10 Adlerian Therapy Exercises and Activities to do with your Clients

Adlerian Therapy, also known as Individual Psychology, was developed by Alfred Adler to be used with an array of clients and presenting concerns. Adler believed that as clinicians, we can understand our clients better by learning about their goals and drives, family constellations, social contexts, and their chosen lifestyle (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). Keep reading to learn about 10 Adlerian Therapy Exercises and Activities to do with your Clients.

An important concept of Adlerian Therapy is that children who find themselves feeling inferior at a young age, to caregivers or siblings, will experience a significant impact on their development (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).  The way in which children learn to manage their feelings of inferiority, and lack thereof, can foreshadow later behaviors and attitudes.

Adler also paid great attention to a client’s birth order and the family constellation. Family constellation refers to the different roles that each person within a family has. Understandably so, we are impacted by the similarities and differences that we have within our immediate families (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).  Differences between family members provide an opportunity to see a new perspective regarding our chosen lifestyles.

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There are five psychological positions that fall into Adler’s approach to birth order. This includes oldest children, second children, middle children, youngest children, and only children (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).  Each position has its own characteristics and experiences that can impact development.

According to Adler, characteristics of a healthy and well-functioning adult include independence, being physically and emotionally self-reliant, being useful and productive, and being able to cooperate with others for personal and social gains (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). During the counseling relationship, counselors work with their clients to help them see that their faulty logic has contributed to their feelings of inadequacy and pain and that these can be overcome and they can find themselves in a healthier lifestyle (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).

There are four stages associated with Adlerian Therapy:

  1.   Establishing therapeutic rapport and determining treatment goals
  2.   Understanding your client and their concerns through the use of assessment and analysis
  3.   Reeducation, insight, and intervention
  4.   Reorientation, reinforcement, termination, and follow-up

Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit From Adlerian Therapy Exercises

A notable strength of Adlerian Therapy is that it can be used to treat a variety of mental health concerns including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).   Additionally, clients who are experiencing poverty, drug misuse and abuse, discrimination, and war can also benefit from this theoretical approach (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).

In addition to being used with a broad range of mental health concerns, Adlerian Therapy can be used in a variety of professional settings. This includes individual therapy, group therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, career development, education, training, supervision, consultation, and organizational development (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).

Adlerian Therapy Activities

Adlerian Therapy Activities can be applied to each of the stages of therapy. These activities can be interactive activities that help guide therapy sessions and promote further understanding of our clients. If you are interested in learning more about different Adlerian Therapy exercises, continue reading:

