Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
According to Adier’s (1932) Individual Psychology the inability to belong or to connect with others results in pathology. In this essay the author presents several case studies that highlight the need to belong as a primary issue in therapy. The case descriptions include therapy with an individual, a couple, a client with addiction issues, a cross-cultural couple, and a mother and daughter-in-law. The case materi- als presented in this article reveal that individuals with psychological disorders can lessen their psychopathology by learning more effective methods to promote belong- ing. Adlerian methods and interventions to promote belonging are discussed.
In Adier’s (1932, 1991) Individual Psychology every child is born with the need to belong and with the ability to connect with others. Acquiring the methods of connecting involves a learning process. This kind of learning is the key for well-being. It is essential that one belongs and is connected to three significant groups in one’s circle of life. I expand Adier’s descrip- tion of the life tasks (Dreikurs, 1950) to refer to these significant groups as being family, friends, and work associates. Feeling a sense of belonging to these groups is the primary universal issue of mental health. Individuals with psychological disorders can lessen their psychopathology by learning more effective methods to belong. Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
This article reflects my many years of counseling and therapy from an Individual Psychology perspective (Shifron, 2006, 2008). My clinical experi- ences have shown me the universality of the need to belong, and I believe this paper offers an exceptional opportunity for clinicians from different theoretical approaches to learn more about Adier’s optimistic and brilliant perspective. Adier’s Individual Psychology is based on the conceptualization that psychopathology results from the lack of feeling belonging. This is an optimistic view, because the absence of feeling belonging is a curable situ- ation. According to Adier’s theory (Ferguson, 2006), every individual makes choices. In this paper I focus on the belief that every individual is capable and creative and that by making different kinds of choices, each person can learn how to feel belonging. Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
Throughout my work with clients over many years, each individual or couple presented unique problems. However, there was a common theme among a majority of them. The hidden goal for most of them included the
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Adier’s Need to Belong: Mental Health 11
desire to belong. This hidden goal was identified in many instances when exploring clients’ early recollections and dreams. I found the need to belong surfaced among couples, parents, children, and siblings. I found a similar need to belong with friends and in the work setting. I discovered many cre- ative and diversified ways that individuals use to meet this need to belong. In therapy an important process was for clients to learn whether the creative methods they chose were effective or not, and whether they could use their creative abilities to choose more effective methods to feel belonging. Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
To understand Adier’s concept of belonging, I find it helpful to remem- ber the concept of holism. In a holistic system, the whole is a dynamic, moving, developing, growing, creative system. It operates through the inner links within all parts of the system. Each part has a specific role or place that enables the other parts to operate and to move. The movement is the consequence of the interrelations and the contributions of each part. In a holistic system the cooperative interactions of the parts constitute the whole. “The organism is more than the sum of its parts and if these parts are taken to pieces the organism is destroyed . . . these parts are in active relations to each other” (Smuts, 1926, p. 101, as cited in Linden, 1995, p. 254).
In Individual Psychology the individual is a whole system, but the indi- vidual is also a cooperating and interacting part of larger systems, like the family, the community, and the universe. A sense of belonging is essential in order for one to feel that he or she is an actively contributing part of the larger whole. This feeling, that one belongs and that one has a place in the larger systems, is achieved when one is encouraged and appreciated for one’s special talents and creative abilities. An individual who feels be- longing feels valued and significant, and the person will contribute his or her best to society. That contribution represents social interest (Ansbacher, 1991 ), that is, a concern for and commitment to the welfare of the commu- nity. Adler characterized
the socially useful type as prepared for cooperation and contribution in whom we can always find a certain amount of activity which . . . is in agreement with the needs of others. It is useful, normal, rightly embedded in the stream of evolution of mankind. (Mosak, 1991, p. 316) Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
Adler emphasized belonging as the primary factor for the individual’s and the community’s mental health. Mosak (1991) wrote, “Closeness is a tran- scendent variable. It encourages people to look outside of and beyond themselves to the need of others in the community and of the community itself. It encourages the feeling of intimacy, empathy, and identification” (p. 315).
Recently, I conducted workshops on Adierian psychotherapy in Cam- bridge, England. My hostess, Anthea Millar, described a project by Foresight Science Future with the following information that was published in the
12 Rachel Shifron
London Times. The project was led by Felicia Huppert (2008), professor of psychology at Cambridge University, and it was intended to improve men- tal well-being. The project was included in a “well-being” report, compiled by more than 400 scientists, sent to the British government. The research proposed to encourage behavior that will make people feel better about themselves. The researchers concluded that they found five categories that can make profound differences in people’s well-being. They named the pro- gram “five a day”:
1. Connect with people. 2. Be active—do physical activities with others. 3. Take notice—be aware of sensations around you, be in the state of Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
mindfulness. 4. Keep learning—as a way of rebooting the mind to experience joy in
the here and now. 5. Give—committing an act of kindness each day is associated with
an increase of well-being.
For those following the work of Adler, it is a welcome finding that his ho- listic psychology that emphasized belonging is actualized in reports about well-being to the British government, many decades after Adler first wrote about the importance of social interest and the feeling of belonging.
In this essay, I focus on belonging as the primary variable in clients’ mental health. I discuss case studies with the focus on the clients improv- ing the ways they cope with life through increasing their social interest and through gaining feelings of being accepted and belonging. The issues I ad- dress are as follows:
Belonging to the family of origin—identifying creative methods used to secure the feeling of belonging.
Belonging in a couple relationship—examining the complexity of cul- tural differences in basic norms and values as these relate to the feeling of belonging. Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
Belonging to the world of work—considering the need to maintain a balance between work and family.
Readers familiar with Adierian psychotherapy know that early recol- lections provide rich clinical material (Manaster & Mays, 2004; Shifron & Bettner, 2003). I employed this technique extensively to explore the impor- tance of belonging in many of the cases reported. For me, early recollections are a type of metaphor. They reveal lifestyle (Ferguson, 2006) as well as the individual’s current emotional situation. The use of early recollections is an accurate and quick method to discover the person’s feelings of belonging and the creative methods the person uses in order to feel belonging. All names and other personal data were changed completely for confidentiality.
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Case Studies: Individual Therapy
The Creative Contributor. The need to belong is so strong that some in- dividuals excessively seek to please others. These individuals invest much of their energy in pleasing, helping, and rescuing their family members. They often feel that their “membership card” of being a valued and accepted per- son is valid only through their being available to others at all times until they become exhausted. This may lead to creative solutions for seeking rest. An example is “Pamela,” who is in her 20s. She is a student who works in her free time, and she is the youngest of four siblings. Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
The presented issue, as she stated, was that she suffered from anxiety and “unrealistic fears.” Her relationships with men were complicated in that she was attracted to unreliable men who were not interested in her, and she was not attracted to those who showed her care and affection. From an Ad- ierian perspective this is an excellent method to avoid intimacy.
A thorough analysis of her lifestyle, which included early recollections and dreams, disclosed that in order to feel that she belonged in her family, she had chosen behaviors that made her feel that she was needed at all times by her parents and siblings. In psychotherapy, she gradually under- stood, through our work with her early recollections and dreams, that in order to gain recognition she often neglected to take care of her own needs in favor of the needs of others. She also became aware of the fact that it was almost impossible for her to ask for help. She perceived her mother as a helpless woman. Pamela was her mother’s caretaker, and she strove to excel in being a caretaker Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health