Two Theories: One Ideal


Alfred Adler (1870-1937), the founder of Individual Psychology, created the Society for Individual Psychology in 1912. He was notorious for being a showman, often working with clients in front of large audiences. Alder believed that the requisite for a good life rested on a sense of superiority and control. Adler believed that we have five goals that needed to be addressed in a life, which he labeled life tasks: love, work, friendship, self, and spirituality. Adler indicated that these needs were based on our role in the community and upheld the notion that people need to engage with others to feel fully at peace and to fulfill these needs. His work became so popular that by 1952, the Adler Institute in Chicago was founded.

In 1965, William Glasser wrote his first book entitled Reality Therapy and opened his first institute under his own name three years later. Glasser was influenced by the ideas of Adler and theories related to internal control and motivation. Today, reality therapy is now called choice theory or choice therapy. Choice theory’s foundation centers on basic needs that we all desire: survival, love, belonging, power, freedom, and fun. Glasser indicated that love and belonging were primary. According to Glasser, each person is responsibility for fulfilling these needs in his or her own life.

While Adler and Glasser disagreed on how to actually get these needs met, they did agree that we must lose the idea that things “happen” to us. Rather we needed to begin to think that we happen to things – that we have control and choices over our lives, not the other way around. We are responsible for our own choices. We are responsible for getting our own needs met.

Glasser believed all responsibility of choice lay within the individual, whereas Adler acknowledged that, sometimes, options can feel, and actually can be quite, limited (Petersen, 2005). Sometimes, it is hard to see the choices, but they are there. One thing we simply cannot do is blame others for those choices. Both Adler and Glasser claimed that the notion of passing off blame just simply didn’t help.

Mental illness is seen by both Adlerian and Choice theories as simply behaviors of inferiority and unsatisfied needs. Wary of any sort of actual labeling, both Adler and Glasser considered mental illness a choice by the client, whether subconscious or conscious, that actually benefited the client. Such illnesses are used as a tool to get whatever we need or want at the time.  In this respect, such things as anxiety, depression, and mania are purposeful and needed. Yet, they are also ineffective and tend to cause more harm than good. Very controversial theories, indeed. But they raise some interesting thoughts.

At the time of Adler’s newfound theory, not much was known about abnormal behavior – it was considered simply a neurosis. Today, so much more is known about the genetic and hereditary links to abnormal behaviors, yet Glasser holds fast to the idea that it is still a choice of sorts, insisting that medicinal interventions are not needed (Corey, 2005).

Glasser’s choice therapy works toward treatment goals that teach clients to make substantial choices in order to satisfy their needs and relationships in a productive manner.  Adler’s theory does the same but with a much larger stress on social interactions. Both theories tout the need for defining relationships and working toward understanding our own specific needs. By recognizing what our needs and life tasks are and then working toward fulfilling them, both theorists believed that mental illness could be eliminated. Encouragement and education are seen as important parts of the process, as well as focusing on what the client needs in order to be well.

So, can we eradicate mental illness by focusing on life tasks and fulfilling our own needs? Adler and Glasser seemed to think so.

My thoughts?

I have seen clients work hard to find their way back from depression, anxiety, trauma, and all sorts of illnesses, mental and physical. Some take medication and some do not. Does it eradicate the symptoms, the illness, the reason that they come seeking help in the first place? I cannot say with all certainly that it happens this way every time. People are different and to assume that they will all manage their symptoms the same way and that they all stem from the same place is not quite fair.

What I do know with all certainty is this: Adler and Glasser were on to something. When a client comes to see me, they often are overwhelmed, exhausted, unsure, and want to change something.

Because something doesn’t feel right, doesn’t seem right, doesn’t look right.

Something is off.

How we discover what that is is by focusing on those needs that are unfulfilled, those life tasks that have gone unmet, the thoughts and choices that they are making now as well as then and how they have affected their past, their present, their future. Often, the real work is figuring out what a client needs. Some clients have never given themselves an opportunity to consider this.

