Erik Erikson Stages of Development: How a 70-Year Old Theory Still Shapes Modern Therapy

Who Is Erik Erikson?

Erik Erikson was a psychoanalyst who is most known for his theories related to psychosocial development.1 He identified and described several stages of development through which a person progresses during the course of their life. At the time of his theories’ publication, his concepts were unique because they encompassed both social and psychological development. They represent an expansion of Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development.2

Erikson’s stages of development begin in childhood and are based around the ideas that a child’s personality can shape and change over the course of a lifetime.1 The extent of these changes depend upon a child’s experiences early in life as well as when they age.

What are Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development?

There are eight phases in Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development. These stages include the following2:

Stage 1: Infancy

The infancy period is also known as trust versus mistrust. This stage corresponds to Freud’s oral stage. During infancy, withdrawal of resources such as love, affection, food, or other needed items can affect a child’s ability to progress to further stages.

Stage 2: Early Childhood

The early childhood period is also known as autonomy versus shame. This phase is when a child starts to explore their environment, but still relies on a caregiver to provide a sense of security.

erik erikson stages of developmentStage 3: Play Age

The play age period is also known as initiative versus guilt. At this time, a child who is given purpose will develop well while a child who is constantly inhibited or kept from exploring their environment will not. At this phase, a caregiver can encourage their child’s pursuit of new activities.

Stage 4: School Age Period

The school age period is also known as industry versus inferiority. At this phase, a caregiver should set expectations in terms of a child’s school or activity performance. They should encourage their child to make efforts to succeed and achieve.

Stage 5: Adolescence Period

The adolescence period is also known as identify versus identity confusion. This is the phase where a young person may be described as “finding themselves.” During this time, a young person uses their previous experiences to establish their personal goals and dreams.

Stage 6: Young Adulthood Period

The young adulthood period is also known as intimacy versus isolation. At this time, a young person is starting to form close and often long-term relationships with others. This may include a romantic relationship or friendships.

Stage 7: Adulthood Period

The adulthood period is also known as generativity versus stagnation or self-absorption. This is when a person starts to establish their impact on the next generation, whether through becoming a parent, acting as a mentor, coaching, or teaching in some capacity.

Stage 8: Old Age Period

The old age period is also known as integrity versus despair. This is the final stage a person may progress to and occurs when a person reflects on their life, their accomplishments, and how they view the course of their life.

How do mental health professionals apply the framework day-to-day?

Although Erikson first identified these stages in the 1950s, they still have several practical applications today for mental health practitioners. Examples include when a therapist is helping to guide a person who may have skipped or regressed to a different part of Erikson’s phases.2 Because many of the phases occur in childhood, a therapist may also use Erikson’s theories to identify why a child may have maladaptive behaviors based on the fact they were not able to progress or go through Erikson’s phases. Therapists also still use the assessment tool called the Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory or EPSI to assess a person’s development.3

Call to action: Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development serve as an assessment framework for mental health professionals today. For a more in-depth look at the stages and their use in modern-day therapy, utilize Symptom Media’s Erikson stages training titles.

Written by Rachel Nall, RN, MSN, CRNA