Adlerian Psychotherapy and Cognitive Therapy: An Adlerian Perspective

By Sperry, Len | Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, January 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Adlerian Psychotherapy and Cognitive Therapy: An Adlerian Perspective


Sperry, Len, Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy


This paper seeks to delineate common themes between Adlerian psychotherapy and Cognitive Therapy and suggest ways that the two theories may learn from one another.

Until recently, emphasizing differences was in vogue among the various psychotherapy systems. Currently, however, there is increasing interest in emphasizing commonalities and converging themes among these systems. Several laudatory efforts to clarify theoretical and methodological commonalities have been reported (Goldfried & Castonguary, 1992; Norcross & Goldfried, 1992). The purpose of this paper is to articulate some of the common themes in both Adlerian psychotherapy and the cognitive therapies, and to suggest ways in which the cognitive therapies can enhance Adlerian psychotherapy, and vice versa. Before proceeding with these tasks it might be useful to set the stage for this discussion.

In his history of psychotherapy, Ellenberger (1970) suggests that the concepts and methods of many psychotherapy systems, including the cognitive therapies, overlap considerably with Adlerian psychotherapy. Ellenberger describes "two basic attitudes of human mind" (p. 648) which characterize all psychotherapy systems. While Freud's system reflects the underlying non-rational philosophy of mind inherent in Epicurianism and Romanticism, Adler's system reflect the underlying rational philosophy of mind inherent in Stoicism and the Enlightenment. Clearly, Beck's Cognitive Therapy and other cognitive therapies reflect a rational philosophy of mind, and are, thus, more akin to Adlerian than Freudian assumptions and premises about human nature, psychopathology and psychotherapy. The cognitive dimension of Adlerian Psychology has been elegantly articulated by Forgus and Shulman (1979), while the cognitive dimension of cognitive therapies has been articulated by several writers (Beck, 1964; Beck & Weishar, 1989; Ellis, 1994; Schwartz, 1988). Granted that Adlerian psychotherapy represents more than a cognitive approach-in that it is also a dynamic and systems theory-this discussion will emphasize its cognitive dimension.

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ADLERIAN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND THE COGNITIVE THERAPIES

There are three basic constructs in Adlerian psychotherapy that are recognizable in the cognitive-behavioral therapies, particularly in Cognitive Therapy. The three basic constructs are: therapeutic focus or the centrality of lifestyle and life-style convictions as the focus of psychotherapy; therapeutic relationship or the cooperative and collaborative nature of the client-therapist relationship; and therapeutic change, or the process of reeducation and reorientation (Sperry, 1992).

Therapeutic Focus

The individual's "life-style convictions" are the main therapeutic focus of Adlerian psychotherapy. Lifestyle convictions comprise the cognitive organization of the individual and can be described in terms of convictions about self, the world, the self-ideal and ethical convictions (Mosak, 1989). While Beck and Freeman (1990) note that the term "schema" can be traced to Bartlett (1932), Adler actually used the term schema earlier. Adler described "schema of apperception" to refer to the individual's view of self and the world in his book The Science of Living (1929). Psychopathology, for Adler, reflected the individual's "neurotic schema" (Adler, 1956, p. 333). Kelly (1955) coined the term "personal constructs" to describe a similar phenomenon. Essentially, schemas reflect life-style convictions. Accordingly, schema and life-style convictions are used synonymously in this paper.

Beck and his coworkers have elaborated schema theory within the cognitive perspective (Beck, 1963; Beck & Freeman, 1990). Beck and Freeman (1990) note that cognitive therapists focus on the dual levels of symptom structure-manifest problems-and underlying schemas-inferred structures. Beck and his associates have described various types of schemas: cognitive, affective, motivational, instrumental and control schemas. …

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