psychosocial development

Document Sample
psychosocial development Powered By Docstoc

                                        James E. Marcia

                                   Simon Fraser University

                           Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

                       Imagine coming to Israel to talk about identity. A nation founded

because of an identity. Were I to speak about that, or about the ongoing struggles of the

identity of that nation vis a vis the identities of its neighbors, or the clashes of identities

within the nation itself, I would soon find myself very far outside of my area of competence.

                 The kind of identity I’ll be speaking about is different: it is an individual

identity formed as part of an expected developmental process and the process should be the

same regardless of the religious or political content furnished by a society at a particular

time. Infants must be nurtured, young children taught self-control, male and female sex roles

learned, and identities formed regardless of social/political contexts. Although those contexts

do furnish - and limit - the patterns available for individual growth. I shall be speaking about

a singular identity – that is, an identity formed from a synthesis of prior identifications or

roles. I think that the concept of “multiple identities” springs more from a sociological

concept of multiple roles. Here, I am referring to an individual synthesis.

       Above all, I would like this address to be useful to counselors. So, I am going to focus

more on practical implications of psychosocial developmental theory and identity theory for

counseling and psychotherapy than I am on research findings. What I can assure you is that,

when speaking of identity in particular, counseling implications arise from more than 40

years of research findings from over 500 studies in countries from Canada to Cameroon,

from Japan to Russia, from Germany to Israel and from a clinical practice in psychotherapy

spanning about that same time period.

        My talk will be divided into five main parts. First, I shall discuss briefly Erikson’s

psychosocial developmental theory. Then, I shall outline some implications of that theory for

counseling and psychotherapy. Thirdly, I shall speak about the characteristics of research-

derived identity statuses on individual identity development at adolescence and throughout

the life-span. Fourthly, I shall suggest some therapeutic strategies that might be employed

with the different identity statuses. And, finally, I shall suggest some larger-scale

intervention possibilities.

       Erik Erikson proposed a scheme for life cycle development that consists of 8

chronological periods, each marked by a crisis in ego growth, that, if resolved positively,

would provide the scaffolding for development of the succeeding stage. Basic Trust

furnishes the necessary conditions for Autonomy, Identity is the precursor to Intimacy, etc.

Under average expectable social conditions, presumably evolved to accommodate and foster

psychosocial growth, these stages will be resolved in a generally positive direction. Of

course, if that always happened we wouldn’t be talking with each other today – and most of

us would be out of a job.

       It is important when considering this chart of psychosocial development to pay

attention to two things: the “vs.” at each stage, and the negative aspect of each crisis. Erikson

has been criticized by some psychoanalytic theorists for eliminating the notion of conflict

from his theory, yet here we see that conflict is built in – each stage provides the possibility

of advancement, regression, or stasis. And the idea of each stage being cast as a psychosocial

crisis accurately captures the individual experience of conflict and struggle inherent in ego

growth. One cannot have Intimacy without relinquishing the solitary pleasures of self-

sufficient Isolation, nor Generativity without foregoing self-gratifying Stagnation.

       Consistent with some of Erikson’s comments, his developmental chart is not some

kind of stairway to mental health heaven. Firstly, the qualities attained are modest (Trust,

Industry, Integrity, etc.) and do not suggest any particular transcendent values. Secondly, and

most importantly, the resolution of any stage incorporates – does not exclude – the

“negative’ aspect of the stage. For example, it is inconceivable to have any realistic sense of

Integrity without experiencing inevitable Despair as one approaches the end of one’s one and

only life cycle. Anyone in our business of caring for others knows that periods of Stagnation

and Self – Absorption are absolutely essential in order to maintain reasonable non-driven

Generativity. So, the resolution of any stage involves some integration of both the positive

and negative aspects of the psychosocial crisis. Particularly in periods from adolescence on,

this stage resolution takes the form of a dialectical synthesis.

       Now, in terms of implications of psychosocial developmental theory for counseling

and psychotherapy, things get a bit more complex. For there are not just 8 squares, or

developmental periods, in the life cycle diagram, but 64. Every stage is assumed to have

both consequents and antecedents. Every stage appears at every other stage in some form –

the particular form being determined by the dominant issue at that stage. For example, there

is a Trust issue at adolescence when the main crisis involves Identity. Trust at adolescence

then takes on the dominant quality of that developmental crisis. Erikson suggested that

adolescents struggle with a “trust of time” – that is, whether or not they will ever grow

together again after the disruptions of puberty, whether there is a viable future worth waiting

and preparing for, whether or not there are any values to which they can subscribe that will

stand the test of time.

