Critically Evaluate Erikson's Psychosocial Theory

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Erik Erickson is possibly the best known of Sigmunds Freud's many followers. He grew up in Europe and spent his young adult life under the direction of Freud. In 1933 when Hitler rose to power in Germany, Erikson emigrated to the United States and began teaching at Harvard University. His clinical work and studies were based on children, college students, victims of combat fatigue during World War two, civil rights workers, and American Indians. It was these studies which led Erikson to believe that Freud misjudged some important dimensions of human development.

Throughout this essay, Erikson's psychosocial model will be explored, discussed and evaluated interms of it's concepts, theories and assumptions. The theoretical underpinning will be discussed with reference to the nature versus nurture debate and also the continuity versus discontinuity argument. It will then be shown how Erikson has influenced the way psychologists view the importance of identity during adolescents. Firstly, however, Erikson's work will be put alongside that of Freud's to establish an understanding of the basis from which it came.

Erikson's psychosocial model was heavily influenced by Freud, and shares a number of central ideas. For example, both Freud and Erikson agree that every individual is born with a number of basic instincts, that development occurs through stages, and that the order of these stages is influenced by biological maturation (Sigelman, and Shaffer 1992). Erikson also believes, as did Freud, that personality has three components: the id, the ego, and the superego. Therefore it is fair to say that Erikson is a psychoanalytic theorist.

However, Erikson does argue that social and cultural influences have a critical role in shaping human development, and less significance should be placed on the role of sexual urges. Freud did note however, that social agents such as parents should be regarded as important, but it is Erikson who highlights the forces within a much broader social environment, including peers, teachers and schools which are highly important according to Erikson. Erikson, then, moves more towards the ‘nurture' side of the nature - nurture debate than did Freud, viewing nurture as equally important in development. This ‘nurture' outlook highlights the emphasis on environmental forces within Erikson's model. Experiences in life, changes achieved through learning, the influence of methods of child rearing, societal changes and culture all have an exceptionally important role on human development according to Erickson.

In addition, Erikson's theory encompasses the whole of the human life-span, outlining the stages that occur, which will be looked at more closely later on. Erikson also regards the individual as having responsibility during each stage of development and that they also have the opportunity to achieve a positive and healthy resolution to the ‘crisis' experienced. Erikson, therefore, puts less emphasis on the id and instead places more emphasis on the ego. In his view, human beings are rational creatures who's thoughts, feelings, and actions are largely controlled by the ego and it is the ego's development in which he is interested in.

Before we go any further it is important to look at Erikson's psychosocial model in more detail in order to understand the following evaluation.
Erikson's model consists of eight stage of development, with each stage unfolding as the individual goes through the life cycle. Each stage consists of a ‘crisis' that must be confronted. The term epigenetic principle was used by Erikson to describe the process that guides development through the life cycle. Within this it is urged that everything that grows has a blue print, each having a special time of ascendancy, until all of the parts have arisen to form a ‘functional whole' (Siglemann and Shaffer 1992).

It has been attained that Erikson's psychosocial model consists of eight stages of development which continue...
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