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Erikson's Psychosocial Theory of Development

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Erik Erikson was a 20th century psychologist and humanitarian, best known for his theory of psychosocial development.

Erikson was born of Danish parents in 1902, although they had separated before his birth. He was raised in Germany by his mother and his step-father, a German paediatrician who he accepted and loved as his own father. On leaving school, where his main interests had been history, languages and art, he travelled throughout Europe and studied art in Munich. Eventually, at the age of twenty-five, he arrived in Vienna where, on the invitation of an old friend, he helped to run a small school which aim was to develop new and creative teaching methods. Sigmund Freud's daughter Anna had begun to practice analysis with children and many of the children in the school were her patients or had parents who were being analysed. Erikson was drawn into their circle and eventually underwent a training analysis with Anna Freud. As part of this he worked with children, adolescents and adults. Here Erikson developed his theory on the human life span, otherwise known as Erikson's psychosocial theory of development ("Erik Erikson"1998).

Erikson's psychosocial theory of development considers the impact of external factors, parents and society on personality development from childhood to adulthood. According to Erikson's theory, every person must pass through a series of eight inter-related stages over the entire life cycle. Each stage consists of a crisis that must be faced. According to Erikson, this crisis is not devastation but a turning point of increased vulnerability and enhanced potential. The more an individual resolves the crises successfully, the healthier their development will be.

Erikson used Sigmund Freud's work as a starting point to develop a theory about human stage development from birth to death. In contrast to Freud's focus on sexuality, Erikson focused on how peoples' sense of identity develops and by how people develop or fail to develop the abilities and beliefs about themselves which allow them to become productive and satisfied members of society. Because Erikson's theory combines how people develop beliefs psychologically and intellectually with how they understand to live within a larger community of people, it is known as a 'psychosocial' theory.

Erikson organised life into eight stages that extend from birth to death. Since adulthood covers a span of many years, Erikson divided the stages of adulthood into the experiences of young adults, middle-aged adults and older adults. While the actual ages may vary considerably from one stage to another, the ages seem to be appropriate for the majority of people.

The stages are presented in the sequential order in which they unfold: trust versus mistrust; autonomy versus shame and doubt; initiative versus guilt; industry versus inferiority; identity versus identity confusion; intimacy versus isolation; generativity versus stagnation; and integrity versus despair. Each stage is associated with a time of life and a general age span. For each stage, Erikson's theory explains what types of stimulation children need to master that stage and become productive and well-adjusted members of society and explains the types of problems and developmental delays that can result when this stimulation does not occur.

The first of Erikson's eight stages is Trust vs. Mistrust (Erikson, 1963, p.247). It begins as soon as a baby is born, and ends around the time the baby is eighteen months old. In this period, a baby learns whether people are dependable or not, depending on whether or not the baby gets his or her needs met. If the needs of the baby are not met, then mistrust develops, and that carries on through the rest of the seven stages. The virtue that one should gain in stage one is hope and faith.

The second stage is Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (Erikson, 1963, p.251). Between the ages of two and three, a child is becoming an individual. Children are toilet training and building their muscles to walk. Children are learning the control that they have. If they do not get the support they need from the people around them, then they will start feeling some shame and doubt. It is essential, in this stage, to let them experiment with their control, but be there to support and guide children. The advantage is that children come out of this stage with self-control, self-discipline and determination.

Stage three occurs between the ages of four and five. It is the stage of Initiative vs. Guilt (Erikson, 1963, p.255). A child in this stage is a lot more functional. Children begin to play more, and enjoy exploring different and new materials. They start to develop

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