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Foundational Theories of Human Development Paper

Foundational Theories of Human Development Paper

Human development is a dynamic process encompassing physical, cognitive, and psychosocial alterations throughout the lifespan of humans. Its complexities have invited the creation of varied perspectives and theories to understand these changes and how they influence human interactions. Theoretical frameworks on human development are an amalgam of scientific postulates and psychoanalysis, with past and present theorists weighing in on how circumstances around humans and their intrinsic personalities contribute to their well-being and interactions. Notwithstanding, these theories remain insightful in learning human behaviour. They stimulate the applications of scientific provisions in various social programs and policy-making processes and perpetuate scientific vision for humans. The work of notable theorists such as Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, and Margaret Mahler has considerably shaped human understanding of their development. This paper compares and contrasts theories of human development posited by these theorists.

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Freud and Erikson’s Theories

Widely referred to as the father of psychoanalytic theories, Freud’s theoretical postulates gave a multipronged approach to human development. As per Freud’s psychosexual theory, a child’s development follows a series of stages centred on the pleasure areas of the human body, such as sexual interests. Conflicts that characterize each developmental stage influence their personalities and behaviour even in their adulthood. According to this theoretical postulate, early childhood experiences have the greatest impact on human behaviour, and an individual’s personality and behaviour are set by their fifth birthday (Yeung, 2021). On the other hand, Erikson’s psychosocial developmental theory is an eight-staged theoretical postulate that describes growth and changes that characterize human development, with emphasis on inter-stage conflicts and social interactions, as well as how they impact personality (Maree, 2021). According to Erikson, human development occurs from infancy to death, and the developmental conflict at each stage acts as a turning point toward shaping behaviour.

Both theories focus on the role early childhood experiences play in human development. As evident in Freud’s and Erikson’s theories, development begins in early childhood, and early experiences will shape human behaviour and personality. These theories, however, differed on several fronts. Freud’s theory centered on the significance of basic needs and human pleasures in human development, but Erikson’s theory focuses more on the influences of environmental and social factors on human development. In this regard, Freud’s theory paid attention to a child’s primary sources of pleasure, such as feeding, sucking, ladder control, and the role of libido in shaping personality. Erikson, on the other hand, emphasized the impact relationships and social interactions have on human development. The eight stages proposed by Erikson are factors of human relationships and interactions and include trust, autonomy versus shame, initiative versus guilt, identity, intimacy, and others. These theories also differ in their scope. While Freud’s theory suggests that personality is mostly shaped by age five, Erickson’s psychosexual theory views human development as a lifelong process that starts in infancy and ends in death.

Adler and Mahler’s Theories

The Adlerian theory highlights the need to have a sense of belonging and overcome an inferiority complex for personal happiness and success. It focuses on holism to emphasize the indivisible nature of human personalities and how these personalities are influenced in the social context. As per this theory, humans are social beings. Their cognitive orientation is shaped by their early experiences and influenced by their social settings and family constellations (McCluskey, 2021). On the other hand, Mahler’s theory of separation-individuation is based on the psychological process of human individualization. This theory posits that a child’s developmental process is healthy when the child can gradually separate from the mother. This route toward autonomy and independence is crucial in adaptation and is the hallmark of human development (Moon & Bahn, 2022). This process begins in early childhood and follows the processes of differentiation, practice, rapprochement, and consolidation.

Both theories detail the significance of early childhood in human development. While the Adlerian theory narrates how human behaviour will be influenced by whom they relate and interact with during their childhood, Mahler’s separation-individuation theory details the impact of these relationships on separation and individualization. The theories, however, differ in their approach to parental influences on human development. Whereas the Alderian theory maintains specificity on the role of family constellation on an individual’s personality and consequent behaviour, it does not explain how these interactions contribute to individuation. Mahler’s theory explains individuation as a significant part of development and proceeds to explain the nature of relationships that promote or discourage individuation.

