Adlerian Social-Interest Theory

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According to Overholser (2010), one of the main contributors to the psychotherapy school of thought was Alfred Adler. This Viennese was born on February 7, 1870, and graduated from the University of Vienna with a Medical Degree in 1895. It is noted that, at first, Adler had opted to specialize in ophthalmology, but the idea of restoring the physical sight of his patients was not very appealing. He opted for psychiatry, preferring to make restoration of his patients’ perspective on life his new specialty. To this end, this young man was to join the Freudian psychoanalytic school of thought in 1902, abandoning it after 9 years for what he termed as persistent disagreements with the theories put forth by Sigmund Freud (Overholser, 2010).

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Adler is credited with the pioneering of the individual psychology school of thought: an arm of psychoanalytic school of thought that focuses on the whole individual as opposed to subunits of that individual (as cited in Overholser, 2010, p. 348). One of the concepts put forth by Adler in developing psychoanalysis techniques aimed at the individual is that of social interest. Social interest is a loose translation of the German word gemeinschaftsgefuhl, meaning a sense of community feeling. This is contrasted with the individual’s private interests and concerns that fail to take into consideration the interests of other people around them.

According to Adler, if a person possesses social interest, then they are able to lead a useful lifestyle within the social world. However, lack of social interest means that the individual is self-absorbed and is concerned only with him or herself, leading a useless lifestyle (as cited in Ferguson, 2007).

This paper is going to analyze the practical aspect of Adler’s concept of social interest. According to this paper, the concept of social interest has a practical application in psychotherapy, and it is a major aspect in many psychotherapy sessions. To this end, the paper is going to analyse three peer reviewed journal articles revolving around Adler’s social interest theory. The three articles will be critiqued and related to each other, and their contribution to this paper’s thesis pointed out. The articles that will be analysed include Psychotherapy that Strives to Encourage Social Interest: A Simulated Interview with Alfred Adler, an article by Overholser (2010). The second article is Counselling Techniques for Adolescent Females with polycystic ovary syndrome, an article by Froeschle, Castillo, Mayorga & Hargrave (2008). The third article is by Ferguson (2007), and is titled Work Relations and Work Effectiveness: Goal Identification and Social Interest can be learned.

The common feature among these articles is their vivid illustration of the practical application of social interest theory in psychotherapy. This is what makes them significant in addressing the theme put forth in this paper. A brief summary of each of these articles follows.

Brief Summary of the Articles

Business Organisations

According to Ferguson (2007), the major aim of this article is to show how individual psychology techniques and ideas can be applied in a workplace situation. The article also makes a comparison between Adlerian social-interest methods and other psychoanalysis techniques that can be used in the workplace.

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Ferguson (2007) argues that human relations within the working environment can be more complex than in other situations. The article argues that Adlerian social-interest theory can be used to analyse and improve this relationship. The author is of the view that, in spite of individual psychology having been initially developed as a clinical and therapeutic technique, it can also be applied in all spheres of human relations.

According to this article, application of Adlerian ideas in the workplace improves human relations a great deal. It improves the relationship between peers and between staff and managers, in essence improving the whole organisation. Application of Adlerian social-interest theory helps the individual to identify and pursue goals that serve this social interest. The goals improve the welfare of the whole organisation in addition to contributing to the individual’s sense of belonging (Ferguson, 2007).

Counselling Techniques for Adolescent Females with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

In this article, the authors analyze the devastating effects (both social and mental) of polycystic ovary syndrome among adolescent girls. They also analyze counselling programs that are targeted at the special needs of these girls, and one of the techniques in this program is Adlerian’s social-interest therapy (Froeschle et al., 2008).

Similar to the article by Ferguson (2007) that was analyzed above, Froeschle et al. (2008) acknowledge the fact that the social-interest theory by Adler can be put into practical application by helping adolescent girls suffering from a devastating condition. According to Froeschle et al. (2008), the mental health and life success of an individual is highly affected by their degree of social interest. As such, one way of improving an individual’s well being is by helping them identify and pursue social-interest goals.

