Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Fictional Final Goal

Developed by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

The following Classical Adlerian quotations are from the Adlerian Translation Project Archives at the Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington (AAINW/ATP). Selected works of Alfred Adler, Kurt Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Sophia de Vries, Anthony Bruck, Erwin Wexberg, Alexander Neuer, Sophie Lazarsfeld, Ida Loewy, Ferdinand Birnbaum, and other Classical Adlerians have been collected, translated, edited, and converted into electronic text. All of this material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein at

Alfred Adler:

"Every psychological activity shows that its direction is governed by a predetermined goal. However, soon after a child's psychological development starts, all these tentative, individually recognizable goals, come under the dominance of the fictitious goal, a finale that is regarded as firmly established. In other words, like a character drawn by a good dramatist, the individual's inner life is guided by what occurs in the fifth act of the play.

This insight into any personality that can be derived from Individual Psychology leads us to an important concept: If we are to understand the nature of an individual, then every psychological manifestation should be perceived and understood as only preparatory for a particular goal. Everyone develops a final goal, either consciously or unconsciously, but ignorant of its meaning."

(From a new translation of "Individual Psychology, its Premises and Results" in The Practice and Theory of Indiviual Psychology, by Alfred Adler, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.

Kurt Adler:

"For Adler, all thinking, willing, feeling and acting of every person was always directed towards a goal which that person had constructed himself as the ideal of what he should be, what people should be, and what his relations with others should be. All partial and realistic goals that a person pursues are always in that line, in that direction and towards that goal. And it is this goal, therefore, that determines a person's thinking, feeling, willing and acting"

"This principle of goal-directedness became one of the main tenets in Adlerian psychology and in Adlerian psychotherapy. As a consequence, an Adlerian therapist asks himself, when he first sees a patient: Where does the patient want to go? What does his action or lack of action aim for? What does he believe his symptoms will achieve for him? And when the therapist has achieved a fair idea about that, his patient will eventually and gradually have to be appraised of all these ideas too. This will show the patient not only his responsibility for his actions and for his symptoms, but also will tell him that only he can make changes, that only he can effect a cure."

(From "Socialist Influences on Adlerian Psychology," by Kurt A. Adler, New York, 19th International Congress of Individual Psychology Budapest, Hungary August 1 - 5,1993, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.

Alexander Mueller:

"Individual Psychology's theory of the goal orientation of spiritual-mental and physical manifestations is needed in order to comprehend the problem of man's responsibility.

'Every spiritual phenomenon, if it is to provide us with an understanding of the person, can be seen only as preparatory for attaining a goal' (Adler). We see man as a unity and as goal oriented; all his spiritual powers are in the service of the guiding idea, the perception of the goal.

Just to maintain his existence, man has to establish goals. The necessity for man to select and to decide can be understood only in light of attainable goals. The question is also posed in the psychic - spiritual region: What does a person want to be? toward what does he strive? The goals that he pursues are indivisible from his attitude. He sets his goals in accordance with his attitude toward himself, his strengths, toward other people, and toward the world.

Just as a person's attitude can be hidden from him, i.e. unconscious, so can his true goals. This can often lead to the impression that the human psyche is a field replete with inconsistent, even contrary strivings. Although the unity of the psyche has not been sufficiently explored, experience has demonstrated very clearly: when being dominated or possessed by whatever is perceived to be alien to the "I", man is a partner - "when man permits himself to be dominated by his passions ..." (Berdyayev). We are not dominated by anything, but we can allow ourselves to be captured by something and thus be made into an object. Feelings, forces, powers apparently can break into our conscious life autonomically and slow it down, paralyze it, or negate it. They will seem to be overpowering, because man cannot admit to being possessed by them since they are contrary to his self-ideal or touch his feelings of self-worth; or his behavior and activities can be carried on only when the goals are left in the unconscious, hidden."

(From the translation of an unpublished manuscript, "Principles of Individual Psychology," by Alexander Mueller, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Sophia de Vries:

"Identifying or explaining a lifestyle, is not enough. A person has to know in which direction his lifestyle moves--what is his personal, fictional final goal. We know very well that every movement that a person makes, psychologically, is directed by a goal. You do not make a movement just out of a clear blue sky, without a goal." (From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar given by Sophia de Vries on 3-5-80, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"Man is always seen in motion, constantly on his way. Consequently the question arises: "Where is he going?" If we know where a person is going, we can understand why he is moving the way he is moving. In other words: we understand his behavior." (From "Some Basic Principles of Adlerian Psychology," in the "Individual Psychology Bulletin," Vol. 9, 1951, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"Everybody sets himself a fictional final goal that is usually hidden. According to Adlerian theory, people who have developed social awareness and social interest, will set up a goal that includes the welfare of other people--that serves, not only themselves, but mankind. Patients, you find, always have a fictional goal that serves only themselves. They are preoccupied with their own welfare." (From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar presented by Sophia de Vries on 3-19-76, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Franz Plewa

"It is the task of the therapist to show the patient other ways than that of his psychological dead end, and to show him that, even if he would reach his goal, at that moment he would see that it is a miscalculated goal." (From a translation of "The Dream as the Key of Character" (Der Traum als Schlüssel des Characters), a lecture by Dr. Franz Plewa, presented February 27th 1939.)

Karl Nowotny:

"The psychotherapist has to understand the inner life of his patient in its totality. He has to uncover the invisible and latent goal, to which all actions and utterances are adapted. If we know the "guiding line" which is leading the patient to his imaginary goal, we will understand why he contradicts "the logic of reality". Therefore, the therapy induces the patient to give up his mistaken inferiority feeling and his unattainable aim of life and to choose instead of this the adaptation to the challenge of reality."

"Certainly, the patient will first tell us his feelings; but to us, feelings are not arguments, because they always will correspond to the final goal of the patient. That's the reason, why we always consider them as something which we eventually have to interpret."

(From a new translation of "The Technique of the Individualpsycholoigcal Therapy," by Karl Nowotny, in "Handbuch der Individualpsychologie," edited by Erwin Wexberg, 1926, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Henry Stein

"Many therapies help clients correct mistaken ideas, and encourage people to move in more positive directions. However, it is the degree of precision, in uncovering a unique, hidden, fictional final goal that makes the Classical Adlerian approach so artful. The fictional final goal functions as the organizing principle in the personality. That principle of the whole directing the parts sounds simple, but applying it to each unique case is not always so easy. The fictional final goal is normally hidden and unconscious, and is often covered by a misleading counter-fiction. Usually, it takes exposure to hundreds of full case analyses to gain a sufficient appreciation of the diversity and nuances of fictional final goals. Strong cognitive skills of analysis and synthesis are not enough--artistic empathy and intuitive guessing must also be finely tuned. Treatment planning can be very shallow without this knowledge, like blowing away smoke (the symptoms) without putting out the fire (the goal)." (From the transcription of an audio tape of distance training course DT401: "Basic Case Study," in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

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