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  • Dr. Marie Dezelic



“A Comprehensive Meaning-Centered Therapeutic Approach” is depicted in this “Conceptual Pictograph”—a term coined by this author (Dezelic, 2013; Dezelic, 2014), to illustrate various schools of psychotherapy that have laid a foundation for psychology and behavioral sciences. Each theory, with its respective founder, plays an integral part in understanding personality structure and development, as well as in assisting the human being toward working through past traumas, present difficulties and setbacks, and fostering further growth, development, possibilities, actualization, and self-transcendence through an integrated mind-body-spirit approach. When we attempt at understanding human behavior and motivation through one lens, or one theoretical model, we limit ourselves by the confines of that theory, and tend to limit our ability to help an individual as clinicians. If we assume a more open and cooperative stance, we not only are able to conceptualize and understand more about human development, we are also able to aid the person to reach his or her maximum potential in his or her lifetime. As each theory attempts to describe personality structure development, it also creates a therapeutic style for therapeutic counseling. With the understanding that each human being is completely unique, with his or her own unique set of life circumstances, (an existential approach to understanding human beings), I propose that the more openness and adaptability a therapist offers in the therapy room, the better the therapist will be able to connect with and understand, and therefore guide, the individual seeking assistance and support.

As we examine the key theorists—S. Freud, A. Adler, V. Frankl, A. Maslow, E. Erikson, and C. Rogers—with extremely brief descriptions of their respective psychological, theoretical models, it is important to recognize that the main components of their theory is what is used in this comprehensive existential model. Freud and behavioral approaches, viewed personality development, human behavior and motivation as determined, a reductionist viewpoint; this comprehensive, integrated existential model takes the attitude that human beings are motivated by their intrinsic thriving toward meaning and purpose in life, as well as a continuous betterment of self, namely a humanistic viewpoint. However, this does not discount that human beings have drives and motivations outside of this realm, as well as defense mechanisms to try and mediate their environment, and that behavioral cueing does takes place, and can also allow for meaningful growth. It simply states that human beings are not stuck or predetermined because of this, and can move beyond defenses, complexes, and cueing, toward a present and future of responsibility, freedom, choice, creativity, meaning and purpose, self-actualization, and ultimately, self-transcendence and greater connection with all other living beings, nature, an ultimate divine (if one believes), and the universal energy.


Psychological Theories Examined

Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis (1856-1939)

Sigmund Freud was and remains a significant pioneer who offered a foundation for psychotherapeutic development. An education in the field of psychology cannot eliminate one of the key founding fathers, even if one does not agree with his philosophies, conceptualizations or methodologies. An in depth study of philosophy and religion will show that many of the theories expounded upon during this review began at a much earlier date than Freud; however, Freud can be thought of as the forerunner who sought to bring public awareness and attention to the significance of the psyche (mind), and the in depth understanding and analysis in this area of the human being as a crucial field in the human behavioral sciences.

Freud was greatly influenced by Dr. Joseph Breuer, who worked in Brucke’s lab, and shared many cases and his now-famous case of hysteria, “Anna O,” the patient Bertha Pappenheim, and his method of treatment that included hypnosis and then later simply talking and free associating, which Freud came to call the “talking cure,” as a method to relieve the repressed sexual thoughts exhibited as neurosis. The two would go on to co-author Studies in Hysteria (1895), “which, according to historian of psychology, marks the actual beginning of psychoanalysis as a school of thought” (Morgan, 2010, p.29). Freud was also greatly influenced by his encounters with the famous psychologist and neurologist, Jean Martin Charcot of Paris, when we went on a traveling grant to study with him. This is said to be the time when Freud made a transition from neurophysiology to the practice of medical psychotherapy; and it is said that Charcot was the one who first suggested the importance of sexuality in mental disorders. Freud and Breuer eventually parted ways when Freud continued to expound on his sexual theory as the etiology of all neuroses.

