Human Development In Relation To Counselling

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When client’s come into the therapy room it is usually due to a desire to change, or as a result of their lives changing in some way. As counselors we must have the skills to help make sense of that change, assess its direction for the client and understand its meaning for each client.

Human development describes organismic changes that take place throughout the entire life span. It can be broken down into different aspects. Woolfolk and Nicolich (1980) describe these as; physical development that deals with changes in the body, cognitive that deals with the changes to how a person thinks throughout their lives, social development addresses how the person relates to others, and lastly, personal development is that which encompasses the changes in the personality, this integrates our complex functions and structures throughout life as received by caregivers and other relational persons.

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Understanding human development models within a therapeutic relationship will help me to make sense of an individual’s change, by recognizing that people are different, but using developmental theories as tools to understand the differences in the context of a universal human process. The concepts of human development will guide me in assessing the client’s level of functioning and the use of developmental theories will provide me with a base to understand the clients frame of reference as they move through their own epigamic journey.

There are many models of human development throughout the different approaches to counseling and having written assignments throughout my learning, I feel that personally my own philosophy relates more to the Person-Centred approach. However, I can see the relativity of the approaches stemming from psychodynamic backgrounds. Being a parent to 3 children ranging in ages between 2.5 and 11 years old at the time of writing this. I find it easy to see developmental theories in real life, not that I like to use my children as case studies but at times it is useful as part of my learning to see their development through analytical eyes.

For this assignment I would like to concentrate on Erikson’s Eight Ages of Man and Roger’s Person-Centred approach. Erikson’s Eight Stages of Man is a direct expansion of Freud’s initial theory of the Psychosexual stages. Although, Erikson found familiarity in the maturation scales, he felt them lacking in the inclusion of social aspects and the effect that might have on a person. Erikson also extended his own scale to ‘death’, as he believed that a person continued to psychologically develop throughout their whole lives and not just until adulthood. Erikson favored the belief that the progression through the stages of life are partly determined by the success we feel in previous stages. When a person grows in age and moves onto the next stage but may not have found success or positivity in the last, they would be found to have “arrested development” (Lees-Oakes, 2018). This basically means a person gets stuck and feels conflict. I have included a diagram to explain the textbook process below. This includes the approximate age range, the developmental task of the stage, who the significant others may be and the ‘virtue’ that Erikson believed would be obtained from a successful transition.

To reference a similar theory within the Person-Centred approach and its understanding of ‘self-actualization’, we have to look at Abraham Maslow’s ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ (Maslow, 1943), in which he describes 5 steps of human needs within tiers (please see figure 2). These tiers have 2 particular types, ‘Basic’ and ‘Being/Growth Needs’. Maslow explains that deficiency occurs when we are deprived of basic needs and a person will become motivated to achieve these needs as we go through life, once fulfilled our motivation decreases and moves to the next stage. As we ascend to our ‘Growth Needs’ our motivation is stimulated and increases our drive to learn, we will continue to be stimulated by things within the peak tier as these are fulfilling our own desire to ‘grow’ as a person.

Maslow refined his theory over several decades (Maslow, 1943, 1962, 1987) and said himself (1987, p68) that “the order in the hierarchy ‘is not nearly as rigid’ as he may have implied in his earlier description”. Maslow noted that the order of needs might be flexible based on external circumstances or individual differences. For example, he notes that for some individuals, the need for self-esteem is more important than the need for love. For others, the need for creative fulfillment may supersede even the most basic needs.

Adding together Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Carl Roger’s 6 Necessary and Sufficient conditions, and the 19 Propositions which Rogers describes “when taken as a whole, the series of propositions presents a theory of behavior which attempts to account for the phenomena previously known, and also for the facts regarding personality and behavior which have more recently been observed in therapy” (Rogers, 1951, p482) give a set of assumptions as to a client’s phenomenological perception of themselves, a Person-Centred counselor would aim to provide a safe and confidential environment for the client to investigate their discomforts and guide themselves to autonomous resolution.

