Attachment Theory

Based on the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, Attachment Theory states that early experiences with primary caretakers during infancy provide a “working model [of oneself] and others” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006). It is also worth noting that the concept of attachment, as described here does not pertain to a specific set of observable behaviors. Instead attachment is a system of beliefs that sure the purpose of an emotional bond known as “proximity maintenance…[in addition to a] safe haven…

[and]…secure base” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p125) with which to interact with one’s world Instead have profound effects throughout one’s lifetime. It is for this reason, an individual’s early attachment experiences have profound affects that last a lifetime.  It is in the early social interactions with primary caregivers during infancy that we first learn trust others and develops a capacity for emotional regulation. Mary Ainsworth’s research utilized a measure called the “strange situation test” (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p126). Based on her observations four types of attachment styles have been observed. Babies with secure attachments show distressed when separated with a caregiver and are easily comforted upon her return so they are able to return to their play activities (Broderick & Blewit, 2006; Ingram, 2012).   Anxious-Ambivalent attachments, like securely attached babies are distressed when their caregiver leaves. However, when they return, they are more anger and resistant to their caregivers attempts to provide comfort (Broderick & Blewit, 2006; Ingram, 2012). Infants with Avoidant Attachments do not cry when separated from their caregiver and ignore them when they return in the room (Broderick & Blewit, 2006; Ingram, 2012).   Finally Disorganized Attachments are seen in an infant’s tendency to avoid a caregiver when they approach while seeking them out if stressed (Broderick & Blewit, 2006; Ingram, 2012).

Goals for Attachment Interventions

A primary goal of attachment theories, regardless of one’s developmental stage is the consistent availability and access to an attachment figure (Cassidy & Shaver 1999). However it is important to note that an individual’s “assessment of availability” (Cassidy & Shaver, 1999, p39). changes throughout life. For example, during infancy availability is equated to physical proximity and consistent responsiveness from a primary caregiver. As we mature, the perception of availability pertains to communication and the cognitive appraisal of responsibility to relationship and emotional needs (Cassidy & Shaver, 1999).

For purposes of intervention in order to address disruptions in attachments it is important to assess the individual’s “current appraisal (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999, p39) of their attachment. As a current working model that influence’s one’s relationships, this construct varies and changes in response to relationship experiences throughout life (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999, p39). Intervention goals vary in accordance with: (1) an individual’s current relationship experiences and (2) their developmentally relevant methods of assessment of an attachment figures availability and inherent trustworthiness. Overall, goals center around the disruptions in present attachments and their long-term consequences for a relationship (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999).

Attachment Theory Interventions

One example of a Parent-Child Attachment Intervention is the “Steps Toward Effective Enjoyable (STEEP) Program” (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999, p565).   The primary interventional goal for this program is to address a mother’s “working model of attachment by focusing on her feelings, attitudes and representations of the mother-child relationship” (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999, p565).   Involving regular home visits staring around the later trimesters of a woman’s pregnancy and into early infancy. It takes a proactive approach. Participants include those who are at greater risk for parenting issues based on prior history. Individual and group sessions allow the individual to alter their beliefs about self and relation to others in order to prevent repeat experiences of old family history.

Attachment Interventions for adults in individual psychotherapy can include, for example the work of Mary Main who describes three types of parental attachments towards children: “autonomous, dismissing and preoccupied” (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999, p565). Interventions utilized in Mary Main’s approach include metacognitive exercises that ask individuals to consider the working models and belief systems guiding their parental efforts. “Reflective functioning” (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999, p581), is an example of another intervention that involves reviewing life events and evaluating it from everyone’s perspective. Finally, interventions can also be aimed at allowing mothers to develop an understanding of their mental state and a child’s needs (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999).

Attachment Assessments

One convenient example of attachment assessments in early infancy, includes the work of Mary Ainsworth, as described earlier. With this in mind, they involve analysis of child-parent interactions and the stability of observable behaviors over time. As individual’s progress assessments such as “The Cassidy-Marvin System” (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999, p297), are useful. This assessment involves categories of attachment styles similar to Ainsworth’s but for individuals in early child and more diverse display of behavioral responses (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999). Attachment assessments for adolescents and adults, according to the Handbook of Attachment (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999), include a series of narrative interviews. The main goal in this respect is to examine the mental constructs they utilize in current relationships and behavioral responses to these preconceptions (Cassidy & Shafer, 1999).

FINAL QUESTION: “Would a goal of therapy be to increase healthy forms of attachment? Is this possible?” In a nutshell, based on this book review and overview of interventions/assessments/goals I believe it is possible to work on attachments.   An overview of my own attachment history and my husband, shows how fundamentally important this personal construct is in all relationships throughout one’s lifetime. I also believe, in this respect, that addressing it is a worthwhile and fruitful endeavor. One ideal example of the possibility of change is my own husband. His mother was an alcoholic, who died in her forties. Married 8 times in her life, she wasn’t a source of stability for him. Additionally, my husband’s father was never around. Despite this history, and after taking time to address these issues in his own life, he is an amazing husband and wonderful father. He is motivated to create the family he never had. Therefore, I would love to address this issue in my future practice.


Broderick, P. C., & Blewitt, P. (2006). The life span: Human development for helping professionals. Boston MA: Pearson.
Cassidy, J & Shaver P.R. (1999). Handbook of Attachment. New York: The Guilford Press.
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the Client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.




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Robert Kegan “The Evolving Self”

Who is Robert Kegan?

Robert Kegan is a psychologist who teaches, researches, writes, and consults about adult development, adult learning, and professional development. His work explores the possibility and necessity of ongoing psychological transformation in adulthood; the fit between adult capacities and the hidden demands of modern life; and the evolution of consciousness in adulthood and its implications for supporting adult learning, professional development, and adult education. In addition to his faculty appointment at HGSE, Kegan serves as educational chair of the Institute for Management and Leadership in Education; as codirector of a joint program with the Harvard Medical School to bring principles of adult learning to the reform of medical education; and as codirector of the Change Leadership Group, a program for the training of change leadership coaches for school and district leaders. Kegan, a licensed clinical psychologist and practicing therapist, lectures widely to professional and lay audiences, and consults in the area of professional development. ‘I have been told,’ he says, ‘t may help to know that I am also a husband and a father; influenced by Hasidism; an airplane pilot; a poker player; and the unheralded inventor of the ‘Base Average,’ a more comprehensive way of gauging a baseball player’s offensive contributions,’ (, 2016).”

((FYI – what follows is a ‘quick and dirty’ overview of Kegan’s Theory of Development in an attempt to prepare for the NCE licensure exam))

A “Constructive Developmental Theory”

“Kegan is a constructive-developmental psychologist….Constructivists believe that the world isn’t out there to be discovered, but that we create our world by our discovery of it…. Developmentalists believe that humans grow and change over time and enter qualitatively different phases as they grow….Constructive-developmentalists believe that the systems by which people make meaning grow and change over time (, n.d.).”

Inspired by Piaget…

Kegan’s theory of development is inspired by Piaget who described human development as a byproduct of our interaction with the world and desire to make “some sense” of it.  Piaget defines schemas as building block of knowledge that allow children to interact with their environment & exist as mental representations of our world.  As mature, we encounter information that challenges our previous understanding of things.  This cognitive disruption goads us forward to incorporate the new information through the processes of assimilation and accomodation.