It is important to recognize these key figures in Freud’s development of his theory, as we are all greatly influenced by our families of origin, mentors/teachers, friends, and colleagues in various ways. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory grew out of the influence of several factors, and brought psychology to the forefront of human development at his time. He practiced as a physician for nearly sixty years, and produced some major works, often looked upon as controversial during his time, in his theorizing of human development, titled: Studies in Hysteria, co-authored with Breuer (1895), The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Totem and Taboo (1912), Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1916-1917), Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Das Unbehagen in der Kulture (1930)—translated into Civilization and Its Discontents, and New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1933) (Morgan, 2010). These seminal works proposed Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of human personality development through the topography of the mind (unconscious, preconscious, and conscious), ego development (id, ego, superego), pleasure and reality principles, dream interpretation/analysis, defense mechanisms, and psycho-sexual stage theory.

An extremely brief description of some of these major concepts as a basis for understanding human psychological development from Freud’s point of view include the psychocartography, a “mapping of mind function” of human behavior, through three levels of human functioning, also known as the mental topography of the mind, (1) the conscious level—what one is aware of in the present moment, (2) the preconscious level—what is stored in memory, but not immediately available to awareness, and the (3) unconscious level—what is screened material deemed to be unnecessary for immediate recall or preconscious memory, possibly protected material that could impact adaptive functioning, such as traumatic experiences. Within this psychocartography, Freud stated that the human personality was comprised of three personality constructs, (1) the “Id”—driven by instinctual behaviors and the pleasure principle, (2) the “Ego”—which acts as a mediator between desires from the Id and the appropriate, acceptable behavior of society as a whole, essentially the negotiator between the pleasure principle (desire for happiness) and the reality principle (avoidance of pain), and (3) the “Superego”—comprised of the conscience and ego-ideal, an ultimate projection of society’s self-image. Freud’s psychosexual development theory—a combination of psychological and sexual development—states that an individual passes through or can become fixated in any of the following stages causing a neurosis, taking into consideration the development of the three personality constructs: (1) Oral—first year of life, oral gratification impacts establishing a trust in relationships with others; (2) Anal—second and third year of life, retention and expulsion impacts self-control and mastery; (3) Phallic—fourth year of life, libidinal interests, masturbation and self genital exploration impacts behavior as it relates to sense of self in relation to others, includes the concept of the Oedipus complex—developing feelings of love and strong desire for the opposite sex parent and hostility toward same sex parent; (3) Latency—sixth year of life, a period of relative calm as related to sexual development; (4) Genital—adolescence and puberty, increased awareness of interest and love in the opposite sex, and increased hormonal activity and drives, impacts one’s ability to postpone gratification, and develop responsibility in one’s life though actions taken. Additionally, defense mechanisms were described as being developed as a coping mechanism between the Id, Ego, and Superego, throughout psychosexual stages, emerging from one’s mediation between life and death, such as repression, denial, projection, identification, rationalization, sublimation and displacement. Finally, Freud’s psychoanalytic theory was comprised of the concepts and therapeutic tools, which consisted of

… free association, interpretation of resistance, dream analysis, and analysis of transference [transferring on to the therapist repressed or unconscious feelings from childhood struggles not yet worked through in the present] to probe the patient’s unconscious with the aim of making possible a deeper understanding of the self. These newly acquired self-insights are then converted into the person’s everyday life through the method of emotional re-education (Morgan, 2010, p.52).

Freud’s explanation for the “meaning of life” can be summed up as the struggle between “life against death” (creativity—eros or libido, versus thanatos—death instinct, complete destruction), and that eventually mature individuals must learn to face the notion that life is meaningless, and does not contain any transcendent meaning (Morgan, 2010); he believed that the entire human development was a fight against this notion of meaninglessness.

Alfred Adler and Individual Psychology (1870-1937)

The major works that Adler published during his time, referencing his ideologies and theories of psychological and personality structure development included: The Physician as Educator (1904), The Neurotic Constitution (1912), The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (28 essays which established Individual Psychology as a new school of thought) (1920), Understanding Human Nature (1926), The Technique of Individual Psychology (1929).

Adler believed that behind every neurosis was a personality character that felt weak with an incapacity to adapt to the majority, utilizing an aggressive attitude taking psychological form in a neurosis. Additionally, “Individual Psychology regards the craving for power on the part of the individual and of nations as a reaction to deep feelings of inferiority” (Morgan, 2010, p. 59). For Adler, inferiority and the compensation for this, was always the central theme in conceptualizing human nature, and he stated that a person’s behavioral patterns could be understood from one’s relationship to society, work, and sex, and their level of inferiority. Based on this notion of inferiority, “Adler never stopped emphasizing the need to stimulate in the child a sense of confidence, to evoke his cooperative dispositions, to socialize and humanize his ego, especially to teachers and parents” (Morgan, 2010, p. 61).

