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Developmental Psychologist Biography: Erik Erikson Essay

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Updated: Aug 27th, 2020

There are several names in the history of psychology that are known not only to professionals but the vast majority of people. Erik Erikson is one of such well-known psychologists. His psychoanalytic theory of psychosocial development has made an enormous contribution to the study of human development. Having had Freud as a teacher, Erikson did not hide in his shade and surpassed his educator. Owing to his persistence and hard work, Erikson managed to make a profound achievement in the field of psychology and earned respect from his colleagues and followers.

Erikson’s Personal History

Erik Erikson was born in 1902 in Germany. His early years cannot be called very happy in the sense of family life. He was an illegitimate child, but since his parents were not divorced at the moment of his birth, Erik’s mother managed to give him his father’s surname (Burston 4). He was later adopted by his mother’s new husband, Theodor Homberger. However, they did not have any warm feelings towards each other, and Erikson later admitted that the situation caused him to feel “doubt, confusion, and anguish” (Burston 5). His mother’s resistance to tell him about his real father caused much psychological damage to the boy and raised his interest in finding the root of identity (Burston 10-11). Erik’s favorite subjects at school were art, languages, and history. At the age of twenty, he moved to Munich and started art school, but never finished it (Stevens 7). Five years later, Erik moved to Vienna and became an art tutor for the children from wealthy families. The parents of those children were having psychoanalysis sessions with Freud’s daughter Anna. She encouraged Erikson to learn psychoanalysis at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute (Stevens 7). At this point, his professional study began.

Professional Training

In 1933, Erikson moved to Boston and started working with Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead who studied anthropology. Their cooperation led to the enrichment of Erikson’s ego psychological, psychoanalytic, and anthropological concepts.

Erikson was a lecturer at Yale and Harvard, but quit and moved to South Dakota to work in understanding Yurok and Sioux Indians from cultural, social, and psychological perspectives (Berzoff 102). At this point of his professional training, Erikson’s greatest achievement was outlined. He started to realize that identity development was a psychosocial phenomenon (Berzoff 102). Erikson’s theory was based on the belief that there exists an epigenetic progression over each individual’s life cycle. At each of the stages defined by Erikson, the person faces an “age-specific” crisis connected with specific concern and time (Berzoff 102). The importance of social and psychological crises, according to Erikson, is in promoting the increase of the person’s potential.

After his discovery, Erikson dedicated most of his time to shaping out his theory. Meanwhile, he continued working with prominent psychologists and anthropologists and enriching his professional knowledge.

Erikson’s Professional Contribution to Psychology

Erikson’s psychosocial theory made a revolution in the developmental psychology. He was one of the pioneers suggesting a lifespan framework of human development consisting of eight stages (Sokol 140). Erikson’s achievement is significant not only for history as the modern researches are frequently based on his perspective.

Erikson’s developmental timetable is close to Freud’s theory of polysexual development (Berzoff 102). In spite of similarity, the two approaches differ in that Freud’s one ends with adolescence while Erikson’s includes three further stages (Berzoff 102-103). Therefore, Erikson’s theory involves eight stages comprising the whole lifespan of an individual and the crisis corresponding to them.

The following ages and crises were proposed by Erikson:

  • Infancy: trust vs. mistrust;
  • Toddlerhood: autonomy vs. shame;
  • Preschool: initiative vs. guilt;
  • Childhood: industry vs. inferiority;
  • Adolescence: identity vs. role confusion;
  • Young adulthood: intimacy vs. isolation;
  • Middle adulthood: generativity vs. stagnation;
  • Late adulthood: integrity vs. despair (Dunkel and Sefcek 14).

The importance of Eriksonian contribution lies in giving a possibility to examine the person’s psychosocial conduct and discern the deviations from the expected model (Berzoff 100). His study was valuable for ego psychology development.

My Personal Reaction to Erikson’s Contribution

I find Erikson’s psychoanalytic theory of psychosocial development one of the most significant discoveries in the field of psychology. It allows to see the evolution of an individual at all stages of life. While Erikson’s ideas were not purely innovative and followed some of Freud’s theories, Erikson made an essential innovation. Unlike his predecessors, he included all of the stages of people’s development. In my opinion, his idea that people have a lot to gain even (or especially) in adulthood was a really important one.


Erik Erikson’s psychoanalytic theory of psychosocial development was a great contribution to psychology. While following some ideas of other scholars, he managed to develop his theory at an absolutely new level. Owing to Erikson, the study of human development became more comprehensive. The scholar’s achievement is still applied by the modern psychologists, and Erikson’s name is one of the most recognizable in the field of psychology.

Works Cited

Berzoff, Joan. “Psychological Ego Development: The Theory of Erik Erikson.” Inside Out and Outside In: Psychodynamic Clinical Theory in Contemporary Multicultural Contexts, edited by Joan Berzoff, Laura Melano Flanagan, and Patricia Hertz, Rowman and Littlefield, 2016, pp. 100-122.

Burston, Daniel. Erik Erikson and the American Psyche. Jason Aronson, 2007.

Dunkel, Curtis S., and Jon A. Sefcek. “Eriksonian Lifespan Theory and Life History Theory: An Integration Using the Example of Identity Formation.” Review of General Psychology, vol. 13, no. 1, 2009, pp. 13-23.

Sokol, Justin T. “Identity Development Throughout the Lifetime: An Examination of Eriksonian Theory.” Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology, vol. 1, no. 2, 2009, pp. 139-148.

Stevens, Richard. Erik H. Erikson: Explorer of Identity and the Life Cycle. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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