Once that work begins – discovering their needs, taking choice into their own hands, finding out what needs to happen, and how to get it – well, that is when and where symptoms start to drop away.

A wonderful thing begins to happen. They find that life is not happening to them, they are happening to life.


Corey, G. (2005). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. (7th ed.) Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

Petersen, S. (2005). Reality therapy and individual or adlerian psychology: A comparison. International Journal of Reality Therapy. 14(2), 11-14.

The Path to the Self


I realize whatever concept or theory I write about today may just as easily change tomorrow. Throughout my college and professional career, the ideas and concepts have continued to transform and grow, ultimately shaping the science of psychology as well as my own practice. I also know that whatever I ultimately focus on based on the theories and constructs I honor, may work one day and not the next, based on the path my client and I are walking. I will continually go back to the drawing board based on that path, time and time again. I expect to never stop learning and studying, and because of this, I am sure my approaches and ideals will change as time goes on, as they have in the past.

I am very fond of Adlerian theory, as well as feminist theory, and I also appreciate the very convoluted and intense teachings of Freud and psychotherapy. I love behaviorism and how we are in a dance with our environment. I love cognitive psychology and how we are destined to be driven by our own thoughts. And how fun is Gestalt? Working with the “in the moment” process brings about a playfulness and awareness that no other therapy can manage as effectively. There are so many wonderful theories and ideas to choose from. For me, it’s like candy. I want to try them all. My students make fun of me when I teach psychological theories. When I introduce a new one, I say, “This one is awesome, it’s my favorite!”

Adler discussed the idea that we all have feelings of inferiority – we all want to become something, to be important in our own lives. Feminist theory really tells us the same thing but in a different context – that we are worthy to rise above whatever social constraints there are to be the important people that we truly are meant to be. Freudian theory is awesome too – the time taken to delve into dreams and the self? What a wonderful gift to the self. The very thought of sitting on a couch, away from the world, and just talking to find out where it leads. To let the mind be free enough and open enough to explore? What a powerful thing! Few of us let ourselves do that.

Therapy based on the science of psychology is a way to appreciate the self for what one is, what one has been, and what one can be. I think we owe it to ourselves to take the time to do that, whatever theory or science guides us. While each theory is unique, they do have one thing in common – a simple respect for the journey.

Science respects the journey.

Thus, the thing to remember?

You are on a journey. Respect the journey and yourself as you walk along it.

And will the journey takes twists and turns and change and grow?

Damn straight it will. Keep walking. A discovery is on the horizon.

Unhealthy Anger and Violent Aggression: Break the Silence


I have been studying unhealthy aggression in males and females and the need for preventative anger management within families for a long time. What I’ve discovered is there are differences between the sexes and throughout different cultures in regards to anger (Fischer & Evers, 2011). The way men and women not only handle unhealthy anger but keep it secret creates a wall of silence and prevents us from truly talking about and finding ways to stop it.

Our approach to men and women in terms of unhealthy anger is based on societal expectations and rules. Men who are angry are often forgiven for their anger as it is often seen as a type of machismo. They lash out. Men are allowed – even expected – to get angry until it hurts someone or creates some sort of visible damage (Copenhaver, Lash, & Eisler, 2000). For women, anger is simply not acceptable. Women are allowed to cry, to show fear, to become upset – yes. However, true anger displayed in a woman is seen as something entirely different than it is in a male (Blincoes & Harris, 2011). Women lash in. Carol Tarvis, author of Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion explained that women learn very early in their lives to internalize their anger, which often displays as depression.

This isn’t just American culture, either.

For instance, Egyptian women are taught to conform in the face of patriarchal violence – the lash out but only toward other females (Yount, 2010). They often blame other females for any abuse in a relationship. When interviewed, female family members of women who are victims of male lashing out indicated that the woman “deserved” the abuse (Yount, 2010, p. 48). It is not uncommon to be physically struck for being lax with wifely duties, talking behind a partner’s back, or confiding in a mother or sister. In order to evade mistreatment, Eygptian women must avoid or prevent the aggression, keep it secret, and remain obedient (Yount, 2010). This is not much different from the United States. We just tend to have a bit more shame about actually believing this is okay (Jakupcak, Tull, Roemer, 2005).