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One way to apply social-interest theory in helping these adolescent girls is by making them realize the importance of participating in activities revolving around the community. This is for example volunteering which can help them learn how to love and make friends (Froeschle et al., 2008). This is not different from Ferguson’s (2007) argument that identification and pursuit of social interest in the workplace helps not only the individual but also the whole community.

Psychotherapy that Strives to Encourage Social Interest: A Simulated Interview with Alfred Adler

In this article, Overholser (2010) makes use of a simulated interview to highlight Adlerian social-interest theory and its central ideas about psychotherapy. In this article, the author recognizes Adler’s emphasis on social functioning as a means of attaining optimal mental well being.

According to this author, Adler’s social-interest theory can be applied in many fields of human interaction. This argument ties in with those of Froeschle et al. (2008) and Ferguson (2007) above. Overholser (2010) feels that the ideas in this theory can be applied in psychotherapy, clinical supervision, and business management among others. In other words, Adler’s social-interest theory has practical application in practically every field that involves human interaction.

Overholser (2010) is of the view that social-interest can be one way of improving human society as a whole. This is given the fact that the individual identifies and pursues goals that are beneficial not only to him or her, but also to the community as a whole. This argument is similar to those made by Froeschle et al. (2008) and Ferguson (2007).

Critique of the Three Articles’ Focus on Adlerian’s Social-Interest

As the brief summary of the three articles above indicates, it is a fact beyond doubt that all of them address in one way of the other the issue of Adlerian social-interest theory. However, do all of these articles give this theory equal weight? The simple answer to this question is no: all of the three articles differ as far as the weight given to Adlerian social-interest theory is concerned.

Overholser (2010) seems to make Adler’s ideas the main focus of his article. The article revolves around Adler’s social-interest theory and its contribution to psychotherapy. The format that Overholser uses in presenting Adler’s ideas in this article differs significantly from the format used by the other two authors. As the title of his article indicates, he uses a simulated interview between himself and Adler. However, at the end of the interview, he provides a detailed analysis of Adler’s ideas.

Froeschle et al. (2008) seems to relegate Adlerian social-interest theory to the periphery. However, it is important to note that the peripheral relegation does not in any way diminish the significance the authors attach to this theory. The article starts by providing a literature review on polycystic ovary syndrome, and it is only at the second half of the article that Adlerian theory appears. The article does not solely focus on Adlerian theory; rather, it makes a balanced comparison between this theory and other counselling techniques that can be used on girls with this condition.

Ferguson (2007) seems to give Adlerian social-interest theory a balanced coverage when compared to the other two articles. This is given the fact that the focus of the article is fairly divided between work relations and work effectiveness on one hand and Adlerian ideas on the other. However, it is noted that the way the author goes about discussing Adlerian theory does not make it any less significant as compared to the other two articles.


Being a technique in psychotherapy, Adlerian social-interest theory might have been developed as a clinical and therapeutic approach. However, it is noted that its application has extended beyond these borders to include all spheres of human relationships. This theory has practical application in the business world, in therapy of individuals with debilitating conditions, life skills’ coaching among others. The articles critiqued in this paper supported the hypothesis set forth in the paper. The paper hypothesised that Adlerian social-interest theory has practical applications in many spheres of human relationships, a hypothesis that was proved right.


Ferguson, E. D. (2007). Business and organizations. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 63(1) 110–117.

Froeschle, J. G., Castillo, Y., Mayorga, M. G., & Hargrave, T. (2008). Counselling techniques for adolescent females with polycystic ovary syndrome. Journal of Professional Counselling: Practice, Theory, and Research, 36(1), 17–29.

Overholser, J. C. (2010). Psychotherapy that strives to encourage social interest: A simulated interview with Alfred Adler. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 20(4), 347–363.

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