Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology in the Context of Constructivism

Ursula E Oberst. Constructivism in the Human Sciences. Volume 3, Issue 2. December 1998.

Alfred Adler, a neurologist from Vienna, began his career as a psychotherapist in 1902, working with Freud. After several years of collaboration, however, he withdrew from psychoanalysis following the publication of his psychosomatic study on organ inferiority (Adler, 1907/1977). Adler is the founder of Individual Psychology, one of the three so-called indepth psychological or psychoanalytic schools (similar to those of Freud and Jung). Instead of “Individual Psychology,” some of his disciples prefer the expression, “Adlerian Psychology,” believing it to avoid the somewhat ambiguous concepts of “individual.” In using the term, “individual Psychology,” Adler did not refer to treating one person as opposed to a group or family; rather, he wanted to make clear his idea of man as indivisible (individuus), a unity, whole, not divided into instances as Freud had assumed (Adler, 1912/1977). Adler (1911/1973) also rejected Freud’s sexually-related theory that human beings possess sexuality but are not possessed and dominated by it; that is, humans can use their sexuality to achieve their purposes, and the Oedipal complex is, in Adler’s view, only the attempts of a pampered child to achieve control over his or her parents. Therefore, this phenomenon would not exist in a normal child.

From the first appearance of this concept, Adler began to develop his own psychological theory, which was quite different from that of Freud. He did respect some of the elements of Freud’s theory, however, including ideas such as the importance given to the individual’s childhood experiences in explaining the formation of character and attitude toward life. He also gave credence to the idea of a resultant necessity for an “analytic” procedure in psychotherapy (called “life-style analysis”), consisting of “interpreting” early childhood recollections in order to fully understand the patient.

In spite of these historical concepts and practices, which, at first sight, place Adler in the conceptual ranks of Freud and Jung, I consider Adler’s approach more theoretically aligned with much more recent theories. In this article, I will attempt to demonstrate that Adlerian Psychology is constructivist by comparing Adler’s basic concepts and his explicit and implied epistemological view with constructivist epistemology and concepts. Detailed descriptions of the Adlerian theory can be found elsewhere, with special reference to Ansbacher & Ansbacher (1956), Mosak (1989), or, of course, in Adler’s later publications (1927, 1931, 1933).

There have been several attempts to conceive of Adlerian Psychology as a cognitive theory. Shulman (1985), for example, considers Adler to be the first cognitive therapist. Mosak (1989) finds many conceptual similarities between the ideas of Albert Ellis and Adler, and Dinkmeyer & Dinkmeyer (1988) emphasize that Adler was one of the first to assume that human behavior can be changed when the person’s belief and cognition system is modified. According to these authors, Adler is a predecessor of Berne’s Transactional Analysis and Beck’s and Meichenbaum’s cognitive therapeutic approaches. In a recent monographic edition of the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy on the relationship of Adler’s theory to cognitive and constructivist psychotherapies, several authors (Sperry, 1997; Freeman & Urschel, 1997) share the opinion that Adlerian and cognitive psychotherapy have much in common and can fertilize each other. The basic assumption of cognitive theories is that behavior and emotions depend, to a very high degree, on the individual’s cognitions. In Freud’s view, the individual is a victim of his or her feelings, whereas Adler assumes that feelings are created and controlled by attitudes and thought.

In Adlerian therapy, as well as in other cognitive-based therapies, it is assumed that the individual has an erroneous or mistaken view of himself/herself and of the environment. Within this system, the purpose of therapy is for the patient to get an insight into this biased mode of apperception. The basic therapeutic techniques used to achieve this goal are confrontation and encouragement, with the latter being a genuine Adlerian technique used to encourage the client to believe in his or her own capabilities. The tripartite system which includes the individual’s cognitions, the idiosyncratic perception of the world, and the organization of perceptions as a way of understanding, controlling, and anticipating events and actions is called life-style. As an aside, it should further be noted that Sperry (1997) and Freeman & Urschel (1997) consider life style and cognitive schemata to be synonymous terms. Life-style is said to be formed during early childhood, and that is why the Adlerian approach “analyzes” (interprets) early childhood recollections in order to discover and understand the unconscious parts of cognitions.

