Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson are two fundamental basics of discussion, research, and theory when discussing child development and psychology. Before Freud came to the United States, ‘talk therapy’ was not even something that was used here, but was becoming popular in Europe. This concept was fought as a controversial technique in the United States, but Freud was determined, and it is now the basic and most common type of therapy in psychiatry today.
Erikson focused more on child development, which is a growing field of research today. Children are not merely little adults, but function in a very different way. As high stakes testing grows in education in the United States, understanding when children are able to understand which educational concepts will help educators become more successful in the classroom.
Sigmund Freud considered psychoanalysis to be the talking cure in the psychiatric profession. Due to Freud’s psychoanalytical treatment of peoples’ symptoms, a diagnosis of
‘hysteria’ was no longer necessary in many situations. This psychoanalytical treatment was based on Freud’s concept of psychoanalysis, which was a new concept in which a clinical treatment in psychiatry. This “talking cure” was the original concept of treating psychopathology by discussion between a psychoanalyst and a patient. Rather, it is sometimes internal conflict within the individual experiences conflict that is considered to be either irrational or incomprehensible in nature. Everything can be interpreted. Even the smallest details can have great significance. There is no such thing as senseless acts. A person may not know why a particular word was said, why a certain deed was done, or even why a gesture was used, even if it was not intentional, there was a reason behind the choice. Before the 19th century, it was a religious influence behind the belief that there is a reason for everything, which is founded in the Christian, and before that, Jewish traditions.
Freud made the bold assertion that only those that practiced psychoanalysis could fully understand the concept. Such a statement of needed personal experience was common of scientists of that day. Truly successfully psychoanalysis can occur only when the patient is able to remember the affect and able to narrate the experience according to Freud. This is essentially different from transference, which is at times the only way the therapist or the patient can access the past. Freud believed that if transference, which is resistance and representation, was dealt with in the correct manner, affect would conquer repressed memories, and the “talking cure,” psychoanalysis, would become a successful treatment for the patient (Schirmeister, 2004).
Erik Erikson also contributed to the fields of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Although more recent than Freud, his studies in interpretation in these fields were still new and inspirational. Erikson’s focus was more sociological, focusing on where individual people and society meet. Rather, where a person’s life fits in historically to the moment. This concept of the individual and their place in society engrossed him throughout most of his career.
Erikson’s teachings area mainstream thoughts on adolescents now in American society, but were new concepts when he introduced them. One of the more profound examples is a teens struggle with their identity. This concept was introduced by Erikson. Many of his theories he formed through his ability to be able to observe those around him with great intensity and awareness. Another reason why Erikson was so successful was his talents lent themselves to many areas, not only scientist, psychologist, and clinician, but also theorist, historian, and artist. He was both European and American, giving him various perspectives about life as well.
While he was teaching in Vienna, Austria, at a private school, Erikson met Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter. He was a teacher of the arts. He allowed Anna Freud to psychoanalyze him, and was so impressed with the concept and the science of psychoanalysis, that he decided to study the science himself at the Vienna Psychoanalytical Institute, from which he graduated in 1933. He also became an expert in child development, partially due to his training of the Montessori technique of educational instruction and much of it due to his own studies and explorations.
An admirer of Freud, Erikson took Freud’s five stages of development and expanded them into nine stages, the last being added towards the end of his life. It is for the study of these life stages for which Erikson is best known (Douvan, 1997).
Erikson was an admirer and a student of Freud. He himself saw his theories as expanding upon Freudian theory rather than altering Freud’s theories. Although Erikson did discover identity crises, he never states that his theory is unique. He alludes to it being based on Freud’s concepts, but never comes out and straightforward acknowledges that fact either. This, he is grateful for Freud’s work in psychoanalysis, which drew his initial interest into studying different personalities and human development. At the same time, his theory has vast differences from Freud’s.
Erikson was a part of Freud’s network of close associates. It appears that Erikson did not fully accept Freud’s theories even when working with Freud himself. As he departed from psychoanalysis, Erikson became a believer in psychosocial theories and developed his own crises theory. Both theorists believed that an individual finishes one stage before moving on to the next stage of development. For five of the sates, the ages mirror each other. For Freud, however, adulthood is one, continuous stage whereas Erikson has adults divided into three distinct stages.
Freud is known for identifying the life stages in sexual terms. Erikson, on the other hand, identifies them as stages of psychosocial development. Both theorists identify the first year of life as their first stage. Freud calls this first year the oral stage and says that the baby focuses on the pleasure of the mouth; such as eating and sucking on the breast or bottle. Erikson refers to this stage as the year of trust v. mistrust and states that this is when the infant learns the concept of being able to trust or not trust the parent or adult caregiver through its needs being met or not met. Both theorists mirror the next age from one to three years. Freud calls this the anal stage where the child focuses on toilet training. Erikson named this stage autonomy v. doubt and also identified toilet training in this stage but also included eating and talking as other mastery concepts during these years. The next age group that receives focus is from the ages of three to six years old. Freud refers to this as the phallic stage. He claims that the child’s energy is focused on the genitals and the social focus is on the parent of the same gender. Erikson refers to this age as the initiative v. guilt stage and sees the main areas of development as children being able to take control over their environment. From seven to eleven years Freud refers to as the latent period and states that during this time children are focused on their activities in school and friendships. Erikson views the same time as the industry v. inferiority period, during which children develop new skills and gain a sense of confidence by doing so. Upon entering adolescence, Freud states that teens enter the genital stage where they focus on romantic relationships. Erikson believes that during the same time period teens are in a stage of identity v. role confusion where they develop a sense of one-self. Freud believes that people remain in the genital stage throughout their adulthood. Erikson feels that there are three stages that remain in adulthood. The first is intimacy v. isolation, where young adults seek out love and companionship. Generativity v. stagnation is where middle-aged adults contribute to society and nurture others. The final stage is integrity v. despair where older adults reflect upon their lives and either feel fulfilled with their accomplishments or bitter about what they did not succeed in doing during their lifetime.
All of Freud’s stages are based on a sexual component whereas Erikson’s stages are based on conflict of some kind. There are some scholars that associate Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is akin to Erikson’s psychosocial theory. Initially, Freud’s psychoanalysis was only intended to be used as a therapeutic measure. In a similar fashion, Erikson’s psychosocial theory was only initially supposed to be used to classify and be used as an observational tool. Neither theorist saw their studies as being as influential and of such importance as the work that they have become today (Atalay, 2007).
As an educator, Freud’s work is significant in that he studied the educational work of Maria Montessori and the Montessori instructional method. This method has proven to be successful in education in that the hands-on approach and student-centered style of learning has proven to be successful, especially with students with kinesthetic and visual learning styles. As all students’ learning styles need to be addressed in the classroom, this approach will help to reach many students, and should be incorporated into my lessons. I do not think that his sexual-based philosophies in his theories hold much credibility or will make much of a difference in learning in my classroom.
Erikson’s theories seem to lend themselves more to education, as they are more focused on child development. His stages seem appropriate, on-target, and focused. I agree with their focus, and I believe that much of that is because he centered his research around child-development, which is more in line with my field of study. It lends itself more to a classroom atmosphere.
Atalay, M. (2007). Psychology of crises: An overall account of the psychology of Erikson. Ekev
Academic Review, 11(33), 15-34.
Douvan, E. (1997). Erik Erikson: critical times, critical theory. Child Psychiatry And Human
Development, 28(1), 15-21.
Schirmeister, P. (2004). Freud in America. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 14(2), 265-286.