Regardless of being female or male or the culture in which we are raised, there is a taboo and an anxiety in talking about such things as domestic violence, unhappiness in the family, or uncontrollable unhealthy anger. Shame, fear, and feeling like we are the only ones keep us silent. But, the silence is deafening.

Studies indicate over 40% of partners slap and hit each other on a regular basis (Santrock, 2009). Over 1 million women per year are victims of physical assault by intimate partners (National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 2012). Although much smaller in numbers, men are part of these statistics as well. Over 4% of men have been injured as a result of intimate partner violence (IPV) that included rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner and 1 in 7 men have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

These are only the men and women we know about, not the men and women that remain hidden and silenced.

Unfortunately, social policies in regard to damaging anger are not prominent in the United States and there are very few preventative measures in place. They are even more lax and often nonexistent in other parts of the world. Hafkin (2004) indicated that the ideals of one’s home life, such as the want and need for privacy, thoughts on parental and spousal rights, and the desire for what is often a false sense of family stability prevent many social policies from becoming reality.

The secrets remain.

If you are a part of this secret, please speak out.

In the U.S. and Canada: Call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-888-799-7233.

In the U.S.: Call Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project at 1-800-832-1901.


Blincoes, S., & Harris, M.J. (2011). Status and inclusion, anger, and sadness: Gendered responses to disrespect. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41(4), 508-517. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.811

Copenhaver, M.M., Lash, S.J., & Eisler, R.M. (2000). Masculine gender-role stress, anger, and male intimate abusiveness: Implications for men’s relationships. Sex Roles, 42(5-6), 405-414. doi: 10.1023/A: 100705030538

Fischer, A.H. & Evers, C. (2011). The social costs and benefits of anger as a function of gender and relationship context. Sex Roles 65(1-2), 23-34. doi: 10.1007/s11199-9956-x

Yount, K.M., & Li, L. (2010). Domestic violence against women in Egypt. Sex Roles, 63(5), 332-347. Doi: 10/1007/s11199-010-9793-3

Jakupcak, M., Tull, M.T., & Roemer, L. (2005). Masculinity, shame, and fear of emotions as predictors of men’s expressions of anger and hostility. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 6(4), 275-284. Doi: 10.1037/15249220.6.4.275

Feminist Theory: It’s Not a Cult, It’s Your Wake Up Call


“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.” Gloria Steinem

Feminist Theory is a theory that is near and dear to my heart.  Women’s studies was my minor in undergrad and I have been involved in feminist issues for years.  I actually met and had lunch with Gloria Steinem and thought I had died and gone to heaven. To say that she is a goddess in my eyes is an understatement.

Johnson & Ferguson (1990) wrote: “No theory can be of real use to a woman unless it takes into account both a woman’s very individual story of growing up to be her self and the shared experience of living in a male dominated society” (p. 45). Feminist theory takes the stance that women are in need of empowerment.  It also takes the attitude that education is key to a woman’s awareness of her own defined place in the world. It also takes the position that women are not alone.  Feminist theory gives women the tools and the knowledge to call forth what has always been inside them, yet has never been acknowledged.

Women are defined within the context in which they live, whether they know it or not. To think about the ramifications of such a notion can be startling for many women. When these ideas were first brought to my attention, I scoffed and thought that the whole idea was crazy.  I was not affected by my social surroundings, nor was my social context and how I lived my life as a woman important to how I was feeling inside. Whew, was I wrong.

Pick any context or structure – religion, family, politics, work, relationships, media, medicine, gender, psychology – a struggle has been fought for a women’s place in all these things.  Some have been won, some have not.  Even among women themselves, cultures clash and misunderstandings ensue. This comes as a shock to most of us until it is brought to our attention.  Feminist theory is not shy about making sure women understand the many differences in class, race, culture, and historical position amongst women and how important it is to work within these differences for change.