A clarification of the unique details of Adler’s concept of the unconscious might be useful at this juncture. For Freud, the unconscious consists of repressed contents brought to light in order to facilitate insight and cathartic experience to the patient. Adler’s view is slightly different, however; Adler considers these contents “unconscious” because they were built in a prelinguistic stage of childhood. He states:

More important is the aspect that the wholeness of life, which I referred to as ‘life-style,’ is formed by the child at a time when it possesses neither sufficient language nor sufficient concepts. Growing up in this sense, then, the child grows in a movement which is never caught in words and is therefore unassailable from criticisms, even safe from criticisms of experience. Rather than of a repressed unconscious, we must speak of something not understood, something withdrawn from understanding. (1933/1980, pp. 24-25)

Therefore, rejecting the dualism of conscious-unconscious, Adler’s holistic view of individuals describes the unconscious as something we do not yet fully understand, but which we are able to understand by using a hermeneutic-interpretive dialogue between therapist and client. “Human beings know more than they understand,” is a frequently cited comment from Adler (Adler, 1933/1980, p. 22).

The unconscious is nothing other than that which we have been unable to formulate in clear concepts. It is not a matte of concepts hiding away in some unconscious or subconscious recesses of our minds, but of parts of our consciousness, the significance of which we have not fully understood. We cannot oppose “consciousness” to “unconsciousness” as if they were two antagonistic halves of an individual’s existence. The conscious life becomes unconscious as soon as we fail to understand it, and as soon as we understand an unconscious tendency it has already become conscious, (cited in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 232-233)

These statements suggest that expressions such as “conscious” and “analytical” in Adlerian terminology are only historical conventions which do not express a conceptual proximity between Adler, on the one hand, and Freud and Jung, on the other. The more or less “conscious” individual meanings of a person are more similar to what constructivist psychologists call “constructs,” defined as a form of establishing distinctions. Constructs, too, can be conscious or not, or, more specifically, verbalized or not. Kelly (1955/1991) uses the expression “pre-verbal constructs” for those mental or psychophysiological processes that do not yet bear a verbal label.

While Adlerian Psychology, as we have seen can easily be redefined as a cognitive theory, it is a more complex undertaking to conceive of it as a constructivist approach.

Whereas for a comparison with cognitive theories it is only necessary to stress the conceptual similarities, the case for constructivism is different: constructivism in psychology is a paradigm with a quite different epistemology. Thus, in order to compare Adler with constructivist approaches, it is useful to first describe what is understood to be constructivism and to explore whether Adlerian Psychology meets constructivist criteria.

There have been several attempts to view Adlerian Psychology in a constructivist light. While constructivist authors tend only to grant a scant historical acknowledgement to Adler (Mahoney, 1991), some Adlerians have tried to compare the two orientations in more detail (Master, 1991; Jones, 1995; Scott, Kelley & Tolbert, 1995; Shulman & Watts, 1997). There is but a single publication that examines the relationship in detail from a constructivist viewpoint (Jones & Lyddon, 1997).

All the aforementioned authors come to similar conclusions regarding the relationship between the two schools of thought. Individual Psychology and constructivism are described as having common philosophical and epistemological roots (based on the ideas of the philosophers Kant and Vaihinger). Human beings are seen as a holistic unity, as creative, proactive, and meaning making. Although described in different terms, both approaches express highly similar concepts. For example, the Adlerian concept of life-style can be considered synonymous with the system of nuclear personal constructs. Unconscious processes are seen in a similar way (alternately described as tacit or non-verbal constructs). An individual is deemed understandable only within his or her social context. With respect to psychotherapy, both theories emphasize a client-therapist relationship characterized by empathy, collaboration and co-construction of meaning, thus simultaneously refusing diagnostic labeling and favoring a more process-oriented vision of therapy.