       The meaning of the form of this diagram for us as counselors and therapists is three-

fold: it suggests that any unresolved stage can be remediated; it furnishes some guide as to

the content of that remediation; and it allows for the precocious resolution of stages to come.

If we see a young adult who is struggling with Intimacy, we can ask ourselves if this is just

an Intimacy issue or whether it might have roots in a previously unresolved stage, say

Identity. If so, we can then work on Identity development – but always remembering that it

is identity development within the context of Intimacy. So, the question for us becomes:

What does Identity look like in the context of Intimacy? This approach of dealing with

previously unresolved stages becomes more challenging the earlier the unresolved

psychosocial issue. It is certainly far easier to deal with an Intimacy issue when the main

difficulty is Identity than when the main difficulty is with Basic Trust. For if the focus must

be on Trust, then we are dealing with a “baby” issue in the context of a young adult. How do

we maintain respect for the individual’s current chronological position and at the same time

address a problem that stems from early childhood? Those of us who have had the dubious

pleasure of working with borderline personalities are well aware of the challenge. But what

Erikson’s theory suggests is that opportunities for resolving such previously unresolved

issues do exist at every developmental stage. The therapeutic challenge is to fashion

interventions that will address earlier issues within the current developmental context. As to

the how of this, both Erikson, and I are silent. That is up to the counselor’s creativity and the

client’s strengths and limitations. But, in this example of Trust issues at Intimacy, we know

that nurturance, predictability, and regularity are going to be important. As concrete as a

piece of cake or coffee with milk at every session? Perhaps. But, of course, the psychological

“atmosphere” is most important.

       With respect to precocious resolution, I am reminded of a recent, fine, movie – “Juno”

– about a teenage girl who finds herself pregnant. She must deal with issues of Identity (she

says in response to her father, “I don’t exactly know what kind of girl I am”), Intimacy,

(what to do with her boyfriend – what kind of relationship are they to have – with or without

the baby?), and Generativity (what to do with the baby in her belly who is daily growing?).

As she says, “I think that I’m dealing with issues way beyond my maturity level.” And, of

course, she is. But the theory suggests that there are possibilities for some kind of resolution

of both Intimacy and Generativity issues even at adolescence when the “main event” is

Identity. But, again, these matters must be dealt with considering both the resources (such as

energy, enthusiasm, hope) and limitations (such as lack of experience, absence of a

confirming, socially supportive context) available at adolescence. Again, this poses a

challenge to the counselor’s creativity as well as their own psychosocial development.

       Before I leave the “big picture” of general psychosocial development I’d just like to

reiterate the main points: there is a schedule of normal expectable psychosocial development

consisting of crises in ego growth whose resolution incorporates both positive and negative

aspects; every stage occurs at every stage – and this means that previous stages are

remediable at any subsequent stage; as well, stages not yet expected to be encountered can

be at least partially resolved precociously.

       Now, I should like to focus on Identity. Although we have developed measures of

Eriksonian stages extending from Industry through Integrity, the work on identity has been

the most extensive. By identity we mean a self-structure that gives individuals an ongoing

sense of who they are based upon whom they have been and whom they can imagine

themselves being in the future. In attempting to see if Erikson’s theory could be empirically

supported, we differentiated four identity statuses, ways in which any late adolescent or

emerging adult might be found to be dealing with the Identity vs. Identity Diffusion

psychosocial issue.

       These identity statuses are determined by the two process criteria of exploraton and

commitment in three life domains of occupation, ideology (composed of religion and

politics), and relationships (covering

sexuality, gender roles, dating, etc.)

       Based upon these criteria, the four identity statuses are Identity Achievement,

Moratorium, Foreclosure, and Identity Diffusion. I shall describe the defining characteristics

of each status as well as drawing a descriptive picture of each based upon empirical findings

and clinical experience.

       These persons have undergone a period of genuine exploration and are committed to

occupational, ideological, and relational positions. They function at higher levels of moral

reasoning, are tolerant of ambiguity, and they think well under stress. They are more capable

of intimacy than persons in the other statuses. They appear solid, directed, yet flexible.

When faced with information disconfirming their committed beliefs, they consider it

thoughtfully and may change their directions if persuaded of viable alternatives. They are

generally easy to be with, have a sense of humor, and can suspend self-concern in order to be

concerned for others.