Adler’s major concepts in his Individual Psychology theory included the Family Constellation, bringing awareness to the position in the family that the child occupies, for which he was the first to place emphasis on this notion in psychological development. “He was himself one of several children and always felt confident that the order a child is born into the family would/could/should have a major, and not always positive, impact upon his development” (Morgan, 2010, p.64). The concept of the Inferiority Complex, another of Adler’s significant contributions to the field, came from his understanding of the second-born child trying to reach the dominance of the first-born child as compensational behavior for feelings of inferiority.

This human quest, commencing in early childhood, for self-realization, completeness, and perfection, is usually frustrated by feelings of inadequacy, or incompleteness arising from physical defects, low social status, pampering or neglect during childhood, and not infrequently birth-order. Compensational behaviors relative to these feelings of inferiority can include the development of personal skills and abilities (Morgan, 2010, p. 68).

Adler placed great focus on the parent and educator to assist the child in positive responses to maladaptive environments, and physical ailments and disabilities. And Adler specifically chose the term Individual Psychology

… to identify his system of theory and analysis because of his radical emphasis upon the essential subjective nature of the individual’s striving, the innate creativity of human psychological adaptation, and the wholeness of the individual’s unified personality. The drive for superiority in the face of compensatory behavioral response to personal feelings of inferiority constitutes the matrix of human development (Morgan, 2010, p. 69).

Additionally, he spoke of fictional finalism, social interests, style of life, and the creative self. Adler adopted a notion of “idealistic positivism” rather than Freud’s “historical determinism,” stating that individuals are motivated by hopes and aspirations for the future, a striving toward this future with “fictional goals”—which may or may not be realized, rather than suppressed experiences from their past and predetermined by drives—significant of Freud’s theory (Morgan, 2010). “Style of Life” explains the key constructs of Adler’s theory within one simplified phrase:

The style of life one lives is early formed in childhood. Based upon social encounters with the outside world as well as birth order and family life, the style of life is constructed. His attitudes, feelings, apperceptions, and aspirations are set in motion. One’s sense of inferiority in various aspects of life are contributing factors in the development of one’s style of life always within the context of self-aware inferiorities and the self-administered pressure to seek perfection and personal fulfillment in one’s life (Morgan, 2010, p.74).

With regards to “meaning in life,” Adler’s concept of the creative self is central. “It is this creative self which gives a person meaning in life. It is the active principle of humanity. In essence, the doctrine of a creative self asserts that man makes his own personality” (Morgan, 2010, p. 74). Adler’s theory, a humanistic approach, spoke of the uniqueness of the individual, awareness, creativity, and cooperation, which are the underpinnings of humanistic, existential concepts.

Viktor Frankl and Logotherapy (1905-1997)

Frankl developed an eager interest in psychiatry and psychology during his adolescence, and sent an essay to Sigmund Freud by the age of 16; the article was published by the time he was 19. Frankl’s matriculation paper from gymnasium addressed the psychology of philosophical thinking, as he had a strong interest in the great philosophers as well. Frankl entered the University of Vienna’s school of medicine, and specialized in neurology and psychiatry, with a particular focus in depression and suicide. Within this area of interest, Frankl began to postulate his initial conceptualizations of his theory, expanding on his predecessors whom he studied, Freud and Adler’s theories, as he intently began to examine suicide—the desire to end one’s life as a choice, feeling that there are no other options or choices, often resulting from a depression and state of meaninglessness and despair. During this time, Frankl was also in contact with Adler, and had interests in Adler’s Individual Psychology, for which we will see certain concepts had a strong influence on his own theory; namely, that an individual is not a predetermined being by drives and instincts, the creative self, uniqueness of the individual, seeing man as what he can become rather than who he is right now, and the overall humanistic approach. Frankl published a paper in Adler’s International Journal of Individual Psychology in 1925, and in 1926, he first introduced the term Logotherapy and his Existential Analysis.