While not inaccurate, these generalization fail to note a fundamental aspect. That is, the comparisons are based on conceptual elements that are neither exclusively Adlerian nor constructivist, but are commonly shared by a variety of approaches (e.g., emphasis on early childhood experiences, the image of a human being as creative and proactive, the clienttherapist relationship). No metatheoretical assumption is made of what is understood to be constructivism. In fact, the theories gathered under the common metatheoretical roof of constructivism do not necessarily share a common definition of constructivist psychology or psychotherapy.

Mahoney (1988), for example, defines constructivist psychology as a group of theories that share the idea that human knowledge implies active and proactive participation of the individual. He further points out three basic elements of constructivism: proactive cognition, morphogenic nuclear structure and self-organizing development. By proactive cognition, Mahoney refers to the idea that human beings are not merely reactive to surrounding stimuli, but are also co-creators of their subjective realities. Adler would surely agree with this view.

Another concept of constructivism is “morphogenic nuclear structure.” Mahoney uses this phrase to express his notion of human beings as organizing themselves in such a way that their central (“core”) processes “… dictate and constrain the forms expressed at peripheral or surface levels” (Mahoney, 1988, p. 6). In the same paragraph, Mahoney describes Adler’s concept of life-style as having a certain similarity to his own concept of nuclear structure, but he does not expand on this idea. According to Mahoney,

Self-organizing development … invokes the assertion that individual human systems organize themselves to as to protect and perpetuate their integrity, and they develop via structural differentiations selected out of the trial-and-error variations … each person is literally the central reference point for all of his or her experiences and survival efforts, and … those efforts are winnowed by selective retention processes. (1988, p. 9)

The capacity of the individual to organize knowledge and perception is also an Adlerian concept. Adler calls it “tendentious apperception.” By a special idiosyncratic perceptive style, the individual organizes his or her experiences in a way that allows the individual to protect and perpetuate his or her integrity by processes of selective attention and retention. Life-style is the totality of the individual’s cognitions, constructs and processes.

As we have seen, Mahoney’s constructivist concepts show great similarity to some of Adler’s, and similar ideas are held by more constructivist approaches. However, they do not specifically apply epistemological criteria. Chiari & Nuzzo (1996), referring to Mahoney’s notion of constructivism, comment that the idea of a proactive individual is such a vast concept that it can embrace such different approaches as humanist theories, cognitive theories and those of Jung and Adler (!).

Botella (1995) emphasizes the difference between theory and metatheory and suggests that the definitions of constructivism given by Mahoney is, in itself, a constructivist theory, but is not a constructivist metatheory. According to Botella, a metatheory should be superordinate to any particular theory and should include epistemic assumptions about the nature of knowledge and epistemic values, which could serve as criteria to decide whether a special theory is constructivist or not. In constructivist metatheory, knowledge is a hypothetical construction. Botella compares this position with the traditional objectivist viewpoint in which knowledge is a (more or less accurate) representation of reality. As epistemic constructivist values, he stresses “the pragmatic value of knowledge claims” (Botella, 1996, p. 6), expressed in predictive efficiency, viability and fertility and coherence (internal and external consistency).

In their recently published book, Botella & Feixas (1998) present criteria for distinguishing objectivist and constructivist metatheories. According to these authors, constructivism differs from objectivism in four essential aspects: view of the human being, view of the world, view of knowledge and view of justification. In somewhat more detail, objectivism views the individual human being as passive, reactive and isolated from surroundings, while constructivism assumes a proactive, propositive individual who stands in dialectical relationship with his or her surroundings. The world is viewed in objectivism as mechanistic, while in constructivism it is organic or contextual. Botella and Feixas, quoting Kelly (1955/1991), consider knowledge in objectivism to be characterized by “accumulative fragmentalism” as opposed to “constructive alternativism.” Justification of knowledge in objectivism is provided by the view of truth as the only valid and reliable criterion; the epistemic value of constructivism consists in a pragmatic criterion of utility.

These same four classification criteria can help us to determine whether Adlerian Psychology can be considered a constructivist theory. Each can contribute independently to a final decision on the question.