Reality Construction

In his book,”The Evolving Self,” Kegan, (1983) describes unique insights from Piaget’s theory.  Piaget provides a window into how how humans make sense of their world by interacting continually with their environment and creating a new systems of meaning in their adaptation to it.  When we interact with our world as children, a unique relationship develops between oneself and the environment.  Our interactions with the social world define us as we in turn define it.  In other words, subject and object cannot exist independent of one another.  Instead, they interact in an ongoing “process of evolution as a meaning-constitutive activity, (Kegan, 1983, p. 42), the end result of which is a constructed reality, that reflects our schematic understanding.

“Piaget’s vision derives from a model of open-systems evolutionary biology.  Rather than locating the life force in the closed individual or environmental press, it locates a prior context which continually elaborates the distinction between the individual and the environment…primary not to…changes in an internal equiblirium, but to an equilibrium in the world between the progressively individuated self and the bigger life field…an interaction sculpted by and consitutive of reality itself, (Kegan, 1983, p. 43).” 

Developmental Stages

FIRSTLY, regarding Piaget’s developmental theory is very Hegelian in nature.  The word dialectice comes to mind as a key descriptor.  Growth comes by merging opposing ideas and new concepts into one’s thinking:

SECONDLY, regarding Piaget’s develomental theory reminds me of Thomas Kuhn’s book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”

In this book, Kuhn, ( 2012) describes how academic fields tend to operate on an implicit set of beliefs and assumptions or “paradigm”.  These paradigms exist explanatory models of belief systems that guide the progression of knowledge within a scientific field.  Functioning much like a schema, new insights are utilized to expand the prevailing paradigmatic explanatory model – until something unique is encountered.  This anomaly produces a crisis – and eventually a new paradigm.  Likewise, when one’s current schema no longer fulfill developmental needs, new ones develop in their place.

FINALLY, with all this in mind, Kegan (1983) makes the following comment about Piaget’s developmental stage theory:

“[development]…is marked by periods of dynamic stability or balalnce followed by periods of instability…These periods fo dynamic balance amount to a kind of evolutionary trunce: furhter assimilation and accomodation will go on inthe context of the relationship struck between the organism and the world…Seen ‘psychologically,’ this process is about the development of ‘knowing’ but at the same time we experience this activity…the…tension between self preservation and self-transformation is descriptive of the very activity of hope itself…a dialectic of limit and possibility. (Kegan, 1983, p. 45)”

Subject & Object

If human development is an ongoing process of reality construction as Kegan’s theory asserts, then change is definitely a risky propositon.  It requires us to re-examine our own system of meaning and current perception of reality.  Albertson, (2014) notes: “change is a dangerous enterprise, for it entails balancing a tension between self-preservation and self-transformation..this process of psychological is…’messy’, (p. 76).”  This process of change, seems to entail a deconstruction of previous ways of knowing in order to develop an entirely new system of meaning.  Kegan (1983) utilizes a neo-Piagetian objections relations theory to describe how this change occurs:

“subject-object relations [is] not…[going] out i the “space” between a worldless person and a personless world…Subject-object relationsh emerge out of a lifelong process of development…a succession of qualitative differentiations of the self from the world, (Kegan, 1983, p. 77).”

With this in mind, the SUBJECT can be thought of as a “things…experienced as…simply a part of the self…things that are Subject to you can’t be seen because they are a part of you. Because they can’t be seen, they are taken for granted, taken as true—or not even taken at all. You generally can’t name things that are “Subject,” and you certainly can’t reflect upon them—that would require the ability to stand back and take a look at them. You don’t have something that’s Subject; something that’s Subject has you. Kegan (1994) describes Subject as ‘those elements of our knowing or organizing that we are identified with, tied to, fused with or embedded in’ (p. 32). (”  In contrast, OBJECTS include anything or anyone we encounter in the world on a daily basis.  “Things that are Object in our lives are ‘those elements of our knowing or organizing that we can reflect on, handle, look at, be responsible for, relate to each other, take control of, internalize, assimilate, or otherwise operate upon’ (Kegan, 1994, p. 32). (”

Stages of Social Maturity

In his NCE review CD’s, Rosenthal, (2005) describes Kegan’s constructive-developmental theory as a theory of social maturity. “More complex appreciations of the social world evolve into existence as a person becomes able to appreciate stuf abstractly that they used to appreciate only in concrete forms…as babies grow into adults, they develop progressively more objective and accurate apprecations of the social world….they do this by progressing throughf five…periods…(incorportive, impulsive, imperial, impersonal, institutional, interindividual), (Rosenthal, 2005)”

“If you want to understand another person in some fundamental way you must know where the person is in his or her evolution….a lifelong process….[this is because] the state of a person’s revolution defines the underlying logic of [their] meanings…what the experience means to him or her….what is the subject-object relationship the person has become in the world.  (Kegan, 1983, p. 113-114).”

Incorporative Stage (infancy – two years)

R/T Piaget’s Sensiorimotor Stage

R/T Maslow’s Physiological Survival Orientation


  1. FOCUS – the child is focused in sensorimotor information and reflexive action (i.e. sucking, etc).  No sense of self exists.
  2. CULTURE OF EMBEDDEDNESS – Primary Caretakers
  3. FUNCTION ONE “Holding on” – Maintaining close presence with caregiver for comfort & protection.
  4. FUNCTION TWO “Letting Go” –  Do not meet every need for child encouraging independence.
  5. FUNCTION THREE “Continuity” – Permit self to become a bigger part of family culture, allowing prolonged separation
  6. TRANSITIONAL OBJECTS – blankie & teddie, representing nurturing caretaker.

Impulsive Stage (5-7 years)

R/T Piaget’s Preoperational Stage

R/T Kohlberg’s Punishment & Obedience Orientation

R/T Maslow’s Physiological Satisfaction Orientation

R/T Erikson’s Initiative Vs. Guilt Stage


  1. FOCUS – the child focuses on perception and impulse. Objects begin to have meaning for the child
  2. CULTURE OF EMBEDDEDNESS – The immediate family.
  3. FUNCTION ONE “Holding on” – “acknowledges and cultures exercises of family, intense attachments & rivalries, (Kegan, 1983, p. 118).
  4. FUNCTION TWO “Letting Go” – Holding child responsible for feelings and behaviors ,promoting greater self-sufficiency.
  5. FUNCTION THREE “Continuity” – Permits child to be part of bigger culture outside family (i.e. school peers)
  6. TRANSITIONAL OBJECTS – imaginary friends

Imperial Stage (Adolescence)

R/T Piaget’s Concrete Stage

R/T Kohlberg’s Instrumental Orientation

R/T Maslow’s Safety Orientation

R/T Erikson’s Industry vs. Inferiority Stage


  1. FOCUS – Period of self-centeredness in which children act on an emerging sense of self as little more than a set of needs.
  2. CULTURE OF EMBEDDEDNESS – One’s immediate disposition of needs, wants, and desires.
  3. FUNCTION ONE “Holding on” – Exercises display of “self-sufficiency, competency, and role differentiation, (Kegan, 1983, p. 119).”
  4. FUNCTION TWO “Letting Go” – Attempts taken to contextualize one’s own needs, demanding a give and take in relationships.
  5. FUNCTION THREE “Continuity” – “Family & school…become secondary to relationships of shared internal experiences, (Kegan, 1983, p. 119).”