       Moratoriums. Moratoriums are currently in crisis. They are struggling to find

positions to commit to. These are the persons referred to when one speaks of “having an

identity crisis”. They, too, like Identity Achievements, exhibit high levels of moral

reasoning, and are tolerant of ambiguity. Their cognitive functioning, while high, is the most

variable of the statuses. Their capacity for intimacy does not match that of Identity

Achievements and they tend to have briefer, more intense relationships. They seem

somewhat pre-occupied with Oedipal issues, their relationships with their parents being

highly ambivalent. At their best, they are engaging, intense, and questioning of authority.

However, they are also the most anxious of the statuses and can sometimes be exhausting to

those close to them whom they tend to engage in their identity struggles. They vacillate

between extreme concern for others and total self-absorption.

       Foreclosures. Foreclosures are strongly committed to their positions, but these have

not been arrived at via exploration. Rather, Foreclosures have adopted those beliefs and

values that have been bestowed upon them by authority figures. Knowing a Foreclosure at

age 11, one would have a pretty good idea of their occupational and ideological positions at

age 20. They tend to function at “law and order” levels of moral reasoning, are not

particularly tolerant of ambiguity, and attend to identity-relevant information according to

whether or not it confirms their pre-existing beliefs. They are consistently highest among the

statuses in endorsement of authoritarian values. They are cognitively rigid, especially when

it comes to personal or ideological issues. Their relationships tend toward the stereotyped.

They are dependable, consistent, and generally “happy”. Their relationships with their

parents are quite positive. While they are positively concerned with those similar to them,

they are rejecting or disinterested in those dissimilar to themselves.

       There are two variants of Foreclosure that I shall describe briefly: negative identity

and “exclusionary” identity. Negative identity refers to persons who become exactly the

opposite to what early authority figures had in mind. Usually this is seen in socially negative

terms (the rabbi’s daughter who becomes a prostitute), but not necessarily. An example of a

negative identity might also be a Mafioso’s son who becomes a crusading attorney,

relentlessly prosecuting the Mob. In both cases, the identity is determined by early authority


       “Exclusionary” identity is identity based upon a “we and they” mentality, wherein

the “we” are the truly human and the “they” are some variety of sub-human. It is an identity

based upon creating an “other” who can be demonized and whose punishment or eradication

is sanctioned because they are both different from and less than we are. This concept is

similar to Erikson’s notion of “pseudo-speciation” – the creation, for identity-defining

purposes – of a group against which to define oneself. While such an exclusionary identity

might be chosen after an exploratory period, it is unlikely because of the thoughtful weighing

of alternatives involved in genuine exploration. Exclusionary identity is much more likely to

be psychologically inherited - bestowed upon the individual by parental/cultural

transmission of prejudices - and then rigidly adhered to. It is this kind of foreclosed identity

that accounts for much of atrocities that we commit upon each other. It may be the case that

some exclusion is involved normally in the formation of the first identity. That is, it is

necessary to say who one is not as well as whom one is. However, this first identity is just

that – the first. And the scope of whom one sees oneself as – the referent for the pronouns I

and We – is expected to broaden in adulthood with each successive identity reformulation.

The more rigidly exclusionary that first identity is, the more difficult successive identity re-

formulations are.

       Identity Diffusions. Although there are varieties of Diffusion, they share in common

a lack of commitment and meaningful exploration. At higher adaptive levels, Diffusions are

whatever it seems advantageous for them to be in the moment. At more pathological levels,

they are emotionally remote, solitary, and almost schizoid. My discussion here concerns

more the former, better adjusted, group. They are the lowest among the statuses in level of

moral thought and cognitive complexity. They seem to process identity-relevant information

almost haphazardly, endorsing mutually contradictory statements about themselves. Notably,

they feel that they have not been validated by, and cannot emulate, parental figures,

especially those of the same sex. Their relationships are shallow and uninvolved. They may

appear either insouciantly happy or profoundly depressed. Responsibility tends to be

externalized and their main concerns are with themselves and their own pleasure. While

there is a kind of Identity Diffusion that can be adaptive in a rapidly shifting cultural context,

this is usually a chosen position and, hence, not exactly the failure in identity formation

usually associated with Identity Diffusion.

