A Cognitive Reaction: Adlerian Psychology, Cognitive (Behavior) Therapy, and Constructivistic Psychotherapy: Three Approaches in Search of a Center

By Dowd, E. Thomas | Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

A Cognitive Reaction: Adlerian Psychology, Cognitive (Behavior) Therapy, and Constructivistic Psychotherapy: Three Approaches in Search of a Center


Dowd, E. Thomas, Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy


At the beginning of the last decade, Don Kelly and I (Dowd & Kelly, 1980) published an article examining the similarities and differences between Adlerian Psychology and the then-developing Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Although each of us came from widely differing frames of reference, we were able to point to some emerging similarities as well as some fundamental differences, both in philosophical underpinnings, theoretical explanations, and therapeutic procedures.

The years since that article have witnessed continued and significant development in cognitive approaches to human change. I (Dowd, 1997) have recently traced the history of the cognitive therapies from two converging streams, the behavioral and the cognitive. At the time the Dowd and Kelly article was published, reciprocal conditioning and the modification of selfstatements were new ideas. Still to come were the developmental and constructivistic trends in the cognitive therapies, as well as new concepts regarding stasis and resistance in cognitive therapy.

The articles contained in this special issue pick up nicely where Dowd and Kelly (1980) left off. They provide a rich source of ideas for the integration of all three approaches to human change. Adlerian Psychology always was heavily constructive in nature, though it was not called so at the time. Cognitive therapy, due to its recent focus on the role of core cognitive schemata in the human psychological functioning (Dowd, 1997; Mahoney, 1991) and tacit knowledge and implicit learning (Dowd & Courchaine, 1996), has become considerably more construedvistic. Thus, the time is right for a reexamination of the similarities and differences of these systems of psychotherapy.

These four articles perform that function admirably and it is indeed interesting to observe how the similarities have grown and the differences diminished since 1980. The two articles by Sperry and Freeman and Urschel on the similarities and differences between Adlerian Psychology and Cognitive Therapy include many of the same themes from different perspectives. Both Adlerian Psychology and Cognitive Therapy are collaborative in nature, involve both cognitions and behaviors, follow an educational model, and help the client to develop alternative cognitive and behavioral skills. Both were created partly as reactions against the excesses and overelaboration of metaphorical constructs in culture-bound Freudian thought. In addition, the new Cognitive Therapy emphases on schema identification and change, the importance of meaning structures in human psychological functioning, and continuous cognitive development throughout the life span has aligned it more closely with Adlerian Psychology's concept of the Life Style and the importance of early recollections. Furthermore, the new emphasis on the dynamics of resistance and stasis in Cognitive Therapy closely parallels, the compensation strategy of Adler; in both systems resistance is seen as healthy and adaptive, rather than pathological. Sperry's description of cognitive systematic desensitization as a similarity does appear to be a bit of a reach, however. Desensitization, in all the literature with which I am familiar, refers to the reduction of emotional reactions of a physiological sort.

The two articles by Shulman and Watts and Jones and Lyddon on the similarities and differences between Adlerian Psychology and Constructivistic Therapies illustrate even more dramatically the close relationship of these two approaches; indeed, the two articles are highly similar variations on the same theme. My reading of Adlerian Psychology, as a relative outsider, is that it was from its inception heavily constructivistic in nature. The tracing of its philosophical lineage to Vaihinger and Kant further reinforces this view as does the close similarity of the Shulman and Watts and the Jones and Lyddon articles.

Missing, for the sake of conceptual elegance, is a comparison of cognitive and constructive therapies. …

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