life this is the essence of poor mental health as there is only one choice between two opposites. In a functioning mental health there is multiple, almost infinite choice, uncertainty and cognitive dissonance (pluralistic reality). This means that while everyone has a differing perspective we have a shared community feeling of flexibility to allow for others perspectives and their beliefs and values. It is only when we lose that sense of acceptance of others and begin to think in one fixed way or another we truly enter into the life of unbearable living where others are to blame for the way we feel. In this sense we have truly lost courage as we have lost the sense of how to belong and we feel isolated. We have lost choice and now our reality is certain, now is the world of false dichotomies a certainty; right/wrong, sad/happy, love/hate, you/me, good/bad, pride/loss, success/failure perfection/imperfection inferiority/superiority etc. and what has become lost is the sense of belongingness, cooperation, community and togetherness.
As Adlerian practitioners we are aware that each individual has created their own lifestyle, just as an artist creates a painting. To continue this metaphor of painting, we can typify a painting and put it into a category but to do so would demean and devalue the creation, if we begin to tell the artist what their painting is about, we give it our meaning and not theirs. The intelligent way is to understand is to engage the artist themselves, the artist truly is the only person who truly understands the painting, but often they may not be able to see their own work as they lack a reflective process such a therapy. What we can do as helpers is reflect their painting back to the artist and help develop clarity of their creation which they then have the ability to change if they choose. This idea of the unique creativity of each individual moves away from the simple dichotomies and into infinite choices. After all there are seven billion people on this planet and no two have had the same experiences growing up…..how could any two possibly have the same perspective or conclusions?
In the words of Maslow ‘if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail’ (Maslow 1966) as therapists and helpers we need to be able to be flexible and use every tool at our disposal to be with people on their journey to see their creation and to live with an awareness of it and develop choices. To take part in this life as Adlerian practitioners is to use all the tools at our disposal: encouragement, power, feelings, empathy, emotions, thoughts, dreams, memories, community feeling, self-care, family constellation, gemeinshaftgefuhl, spirituality, creativity, talking, listening, being present……whatever is beneficial and unprejudiced.
To bring closure to this short article…. to live a life of mental health is to live in a life of multiple ‘truths’, a willingness to be inconvenienced, develop courage, infinite choice, acceptance, and a sense of belonging.
Michael Fitzgerald Psychotherapist, Supervisor, Counselling Trainer, Coaching Psychologist & Yoga Instructor
BSc (Hons) Psychology, Dip in Adlerian Counselling, Dip in Supervision, Dip in Eating Disorder Therapy, Dip in Life & Business Coaching, Dip in Yoga Instruction, Dip in Youth & Community Development.
MIACP (accred), MBPsS, MASIIP (organisational) RYT (200)
Maslow, A. 1966. The Psychology of Science, New York, Harper & Row
Adler, A. 2005. The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler, Volume 1: The Neurotic Character, Fundamentals of Individual Psychology & Psychotherapy. Alfred Adler Institute.