       Before I discuss interventions relevant to the different identity statuses, I should

make clear that identity does not get done once and for all at adolescence. It is most relevant

at late adolescence because this is the first time that the necessary physiological, cognitive,

and social expectational factors are present. Societies expect, and adolescents expect of

themselves, that the young person will make occupational and ideological commitments that

will bridge the gap between dependent childhood and mutually-interdependent adulthood.

This development occurs, hopefully, within a confirming context – one which acknowledges

the individual’s unique abilities and needs and provides appropriate demands and rewards. It

does no good to encourage identity development in a social context that contains few viable

occupational and ideological niches. In that case, probably the best that can be hoped for is


       Identity development does not stop with late adolescence, but continues throughout

the lifespan. Hence, there is an identity issue to be resolved at each life cycle stage

succeeding adolescence. The first identity is not the last. Following Piagetian principles of

assimilation, disequilibraton and accommodation, the formation of an identity at late

adolescent guarantees subsequent identity crises as one moves through Intimacy,

Generativity, and Integrity.

       First, I shall describe possible intervention strategies with the different identity

statuses and then discuss a more macro-intervention strategy for identity development in


       Identity Achievement. Those who have formulated their first identity following an

exploratory period need little in the way of remedial developmental work. Usually they can

benefit from information relevant to their goals. They are pretty much on track and need only

a bit of support and realistic guidance. It might be wise to forewarn them that more identity

crises are likely to follow in the course of their life cycle, but to then assure them that they

are as well prepared to meet these as they could be expected to be.

       Moratorium. Moratoriums are the most likely of the statuses to come in for

counseling or therapy. They are in the middle of a very uncomfortable situation and would

like some direction and sense of peace. It is tempting for the counselor to provide this for

them. However, the struggle that they’re engaged in is necessary, expectable, and potentially

productive. The counselor or therapist must resist the urge to support one or the other sides

of the Moratorium’s ambivalences. That is, the Moratorium is likely to present the counselor

with a one-sided view of alternatives in the (often unconscious) hope that the counselor will

articulate, reasonably, the other side. This removes the internal struggle from the client and

converts it into an external dialogue, often an argument. The counselor’s goal should be to

keep the conflict where it belongs: within the client. The counselor should help Moratoriums

to articulate both sides of the ambivalence and to support them through the anxiety this

occasions. The Moratorium must know that the pain they are undergoing is meaningful and

that we, the counselors, will support them through it with the confidence that they will

emerge eventually with the solution best suited to them. Not our solution, All of us know

that it is not easy to sit through another’s pain. But when that pain is meaningful, “sitting

through it” is, ultimately, the most useful thing we can do.

       Foreclosure. Working with Foreclosures is a very delicate task. They usually come in

for therapy only when their neatly-constructed world has begun to disintegrate. Perhaps their

occupational plans have been derailed by failed required courses. Perhaps they have been

rejected in a love affair. Perhaps they have fallen in love with the “wrong” person. In any

case, the counselor must be careful not to launch a wholesale onslaught on the client’s

usually rigid and unthought-through beliefs. To do so is not just to strip the person of a

source of self-judging, self-punitive sanctions, but also to strip them of a source of self-

esteem. That is, you may succeed in extirpating what makes them feel badly about

themselves, but you also remove what makes them feel good about themselves. The

standards they’ve tried to live up to may be rigid and unrealisitic, but at least they are some

standards, and acting in accordance with them has yielded the person some sense of self-


       Working with a Foreclosure requires an initial alliance based upon those values

shared between the counselor and the client. These might include genuinely shared values

such as “hard work”, “loyalty”, “principled behavior”, etc. From this initial alliance, the

counselor can then work toward a gradual loosening of the Foreclosure’s rigid, impermeable

stance. The idea of “optimal disequilibration” is important here. Just enough challenge to set

the person thinking. And then the counselor can provide support as the Foreclosure enters a

Moratorium phase. If disquilibration is done too quickly, or too totally, one risks a person

emptied of values, direction, and a source of meaningfulness – a recipe for suicide. Hence,

working with a Foreclosure involves a kind of psychotherapeutic seduction. Often holding in

abeyance criticism of beliefs that the therapist may find personally repugnant. However, there

is usually something in the Foreclosure’s belief system with which the counselor can identify.

