Through the Bible, there are many philosophies that Christians can practice and apply to
their daily lives. Many of these philosophies are also skillfully used by non-Christians whether they are conscious of it or not. Remarkably, there are many similarities between Adlerian
Psychology philosophies and biblical philosophies. Adler learned from many different sources to progress his ideas for his theory of Individual Psychology.
Adler was raised Jewish and later converted to Christianity. The motive is not known why he converted to Christianity. It seems he believed the Christian doctrine, or it could have been for other reasons. Adler was not measured a spiritual man, but he was reverent of religious beliefs, language, and practice. Adler thought spiritual fictions were necessary to appreciate the truths that would not otherwise be available through scientific investigation. Adler thought his theory to be of an investigational one. When counseling spiritual clients there may be the lack of theological training on the part of counselors and mental health professionals. Even though counselors are open to religious issues, knowing how to approach this subject with clients is important. Of course, those counselors who are not spiritual may also feel uncomfortable talking with their clients about religion.
The benefit of Adlerian Psychology is that many of its principles overlap with
biblical/Christian principles. Therefore, conservative Christian clients are more apt to feel
comfortable seeing an Adlerian counselor as opposed to seeing a counselor whose beliefs
contradict their own. Adler believed that people should have the freedom to choose their life paths (Adler, 1964). This fits well with biblical principles. Through the Old and New Testaments, the Bible speaks of a person’s right to choose and the consequences of those choices. For example, in the book of Genesis, chapter two, God created Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam that he was able to eat of the fruit of any tree in the garden but the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God also told Adam that if he ate from that tree, he would surely die. God then created Eve because he said it was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).
The most substantial area of common ground between biblical principles and Adlerian principles is the relationship perspective. Adlerian Psychology is relational psychology. Adler (1964) called this concept of his theory “social interest” (p. 135). Social interest as defined by Adler is seeing with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another person, to feel with the heart of someone else (Adler, 1964). Adler (1958) believed that an individual’s mental health was associated with his or her level of social interest. He noted that the meaning a person is contributing, he or she feels a sense of value and self-worth. This, in turn, gives the individual more confidence and permits him or her to be optimistic and remain so. In the same reason that Adlerian Psychology is relational psychology, Christian spirituality is a relational spirituality, and the foundation for Christian teachings are found in the Bible.
The Bible focuses on relationships and affirms that human beings have a three-fold relational responsibility to God, to others, and to themselves. For example, in chapter 19 of the book of Exodus, the Lord spoke to Moses about wanting a relationship with the Hebrew people whom he had delivered from the Egyptians. These Hebrews had gone out from the land of Egypt and were camping at the bottom of Mount Sinai waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain where he had gone to seek God. Within chapter 20 of the book of Exodus, the Word of God tells us that while Moses was still on the mountaintop, the Lord spoke to him about the Ten Commandments. As the Lord spoke the Ten Commandments to Moses, the Lord also wrote the words on tablets so that Moses could bring these tablets to the people who were waiting at the base of the mountain. It is thought-provoking to note that all of the Ten Commandments are relationally focused.
Adler’s contribution to the study of forgiveness is explained as the relationship between forgiveness and social interest. Scholars of forgiveness who have ignored Adler’s theory believe that empathy is vital to good forgiveness. Two important attributes of social interest are forgiveness and compassion. He thought that developing a social investment as a therapeutic goal to forgiveness is essential for counselors to recognize. Forgiveness is emerging as an area that clinical and developmental psychologists are investigating. Because forgiveness psychology is described as prescientific, there have not been robust empirical studies to support the claims that forgiving others brings inner healing. On a positive note, Individual Psychology has much to offer forgiveness psychology. Adler’s theories of lifestyle development, striving for superiority, and the importance of belonging are valuable concepts that support models of forgiveness.
Adler (1964) believed that empathy was at the core of social interest and is the key
through which the transformation of a person’s identity occurs. Adler (1964) described social
interest regarding empathic understanding. He stated the following: By social excitement or social feeling, we understand something different from that which other authors understand. When we say it is a feeling, we are certainly justified in doing so. But it is more than a sense; it is an evaluative attitude toward life.
One more biblical instance of empathy and forgiveness can be found in John, chapter
eight. Jesus came to the temple on the Mount of Olives, and many people came to hear him
teach. As Jesus sat down and began to explain, the Pharisees and scribes took a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the very act of adultery. The Pharisees knew that the Law of Moses commanded that she be stoned to death. Therefore, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus what he had to say. Jesus knew they were testing him and were looking for grounds to accuse him. Jesus responded, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NASB). When they heard this, each of them left one by one beginning with the older ones. So then, Jesus and the woman were left alone. Jesus said to her “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you? And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11, NASB). In the above Scriptures, Jesus is not only showing his empathy and forgiveness for this woman, but he is also communicating to others that rehabilitation is more important than condemnation. In Romans 8:1, it reinforces this point: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (NASB).
Encouragement is one of Adler’s essential principles for helping people to change.
Adler defined encouragement as having “courage with activity plus social interest” (Adler, 1964). According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English, Language
encouragement is defined as “the act of encouraging, the state of being encouraged, something
that encourages” (Random, 2001). The root word ‘encourage’ is defined as “to inspire
with courage, spirit, or confidence” (Random, 2001).
Adler’s concepts and spirituality integrate well together. Adler (1954) believed that each person is unique, and that uniqueness is the existence of his or her soul. It is through encouragement that a person’s soul, as well as their mind and body, are nurtured. Encouraging others also helps them to achieve their purposes. The typical thinking among different Philosophers is that encouragement is communicated by listening and understanding, being nonjudgmental, remaining patient with others, instilling faith and confidence in the person and his or her abilities, recognizing effect, focusing on effort or improvement, and focusing on strengths and assets. To communicate to people that they are valued is the essential nature of encouragement.
Adler (1964) stated that a person’s lifestyle, the way a person thinks, sees, and feels
toward life, is adaptable until an issue arises that a person is not adequately prepared to handle.
In life, Adler believed that there were three main challenges that people must confront. He
referred to these as the three tasks of life: the work task, the social task, and the loving task.
Alfred Adler was the creator of Individual Psychology, also known as Adlerian
Psychology. Other prominent individuals helped contribute to the work of Adlerian Psychology
as well. It is apparent from the discussion of this paper that the similarities between Adlerian
principles and biblical principles are significant.
This information is helpful for Adlerian counselors who are working with Christian clients. Counselors who are not familiar with biblical principles may find it beneficial to educate themselves when working with Christian clients. Overall, Adlerian Psychology is a relational psychology that involves treating the “whole” person. Therefore, it is suitable for working with all client’s Christian clients, clients of other religions, or clients who are not religious. All of these clients can be encouraged by Adlerian counselors to pursue their individual goals and reach their ultimate potential.