During his medical school training, Frankl became president of “Skozialistische Mittelschuler Osterreich,” which provided support and counseling to fellow students during their examination trials, to reduce suicidality among them during this extremely difficult time. During Frankl’s time assisting with these students, there were no reported suicides, providing an additional framework and foundation for his continued work. Upon completing medical school, Frankl was appointed as head of the “Selbstmorderpavillon,”—the suicide pavilion, at the General Hospital in Vienna, which provided treatment for suicidal women, where Frankl and his colleagues treated over 30,000 women prone to suicide, at suicide risk, or who had attempted suicide. In 1938, with the rise of anti-Semitism, and Hitler’s troops beginning to invade Austria, Frankl moved into private practice, but was later called to Rothschild Hospital (Morgan, 2010).

Frankl had the opportunity to leave Austria, but due to his aging parents, he did not want to leave them on their own to a possible difficult fate from the Nazi Regime; the following year, on September 25th, 1942, Viktor Frankl, his wife, brother, and parents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. With him, hidden in the lining of his coat pocket, was his original manuscript outlining his theory of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis. It was destroyed by the guards, however, Frankl worked fervently to rewrite it on bits and scraps of paper during his time in the camps, and said that among other things, this gave him a “why” to live for. Frankl remained in the camps for three years, being transferred to four different locations, including Auschwitz. Frankl’s wife died from malnutrition right after liberation in the camps, and the rest of his family perished in the concentration camps (Morgan, 2010).

In the spring of 1945, Frankl was liberated from the concentration camps under the control of the Nazi Regime. Frankl’s life in the camps was a significant environmental contribution to his attitude, way of life, and validated his theory. While there, he served as a general practitioner, as well as he was asked to establish a special unit to help newcomers to adjust to camp life and overcome their initial shock and grief. From this, he eventually created a suicide watch unit. Additionally, by night, after working long hard labor days, he gave lectures on various psychiatric-mental health topics to fellow practitioners “as a means of maintaining his own sanity and, as he reflected later in life, attempting against all odds to objectify his experience for purposes of scientific analysis and pragmatic assessment of its relevance to the meaning of life” (Morgan, 2010, p.99). Frankl was made head of the neurological clinic in Block B IV, for the mental health care of those suffering from acute depression. Additionally, he was granted permission to give a series of lectures at Theresienstadt; Frankl also organized a Scientific Society meeting group, where he lectured on “Life Exhaustion and Life-Courage in Terezin” (Morgan, 2010, p.99). Frankl’s courage and determination to hold these meetings, as well as his willingness and desire to help others maintain a sense of meaning, even in these most harsh and inhumane circumstances, proved his point that life remains meaningful even amidst suffering and pain.

Upon Frankl’s release, he reproduced the original manuscript he brought with him into the camps, with additions from his now further scientific observations of human behavior and personal, experiential understanding of extreme suffering, and the human being’s “Will to Meaning,” titled The Doctor and the Soul (first published in 1946 in German); in this book, he outlined his original theory and methodology of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis—which later became known as the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. Frankl disagreed with Freud’s “Will to Pleasure” as the basis for all human behavior and personality theory, and moved beyond Adler’s “Will to Power,” yet adopting key concepts from Adler, stating that human beings are ultimately pulled toward their future from their “Will to Meaning.” Soon after his liberation and his first book, Frankl wrote his most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning (under a different title—1946 Vienna, Austria in German, 1959 United States in English), as an attempt to show his scientific findings and observations of human behavior in extreme situations (personal account of the Nazi concentration camps), as well as give some brief points and outline of his theory of Logotherapy. In this book, Frankl specifically outlined Tragic Optimism, optimism in the face of tragedy. Frankl went on to write countless articles and lectures, a total of 32 books, including The Will to Meaning (1969), Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (1975), and The Unheard Cry for Meaning (1978), and served as a visiting professor and lecturer at Harvard, Stanford, as well as many other academic institutions and venues worldwide; he was a Distinguished Professor of Logotherapy at the U.S. International University in San Diego, CA, and for twenty-five years, and the head of the Neurology department at the Vienna Policlinic (hospital). Additionally, among his many honors bestowed upon him, The American Psychiatric Association honored Frankl with the Oskar Pfister Award for Hospice and Homecare (Morgan, 2010; Dezelic, 2014).