1. View of the human being

As cited previously, Adler holds a holistic view of the human being. Freud, with his biology-oriented approach, tacitly accepts a mechanistic positivism and reductionism in an attempt to give empiricist-causal explanations, searching for events and objective causes in the person’s past. Adler, in contrast, moves away from this idea, assuming the individual to be guided by the four elements of creative force, fictions, a fictional goal, and social interest.

The first guiding element is an inherent creative force, which is probably similar to that described by constructivists Maturana & Varela (1980 as autopoiesis, originally an Aristotelian concept. Inherent creative force allows humans to make their own decisions; they are creative and selfdetermined.

The second element is so-called fictions, which is a concept adopted by Adler from Vaihinger (1911/1965), one that is frequently used by constructivists, as well. Fictions, although they do not have a correspondence in the real world, possess a pragmatic utility and are considered indispensable in human life.

Fictions are subjective suppositions of which man is convinced and in which he believes even when all the objective “facts” seem to be contrary. Even when these fictions are apparently not adequate from a pragmatic viewpoint, they turn out to be logically correct in the reference frame of life-style and adequate and convenient with respect to this private logic. (Adler, quoted in Titze, 1979, p. 44)

Adler adopted from Vaihinger the idea that truth is only the most expedient error. The metaphorical expression of fictions is the “as if phrase: people act as if their fictions were the truth, but generally they are conscious that they are only their own more or less pragmatic constructions.

The guiding principle of fictional goal, or finality, is the third element. Adler rejects the causality principle as an explanation of psychic phenomena. For him, the most important question in understanding the human mind is not “where from,” but “where to”; it is not “why,” but “what for.”

We are not able to think, to feel, to want and to act without having a goal in mind. For all causalities are not enough for the living organism to manage the chaos of events. All actions would remain in a state of indiscriminate groping about without achieving a balance in psychic life: without any unity, any physiognomy or personal note. Only the inanimate obeys to a recognizable causality … Every psychic phenomenon, if it is to give us the understanding of an individual, can be perceived and understood only as a preparation for a goal. (Adler, 1924/1974, p. 21)

This ideological view of human beings is shared by most constructivist theories (Mahoney, 1991) and has driven some of Adler’s followers to daim the label, “Teleoanalysis,” instead of Individual Psychology (Titze, 1979).

In Adlerian psychotherapy, this principle of finality is used to analyze the function of a specific symptom in the setting of the patient’s fictions. Knowing which concrete (“unconscious”) goal or purpose the patient is striving toward through the symptoms is a key element in symptom solution.

The final guiding element is social interest. By social interest (Gemeinschaftsgefühl in German), Adler expresses his view of human beings as essentially social beings. Their form of relationship and interaction is of paramount importance. Social interest is an inborn possibility that has to be fostered in childhood. There has never been a clear definition offered of the meaning of social interest, neither by Adler himself nor by his followers. It is likely, however, that all authors would agree that it means the feeling of being socially embedded, being part of a larger whole and contributing to the common good in addition to the well-being of the individual. The degree of social interest an individual possesses determines not only the degree of his or her adaptation to community and society, but also his or her level of mental health.

To understand a person means, as we have seen by now, to understand the person’s cognitive organization, the person’s life-style. Life-style is developed in the first years of childhood through experiences, decisions and creative elections; it contains the individual’s cognitions and fictions that help him or her to organize, understand, predict and control. Adler does not deny the influence of heredity and environment. The individual’s response to the factors through personal opinion and point of view is seen as the most important factor, however. Heredity and environment can limit certain responses but can never determine the human being completely. Therefore, Adler gives less importance to a possibly causal explanation of behavior and more importance to the “final causes,” the purposes the individual pursues (whether “consciously” or not). If these purposes are guided by social interest (“task-orientated” or “social useful,” in Adler’s words), the person is considered mentally healthy; neurotic or maladaptive individuals pursue “egocentric” or “socially useless” goals, being concerned only with achieving superiority over others and protecting themselves against feelings of inferiority.

