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An introduction to social work
An introduction to social work

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Psychosocial theories of development

There are a number of psychosocial theories of human development and these all emphasise something slightly different. David Howe suggests that:

… by psychosocial we mean that area of human experience which is created by the interplay between the individual’s psychological condition and the social environment….

(Howe, 2002)

Erik Erikson, a German psychoanalyst who worked in the USA from the 1930s, proposed that there are eight stages of life, from infancy to old age, each stage having its own particular task in the development of an individual’s identity (Erikson, 1950). This theory has been very influential in social work and continues to be so.

Erikson’s work, and that of other theorists, has been criticised for being based on studies with mainly white European and North American populations, and therefore taking no account of other cultures’ approaches to identity development (Robinson, 2002). Erikson himself acknowledged that his theory of psychosocial identity might not have universal application as it was largely based on his own clinical practice. Nonetheless, his theory has a contribution to make to social work practice.

The next section focuses on ‘attachment theory’ – a psychosocial theory of human development which has been extremely influential within social work.