  1. If you are looking for an Adlerian Therapy exercise that can be applied to individual or group therapy sessions, focus your session on exploring and analyzing your client’s earliest recollections. Once their memory is shared, spend time processing their memory, analyzing their memory, and interpreting their memory. In closing, you can explore how these memories relate to their lifestyle and goals.  This can also be used as a journaling exercise if your client finds this as their ideal form of self-expression.
  2. The How I Remember My Family Worksheet available at TherapyByPro can be used as an Adlerian Therapy activity to explore your client’s family constellation.  This includes exploring how your client would describe their father, mother, their parent’s relationship with each other, their parent’s role as parents, and their siblings if they have any. This would be an appropriate exercise to begin exploring their family dynamic.
  3. Ask your client to identify a challenge or problem that they have been concerned about being able to manage. Once they have described the situation, ask them to imagine themselves capable of responding successfully to this problem or concern. Have your client imagine a clear and vivid description of themselves being able to manage the situation. Now your client can describe how that version of themselves would manage the situation, and encourage your client to think of themselves as capable individuals who can handle difficult situations when they find themselves struggling. Encourage your client to share their experiences using this mindset when they feel challenged in future sessions to explore its impact.
  4. Using the Push The Button Technique can help clients identify and confront negative self-talk patterns and irrational beliefs that they are living with.  This commonly used technique can help clients gain control of their thoughts and behaviors by developing healthier thought patterns and improving the way that they think about themselves.
  5. When you begin exploring your client’s family constellation and the impacts of their birth order, it can be helpful to provide them with psychoeducation about the differences between the different birth orders. This knowledge can help them further understand themselves, feel validated for their experiences, and perhaps allow them to better understand others in their lives who have a different birth order.
  6. The Misperception Log Exercise is an example of an Adlerian Therapy exercise that can work towards challenging unhealthy automatic thoughts. The worksheet available at TherapyByPro begins by describing the problem that they are facing, what it was like during that experience if they experienced disturbing thoughts or behaviors, their related beliefs, and exploring evidence that supports and contradicts their belief. Depending on your client, this exercise can be completed during the session or outside of the session
  7. With Adlerian Therapy, a piece of your assessment and analysis will be exploring your client’s priorities and their ways of behaving. With the information you have, you can then determine which of the common lifestyles your client falls into. Adler and his associates provided the following list of common lifestyles:
  • Ruling and dominating others
  • Avoiding interpersonal and other challenges
  • Pleasing and seeking approval from others
  • Controlling and managing
  • Depending on others and needing to be cared for
  • Pursuing superiority and perfection
  • Seeking achievement
  • Being a martyr or victim
  • Seeking comfort
  • Promoting social welfare and progress
  1.  The Crystal Ball Exercise can be a great tool for clients to explore how their personal goals alight with their values and aspirations. This Adlerian Therapy exercise begins by exploring what your client would like their future to look like and what has happened in their life that works towards their future goals. Your client will then be asked to identify challenges that they can experience while working towards their goal which will then lead to an exploration of your client’s strengths and attributes that can be used to manage and respond to their identified challenge.
  2. Dreamwork is another example of an Adlerian Therapy exercise that can be applied during the stages of counseling. Adler believed that dreams can be used to form stronger self-awareness for clients and provide insight for clinicians (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010). Adler believed that dreamwork should explore the emotional reaction that dreams have and how they relate to current life challenges (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2010).
  3. The Question Technique is a commonly used Adlerian Therapy exercise. The Question Technique begins by asking your client to identify a problem that they are facing, and how their life would differ if they did not have this problem. As your session progresses, you continue to explore how they would feel if this concern was no longer a problem and how their behaviors would change if it was not a concern anymore.  If you feel as though your client would benefit from having a worksheet to follow for this exercise, you could use t The Question Technique Worksheet available at TherapyByPro to guide your session. 

Final Thoughts On Choosing Adlerian Therapy Exercises For Your Clients

Thank you for reading our resource on 10 Adlerian Therapy exercises and activities you can do with your clients. Adlerian Therapy is an empirically supported therapeutic approach that has been proven to help with a variety of mental health concerns. With the diverse application of Adlerian Therapy, this can be a valuable therapeutic approach to be trained and experienced in. By using Adlerian Therapy Exercises in your sessions, you can engage your client in self-exploration and increase self-awareness.

There are some limitations to be mindful of when you are using Adlerian Therapy in your work. This can include that some individuals may not have the capacity to engage in insightful conversation for whatever reason. Additionally, some clients may turn away from the strong focus on early experiences that occurs in Adlerian Therapy. In this situation, it may be helpful for clients to learn about why Adlerian Therapy has a strong emphasis on their early childhood experiences.

If you are interested in learning more about Adlerian Therapy, we encourage you to look for training and continuing education opportunities in your area. Developing a thorough understanding of Adlerian Therapy and practicing applying it to your work are important characteristics in developing a competency that would allow you to use Adlerian Therapy in your clinical work.

TherapyByPro is an online mental health directory that connects mental health pros with clients in need. If you’re a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your practice listing here. We have assessments, practice forms, and worksheet templates mental health professionals can use to streamline their practice. View all of our mental health worksheets here.

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  • Seligman, L., & Reichenberg, L.W. (2010). Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills (3rd ed., pp. 61-75).  Pearson Education, Inc.
Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC
Author: Kayla Loibl, MA, LMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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