This provides the platform for further, gentle disquilibration and subsequent identity


       Identity Diffusion. I shall speak here of only two types of Diffusion: the “carefree”

and the “disturbed”. The carefree Diffusion usually comes in for counseling because someone

else has become disturbed by them: teachers or parents who feel that they are “just not living

up to their potential” or “just seem to have no direction”. This kind of Diffusion does not

want to be in counselling. The initial sessions may constitute a kind of “shock therapy”

wherein the counselor delivers a well-timed “zinger” or two. These are challenging,

apparently off-hand statements that may get the carefree Diffusion’s attention and create the

anxiety necessary to begin to question their uncaring stance toward themselves and others.

E.g., “Yeah, so I guess you’re just one big nothing, hunh?”; “So, you don’t give a shit and

neither does anyone else?”; “Just a loser, eh?” If the counselor is successful in creating some

anxiety, then the door is open for empathy and a therapeutic alliance. At that point the often

long reconstructive work can begin. And the therapist must be prepared to become the caring

and selectively supportive parent the Diffusion has lacked.

       The “disturbed” Diffusion comes in not just anxious, but usually depressed and

despairing. They already sense an inner emptiness and the counselor will need to become a

figure whom the Diffusion can internalize. This necessitates a re-parenting position. Neither

Rogerian nor classical psychoanalytic theory are especially useful here. Rather, object

relations/self psychological approaches are called for. Counselors, themselves, have to

become self-objects or figures who can become internalized. One cannot count upon the

internal resources possessed by the other three identity statuses. The therapist will have to

become that external resource whose interactions with the person can be internalized to build

or repair a fragmented self – and eventually to go on to build an identity.

       Are the above suggested interventions the best that we, as counselors and therapists,

can do? Probably not. But that is conditional upon resources and, frankly, political will. I

think that the best we can do is to provide identity-building programs in our schools. This

would involve something like discussion groups led by informed teachers trained and

supervised by counselors.

       Our schools are settings in which a number of life cycle issues are being resolved

simultaneously: Identity for our young people, Intimacy and Generativity for our teachers and

counselors. While the most narrow focus may be on individual adolescents, the broadest, and

ultimately most efficient, approach is to take into consideraton all members of the school

community. Imagine teacher group meetings led by school counselors. Such meetings might

have as their initial focus some problem adolescent. Teachers would share their concerns and

offer solutions based upon their experience. As group dynamics develop, teachers’ own

concerns will emerge. At the same time as the “problem” is being addressed, so, too are

teachers’ issues with each other and with the school setting. Teachers are to be treated with

respect and care for their own psychosocial development. Intimacy needs are addressed as

teachers come to realize that they’re “all in the same boat” and that they are partners in an

essential developmental enterprise. Teachers’ Generativity development is enhanced as they

find themselves becoming more effective with their students on a level deeper than specific

course material. As teachers become more confirmed in their Intimacy and Generativity, they

become more effective in facilitating students’ Identity development. It may be that the best

way to care for students is to care for teachers.

       In most school systems, the only people who are going to initiate such broadly-based

programs are counselors. Principals are busy with administration; teachers are busy with

lesson plans. Counselors can either put out fires one at a time (the intervention techniques

I’ve suggested above) or they can institute fire prevention programs – educating teachers to

foster identity development and, in the process, facilitate teachers’ own psychosocial

development. From personal experience, I know how idealistic and difficult such a

community mental health perspective is to realize. But if such a perspective can be adopted,

then perhaps gradual moves in that direction can be taken.

        Let me close by affirming the importance of the work that we do. As mental health

practitioners, we are expected to be knowledgeable about human development and to be able

to facilitate that development. If we are successful, we can impact our whole society. But we

are often so over-committed and hampered by lack of resources, by political obtuseness, and

by opportunism that we despair of closing the gap between what we could do and what we

can do. What theories like Erikson’s and the identity statuses provide us is a kind of road map

of where to go, for ourselves, for our clients, and for their contexts. While we seldom can

complete the journey, at least we can keep the map in mind and be guided by its overview.

       This talk has focused primarily on our clients. But all of us know that our first

obligation is to care for ourselves. Only that will leave us able to effectively care for our

clients. As we strive to facilitate identity development in our youth, it is important for us to

remember that Generativity begins at home – with self-care.

                                 Figure 3 – Identity Statuses


CRITERIA – Exploration and Commitment

AREAS – Occupation, religion and politics (ideology), sex roles, sexuality, etc.


1)          Identity Achievement
2)          Moratorium
3)          Foreclosure
4)          Identity diffusion

                                                      Level of Exploration

                                                   High                                Low

                        High          ACHIEVEMENT                         FORECLOSURE


                        Low                 MORATORIUM                             DIFFUSION