Impersonal Stage

R/T Piaget’s Early Formal Operational Stage

R/T Kohlberg’s Interpersonal Concordance Orientation

R/T Maslow’s Love & Belonging Orientation

R/T Erikson’s Affiliation vs. Abandonment Stage


  1. FOCUS – The ability to take on others’ perspectives through development of empathy, compassion, understanding.
  2. CULTURE OF EMBEDDEDNESS – Mutuality of interpersonal relationships.
  3. FUNCTION ONE “Holding on” – Works on developing ability to act in collaborative manner and make sacrifices for a relationship
  4. FUNCTION TWO “Letting Go” – Seek association with others, while not becoming fused with them, demands personal responsibility of oneself and others.
  5. FUNCTION THREE “Continuity” – Interpersonal relationships placed in context of one’s “ideology and psychological self-definition, (Kegan, 1983, p. 119).
  6. TRANSITIONAL OBJECTS – Moving away to college, getting new job, etc…

Institutional Stage

R/T Piaget’s Full Formal Operational Stage

R/T Kohlberg’s Societal Orientation

R/T Maslow’s Self-Esteem Orientation

R/T Erikson’s Identity vs. Role Confusion.


  1. FOCUS – The individual is commited to personal values and acts autonously according to this ethical standard.
  2. CULTURE OF EMBEDDEDNESS – Personal autonomy and identity.
  3. FUNCTION ONE “Holding on” – develops independence and acts on personal values
  4. FUNCTION TWO “Letting Go” – Seek association with others, while not becoming fused with them, demands personal responsibility of oneself and others.
  5. FUNCTION THREE “Continuity” – Interpersonal relationships placed in context of one’s “ideology and psychological self-definition, (Kegan, 1983, p. 119).
  6. TRANSITIONAL OBJECTS – Ideological surrender via politics, religion, etc.

Interindividual Stage

R/T Piaget’s Post-Formal (dialectical) (Kegan, 1983).

R/T Kohlberg’s Principled Orientation.

R/T Maslow’s Self-Actualization.


  1. FOCUS – The individual learns to accept others’ values.  Tolerance for diversity develops alongside one’s own autonomous value system.
  2. CULTURE OF EMBEDDEDNESS – culture of intimacy
  3. FUNCTION ONE “Holding on” – “Acknowledges and cultures capacity for interdependence for self-surrender and intmacy, for interdepentent self-definition, (Keegan, 1983, p. 120).”


Albertson, S. (2014). Deconstruction toward reconstruction: A constructive-developmental consideration of deconstructive necessities in transitions. Behavioral Development Bulletin, 19(4), 76-83. (2016). Robert Kegan. Retrieved from:
Kegan, R. (1983). The Evolving Self : Problem and Process in Human Development. Cambridge, US: Harvard University Press. Retrieved from
Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.
Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge. (n.d.) “A Change Theory: Key Concepts for Understanding the Work of Robert Kegan” Retrieved from:

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R. J. Havinghurst

Who is Havighurst?

“Robert Havighurst was born in 1900 in Depere, Wisconsin, a small town in the midwestern United States. His family was German in origin. His grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1847. As the oldest of five children, Robert Havighurst attended public schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. He then attended Ohio Wesleyan University, Ohio State University (Ph.D. in physical chemistry), and Harvard University as a post-doctoral fellow. During 1924-1927, he worked on the structure of the atom and published a number of papers in journals of physics and chemistry. In 1928, he made a significant career shift with a decision to work in the field of experimental education…(International Adult Education Hall of Fame,2015)”

To Read More Click Here…

Overview of Theory…

According to Havinghurst human growth & development is a byproduct of successful fulfillment of psychosocial tasks we encounter throughout the course of our lives.  In this respect, Havinghurst conceives human beings as active learners and development as a matter of his interaction with the environment.  “According to R. Harvighurst a developmental-task is a task which an individual has to and wants to solve in a particular life-period…it is the midway between an individual need and a social demand…The developmental-tasks concept assumes that social and educational arrangements impede or support the corresponding tasks (Uhlendorff, 2004, p. 55).”  Specific developmental tasks arise at critical times in our lives as a result of the combined effects of cultural pressure and physical maturation.  Mastery of these tasks is critical for successful development.  Havinghurst (1961) made the following remarks on successful aging:

A theory of successful aging should be a statement of the conditions of individual and social life under which the individual person gets a maximum of satisfaction and happiness and society maintains an appropriate balance among satisfactions for the various groups which make it up – old, middle aged, and young, men and women, (Havighurst, 1961).”

For an Overview of Havinghurst’s Developmental Stages Click Here…

References (n.d.) Havighurst’s Developmental Task Theory. Retrieved from:
Havighurst, R. J. (1961). Successful aging. The Gerontologist. 1(1), 8-13.
International Adult Education Hall of Fame (2015). Robert J. Havighurst.  Retrieved from:
Uhlendorff, U. (2004). The concept of developmental-tasks and its significance for education and social work. Social Work & Society, 2(1), 54-63.

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Lev Vygotsky

Overview of Social Learning Theory

Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934), was a Russian Psychologist who developed the social developmental theory.  “He disagreed with Piaget that these stages occur naturally, they are taught through educational intervention.  Social interactions greatly influence development, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  In Vygotsky’s Social Learning Theory, the “interdependence of social and individual processes, (Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 191).”   According to Vygotsky, all human activity takes place in a cultural context & three underlying themes exist in his writings to define the nature of this interdependent relationship (Steiner & Mahn & 1996)….

Individual human development has origins in social sources. (Steiner & Mahn, 1996).

The earliest sources of human development comes through interaction with our primary caregivers (Steiner & Mahn, 1996).  Vygotsky disagreeed with Piaget’s characterization of learning as a universal process.  In Social Learning Theory, Vygotsky asserts that learning and development occur within a specific cultural context.  This learning occurs as socially shared activities with primary caregivers, develop into internalized cognitive processes (Steiner & Mahn, 1996).  During the first years of our lives, all learning activities are highly dependent upon caregiver interaction.  In this respect, all learning activities occur as forms of social interaction, as caregivers provided opportunities for guided participation.  Gradually, we claim greater responsibility for this learning process by initiating social participation independent of caregivers.   We internalize the effects of these cumulative social learning opportunities.  Learning is a culturally-defined process that occurs through our interactions with others.

“An operation…initially represents an external activity reconstructed and begins to occur internally, (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 56-57).”

“An interpersonal process is transformed into an intrapersonal one, (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 57).”

“The transformation of an interpersonal process into an intrapersonal one as a result of a long series of developmental events, (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 57).”

Semniotic mediation is the key to knowledge construction, (Steiner & Mahn, 1996).

