Sample Paper on Erikson’s Psychological Theory of Development in Social Work and Human Services

Erikson’s psychological theory of development is a psychoanalytic approach that communicates the eight vital life stages that a normal and healthy developing human should undergo. The theory was promoted by Erik Erikson, an ego psychologist, and argues that psychological development is based on individuals’ social experiences. All the eight stages of Erikson’s psychological theory of development are interdependent and any conflicts across the stages interrupt individual development.  Because of its relevance to human psychological development, a comprehensive analysis of Erikson’s psychological theory of development is paramount in explaining its suitability to social work practice, relative to other theories such as behaviorism and cognitive development.

Theory Application to Stages of Social Work Practice

Theory Application in the Assessment Process in Social Work Practice

            In social work, assessment involves identifying and evaluating clients’ needs in terms of their psychology, education, occupation, or drugs and substance use. It involves examining clients to identify their stressor(s), in an effort of establishing a correctional measure or the most appropriate solution (Cournoyer, 2016). As a social worker, the eight stages of Erikson’s psychological development theory will help me identify my clients’ needs, based on their education, occupation, or drug and substance abuse. For instance, the provisions of Erikson’s theory can be used to identify clients’ stressors based on their ages. According to Erikson, the adolescence stage is characterized by struggles for identity and mostly involves confusion concerning individuals’ societal roles (Knight, 2017). Therefore, in examining my adolescent clients, I would ask them to define their struggles with identities and roles in their societies. The theory also states that adolescents establish their social relationships and are loyal (Knight, 2017). Therefore, as a social worker, I would interview my adolescent clients concerning their struggles with their social problems, the possible causes of those problems, and thus establishing the possible solutions to their problem(s).

Theory Application in the Intervention Process in Social Work Practice

            The intervention process is characterized by the development of plans, means, and other correctional approaches in addressing clients’ needs. Erikson’s psychological development theory provides eight life stages and their characteristics (Cournoyer, 2016); these characteristics can be helpful to a social worker in identifying and developing the most suitable plans for different clients. In coming up with a mutually acceptable plan with my client, I would identify the specific actions and objectives that would be taken in the therapy process. For instance, concerning Erikson’s ideologies in his psychological development theory, the middle adulthood life stage is characterized by both work and parenthood (Knight, 2017). Therefore, I would expect the needs of my clients in middle adulthood to revolve around parenthood and careers. Thus, in intervening, as a social worker, I would establish the most suitable objectives and plans that revolve around parenthood and work. For instance, I would question my clients on their work-life balance to find out the implications of their careers on their personal life and then suggest interventions based on those findings.

Theory Application to the Evaluation Process in Social Work Practice

In social work practice, evaluation involves conducting a follow-up on whether the objectives and plans that were identified, presented, and executed in the intervention stage have been fruitful. As a social worker, I need to meet with my clients and evaluate their progress in following the established and presented objectives and plans to meet their needs in relation to their professions, drugs and substance abuse, and any other personal needs. Therefore, after determining my clients’ needs and looking for the most suitable solutions through the identified correctional plans and objectives, I would need to evaluate their progress towards recovery.

Erikson’s psychological development theory provides the outcomes associated with each stage of life stage. Therefore, I would evaluate the actual outcomes of each life stage both during designing the most suitable correctional plans and objectives during the intervention process and in assessing my clients’ recovery in meeting their needs. For instance, the theory dictates that the maturity life stage is characterized by wisdom (Knight, 2017). Therefore, I would weigh my mature clients’ development in terms of wisdom in pursuing their recovery.

Suitability of Erikson’s Psychological Development Theory in Social Work Practice

The eight life stages in Erikson’s psychological development theory are paramount in providing the guidance that is needed in social work. Since the stages are described alongside the characteristics associated with them, understanding those stages can be essential in developing strategies for dealing with clients across different ages. Therefore, social workers would handle clients based on the expectations drawn from the theory in areas such as the development of social relationships, and exhibition of maturity and thus be able to identify the most effective and productive interventions for specific cases.

Comparison of Erikson’s Theory to Other Theories

Erikson Psychological Development Theory and Behaviorism

            Behaviorism is a systematic scientific approach to explaining how humans’ actions and behaviors are influenced by their heredity and environments. In understanding one’s behavior, one needs to be studied and observed. However, according to John Watson’s methodological behaviorism, only an individual’s motor behaviors can be studied, and thus, making erratic conclusions of a society member’s behaviors (Baum, 2016).  Therefore, behaviorism development theory argues that an individual’s behaviors are based on his/her external environment and heredity.

In comparison to Erikson’s psychological development theory, behaviorism is less effective in the sense that only motor behaviors can be observed. On the other hand, in Erikson’s theory, life is divided into stages with their accompanying characteristics and outcomes, making an evaluation of human behavior more conclusive and fruitful.

Erikson’s Psychological Development Theory and Cognitive Development Theory

            Cognitive development is an analysis of children’s development in processing information, learning languages, and other events surrounding their growth. In this analysis, a comparison between how a child and an adult interact with their environment is provided, helping in understanding children’s development (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2016). Cognitive development is characterized by memory, information development, language, reasoning, and intelligence. A comparison of children’s memory, their developments in terms of reasoning and intelligence, and processing information with that of an adult is done in order to understand the developments involved.

In comparing cognitive development to Erikson’s psychological development theory, the latter addresses developments across the eight life stages, making it more conclusive. The cognitive development theory entails a comparison between a child and an adult in identifying developments, while Erikson’s psychological development theory traces human beings’ development from their childhood into their late adulthood. Therefore, Erikson’s theory is a more conclusive and detailed analysis of human development compared to cognitive development.


Erikson’s psychological development theory gives a simplistic approach to assessing human development across all ages. Through understanding the distinct stages of development and the characteristics associated with each stage, it becomes possible for a social worker to effectively conduct an assessment, intervention, and evaluation practices within the scope of expected behaviors based on clients’ ages. Such predefined characterization makes it easy to identify behaviors that are out of the norm for specific clients and to develop treatment plans that fit clients depending on the expected behaviors and their ages. The theory is useful for social work practice since social work is in most cases age-defined. The theory is comparable to both behaviorism and cognitive development theory, both of which are equally useful in social work practice.



Baum, W. M. (2016). Understanding behaviorism: Behavior, culture, and evolution. John Wiley & Sons.

Cournoyer, B. R. (2016). The social work skills workbook. Cengage Learning.

Knight, Z. G. (2017). A proposed model of psychodynamic psychotherapy linked to Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy24(5), 1047-1058. Retrieved from

Robinson-Riegler, B., & Robinson-Riegler, G. (2016). Cognitive psychology: Applying the science of the mind. Pearson.