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  • Writer's pictureDale V Wayman, PhD

Guessing Method

Conjecture, or educated guessing, is used to narrow the field of probability in order to uncover the goal of client movement. The term “stochastic method” is derived from the Greek, stokhazesthai, meaning to aim at, to guess at, in order to hit a target (stochos). The guessing method as Adler practiced it is a way to approach an understanding of the hidden and private sense of the neurotic client or misbehaving child. Adler’s avoidance of abstruse scientific terms and his elevation of common language in all his expressions is illustrated here. He saw guessing as the basis for intuition, admiring the intuitive achievements of poets and other artists in the portrayal of character. He also recognized guessing as a commonplace, noting that “everyone makes use of it constantly in the chaos of life, before the abysmal uncertainty of the future” (p. 329).

Because each of us operates out of unexamined assumptions and convictions, no one of us knows the truth about another, and because Individual Psychology is a subjective psychology, we can claim no objective truth about a person apart from his or her own opinions and attitudes. The client is sovereign as concerns his or her own life. Adler and Dreikurs recommended offering suggestions in the form of questions or tentative hypotheses, such as “Could it be . . . ?” If in response there is a recognition reflex, client and counselor have an opening to explore further. The therapist may also offer line-by-line guesses or hypotheses in the process of the interview. This approach to understanding — guessing, followed by the corrective of the client’s reflexes and responses — is known formally as the stochastic method.

Correct guessing is the first step toward the mastery of our problems (p. 329).

In all . . . [your] explanations and interpretations you have to use your experience, you have to use Individual Psychological views, and you have to guess (Adler, 1979, p. 145).

You have to guess but you have to prove it by other signs which agree. If you have guessed and the other signs do not agree, you have to be hard and cruel enough against yourself to look for another explanation (Adler, 1979, p. 162).

Correct guessing distinguishes especially the man who is a partner, a fellow man, and [who] is interested in the successful solution of all human problems (p. 329).

Truth will sooner come out from error than from confusion (Bacon, F., 1620, Aphorism 20, Book II).

© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 48).

Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on


Adler, A. (1979). Superiority and social interest: A collection of later writings (3rd Rev. ed.). (H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). New York: Viking Compass. (Original work published 1964)

Bacon, F. (1620). Novum organum: The new logic or true directions for the interpretation of nature [Electronic version]. Retrieved April6, 2007 from

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