Vygotsky uses the term ‘Semniotic’ to describe “language; various systems of counting; mnemonic techniques; algebraic symbol systems; works of art; writing; schemes, diagrams, maps and mechanical drawings, (Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 193).”  These ‘semniotic tools,’ “mediate social and individual fucntioning and connect the external and the internal, the social and the individual, (Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 192).”  The process of learning requires an internalization of external behaviors through our interactions with others.  Through the use of tools such as langugage, art, math, or writing, this process of learning occurs as we internalize lessons we garner through social interaction.  Vygotsky that these semniotic tools, mediate the construction of knowledge internally, and are socially derived concenpts.  In other words, children don’t invent the wheel independently when they utilize language to describe abstract concepts as an internal thought process. They learn this language within a historically and culturally relevant setting.   The term “cognitive pluralism” (Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 193), is useful in describing the fact that multiple culturally relevant semniotic tools of socially-mediated learning can exist in a diverse society.

“Mediation is the key is the key in this approach to understanding how human mental functioning is tied to cultural, institutional, and historical settings since these settings shape and provide the cultural tools that are mastered by individuals to form this functioning. (Wertsch, 1994, p. 204).”

It is critical to understand this process of development through what calls “genetic analysis” (Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 193).

In his study of human development, he is not interested in describe the end product of learning as a series of stages.  Instead he is interested in describing the process of development as a sociocultural process.  Vygotsky refuse Piaget’s notion of schema as a universal concepts that can adequately describe the developmental process in all historical and cultural contexts (Steiner & Mahn, 1996).  The term “genetic analysis” (Steiner &  Mahn, 1996, p. 193), to describe how changing external phenomena can become integrated as a psychological construct of cognitive understanding.

The Zone of Proximal Development

“We propose that an essential feature of learning is that it creates the zone of proximal development; that is, learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers. Once these process are internalized they become part of the child’s independent developmental achievement. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 90).”

POINT ONE – “to help explain the way this social and participatory learning took place.  Vygotsky (1978)  developed the concept of the zone of proximal development, (Steiner & Mahn, 1996, p. 198).”

Vygotsky (1978) defines the zone of proximal development as “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined through independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers, (p. 198).”

POINT TWO – “Learning results in mental development and sets in motion a variety of developmental process that would be impossible apart from learning, (Vygotsky, 1978, p 90).”

Vygotsky notes that learning and development are separate processes.  learning requires interaction with one’s social environment and is essential for the process of development to occur.  Learning is culturally organized and precedes mental development.


Steiner & Mahn, (1996) note the benefits of a sociocultural approach are that it allows for an understanding of individuals, “dynamically, within their social circumstances, in their full complexity, we gain a much more complete and a much more valid understanding of them.  We also gain, particularly in the case of minority children, a more positive view of their capabilities and how our pedagogy often constrains…what they do and what they are capable of doing. (p. 202).” Applying Vygotsky to al learning environment can provide insight in enabling a construction of knowledge within a proximal zone of development and understanding how classroom learning can occur as a sociocultural process (Steiner & Mahn, 1996).


John-Steiner, V., & Mahn, H. (1996). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskian framework. Educational psychologist, 31(3-4), 191-206.
Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.).  Retrieved from:
Wertsch, J. V. (1994). The primacy of mediated action in sociocultural studies. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 1(4), 202-208.

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Harry Stack Sullivan

Interpersonal Psychiatry

“Harry Stack Sullivan was one of the most important seminal thinkers in American psychiatry…He synthesized the contemporary ideas of psychiatry and social science together to form what has been called ‘social psychiatry.’ (Raghueer, 2011, p.87)”  Sullivan’s unique perspective blends insights from the fields of psychiatry with the social sciences.  He describes psychiatry as the “study of processes that involve or go on between people, (Morgan, 2014, p. 2).”

Sullivan on Personality

According to Sullivan: “‘personality’ is itself a hypothetical entity which cannot be isolated from interpersonal situations and, indeed, interpersonal behavior is all that is observable about personality, (Morgan, 2014, p. 2).”  Consequently, he believed it should be understood as a pattern of characteristics that define our relations with others.  Personality characteristics from this perspective are observable traits which define our interpersonal relationships, (Morgan, 2014).  What follows are a few key concepts that define our personalities according to Sullivan:


“Sullivan conceptualized personality as an energy system…existing either as…potentiality for action…or…actions themselves” (Raghuveer, 2011, p. 67).”  Tension, is a term Sullivan uses to define as the “potentiality for action that may or may not be experienced in awareness, (Feist, n.d., p. 217).” In other words, it is a predisposition to act in a particular manner.  Once we act on this tension this energy has transformed into an overt behavior.  Sullivan describes two main types of tensions:


“Needs are tensions brought on by biological imbalance between a  person and the physiochemical environment both inside and outside the organism, (Feist, n.d., p. 217).”  These needs can pertain to physiological needs (i.e. food and oxygen) interpersonal needs, (i.e. tenderness or love), and finally zonal needs (pertaining to a body part).


Anxieties are much more vague, “calling forth a nonspecific action” (Feist, n.d., p. 218).”  Sullivan believed these anxieties are learned from our parents and empathetic connection we have with them during infancy.  While needs generally pertain to normal and healthy tensions, anxieties are disruptive forces in our lives (Raghuveer, 2011).  In addition to disrupting personal relationships, they produce behaviors that are aimed at anxiety relief over learning.  Consequently, people are less liable to learn from their experiences when aiming to relieve anxieties (Feist, n.d.).


Dynamisms refer to behavioral traits or habits that characterize an individual’s approach to life and include two major categories: “first, those related to specific zones of the body…second….composed of three categories – the disjunctive, the isolating, and the conjunctive, (Fiest, et al, n.d. (219).”

Disjunctive Dynamisms (Malevolence)

“The disruptive dynamism of evil and hatred is called malevolence [is] defined by Sulllian as a feeling of living among one’s enemies.” (Raghuveer, 2011, p. 67).”  Sullivan felt this behavior results as a toddler when parents respond to a child’s needs by attempting to ignore or control their behavior (Feist, n.d.).  In time, children learn to protect themselves and limit expression of needs for tenderness and intimacy.

Isolating Dynamisms (Lust)

“Lust is an isolating tendency requiring no other person for its satisfaction…It manifests itself as autoerotic behavior even when another person is the object of one’s lust, (Feist, et al, n.d., p. 220).” It is based solely on sexual gratification.

Conjunctive Dynamisms (Intimacy & The Self System)

INTIMACY – “Grows out of the earlier ned for tenderness but is more specific and involves a close interpersonal relationship between two people who are more or less of equal status, (Feist, et al, n.d., p. 220).”  It facilitates interpersonal development while decreasing both anxiety and loneliness (Raghuveer, 2011, p. 67).”
THE SELF-SYSTEM   –  The self-system is crucial to personal development and consists of behaviors that maintain our sense of personal security by protecting us from feelings of anxiety (Feist, et al, n.d.; Raghuveer, 2011).  In this respect, these behaviors form in response to interpersonal experiences and they can be thought of as “security operations” (Feist, et al, n.d.; Raghueer, 2011)
  1. DISSOCIATION – one type of security operation involves blocking certain experiences out of our awareness (Raghuveer, 2011).
  2. SELECTIVE INATTENTION – “is a refusal to see those things that we do not wish to see, (Feist, et al, n.d.).”  


“Personification consist of an image that an individual has of himself or of some other person.  It is a complex of feelings, attitudes and conceptions that grows out of experience with need-satisfaction. (Morgan, 2014, p. 3).