As we have seen, Adler views the human being as a wholeness, as a social being, proactive and goal-directed. In this sense, his view can clearly be considered constructivist. What might be confusing is his apparently objectivist concept of social interest applied as an absolute criterion of distinction between “socially correct” or “not correct” behavior, even between “healthy” and “neurotic.” This aspect will be discussed later in this paper.

2. World-view

Adler makes few references to his particular worldview, probably because, for him, reality is basically a social reality and a social world of human interactions. Only in his last major publication (Adler, 1933/1980) did he remark, probably influenced by the latest discoveries in mathematical sciences and physics related to relativity, that, even in physics, the principle of causality is breaking down, leaving only probabilistic concepts. Thus, he could accept even less a mechanistic determinism in psychology, attacking those psychologist who “produce their dogmas in mechanistic or physicalistic disguises” (p. 23). As Titze describes (1979), Adler overcame the principle of causality in psychology in accordance with a contextualist world-view.

3. View of human knowledge

In what is called by Kelly (1955/1991) accumulative fragmentalism, knowledge is viewed as a direct representation or even a copy of the real world; it is generated by the accumulation of discoveries of real facts. Constructivism, in contrast, considers knowledge as the construction of the experience and of the invention of new interpretive contexts. It is a constantly evolving process through successive interpretations (Feixas & Villegas, 1993).

Kelly (1955/1991) calls constructs those patterns that individuals create in order to try to adapt to reality. The adjustment is not always perfect. Without these constructs, these forms of creating reality, however, human being would not be able to make sense of the world. An absolute, perfect construction cannot be achieved; only successive approximations, which are tested with respect to their predictive validity, can be attempted. Furthermore, all of these interpretations are constantly reviewed. This leads to another similarity between this concept of constructs and Adler’s fictions. In Kelly’s words:

We take the stand that there are always some alternative constructions available to choose among in dealing with the world. No one needs to paint himself into a corner; no one needs to be completely hemmed in by circumstances; no one needs to be the victim of his biography. We call this philosophical position constructive alternativism. (Kelly, 1955/1991, p. 11)

This reasoning is essentially Adlerian. As has already been noted, Adler also refuses determinism. The individual always has the possibility of responding alternatively and construing his or her distinctions. Adler suggests this, in different words but in a very constructivist way:

Here is the place where Individual Psychology trespasses on the theory of determinism. Our experiences are not the (inexorable) cause of exit or failure. We don’t suffer from a shock which stems from our experiences – the socalled trauma – but we make out of our experiences precisely that which serves our purposes. We are self-determined by the meaning we confer to our experiences; but this meaning is probably always somehow deficient, if we make isolated experiences the basis of our future life. The meaning is not determined by a specific situation, but we determine ourselves through the meaning we confer to the situations. (Adler, 1931/1981, p. 21)

In other words, it is not a child’s experience that dictates his or her actions. Rather, it is the conclusion that the child draws from experience and his or her attitudes and opinions toward the events. What the individual might do subsequently is to use these experiences as excuses for not accomplishing within the context of social interest: “I misbehave/am neurotic/am criminal because in my childhood, I …”

Kelly affirms that humans develop constructs as hypothetical representations of their universe in order to test them against the reality of this universe, in terms of their predictive efficiency. Kelly gives us the following example:

A man construes his neighbor’s behavior as hostile. By that he means that his neighbor, given the proper opportunity, will do him harm. He tries out his construction of his neighbor’s attitude by throwing rock at his neighbor’s dog. His neighbor responds with an angry rebuke. The man may then believe that he has validated his construction of his neighbor as a hostile person. (Kelly, 1955/1992, p. 9)

This example could be drawn from Adler. Instead of construction, Adler would have spoken of erroneous fictions and tendencious apperceptions. In Adlerian terms, this man is to be considered “neurotic,” because, instead of constantly adapting his private fictions to reality, he is maintaining maladaptive (useless or egocentric) ones which do not help him to interact better with others (lack of social interest). He uses (“unconsciously” but deliberately!) a test (throwing rocks at the dog) to convince himself that his construct (fiction) of the neighbor as hostile is correct; therefore, he is, himself, a better person than is his neighbor (fictionate goal of striving for superiority).

