Psychodynamic Theory

The psychodynamic approach to psychology is rooted in the work of Sigmund Freud and emphasizes the importance of one’s past experiences on the present self-concept and idea of the future self.  Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory was based largely on sexual dysfunction and the effects of suppressed childhood trauma on adult sexuality.  Although much of Freud’s work has been disputed and rejected by modern psychology, many of Freud’s students went on to expand his work and developed the basis for modern psychoanalysis.

Erik Erikson studied with both Sigmund and Anna Freud and used their work in subconscious analysis and observations of children to develop the most comprehensive theory of human development.  Erikson’s psychodynamic theory of development covers the entire human lifespan and divides development into eight distinct stages, each with its own unique crisis.  Whereas Freud’s work focused on unconscious, possibly suppressed, memories and their effect on the adult personality, Erikson’s theory emphasizes the importance of the unique conflict of each developmental stage and how success and failure to overcome these conflicts affects future development.


Erickson’s 8 Stages of Human Development:


Infancy Birth-1 year Trust vs. Mistrust An infant whose needs are consistently met will develop a sense of trust in the world
Toddler 1-3 Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt Toddlers learn they are independent beings and can make their own decisions
Preschool 3-6 Initiative vs Guilt Preschoolers learn to try new things, handle accomplishments and accept failures
Childhood 6-13 Industry vs Inferiority Children develop self-confidence through learning and encouragement
Adolescence 13-21 Identity vs Role Confusion Teenagers develop a sense of self and become comfortable with who they are
Young Adult 21-39 Intimacy vs Isolation Young adults seek commitment in relationships with others
Middle Adult 40-65 Generativity vs Stagnation Adults try to contribute to society by helping younger generations
Late Life 65+ Integrity vs Despair A healthy older adult views their life with a sense of satisfaction and worth



Kail, R. V. & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2010). Human development: a life-span view (5th ed.). Mason, Oh: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Stangor, C. (2010). Introduction to psychology. Irvington, NY: Flat World. Knowledge, Inc.


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