Good Mother, Bad Mother

This concept, admittedly has a somewhat Freudian feel to it.   “The bad mother/good mother personification results from an infant’s breastfeeding experiences (Morgan, 2014; Raghuveer, 2011).  The bad mother personification is a byproduct of negative breast feeding experiences and the infant’s hunger needs are not met (Feist, n.d.).  As you might expect the good mother personification is a byproduct of positive breastfeeding experiences, (Feist, n.d.).  While the good mother is conceived of as caring and tender, the bad mother is anxious and malevolent.

Me Personifications

“During mid-infancy a child acquires three me personifications (bad-me, good-me, and not-me) that form the building blcks of self-personification (Fiest, n.d., p. 222).”

GOOD ME – is a byproduct of a young child’s experiences of parental approval (Raghuveer, 2011).  Here the child works hard to please and up hold parental standards as a “good me”, (Feist, n.d.).
BAD ME – is a byproduct of a child’s experiences with punishment and disapproval (Raghuveer, 2011).  In this personification, children learn they are “bad” through interactions with parents (Rosenthal, 2005).  
NOT ME – a “not me” personification exists as a byproduct of selective inattention in order to avoid feelings of anxiety or unresolved trauma (Feist, n.d.).  Here, the child choose to avoid experiencing aspects of oneself that are associated with unresolved trauma and anxiety (Feist, n.d.; Rosenthal, 2005).  

Eidetic Personifications

Eidetic personifications are “unrealistic traits or imaginary friends that many children invent in order to protect their self-esteem….[they] can create conflict in interpersonal relations when people project  onto others imaginary traits that are remnants of previous relationships. (Feist, et al, n.d., p. 223).”

Levels of Cognition

Sullivan also describes levels of cognition that function as modes of thinking or experiencing reality, (Feist, et al, n.d., p. 223).”  He has a threefold level of classification for how we experiencing reality (Morgan, 2014):

Prototaxic Level

“Experiences that are impossible to put into words are to communicate to others are called prototaxic. (Raghuveer, 2011, p. 88).”  This level of cognition represents our early modes of experiencing reality during infancy.  For example, “a neonate feels hunger and pain, and these prototaxic experiences result in observable action…[like] sucking or crying. Feist, et al, n.d.).”

Parataxic Level

“Experiences that are pre-logical and nearly impossible to accurately communicate to others are called parataxic (Raghuveer, 2011, p. 88).”  “Parataxic experiences are more clearly differentiated from protaxic experiences but their meaning remains private….[for example]…when a child is conditioned to say ‘please’ in order to receive candy…an illogical belief that a cause-and-effect relationship exists. (Feist, n.d, 224).”  This illogical conclusion is called a parataxic distortion.

Syntaxic Level

Experiences that can be accurately communicated to others are called syntaxic (Raghuveer, 2011, p. 88).”  “Experiences that are consensually validated and that can be symbolically communicated take place on a syntaxic level.  Consensually validated experiences are those on whose meaning two or more persons agree. (Feist, et al, n.d., p. 224).”

Stages of Development

“Interpersonal theory emphasizes the importance of various developmental stages – infancy, childhood, the juvenile era, preadolescence, early adolescence, late adolescence, and adulthood. (Feist, n.d., p. 213).”  According to Sullivan, healthy development is based on an individuals degree of success in maintaining intimacy in interpersonal relationships throughout life (Feist, n.d., & Morgan, 2014).



Feist, J; Feist, G.J. & Feist, G.J. (n.d.) Theories of Personality. McGraw Hill.  Retrieved from:
Morgan JH (2014) The Interpersonal Psychotherapy of Harry Stack Sullivan: Remembering the Legacy. J Psychol Psychother 4: 162. doi:10.4172/2161-0487.1000162
Raghuveer Reddy G. (2011) The stalwarts: Harry Stack Sullivan. AP J Psychol Med; 12 (2): 87–9.
Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge.

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Margaret Mahler (NeoFreudian)


a psychoanalytic theory of development

The purpose of this post is to review key human growth & development theorists in Rosenthal’s (2005) review for the NCE exam.  In this review, he mentions the work of Margaret Mahler, who I am honestly not familiar with.  She is a contemporary psychoanalyst.   Corey (2015), notes that while this counseling theory has understanding gone significant changes since Freud’s day.  However, all psychoanalysis believe that “we are profoundly affected by experiences with others…over the course of our development…psychological symptoms often have a great deal to do with these experiences, (Corey, 2015, p. 81).”

What is object relations theory?

Object relations theory asserts we can learn about personality development by examining our mental representations of interactions with significant others in early life (Sharf, 2015).  According to this theory, these early mental representations serve as a template for relationships later in life and influence the process of individuate of in adulthood. The word “object” refers to a term used by Freud as anyone or anything that serves a critical need (Corey, 2015).  The relationships we develop with these objects early in life, influence our development into adulthood.  In her theory of development, Mahler rejected Freud’s sexualized perspective.  Instead, she focused “on the child’s progression from a symbiotic relation- ship with a maternal figure toward separation and individuation, (Corey, 2015, p. 81).”  Focusing on the first three years if a child’s life she describes this gradual process of separation in a series of stages…

Mahler’s Stages of Development

Normal Autism

“In the first few weeks of life, babies are driven by primitive needs like eating and sleeping. This is called NORMAL AUTISM, (Rosenthal, 2005).”   During this state we respond only to states physiological states. “Mahler believes the infant is unable to differentiate itself from its mother in many respects at this age. (Corey, 2015, p. 83).”  In other words no mental construct exists in the middle me of either the self or objects (i.e. – anything/anyone that fills a need).


At two months we enter a stage called SYMBIOSIS.  During this stage, the infant is highly dependent on the mother.  “The child feels like he/she is part of the mother – a fusion, This fusion later results in symbiosis implying the two individual’s cannot exist without each other. (Rosenthal, 2005).” Corey (2015 states this stage lasts from approximately 3-8 months.  During this phase infants display a high degree of dependency upon their primary caregiver.  “The infant seems to expect a very high degree of emotional attunement with its mother, (Corey, 2015, p. 83).”

separation & individuation

“From five months – age three the child is in the SEPARATION / INDIVIDUATION PERIOD. The child develops own “self” separate from the caretaker.  The (NCE) could identify this as the DIFFERENTIATION PROCESS. (Rosenthal, 2005).”  During this stage we vacillate ambivalently between dependence and independence.  For example, at the doctor’s office, a toddler can be seen exploring the toys in a waiting room while checking periodically to make sure mom is nearby. “Others are looked to as approving mirrors for the child’s devel- oping sense of self; optimally, these relationships can provide a healthy self- esteem. (Corey, 2015, p. 83).” According to Mahler, BPD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder have developmental roots in this stage.


Rosenthal, (2005) Mahler’s final phase “Rapprochement” & describes it as an alternation between feelings of closeness with a need for distance.   “The ideal mother will provide comfort and reassurance and allow some independence. (Rosenthal, 2005).” Corey, (2015), instead describes this as a final sub phase of separation & individuation.  During this phase toddlers (2-3) display a more fixed mental representation of self and objects.  “Ideally, children can begin to relate without being overwhelmed with fears of losing their sense of individuality, and they may enter into the later psychosexual and psychosocial stages with a firm foundations of selfhood (Corey, 2015, p84).”


Corey, G. (2015). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Retrieved from:
Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge.
Sharf, R. S. (2015). Theories of psychotherapy & counseling: Concepts and cases. Cengage Learning.