4. View of justification

In objectivism there exists a criterion of truth as an epistemic value. Truth exists and can be discovered by progressively improving our instruments of perception. Translated into psychological terms, this postulate means that there is (at least theoretically) a criterion that tells us which behavior, though, cognition, feeling or construct is the correct one (or the adaptive or healthy one). Constructivism does not accept the criterion of truth as a justification of knowledge. In describing epistemic values of constructivism, Botella (1995) emphasizes the pragmatic value of knowledge claims (especially their predictive validity) and their internal coherence (internal and external consistency and unifying power). This concept of pragmatism or usefulness, rather than an absolute and observer/knower-independent truth, is broadly shared by constructivist psychologists.

In psychotherapy, Mahoney & Gabriel (1987) make a distinction between rationalist cognitive and constructivist cognitive therapies. According to these authors, in rationalist therapies the existence of a correct interpretation of reality is assumed. In Beck’s cognitive therapy, for example, the patient is considered as having distorted cognition of himself/herself and of his or her environment. The goal of therapy is to sue concrete cognitive-behavioral techniques to facilitate the patient to adopt a more correct or “realistic” view (Beck, Rush, Shaw & Emery, 1983). Constructivist therapies, on the other hand, do not pretend to give a correct interpretation of either the patient’s problem or the solutions. In Personal Construct Psychology (Kelly, 1955/1991) the patient is simply invited to question his or her system of constructs, to generate new hypotheses, and to test them in an experience outside of the therapeutic setting, in the spirit of a scientific investigation. The patient’s new hypothesis is considered confirmed if the new construct proves to be more useful in terms of interacting more effectively with the surroundings. This would mean that the patient would need to incorporate a new construct into his or her system. If the hypothesis were not confirmed, the elaboration process would start over again.

The specific task of the therapist differs in the two approaches, as well. If we accept that the patient has to eradicate all the erroneous cognitions and substitute more correct ones, we also accept that the therapist, by virtue of being the therapist, is in possession of truth. The therapist shows the patient which version is right and which cognitions he or she has to adopt. Constructivist therapists, of course, refuse to be in possession of the truth, first, because the truth does not exist (as outlined above) and, second, because the patient can be manipulated and controlled by the therapist (Neimeyer, 1994).

The attitude of an Adlerian therapist is composed of empathy, intuition and “guessing,” which is a form of making hypothetical conjectures about the meaning of the patient’s fictions and goals. If the patient does not accept the therapist’s conjectural interpretations, this rejection is not interpreted as resistance (as Freud would do). The interpretation would simply not be valid for the patient at that moment. The therapist only proposes and suggests. It can be said that therapist and patient together construe the interpretation of the problem and its possible solutions. In the same way, we can understand the apparently “psychoanalytic” practice of interpreting (“analyzing”) early childhood recollections. For Adler, these recollections are not memories of real events that are causing the actual disorder, but are examples of how the individual views and construes himself/herself and his or her world. It is a hermeneutic way to understand the patient. Adler tells anecdotally (Rattner, 1972) of going during his childhood through a graveyard. This is related as an important reminiscence for him because this was the origin of his view of himself as being able to overcome his fears. Many years later, he found out that this graveyard had never existed; thus, this “event” never took place and, obviously, could not have been the origin of his bravery!

It is indifferent for the purposes of psychology whether the memory which an individual considers as first is really the first event which he can remember – or even whether it is a memory of a real event. Memories are important only for what they are “taken as:” for their interpretation and for their bearing on present and future life. (Adler, cited in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 352)

From a constructivist point of view, we may frame these recollections as narratives or even justifications used to make sense of the actual situation which, in other words, correspond exactly to Adler’s original meanings.