In Frankl’s meaning-oriented theory, he chose the Greek word “Logos,” as it denotes “meaning.” He sought to convey that the search for Meaning opens an entirely new dimension, and that we need to look past the pathology, into the Logos—meaning, to help the person move beyond their difficulties and tragedies. He postulated that the search for and discovery of Meaning is the primary motivational force activated in life, rather than “pleasure” (Freud) and “power” (Adler), and that potential Meaning is inherent and dormant in every situation one faces in life.

Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis expresses the unique quality of the human being through its Dimensional Ontology—that the human being is comprised of three interconnected parts, Soma (Body), Psyche (Mind), and Noös (Spirit). When Frankl spoke of spirit, he did so from a non-religious and dogmatic context, describing spirit as the unique essence of the person, where one’s Will to Meaning resides. The three main Tenets described in Logotherapy view all individuals as motivated by and pulled toward the future through their (1) Freedom of Will, (2) Will to Meaning, and (3) Meaning of Life, having the ability to culminate in Self-Transcendence, all of which exist within the Nöetic—Spiritual Dimension. Frankl believed that Logotherapy and Existential Analysis would help individuals dealing with life’s difficult and tragic situations by using the main methods—Socratic Dialogue, Paradoxical Intention, Dereflection, Resources of the Spirit, and Modification of Attitudes—to lessen the impact, mediate reactive responses, discover meaning, and ultimately help them modify their attitudes toward unavoidable situations and suffering. Frankl spoke of two main triads that caused people to experience an existential frustration, despair, and an existential vacuum; the first was The Tragic Triad comprised of Unavoidable Suffering, Guilt, and Death; and the second was The Neurotic Triad comprised of Aggression, Depression, and Addiction. Frankl was also particularly interested in social impacts, whereby individuals experienced a Collective Neurosis; and additionally in a wholly new psychological construct, a Noogenic (Spiritual) Neurosis, whereby the individual’s Will to Meaning has become frustrated and one experiences a sense of meaninglessness and despair (Morgan, 2010; Dezelic, 2013).

… Logotherapy specifically addresses these human experiences [The Tragic Triad, The Neurotic Triad, Noogenic Neurosis, and Collective Neurosis,] to demonstrate how even the most acutely emotional experiences of negativity can be transmogrified into a cause for optimism and hope. Because a fundamental feature of the human spirit is the capacity to change, to redirect oneself, to take on a new outlook on life, the individual can address the realities of pain and guilt and the eventuality of death with a personal sense of empowerment, of responsibility, of courage to face and change the future (Morgan, 2010, p.110).

With regards to “meaning in life,” Frankl’s entire theory and therapy focuses on the fact that meaning in life is always present, up until our last breaths. He maintained that individuals are always in search of meaning, and that Logotherapy and Existential Analysis is essentially and education to awareness of one’s uniqueness, responsibility, freedom, as well as unique imprint on this world. His existential and humanistic theory has been gaining recognition, including now having evidence-based practices, especially in western society where there is a large movement toward psychological and spiritual integration.

Abraham Maslow and Humanistic Psychology (1908-1970)

Maslow’s childhood is characterized as a time period of loneliness, isolation, unhappiness, where he took comfort and solace in his books and intellect. His environment, stated by him, was that of aggressiveness from his parents, and what might seemingly be based on his description, a schizophrenic mother. It is a great and probably possibility that Maslow’s conceptualization of the “Hierarchy of Needs” as well as a focus on mental health rather than mental illness, came from his own childhood needs not being met or barely being met, and his own fight toward health rather than the despair and loneliness he experienced, even while being part of a large family.

Maslow was greatly influenced by his work and study under Harry Harlow in Wisconsin, involved in behaviorism. After completing his Ph.D., Maslow left Wisconsin and moved back to New York, where he worked with E.L. Thorndike, and specifically in research of human sexuality. This, I believe prompted his understanding of love and belongingness, as well as the needs within our love relationships, be they familial, friendship or intimate. In New York, Maslow had the opportunity to work with several important theorists and psychologists in the Freudian and Gestalt schools of thought, as well as Adler, Fromm, and Horney. Specifically with Adler, Maslow was invited to participate in Adler’s Friday night home seminar sessions. And we will see that several of Adler’s concepts are intertwined in Maslow’s humanistic theory. Additionally, Maslow went through his own psychoanalysis at this time. “Unlike Freud, Jung, and Adler, Maslow was disinclined to focus his attention and research upon the mentally ill, preferring to study why and how people are mentally healthy, happy, and fulfilled” (Morgan, 2010, p.117). From this, Maslow eventually conceptualized his framework of the “Hierarchy of Needs,” constructed as a stepping process, moving in an upward direction from basic needs at the bottom levels to more mature processes and needs at the top levels. When Maslow’s own two daughters were born, he relinquished his behaviorism theory beliefs because of the uniqueness and individuality of their temperaments and styles (Morgan, 2010).

