The phenomenon of adherence, also known as compliance, is the vital link that allows effective medications to have the desired clinical effect when self-administered. It is often assumed that the population is generally adherent, but more than 50% of people with chronic illness do not take their medication as prescribed. We highlight how the terminology and language of non-adherence act to conceptualize adherence as a patient problem in a manner that is inadvertently judgmental, narrowly focused and clinically unhelpful. In contrast, knowledge of the dynamic nature of adherence promotes the conceptualization of adherence as the common problem that it is, where the responsibility for improving it lies primarily with the health professional. The example of asthma is used to highlight how individually focused clinical strategies can fit within a population perspective that, in its entirety, can be conceptualized as a framework of adherence-promoting strategies.