A central tenet of Individual Psychology is that of understanding the purpose of behavior. This approach underlines that we are not pushed by causes but pulled by our self-created goals and dynamic striving. Adler’s view of goal-directed behavior invites the practitioner to understand the person’s behavior holistically in terms of his or her lifestyle, rather than perceiving a childhood abuse history or trau… Meer weergeven Idaho Society of Individual Psychology 3 mei · ❤ ADLERIAN TRAUMA THERAPY: PURPOSIVE BEHAVIOR ❤ Anthea Millar, M.A.
A central tenet of Individual Psychology is that of understanding the purpose of behavior. This approach underlines that we are not pushed by causes but pulled by our self-created goals and dynamic striving. Adler’s view of goal-directed behavior invites the practitioner to understand the person’s behavior holistically in terms of his or her lifestyle, rather than perceiving a childhood abuse history or traumatic events as causal to the person’s behavior (Slavik et al., 1995).
Adler (as cited in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956) stated, “It is not the child’s experiences which dictate his actions; it is the conclusions which he draws from his experiences” (p. 203). [p. 253] With this in mind, working with physical “symptoms” or sensations as described above may appear contrary to approaches taken by some other Adlerians, such as O’Connell and Hooker (1996) and Stein (2011), who focus on the person’s lifestyle and what is believed to be the underlying purpose behind presenting symptoms. Strauch (2001), in a paper offering an Adlerian reconceptualization of traumatic reactions, questioned this classical Adlerian concept that “a symptom’s use and purpose are unfailingly and automatically believed to be in accordance with a person’s lifestyle” (p. 247). He provided an alternative view of the interaction between lifestyle and the potential response to the experience of trauma: “As long as the traumatic event remains un-integrated with the lifestyle, it will be re-enacted in various situations, and it will affect a person’s psychological movement and interactions, essentially becoming a psychological tumor. Just as a physical tumor may interfere with an organism’s functioning and may divert or prevent nutrients from providing nourishment as needed, a psychological tumor (trauma) will divert a person’s goal directedness either in content or method. (p. 252)”
Presenting a case example of an adult manifesting symptoms of PTSD with an early history of childhood sexual abuse, Strauch (2001) posed the question as to “whether trauma is used according to a person’s lifestyle or whether it is an exogenous factor that results in lifestyle change” (p. 248). There has been increasing awareness of the impact of serious abuse in early infancy and childhood on the developing brain (Perry, 2009; Schore, 1994, 2003), identifying that children are more vulnerable to trauma than adults as the traumatic events may become the original organizing experience for the child. A question for Adlerians is whether this “organizing experience” is integrated into the lifestyle or, as Strauch suggested, as a “psychological tumor.” While recognizing that a person’s response to trauma will involve his or her own creative processes, Strauch returned to the Adlerian concept of holism, emphasizing that the symptoms’ purposes also need to be integrated with — and understood from — biological and social perspectives. In relation to trauma, Adler (as cited in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956) made some statements that could be construed as critically judgmental as if, by identifying that the symptoms have a purpose, Adler was blaming the client for his or her reactions. He stated: “No experience is a cause of success or failure.
We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences — the so-called trauma — but we make out of them just what suits our purposes” (p. 208). In addition, he commented that “all neurotic symptoms have as their object the task of safeguarding the patient’s self-esteem . . . he needs them as an oversized safeguarding component against the dangers which, in his feelings of inferiority, he expects and incessantly seeks to avoid in working out his plans for the future. (p. 263)” [p. 254]
However, when the purpose is understood as safeguarding behavior in not only psychological but also biological and social terms, a deeper appreciation of Adler’s theory emerges that integrates well with recent effective therapeutic approaches for trauma that emphasize the need first to ensure safety and stabilization as described earlier in this article. This is not to dismiss the creative nature of each individual. While there are common adaptive responses following a traumatic response, each person will have their own unique way to handle and make sense of the event; understanding these aspects of a person’s lifestyle is crucial. However, as discussed earlier and explored by Strauch (2001), some Adlerian practitioners may focus only on the psychological factors, overlooking the biological underpinnings of the safeguarding responses. Appreciating the biological purpose within a holistic biopsychosocial frame is particularly relevant in more complex cases where there is evidence of early trauma occurring at a preverbal and even prenatal stage. Schore (2003) noted that significant early trauma creates a dysregulation of stress signals being emitted by the amygdalae, along with a stagnation of hippocampal growth, normally essential for self-soothing. As an example, many clients with complex histories of early childhood abuse, attending my clinic, describe a pattern of hypervigilance and may manifest exaggerated startled responses.
This greater focus on somatic aspects was echoed in Perry’s (2009) work with children, which stressed the importance of initially offering more somatosensory interventions, such as massage, balancing exercises, and/or music and movement therapy, before moving on to more relational-related problems (limbic system), using traditional play therapies and verbal and insight-oriented (cortical) approaches. [p. 255] . . . Individual Psychology offers a holistic biopsychosocial frame that enables a breadth and depth of understanding in the vast arena of trauma therapy. Facing a severe threat to physical and psychological integrity may be experienced as the ultimate moment of inferiority from which a person attempts to maintain his or her well-being by “an oversized safeguarding component” (Adler as cited in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 263).
In this paper, I have aimed to present a compassionate and nonpathologizing understanding of the purpose of this “safeguarding component” and to emphasize the importance of establishing stabilization of symptoms through the therapeutic process of dual awareness. Traumatic events are unfortunately part of human experience. However, human beings also have remarkable adaptability and resourcefulness in their striving to overcome adversity, their potential for Gemeinschaftsgefühl [“social interest”] expression in even the darkest of places. [p 258] * Millar, Anthea (2013).
Trauma Therapy: An Adlerian Perspective. The Journal of Individual Psychology, Vol. 69, No. 3, Fall 2013, pp 245-261.
© The University of Texas Press. Excerpts by Carroll R. Thomas, Ph.D., October 17, 2017.