Maslow is known for becoming the head of “Third Force in Psychology,” a humanistic movement, different than that of the Freudian school of thought and Behaviorism. He was involved in many important organizations, which included the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Council, president of the Massachusetts State Psychological Association, presided over the Division of Personality and Social Psychology of the APA (American Psychological Association), was elected as the president of the APA in 1967, and was the founding editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (Morgan, 2010).

“Maslow had become disenchanted with classical psychoanalysis and contemporary behaviorism alike for some the same reasons, primarily because of their intrinsic negativity about the human person and his potential” (Morgan, 2010, p.119). He wrote two very important books, which explicated his approach to understanding and conceptualizing personality theory and development. Toward a Psychology of Being (1962), focused on peak experiences, his optimistic view about human nature (as opposed to Freud, Jung and Adler), and nurturing and fostering of the human being’s potential. He delineated his concept of the “Hierarchy of Needs,” stating that human beings are motivated by unfulfilled and unsatisfied needs, and that they must fulfill certain needs before being able to satisfy others. His multi-level upward moving needs construct starts with (1) physiological needs, (2) safety needs, (3) love and belongingness needs, (4) esteem needs, (5) self-actualization needs. “Satisfying needs, then, according to Maslow, is healthy, necessary, beneficial to the individual, whereas the stifling of this drive to satisfy the fundamental needs leads to mental illness” (Morgan, 2010, p.121). The basic assumptions of Maslow’s theory included that every person has a biologically based nature; each person’s nature is part biological-species and part unique; the person’s inner nature can be scientifically studied; the inner nature is neutral or good rather than evil; this inner nature should be shown; if one’s inner nature is compromised, one will get ill; one’s inner nature needs fostering and care; even when suppressed, the inner nature is always present; supporting and encouraging one’s inner nature leads to mental health (Morgan, 2010). “Only by actualizing these potentials intrinsic to the human person can a truly authentic life emerge” (Morgan, 2010, p.124). Maslow’s other key work, Motivation and Personality (1954, 1st edition), listed 15 qualities that characterize the “self-actualized” person (Morgan, 2010). These 15 qualities that a self-actualized person holds in brief description are: realistic perception; acceptance of self, others and nature; being authentic; address problems; balanced between social connection and self-connection; autonomous; appreciate the newness of experiences; engage in peak experiences; has a social feeling of community; healthy interpersonal relationships; democratic nature; creative; sense of humor; able to distinguish between the means and the end result; resists enculturation (Morgan, 2010). Maslow is best known for The Third Force in Psychology with his Humanistic Movement, the Hierarchy of Needs, and the concept of self-actualization (Morgan, 2010). “Humanistic psychology gave rise to several differing therapies, all guided by the idea that people possess the inner resources for growth and health and that the point of therapy is to help remove obstacles to individual’s achieving this” (Morgan, 2010, p.123).

Erik Erikson and Developmental Psychology (1902-1994)

Erik Erikson, originally named Erik Salomonsen, and soon after Erik Homburger, was born on June 25, 1902, in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, to a young Jewish woman, Karla Abrahamsen, and a Danish father, Erik Salomonsen, who left his mother before Erik’s birth. Erikson’s mother was married to a Jewish stockbroker at the time of his birth, but later married Erik’s pediatrician, Dr. Theodor Homburger, who adopted young Erik and gave him his surname. Erik later changed his surname to Erikson when he emigrated to the United States and took U.S. citizenship. It is quite notable to recognize that Erikson was often teased during his childhood by the temple school children for having a physical appearance of being Nordic, with his blue eyes and blonde hair (acquired from his birth father), and for being Jewish by the public school children. This was the cornerstone for Erikson later in life in examining how a child’s identity was formed due to social engagement and interactions, as well as the ease with which one would pass through difficult life stages. “It has been suggested that possibly this life experience itself was a significant ingredient in leading him to the development of his now famous eight stages of development” (Morgan, 2010, p.134).