Similarities of All Four Theories

Freud, Adler, Erikson, and Mahler’s theories highlight aspects of human development. There is a consensus in all of these theoretical postulates on the influence of early childhood experiences on personality and behaviour development. In addition, all four theories assert the impact of the parent-child relationship in shaping the personality of an individual.

Perspectives That Have Better Appeal

The psychosocial approach to human development posited by Erikson is more appealing to me than Freud’s postulates. It is simple and clearly explains the role the environment has on human behaviour. Through this theory, deviant behaviours that are seen in adulthood but were otherwise absent in childhood can be explained and understood.

How the Alderian Theory Can Be Applied to Group Counselling

The Adlerian theory is centred on the holistic understanding of personality and human behaviour while emphasizing an individual’s directed behaviour change. Adlerians, in this respect, believe that individuals maintain responsibility for changes in their lives while recognizing environmental influences. A supportive environment will encourage individuals to progress positively and realize the required change (McCluskey, 2021). This forms the basis of group counselling. By providing a supportive environment where individuals feel safe and less threatened, individuals develop a sense of belonging and feel accepted and valued. Cooperative groups, in group counselling, foster trust between the participating members and nonjudgemental acceptance. Outcomes in individuals attending such group sessions will likely be better as they are ready and willing to open up and establish a framework for resolving their issues.

Potentially Useful Concepts to Nurse Psychotherapists

The concepts outlined detail various aspects of human development with an emphasis on behavioral and personality development. Integral to nurse psychotherapists is the ability to understand human behavior. The Erikson theory best explains human behavior. This theory details all aspects that interplay in personality and behavior development during the entire lifespan of humans. Findings from this theory can help nurses determine environmental factors that play a role in human development and how best to address them.

Why Nurse Psychotherapists Should Understand Developmental Theories

Developmental theories give an insight into the complexities surrounding human development. These theories help understand human behaviour, circumstances that allow living harmoniously with others, and aspects of individuals’ lives that influence their behaviours. This understanding will help nurse psychotherapists in their clinical decision-making process and choice of therapy to address various clinical presentations. Developmental theories will also help nurses tailor their healthcare plans to their clients and allow them to provide effective anticipatory care.


In summary, developmental theories play a role in clinical practice. These theories enable a better understanding of human development and the factors influencing human behaviour. Through these theories, nurses and other caregivers better understand variations in human behaviour and the factors that interplay in their behavioural manifestations. Subsequently, this can help them develop a framework for resolving their problems.


Maree, J. G. (2021). The Psychosocial Development Theory of Erik Erikson: Critical overview. Early Child Development and Care191(7–8), 1107–1121.

McCluskey, M. C. (2021). Revitalizing Alfred Adler: An echo for equality. Clinical Social Work Journal50(4), 387–399.

Moon, D.-S., & Bahn, G. H. (2022). The concept of synchronization in the process of separation-individuation between a parent and an adolescent. Journal of the Korean Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry33(2), 41–47.

Yeung, A. W. (2021). Is Freud’s influence on psychology and psychiatry declining? A bibliometric analysis. Frontiers in Psychology12.


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Write a (3–5) three- to five-page paper (excluding APA title page and reference pages) comparing Freud, Mahler, Adler, and Erikson. Compare and contrast the developmental models of Freud and Erikson, and then compare and contrast the developmental theories of Adler and Mahler. Are there any similarities between all of them? Be sure to also address the following:

Foundational Theories of Human Development Paper

Foundational Theories of Human Development Paper

Compare and Contrast Freud & Erikson.

Compare and Contrast Adler & Mahler.

Similarities of all listed above

There should be:

A brief description of each theory. Which perspective appeals to you more, and why?

What are some ways the Adlerian approach can be applied to group counselling? What are some advantages of using a group format with this approach?

What concepts from these psychoanalytic approaches do you see as being potentially useful in your work as a nurse psychotherapist? Describe why.

Why should the nurse psychotherapist understand developmental theories for application in clinical practice?

You should cite a minimum of three APA references.

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