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Freud’s Psychosexual Stages

Whether you like him or not he is the number one figure in the history of psychology.   His contribution to developmental psychology is his Psychosexual Stages….(Rosenthal, 2005).”  “Freud believed that the development of personality and the formation of the id, ego, and superego, as well as ego defense mechanisms, depend on the course of psychosexual development in the first 5 years of life. The psychosexual oral, anal, and phallic stages occur before the age of 5 or 6; then there is a relatively calm period for 6 years (the latency period), followed by the genital stage in adoles- cence, which starts at the beginning of puberty. Freud’s theory is based on bio- logical drives and the importance of the pleasure principle; thus, certain parts of the body are thought to be a significant focus of pleasure during different periods of development (Sharf, 2015, p. 37.”

Oral Stage (1st year)

“Sucking at mother’s breasts satisfies need for food and pleasure. Infant needs to get basic nurturing, or later feelings of greediness and acquisitive- ness may develop. Oral fixations result from deprivation of oral gratification in infancy. Later personality problems can include mistrust of others, rejecting others; love, and fear of or inability to form intimate relationships, (Corey, 2015, p. 67).”

Dependent on Mom.
Occupied with sucking and the mouth (Rosenthal, 2005)
Mouth is the erogenous zone & primary source of pleasure
Oral fixations (smoking) have roots here caused by deprivation of oral gratification in infancy(Rosenthal, 2005).
“Oral personality is clinging and passive/dependent (Rosenthal, 2005).””

Anal Stage (1-3)

“Anal zone becomes of major sig- nificance in formation of personality. Main developmental tasks include learning independence, accepting personal power, and learning to express negative feelings such as rage and aggression. Parental discipline patterns and attitudes have signifi- cant consequences for child’s later personality development, (Corey, 2015, p. 67).”

Developmentally focused on toilet training & self-esteem.

“Anus is the erogenous zone, (Rosenthal, 2005).”
Parents should maintain balance between punishment & reward or conflicts can develop into an anal-retentitive or explosive temperament (Rosenthal, 2005).
Anal-retentive individuals are: “compulsive, unusually neat, frugal, obstinate, hoarder, very orderly, and condescending towards others, (Rosenthal, 2005).
 “Anal-explosive character has a messy desk at work, unclean house, and disorganized…(Rosenthal, 2005).”

Phallic Stage (3-6)

“Basic conflict centers on unconscious incestuous desires that child develops for parent of opposite sex and that, because of their threatening nature, are repressed. Male phallic stage, known as Oedipus complex, involves mother as love object for boy. Female phallic stage, known as Electra complex, involves girl’s striving for father’s love and approval. How parents respond, verbally and nonverbally, to child’s emerging sexual- ity has an impact on sexual attitudes and feelings that child develops, (Corey, 2015, p. 67).”

Child has interest in his/or own genitalia and genitalia of others.
Most controversial component of Freud’s theory = Oedipus / Electra Complex (r/t sexual feelings for opposite sex parent)
    1. Oedipus complex (boys) want all of mom’s attention and dad out of the picture.  Does what is necessary to get attention unconsciously.
    2. Electra complex (girls) Little girl wants to beat out mom for dad’s attention, but when she realizes she can’t, she identifies with aggressor – mom – to resolve this.
Castration complex – There is a fear of castration from dad….somehow causes them to repress Oedipus complex. 
Penis Envy –  “Girl develops negative feelings towards mother when she realizes she lacks a penis. This is parallel to castration anxiety in boys.” (Rosenthal, 2005).

Latency Stage (6-12)

“After the torment of sexual impulses of preceding years, this period is relatively quiescent. Sexual interests are replaced by interests in school, playmates, sports, and a range of new activities. This is a time of socializa- tion as child turns outward and forms relationships with others, (Corey, 2015, p. 67).”

Genital Stage (teens – death)

“Freud concerned himself with childhood development rather than adult development. In the genital stage, the focus of sexual energy is toward members of the other sex rather than toward, (Sharf, 2015, p. 376.”  “Old themes of phallic stage are re- vived…adolescents can deal with sexual energy by investing it in various socially acceptable activities such as forming friendships, engaging in art or in sports, and preparing for a career…. (Corey, 2015, p67).”


Corey, G. (2015). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Retrieved from:
Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge.
Sharf, R. S. (2015). Theories of psychotherapy & counseling: Concepts and cases. Cengage Learning.

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Lawrence Kohlberg

“Morality refers to the capacity to make judgments about what is right versus what is wrong…it is preferring to act in ways that are judged to be right, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 222).”


Kohlberg is another stage-theorist in the field of human development (Broderick, 2010). He focused on the nature of moral reason and its development in late childhood and adolescence. His theory is comprised of three primary stages: a pre-conventional stage, conventional stage, and post-conventional stage.  Like Piaget and Erickson, he stated that this development was hierarchical and progressive in nature (Broderick, 2010).

Within each stage, Kohlberg conceived a qualitatively unique pattern of thought (Kassin, 2001; Rest, 1969). Kohlberg’s stages are based on unique patterns of moral thinking (Kassin, 2001; Rest, 1969). In other words, rather than just on prosocial behavior in itself, Kohlberg felt it is more important to understand what produces it (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010)

According to Kohlberg, moral behavior has innate biological origins and is more than just a set of socially defined concepts (Rest, 1969; Walsh, 2000). Additionally moral reasoning includes both emotional and cognitive components (Rest, 1969; Walsh, 2000).  A child’s developing understanding of concepts and their emotional reactions them together produce a child’s developing moral thought (Rest, 1969; Walsh, 2000).

Piaget’s influence

Kohlberg studied Piaget’s States of Development and in particular of individual’s moral development in early childhood.  Like William Perry, Kohlberg beat his theory on Piaget’s insights, whose discussion of moral development only includes childhood stages and milestones.   Piaget’s stages of moral development includes three stages: (1) Premoral Period, (2) Heteronomous Morality, and (3_ Autonomous Morality (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).

Premoral Period

Piaget described preschool aged children as having premoral thjinking since they appear unconcerned about established rules or moral standards, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).  At this age, they make up their own rules, and are focused instead on making sense of sensory information and developing motor abilities.

Heteronomous Morality

Around the age of 5 children begin to display heteronomous morality (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). This moral thinking involves following rules determined by authority figures.   At this stage, children have an absolutist moral standard in which rules are strictly adhered to and immutable, (Broderick & Blewwitt, 2010).  They must be obeyed, and violations always result in punishment.

Autonomous Morality

As individuals enter adolescence, their thinking becomes more autonomous.  “They begin to understand that rules are based on social agreements that can be changed, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 224).” Consequently, they are understood as being arbitrary, and open for negotation in accordance with the principles of “cooperation, equality, and reciprocity. (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 225).