When clients are stuck within development at different stages in their life it may cause different presentations within the therapy room, to explain this I have listed below what my assumptions would be as a result of ‘crisis’ that could contribute to a client’s attendance to therapy from the perspective of Erikson’s 8 stage model.

Development Stage Presenting Issues

  1. Trust vs Mistrust: Feelings of emptiness, Difficulty in forming and sustaining relationships, substance misuse, Issues around sexual relationships
  2. Autonomy vs Shame: Lack of self-esteem, low self-worth, shame and guilt, anger.
  3. Initiative vs Guilt: Low motivation, being indecisive, shame and guilt
  4. Industry vs Inferiority: Difficulty with peers and friendship groups, feelings of anger, shame or feelings of being an outsider, feelings of being incompetent, overall sadness
  5. Ego Identity vs Role Confusion: Conflict with teachers or parents, looking for identity within differing groups, issues around body confidence, uncertainty about leaving childhood, uncertainty about future adult roles, issues around sexuality. Most common presentation for ‘identity crisis’ as a culmination of biological, social and psychological changes within this age range
  6. Intimacy vs Isolation: Inability for the client to form relationships, feelings of frustration and loneliness, issues of attachment or feelings of existential loss, depression, anxiety
  7. Generativity vs Stagnation: Feelings of isolation, lack of productivity, lack of achievement, feelings of loss if career or family hasn’t been a part of their lives yet, depression. More common for people to present at therapy during this age group.
  8. Integrity vs Despair: Feeling of regret, loss, missed opportunities, mourning of past relationships, sadness, despair uncertainty, not being worthy or noticed, need for affirmation of quality

These presenting factors will have been caused by a deficit in the developmental process somewhere throughout the client’s stages. There are many reasons for this either social, relational or even environmental factors that could come into play. I have written my own thoughts below.

Development Stage Possible Causes of Developmental Deficits

  1. Trust vs Mistrust: Harsh environment, lacking in secure attachment to mother
  2. Autonomy vs Shame: Over critical parenting, conditional activities
  3. Initiative vs Guilt: Unsupported curiosity, controlling/restrictive parents who don’t encourage social interactions or independence
  4. Industry vs Inferiority: Lack of encouragement to explore new skills and interests, possibly bullying from peer groups creating isolation, moving school often,
  5. Ego Identity vs Role Confusion: Conflict with teachers or parents, not finding their ‘place’ or sense of identity, issues around body confidence, uncertainty about leaving childhood, uncertainty about future adult roles/direction, issues around sexuality, again bullying.
  6. Intimacy vs Isolation: Avoidance of intimacy for reasons from the previous stage or could be as a result of debilitating illness, hospitalisation or incarceration. Also, if a client has had issues with substance abuse that has resulted in deterioration of family or friendship circles.
  7. Generativity vs Stagnation: Isolation, loneliness, redundancy, bereavement, divorce, empty nest syndrome
  8. Integrity vs Despair: Feeling of regret, loss, missed opportunities, mourning of past relationships, sadness, despair uncertainty, not being worthy or noticed, need for affirmation of quality of a life lived, mortality

Looking at the two models, maturation growth comes into use within the therapy room because it allows us to see where our client’s difficulties in current time may have stemmed from. The Person-Centred model doesn’t necessarily deal with the biological age of the client, but it addresses the external influence from caregivers, society and absorbed expectations within the client’s frame of reference and their perceived needs at that time, using terms of the Locus of evaluation, adapted self and configurations of self, the person-centered approach addresses the ‘incongruence’ of the clients’ ‘organismic self’ in the same way that Erikson describes conflict and crisis.

The reason all of these factors are important, and the study of human development is useful within the counseling room is that it enables us to understand our client’s phenomenologically, existentially and in terms of social development and process (see Appendix, figure 3 & 4). This is by no means a diagnostic tool, but our resulting awareness can help towards the relational depth, and therefore effectiveness, of the therapeutic partnership. In some client’s it may be useful for them to study the models and self-reflect on their own development, this may allow them to be more focused on their chosen goals.   


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