Erikson never pursued a formalized educational career past receiving his high school diploma in Germany. He studied art in a variety of places, traveling around central Europe, and eventually came upon Freud’s Psychoanalysis. At the age of twenty-five, he took a teaching assignment in Vienna, Austria, where wealthy American students were learning how to become psychoanalysts at an experimental school under the instruction of Dorothy Burlingham. Here Erikson studied under Anna Freud, underwent psychoanalysis with her, was introduced to the Montessori education method, and was accepted in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Erikson completed the Certificate from the Maria Montessori Teachers Association in Vienna, which was quite surprisingly, given the later academic career he led, the only academic credential Erikson obtained in his entire career as a psychologist and in the field of psychology (Morgan, 2010).

Erikson married Joan Serson in 1929, an American teacher and dancer, whom he met at the experimental school in Vienna, and later became his right hand and collaborator in working with him on his theory and publications. They emigrated to the United States in 1933, where he continued his passion for psychology; Erikson eventually served in Harvard Medical School as a clinical and academic Research Fellow in the department of Neuropsychiatry, offered child psychoanalysis and carried out research with children at Harvard, served in the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University, was professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, and spent one year at the Center for Advanced Studies of the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto, CA (Morgan, 2010). Erikson had a keen interest in personality development as well as cross-cultural studies, and actually went to complete fieldwork research with the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) and the Yurok, Native American populations. “Erikson’s early work concentrated primarily upon psychological testing with special attention to the ways and means of extending Freudian psychoanalytic theories in relation to the effect of social and cultural factors upon human development and personality” (Morgan, 2010, p.136). Erikson’s “encounter with psychoanalytic shortcomings coupled with the richness of his cross-cultural experiences eventually led to his development of what came to be called the ‘biopsychosocial’ perspective on childhood and society” (Morgan, 2010, p.136-137). It is important to note that Erikson never claimed to move away from psychoanalysis, only to expound on the theory of psychosexual (somatic) development incorporating the social and cultural aspects on ego development; however, there are some key differences to that will be mentioned.

Erikson wrote many important works during his career, which outlined his theory of developmental ego psychology and the life cycle, including Childhood and Society (1950), Young Man Luther (1958), Identity and the Life Cycle (1959), Insight and Responsibility (1964), Identity: Youth and Crisis (1968), Gandhi’s Truth (1970) for which he was awarded with the Pulitzer Prize, Dimensions of a New Identity (1974), and The Life Cycle Completed: A Review (1982) (Morgan, 2010).

Erikson’s fascination with the study of children, their personality development and their maturation, resulted in the writing of his opus text [Childhood and Society in 1950]. Here, he elaborated his approach of “triple bookkeeping,” as he called it, namely, that understanding a person or behavior involves taking into account somatic factors, social context, and ego development, each in relation to the other (Morgan, 2010, p.139).

Specifically, “Erikson looked at ego development in particular through an analysis of the significance and role of ‘play,’ for it was in child’s play that he was able to emphasize the need for integration” (Morgan, 2010, p. 139-140). His primary contributions to the field of psychology include a further development of Freud’s psychosexual theory to include psychosocial development of the ego, an understanding of the ego as an entity on its own different from the ego’s relation to the id and superego in Freud’s theory; the “epigenetic principle of maturation”—a universal phenomenon whereby the individual’s personality develops and emerges over a course of predetermined phases at specific time periods of the growing and developing process, increasingly interacting with a widening social construct; and his well-known eight stages of psychosocial ego development, also referred to as the “eight stages of man” and the life cycle of the human being (Morgan, 2010).

Erikson’s developmental theory is also known as “ego psychology” due to the fact that his theory emphasized the prominence of the ego in human behavior and development, specifically as an autonomous structure, differing from Freud’s original interpretation. He focused on the social impacts of ego development, and also maintained that the “ego” of the person continues to develop and mature across the lifespan, again beyond where Freud left off with his psychosexual stages. A brief outline of the eight stages of psychosocial development offers an understanding of how the social context emerges and likewise impacts and affects the developing ego. Erikson stated that within these eight stages, there are a series of crisis that present themselves, and how the individual passes through these crisis informs how the ego develops, with both a thwarted aspect and positive pro-social aspect.

