Individual Psychology

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Related to Individual Psychology: Individual differences psychology

individual psychology

[¦in·də¦vij·ə·wəl sī′käl·ə·jē]
A system of psychology in which traits of an individual are compared in terms of striving for superiority and then restated in the form of a composite of this single tendency.

Individual Psychology


one of the currents in depth psychology, based on the theories of the Austrian psychologist A. Adler.

Individual psychology proceeds from Adler’s conception that the main source of motivation is the presence of an inferiority complex in the individual and the striving to overcome it. The sense of inferiority, which arises in early childhood, determines the “life style” characteristic of each person. In contrast to psychoanalysis, individual psychology considers that the basis of social character is an innate social feeling (Gemeinschaftsge-fuhl), which, however, requires education for its full development. This feeling is lacking in neurotics and asocial elements, such as drug addicts, and is replaced by a striving for unconscious, fictitious goals. Individual psychology sees the goal of therapy in exposing such distortions in the patient’s life style. Adler himself, who belonged to the Austrian Social Democratic Party, saw in individual psychology a reformist program for achieving harmony in man and society. Individual psychology also addressed itself to the study of creativity, proceeding from its theory of compensatory activity as the overcoming of biological and social inferiority. Individual psychology also dealt with the psychology of groups having an expressed feeling of social inferiority (criminals, lumpen proletariat).

On the whole, individual psychology did not elaborate its own general psychological theory, limiting itself primarily to observations of an empirical character. It received its greatest dissemination during the 1920’s, especially in pedagogy and psychotherapy. Later, individual psychology disappeared as a movement; it had given, however, a powerful stimulus to the development of sociopsychological and group methods in therapy and of sociological trends in psychology and medicine—for the most part in the United States (K. Homey, H. Sullivan, E. Fromm, F. Alexander, and others, who are usually regarded as neo-Freudians but can also be called neo-Adlerians).


Handbuch der Individualpsychologie. vols. 1-2. Munich, 1926.
Dreikurs, R. Fundamentals of Adlerian Psychology. New York, 1950.
Essays in Individual Psychology. New York, 1959.
Way, L. M. Adler’s Place in Psychology. New York, 1963.


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