Adler’s view of the criterion of truth, with the concept of social interest, seems to place him into Mahoney’s “rationalist” category. Thus, Adler’s theory would not be constructivist. Indeed, some of Adler’s writings seem highly objectivist, and Adler often seems quite convinced of being in possession of “truth.” Not only does he qualify some cognitions as “erroneous” (which, as we have seen, implies the assumption of a correct point of view), but he also identifies them as “antisocial” (which implies a value-laden standpoint). Adler sometimes expresses himself in a dogmatic way: “Reality, that is society, the community” (cited in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 133). He also speaks of the “iron logic of social living” (Adler, 1927, 1981). There is, apparently, a criterion for truth and rational thinking and behavior or, in other words, common sense and social interest. The more social interest we find in an individual, the healthier that individual may be. Adler characterizes the neurotic (every neurotic, regardless of special symptoms or problems!) as lacking in social interest (not because he or she is “bad” or “sick,” but because he or she is discouraged). The neurotic is seen as striving for his or her unique superiority in order to compensate or overcompensate for his or her unique inferiority feelings. The therapist’s task is to encourage the patient to overcome these inferiority feelings and to develop social interest. This, in brief, is the very essence of Adler’s psychopathology and psychotherapy.

Whereas the notions of fictions and fictionate goals such as holism and proactivity may sound acceptable to constructivists within the realm of personality, the concept of social interest versus striving for superiority as a criterion for mental health clearly does not. But, according to Ansbacher & Ansbacher (1956), when Adler speaks of “absolute truth,” he expresses his conviction that human beings need a reference point for orientation. We need orientation in the absence of absolute responses to guide our behavior; therefore, the “best” fiction or “working hypothesis” (Ansbacher & Ansbacher) consists in considering the iron logic of social life “as if it were absolute truth. “… We have to take into account as absolute truth the imminent rules of a group as resulting on this planet considering the limited organization of the human body and its capacity …” (Adler, 1927/1981, p. 37)

In this sense, social interest is not just a fiction, but, for Adler, the most pragmatic one, the most expedient error. Even common sense, the logical task-oriented and non-egocentric reasoning related to social interest, is not an absolute given:

“Incidentally the common sense is not unalterable. We shall observe it in continuously new turns … The common sense is nothing fixed. It is rather the sum of all psychological movements which are reasonable, generally approved, and connected with the continuance of culture.” (Adler, cited in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 149)

In other words, social interest and common sense can be seen as social constructions subject to constant changes. A neurotic individual is stuck with his or her idiosyncratic fictions and is unable to submit them to constant revisions, a process through which more adaptive ones which would reduce the gap between the self and that which is commonly held in society would be developed. Interpreting social interest in this sense, it can be affirmed that Adler does not postulate an absolute criterion of truth, but presents a view that emphasizes socially consistent accord with pragmatic value for the orientation of the individual. If the individual behaves and thinks in accord with the societal majority, that individual will be considered mentally healthy by the community!

In some expressions of constructivism and, specifically, Gergen’s social constructionism (Gergen, 1996), the emphasis is on the role of social process in the construction of meaning. Knowledge does not emerge from either within or without the individual; rather, it comes from the interaction of individuals who constantly share and negotiate their meanings. This could be seen as a midpoint view between Adler’s ideas and at least one constructivist theory. Like Gergen, Adler conceives of the individual within a social context.

In conclusion, Adlerian Psychology can be interpreted as a constructivist theory with respect to the four criteria that we have established. This interpretation puts Adlerian Psychology and other constructivist theories under a common metatheoretical roof. This conclusion confirms the benefits in maintaining an interest in Adler. In addition, it may be interesting to study the possibilities of cross-fertilization in terms of a theoretically progressive integration, as proposed by Neimeyer (1992). According to this model, psychotherapies that show metatheoretical compatibility can fertilize each other or even form a synthesis, even when they work with different strategies and techniques. Thus, it may prove useful to investigate theoretically-related ideas such as how Kelly’s Repertory Grid might be useful to elicit systematically the fictions in Adlerian therapy, or how the use of early recollections as a narrative technique might be incorporated into constructivist therapies.