For instance, historically, religion has exercised a consistent subordination of women to a male authority (Groothuis, 1994).  Often, in the family structure, women are stuck between or amongst being a good mother, a strong role model, a productive and successful worker, a happy and pleasurable wife. We must be agreeable yet not a pushover, strong yet not a bitch, productive but not a threat, a good mother but not overbearing. In politics and work, we seem to still be struggling to find a place of acceptance without backlash. In relationships, we are still being beaten and raped and made to feel weaker and less than.  In media, we are told to be skinny and beautiful and perfect, regardless how inane that is realistically, airbrushing and starving to death not excluded. In medicine, women have been locked up for years, drugged to stay quiet, deemed crazy by men in authority.  The feminine ideal of gender is imposed on us from the moment we are born – by wearing pink and being given dolls and play stoves in preparation for our predetermined future.  Even in the field of psychology, women have struggled to be taken seriously and only by making our own theories have we been freed to embrace ourselves as something more than a case.

The term “hysteria” was penned as a disorder that took hold of single, middle class women such as Florence Nightingale and Alice James. Symptoms included not wanting to marry or succumb to men’s ideals (Humm, 1989).  bell hooks (1994) said it best: “In our culture, women of all races and classes who step out on the edge, courageously resisting conventional norms for female behavior, are almost always portrayed as crazy, out of control, mad. “ (p. 207)

This is what women have dealt with forever, and some are so used to it, it is deemed normal.  It is not questioned; in fact, it is even argued against by the very women who are subjected to it.

This happens to women on a daily basis. They find themselves in abusive relationships and think it is normal. They think something is wrong with them, not the one abusing them. They keep it a secret. But, somehow, somewhere, they know this life just cannot be right.  Women – friends and teachers and therapists – can tell them but they cannot grasp the enormity of it all. Trying to understand how enmeshed one is in a patriarchal social construct is a hard pill to swallow.

Gloria Steinem once said “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn. With knowledge and awareness, comes understanding.  We are woman and like it or not, we are in the midst of it all.  We must force ourselves to look at everything that is around us in order to understand who we are and what our  place is in it all.  We must acknowledge the fact that in order to make change we have to be a part of that change. We must learn self-empathy, which iss a totally different concept for most women.  As women, we are very empathetic to others, but not to ourselves (Jordan, 1991). Learning these things for the first time can be mind boggling. In taking on this way of thinking, women can be typecast – made out to be the bad partner, the outcast in a socially dysfunctional, familial ideal of women and their place in relationships passed down from generation to generation. By surrounding one’s self with the teachings of other women and the importance of self empowerment to create change – that is what feminist theory is all about.

That is what we need to share with women who have been trapped on this merry go round. Those who may have been raped or abused, passed over for a promotion, gotten that look from a male colleague, feel guilt and shame, or know simply that something, something, just doesn’t feel right. Share the ability to being self empowered.  How to stand up and say no. That it is never too late to make a change. That there are other women who will support them and nurture them. That by having one more woman stand tall, change will happen.

Feminist therapy is different from other therapies in the fact that it looks outside oneself for the betterment of all. Jaggar & Rothenberg (1993) discuss the need for feminist theory because it understands “the plights of individual women as connected with each other, as instances of systematic subordination rather than the results of coincidental misfortune” (p. 49).

Feminist theory was not bred by one man with one idea, as many theories in psychology were. It was created from a combination of ideas and thoughts of many different women from many different cultures and walks of life. It was brought to life out of need. It was bred from a society that had no place for women or black men or men of minority. It is different in the sense that it is fluid – constantly changing and evolving to accommodate the new generations, along with the ever present need to understand and learn from the past. It thrives on positive changes in the community and in the family. It thrives on empowerment and the gift of empathy.

Feminist theory is about a collective movement, for all people. Sisterhood, brotherhood, humanhood. We got this.


Groothuis, R. M. Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War Between Traditionalism and Feminism. Eugene, OR: WIPF & Stock Publishers.

hooks, b. (1994). Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representation. New York: Routledge.

Humm, M. (1989). The Dictionary of Feminist Theory (2nd ed.). Columbus: Ohio State University Press:.

