Eriksons Shift to the Psychosocial Level

Freud had also sketched a developmental theory for psychoanalysis. Built upon his view of the primacy of the intrapsychic id and its bodily source of energy, this theory focused on psychosexual development. For Freud, "sexual" means more than the usual notion of genital sexuality; it is a more general dynamic expression of bodily energy that manifests itself in different forms at different developmental stages. The adult (genital) stage of sexuality, reached at puberty, is the culmination and completion of one's psycho-sexual development. Preceding that development, Freud saw four pregeni-tal stages of psychosexual development: the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, and the latency stage. Hence, for this theory of psychosexual development, each stage is centralized as a stage by a particular expression of sexual or erogenous energy. In each stage there is a particular mode of the bodying forth of this energy as desire, manifested by the unique bodily zone that becomes the erogenous zone of that specific stage. It is seen as erogenous because of that bodily zone's capacity to be especially susceptible to stimulation or arousal, such that it becomes the prime source of bodily satisfaction and pleasure at that stage.

Erikson concluded that this psychosexual level was a valid but incomplete portrait of development. More than other proponents of ego psychology, he sought to work with Freud's emphasis on the bodily zones while striving to include that vision within a larger, more encompassing framework. Erikson theorized that each bodily mode correlated with a psychological modality, one that implicated the person's developing ego relations with the world. In particular, he emphasized one's relations with other people as the most important "profile" of the world. He saw the psychosexual meaning of the various bodily zones grounded by changes in the person's social existence at each stage. For that reason, Erikson named his approach a theory of psychosocial development and argued that the growth of the ego could not be reduced to changes in bodily energies. He demonstrated how the psycho-sexual dimension always implied a key human relation at the heart of each stage, and so the interpersonal could not be reduced to some intrapsychic cause but was itself the basis for the actual development of that stage.

The significance of this shift from the psychosexual level of development to the psychosocial one was enormous, but it can best be appreciated in the context of its depiction of each of the particular stages. One other impact was also strikingly noteworthy. Whereas Freud's theory of psychosexual development saw the process as coming to an end with the person's arrival at the genital stage (with puberty), Erikson realized that the growth of the ego in psychosocial development does not end there but continues in subsequent stages throughout the person's life. In that way, he also transformed developmental psychology from its origins as merely a child psychology into a truly life-span psychology, a revision now widely accepted.

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