Stages of Moral Development


As is noted in the above diagram, Kohlberg further refines Piaget’s insights by providing a much more detailed description of individual moral development.  “Unlike Piaget’s dilemmas, which focused on everyday challenges…., (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 225)” Kohlberg’s challenges involve extraordinary challenges, that produce broad philosophical concerns.  His stages of moral development are described in greater detail below:

Preconventional Level

Occurring between the ages of 2-7, pre-conventional morality is guided by the consequences of one’s actions.  Behavior at this stage is guided by the concepts of punishment and reward (Rosenthal, 2005).  Broderick & Blewitt, (2010) note that this stage reflects Piaget’s heteronomous moral level. Thinking is guided by a self-serving standards and authority is unquestioned.  This Level contains two stages described as follows:

STAGE #1: “Punishment & Obedience”

During this stage, the child “obeys in order to avoid punishment and because authority is assumed to be superior or right.  Rules are interpreted literally, no judgment is involved, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 225).”

STAGE #2: “Concrete, Individualistic Orientation”

Next, in the pre-conventional level is the development of of an individualistic and instrumental orientation.  During this stage, the child follows rules in order to serve his or her own interests.  Occasionally, this stage also involves a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010)”, as other’s needs are also considered at times.

Conventional Level

Occurring during early adolescence, the conventional level involves “living up to standards set by your family, the nation or your culture, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  Consistent with Piaget’s autonomous morality, this thinking depends on the approval of others.  Success is a “byproduct of your ability to identify with those in power and live according to socially-defined rules, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  It contains two substages:

Stage #3: Good Boy / Good Girl Morality

During this stage, morality is guided by a desire to attain approval from others (Rosenthal, 2005). Described as the “Social-Relational Perspective” in Broderick & Blewitt (2010), it focuses on activities and attitudes helpful to one’s social group, (i.e. helpfulness, forgiveness, and generosity).

Stage #4: Law and Order Morality

During this stage, members are focused on maintaining social order (Rosenthal, 2005).  Behaviors are guided by social order and geared toward the contribution of the social system.  Individuals are oriented toward valuing obeying the law and working hard.

Postconventional Level

In Kohlberg’s final stage of morality individuals act on the basis of self-defined principles, (Rosenthal, 2005).  Post-conventional morality is defined by universal principles.   It includes the following sub-stages:

Stage #5: Prior Rights & Social Contract

During this stage, “individuals want to maintain respect with equals in the community, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  Moral thought is based upon the social contract and serving “democratic principles and individual rights, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 225).”

Stage #6: Universal Ethical Principles

In Kohlberg’s final stage of moral development, individual’s are concerned with adhering universal ethical principles and equal rights.  “Abstract moral principles are valued over anything else (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 225).”


Broderick, P.C. & Blewitt, P. (2010). Life Span Development: Human Development for Helping Professionals. (3rd. Ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.
Puka, B. (2002). The DIT and the ‘Dark Side’ of Development. Journal Of Moral Education, 31(3), 339-352. doi:10.1080/0305724022000008157
Kassin, Paul. (2001). Psychology. (3rd Ed.). Upper Saddle Creek River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Rest, J., Turiel, E., & Kohlberg, L. (1969). Level of moral development as a determinant of preference and comprehension of moral judgments made by others. Journal Of Personality, 37(2), 225-252.
Walsh, C. (2000). The life and legacy of Lawrence Kohlberg. Society. 37(2) 36-41.


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William Perry

After reviewing Piaget’s theory in his review of Human Growth and Development perspectives for the NCE, Rosenthal, (2005) then discusses the work of William Perry, who builds upon Piaget’s insights.  In his 1970 book, “Forms of Intellectual & Ethical Development”, Perry describes a stage theory of intellectual and moral development in adolescent and adulthood.  His theory describes a transition of moral and ethical development of students in higher education settings “from absolute adherence to authority to beliefs founded on personal commitment, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 364).”  His study involved a series of extensive interviews of students in the 50’s and 60’s.  He describes a nine of growth from dualistic to relativistic thinking.

Stage #1: Strict Dualism

Rosenthal (2005) describes dualistic thinking as an black and white moral perspective common in teens that differentiates things in terms of right/wrong and good bad.  “Strict dualistic thinking implies a rigid adherence to authoritarian views, a childlike division between in-group and out-group, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 365).” Authority figures are not questioned and their dictations of right/wrong determine one’s moral thinking.

Stage #2: Multiplicity (Pre-legitimate)

This stage begins as a individuals begin to acknowledge that there are multiple viewpoints on matters with each contradicting the other (Rosenthal, 2005).  While maintaining a belief in authority figures and right/wrong thinking, a sense of confusion and uncertainty set in.

Stage #3: Multiplicity (Subordinate)

In this stage, “the individual grudgingly acknowledges the reality and legitimacy of multiple perspectives, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 366).”  Unable to readily dismiss viewpoints that contradict our own.  As individuals begin questioning authority figures, it dawns on us that we’re forced to figure things out ourselves.

Stage #4: Late Multiplicity

During late multiplicity, individuals that even authorities disagree regarding what is right or wrong. Perry observed two responses to this.  With the oppositional solution, “either authority is right, or no one is right, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 365).”  In contrast, the relative subordinate response involves evaluating some positions as more legitimate than others, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Individuals begin engaging in a metacognitive endeavor that involves examining how “rational arguments are constructed and weighed, (Broderick, & Blewitt, 2010, p. 366).”

Stage #5: Contextual Relativism

Rosenthal, (2005), describes relativistic thinking as moral thought process which acknowledges that there’s more than one way of seeing the world.  It is a major leap forward in one’s moral thinking since it no longer encompasses black and white thinking.  Instead critical thinking and judgment guide an individual’s moral thinking.   Individuals here are no longer able to “accept the fiction that everyone’s ideas are as good as everyone else’s, (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 367).”  Students appreciate examining mental perspectives and develop a tolerance and respect of other perspectives

Stages #6-9: Commitment

In these final stages, individual’s “make a decision on how they will view the world, while realizing they may modify this choices based on new information, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  My course textbook describes this commit as a process.  This process begins with individuals foreseeing a commitment process.  They begin affirming their beliefs, while realizing that absolute proof is never possible (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).  However, Perry also describes individuals who refrain from full commitment, by either remaining at a relativist perspective, or retreating to dualism for a sense of security that can come with absolutist thinking (Broderick, & Blewitt, 2010).


Broderick, P.C. & Blewitt P. (2010). The Life Span: Human Development for Helping Professionals. 3rd Ed. New Jersey: Pearson.
Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge.

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Jean Piaget – Stages of Development

Biographical Overview

Jean Piaget was born on August 9th, 1896 in Neuchatel, Switzerland.  “He published his first paper at age 11 and wrote over 30 volumes without any formal training or degree in psychology. “In 1918, Piaget received his Doctorate in Science from the University of Neuchâtel. He worked for a year at psychology labs in Zurich and at Bleuler’s famous psychiatric clinic. During this period, he was introduced to the works of Freud, Jung, and others, (Boeree, 2006, p. 2).”  Trained in zoology, he worked with Alfred Binet on first intelligence test, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  Criticized for his research methods, he was interested in understanding how children solved problems, (Rosenthal, 2005).   He considered himself the father of a new field called “genetic epistemology”, a field that focuses on the study of the development of knowledge, (Boeree, 2006).  He married his wife in 1921 and they had three children together.  Between 1929 and 1968 he was the director of the International Bureau of Education.  In 1940, “He became chair of Experimental Psychology, the Director of the psychology laboratory, and the president of the Swiss Society of Psycholoby, (Boeree, 2006, p. 2).”   Later in his career he was bestowed several honorary degrees and held a position as professor (Boeree, 2006).  He died on September 16, 1980 in Geneva.  Rosenthal, (2095), calls him a “Developmental Structuralist” since he believed there universal stages of psychological developmen. Rosenthal, (2005), also calls him a  Universal Constructivist – the stages of developmental are universal and the child literally constructs his/her cognitive development. Heredity is responsible for unfolding the stages.