Jaggar, A.M. & Rothenberg, P.S. (1993) feminist frameworks (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Johnson, K. & Ferguson, T. (1990).Trusting Ourselves: The Sourcebook on Psychology for Women. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Jordan, J.V, Kaplan, A.G., Miller, J.B., Stiver, I.P., Surrey, J. L. (1991). Women’s Growth in Connection. New York: Guilford Press.

Drinking: History and Education 


My son is fifteen and I am teaching him how to drive. He is right around the corner from being out of my grasp and it terrifies me.

A smart man I once knew named Dr. Cargiulo said, “We teach kids how to drive. We don’t teach kids how to drink” (Laureate Education, Inc. 2008). As my son reaches that inevitable party age, I am pondering how to teach my child all the things I wish he did not have to learn.

History has taught us that there are good and bad ways to teach about alcohol. For instance,  with the implementation of prohibition, the objective seemed to be for the good of the people, but it created much backlash. The intent was to get men to go home to their families instead of stopping off at the local pub and causing mayhem in the streets (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). However, as Dr. Cargiulo explained we “can’t arrest our way out of a chronic disease” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). The only thing prohibition did was make drinking more desirable and less available. It not only drove up the price but the crime rate. It gave organized crime a way to meet the needs of the people and control the revenue all at the same time (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008). By the time it was repealed, many people were already drinking after discovering how to make their own.

The fact that alcohol was initially considered helpful, and then later deemed destructive, and then not harmful again (or, at the very least, uncontainable) enough to control it legislatively has led to a lot of confusion regarding society’s relationship with alcohol. We went from supplying our soldiers in the Civil War with flasks of hard liquor and believing in its medicinal purposes to making it illegal (Smith & Stevens, 2009). We then figuratively threw up our hands in defeat and said “whatever” and made it legal again. Of course, we have laws that try and curb our drinking ways, but since it’s not considered an illicit drug or narcotic, and that fact that it is incredibly accessible, it is the cause of more harm than good. Even our laws from state to state are confusing.

In Bozeman, Montana, you are allowed to take whatever alcoholic beverage you have left when the bar closes and get it in a “to go” cup to take home with you (yes, I did this). However, you can be put in jail for giving a moose alcohol in Alaska (Hanson, 2009). Go figure.

The fact that alcohol is not considered a controlled substance and is not part of any type of drug control treaties (Bullington, 2004) speaks volumes in just how uncontrollable this  issue is. The restricted growth of cannabis, coca, and opium poppies are of major concern (Bullington, 2004) and have led to many international policies and discussions. However, the fact that alcohol related crashes are the leading cause of death in adults from 16-24 or that it has addictive properties has not been enough to raise international concern to such a level as other these other drugs (Stevens & Smith, 2009). The American Public Health Association (APHA) has called for a treaty quite similar to one called Framework Convention on Tobacco, but thus far there is nothing in place (Join Together, 2006). Many over zealous figures, such as George Hacker, and numerous coalitions, such as the American Counsel on Alcohol Problems, have tried but failed to bring the ideals of prohibition back (Hanson, 2009; Join Together, 2006).

Neo-prohibition is not the answer. History has taught us that such laws lead to even bigger problems. And the various laws and ideals from state to state do not help much in regards to lessening the confusion about alcohol and its effects.

Education is the key. Understanding the continuum of alcohol use and abuse and teaching our children early about the ramifications of drinking as well as how to drink responsibility should be at the forefront of our minds, right along with teaching math and reading. Teaching your kid how to drive responsibly? Teach them how to drink responsibly, too.


Bullington, B. (2004). Drug policy reform and its detractors: The United States as the elephant in the closet. Journal of Drug Issues, 34(3), 687–721.

Hanson, D.J. (2009). Alcohol Problems and Solutions: It’s the Law!  Retrieved March 9, 2011 from

Join Together (2006). APHA Seeks International Treaty on Alcohol. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2008). Substance abuse counseling. Baltimore: Author.

Stevens, P., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Substance abuse counseling: Theory and practice (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.