“Forces driving Piaget’s theory[include]…(1) Piaget was an evolutionary biologist. (2) Therefore, he believed that all organisms must adapt to survive. (3) Adaptation takes place at the species level phylogenetically. (4) Adaptation also takes place at the individual level ontogenetically. (5) Intelligence happens in biological organisms. (6) Therefore, intelligence is a biological process. (7) There intelligence adapts. (8) Because intelligence adapts ontogenetically, we should be able to observe it in the development of children. (Piaget, 1952)”

Key Concepts

Genetic Epistemology

Piaget did not call himself a psychologist.  He described his research as “genetic epistemology”.  While genetic refers to mechanisms of heredity epistemology refers to the formation and development of knowledge.  In other words, Piaget is interested in universal aspects of human cognitive development that reflect how we develop knowledge of the world around us.


Piaget defines schemas as building block of knowledge that allow children to interact with their environment  (Piaget, 1952). Schemas provide mental representations of the world and help us make sense of what we encounter.  Rosenthal (2005), describes schemas as reflecting the “way a person acquires knowledge about the world….[they are comprised of] patterns of organized thought or behavior” As children grow, they develop sensorimotor skills that reflect their exploration of the environment and growing knowledge about the world (Boeree, 2006).  Piaget describes this growing knowledge as an internalized schema or mental representation of the world around him.  Later schemas grow out of earlier ones.

Assimilation & Accommodation

“Assimilation and accommodation work like pendulum swings at advancing our understanding of the world and our competency in it, (Boeree, 2006, p. 3).”  They are complementary processes that together guide the development of our cognitive processes and developing schema about the world.  Rosenthal (2005) states that “Humans strive for ‘equilibration’ between these two processes.”


“Assimilation involves learning from an existing scheme or taking inknowledge by using an existing cognitive structure, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  For example assimilating a new object into an old schema might involve learning about the texture of different objects by putting them in your mouth, (like a rattle versus a pacifier).


In contrast,  accommodation involves the development of a new cognitive structure to deal with new information or situations.  For example, a child who is breastfed must learn a new schematic approach to drinking from a cup.   In other words, while assimilation involves building upon old knowledge, accommodation involves the development of knew knowledge.

Developmental Stages

Sensorimotor Stage

“The sensorimotor stage lasts from birth to about two years old. As the name implies, the infant uses senses and motor abilities to understand the world, beginning with reflexes and ending with complex combinations of sensorimotor skills, (Boeree, 2006, p. 3).” Rosenthal, (2005), notes that behavior is reflexive in nature and learning is focused on sensory information.   Key developmental milestones during this stage include: object permanence (representational thought), time and causality (Rosenthal, 2005).

Sub Stage #1: Utilizing reflexes

Since Piaget conceived thinking [as] a biological process that allows [us] to adapt to the world, (Piaget, 1952, p. 25).” Reflexive behaviors like sucking existed as our earliest schematic and evolutionary adaptation to the environment.  As infants initiate these reflexive behaviors they are refined as a byproduct of environmental requirements.  For example, bottle fed babies learn to suck differently than Breastfed babies.

Sub Stage #2: Primary circular reactions

The second Sub-Stage occurs between the ages of one and four months and involves the utilization of reflexive behavior for purposes of enjoyment rather her than as a response to stimuli (Boeree, 2006; Piaget, 1952).  These circular reasoning actions involve activities like thumb-sucking, and serves as a stimulus to which the baby responds with the same action. (Boeree, 2006).

Sub Stage #3: Secondary circular reactions

The third sensorimotor sub-Stage occurs between 4-12 months and involves a more complex array of circular reactions (Boeree, 2006; Piaget, 1952).  During this Stage, primary circular activities involving one’s body are applied instead to the environment.  For example, babies make gut stop sucking their thumb and instead utilize a rattle or pacifier.  The point is, secondary circular reactions are functionally identical to primary circular reactions, while focused instead on the environment.

Sub Stage #4: Tertiary circular reactions

“Between 12 months and 24 months, the child works on tertiary circular reactions, (Boeree, 2006).”   At this stage, babies begin refining their schemas further in accordance with environmental feedback (Piaget, 1952).   This stage involves an “active experimentation that involves] discovering new and interesting way of [doing things], (Boeree, 2006, p. 4).”  Circular reactions in this stage, are aimed at producing new effects towards unique goals.  While previous stages are aimed at learning about the environment, this stage involves learning how aspects of our environment interact with one another (Boeree, 2006).   Gravity is a convenient example.

Sub Stage #5:  Developing mental representations

Around a year and a half, children are developing mental representations of their world.   Internalized schemas provide a template for how a child can anticipate responding to certain situations.  Holding these experiences in our memory can allow us to replicate a response when  we encounter a similar situation (Boeree, 2006).

Preoperational Stage

Lasting from ages 2-7, this stage involves the development of symbolic thinking.   Piaget describes symbols as thoughts or mental representations which represent something else.  These symbols encompass images and words as the child develops language while engaging in creative/pretend play (Boeree, 2006; Rosenthal, 2005).  The key development occurring at this age includes thinking of objects in the environment at times when they are not present.  They exist instead in the mind as symbols or schema.  This allows for the development thought – what Piaget calls an “operation” (Rosenthal, 2005).  Key characteristics of this stage include egocentric thinking, pretend play, and language development (Rosenthal, 2005).

Concrete Operational Stage

The concrete operational stage occurs from ages 7-11.  Piaget uses the words operation to refer to “logical operations or principles we can use when solving problems, (Boeree, 2006, p. 6).”  At this stage, children are able to hold symbols in their mind as mental representations of objects in the world and manipulate them.   This can allow children to comprehend the viewpoint of others and mentally manipulate objects (Rosenthal, 2005).  Key developmental tasks include an understanding of math concepts, classification, serialization, reversibility of objects, and conservation of matter (Boeree, 2006; Rosenthal, 2005).

Formal Operational Stage

Occurring between the ages of 11-15, and involves the development of abstract, hypothetical, deductive reasoning (Rosenthal, 2005).  Once symbolic play and mental imagery have developed, abstract representations are able to be reorganized into a a representative thought (Piaget, 1972).  This allows us to think of possibilities and hypotheticals as we experiment with concepts in order to solve problems and understand metaphors (Rosenthal, 2005).  For example, when investigating a problem, children at this age can assess possible solutions as follows (Boeree, 2006).   Adolescents are able to tackle subjects like algebra (Rosenthal, 2005).  Key developmental accomplishments include the presence of abstract thought and mature moral thinking.  Piaget felt that only about 50% of the population, actually reached this stage (Rosenthal, 2005).



Boeree, G. (2096). Jean Piaget.  Retrieved from:

Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children.  Retrieved from:

Piaget, J. (1972). Intellectual Evolution from Adolesence to Adulthood.  Retrieved from:

Piaget, J. (2013). The construction of reality in the child (Vol. 82). Routledge.

Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge.

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