It is important to recognize that “each stage of ego development is linked to the previous one and a kind of building block phenomenon occurs such that strong ego boosters grow while weak ego boosters stifle personal development” (Morgan, 2010, p.145). Each stage presents at a specific time period and age in one’s life, in relation to a specific social group that widens with age beginning with the primary caregiver and then extending out to include humanity, with a psychosocial crisis of the stage (in bold), and a virtue or difficulty/maladaptive tendency developed as a result of how the crisis is mediated during the stage (as two ends of a continuum). These will be listed in this above-mentioned order:

E. Erikson’s 8 Psychosocial Stages of Ego Development

Stage I- Infant (age 0-1): Mother/ Trust vs. Mistrust/ Hope, Faith or Sensory Distortion, Withdrawal

Stage II- Toddler (age 2-3): Parents/ Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt/ Will, Determination or Impulsivity, Compulsion

Stage III- Preschooler (age 3-6): Family/ Initiative vs. Guilt/ Purpose, Courage or Ruthlessness, Inhibition

Stage IV- School-age (age 7-12): Neighborhood and School/ Industry vs. Inferiority/ Competence or Narrow Virtuosity, Inertia

Stage V- Adolescence (age 12-18): Peer Groups, Role Models/ Ego-Identity vs. Role-Confusion/ Fidelity, Loyalty or Fanaticism, Repudiation

Stage VI- Young Adult (age 20’s): Partners, Friends/ Intimacy vs. Isolation/ Love or Promiscuity, Exclusivity

Stage VII- Middle Adult (age Late 20’s to 50’s): Household, Workmates/ Generativity vs. Self-Absorption/ Care or Overextension, Rejectivity

Stage VIII- Older Adult (age 50’s and beyond): Mankind, Grandchildren/ Integrity vs. Despair/ Wisdom or Presumption, Despair

“The fully matured human person arrives on the scene when each of these eight stages has been allowed to mature and function in their own time within the personality of each individual” (Morgan, 2010, p.143).

Carl Rogers and Person-Centered Psychotherapy (1902-1987)

Rogers was considered to be intellectually gifted, an introverted type, with no friends during his young developmental and adolescent years. This was mostly due to the rigid, strict boundaries and judgments of his parents. As with the other key theorists in the development of psychology’s history, personal issues and situations experienced during the course of their lives shaped the key components to their theoretical underpinnings. This judgmental and closed view imposed by Rogers’ parents, likely fueled his thought process for him to make assumptions that in order to make personal growth movements and integrations of aspects of ourselves, a warm, empathic, non-judgmental, accepting environment would aid rather than stifle this integration of self.

Rogers earned his BA in history from the University of Wisconsin, married his childhood sweetheart, Helen Elliot, and moved to New York City, where he attained a master’s degree and doctorate from Teachers College of Columbia University in psychology and psychotherapy. Rogers won a fellowship to work in the Institute of Child Guidance, and followed with clinical work at the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, where he studied Otto Rank’s theory and therapy; there he realized that he too, could come up with his own theories and methods of psychotherapy. He moved back to Ohio, to Ohio State University when he accepted a teaching position as a fulltime professor of psychology. After his lecture titled “Newer Concepts in Psychotherapy” offered at the University of Minnesota, he realized that his message was offering new important and provocative insights in the field of psychology (Morgan, 2010). Rogers later moved to accept a position as Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, eventually joined the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, CA, and became a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. By 1968, he and some colleagues founded the Center for the Studies of the Person. Rogers was awarded countless honorary degrees, was president of the American Association for Applied Psychology, president of the American Psychological Association, was the first president of the American Academy for Psychotherapists, and was selected by the American Humanist Association as Humanist of the Year in 1964 (Morgan, 2010).

Rogers published several books and countless journal articles regarding his new method of presenting psychological data—displaying clinical recordings and transcripts of the client’s therapy sessions to be used for analysis. His major works included: Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice (1942); Client-Centered Therapy: It’s Current Practice, Implications, and Theory (1951); and On Becoming a Person (1961). “Rogers’ first and overriding characteristic in the writing of his first major book was to emphasize the warmth and acceptance of the counseling relationship between the counselor and the client or patient” (Morgan, 2010, p.160). As one of the founding fathers of the Humanistic Movement of Psychotherapy—the Third Wave in Psychology, his reasoning behind moving to the word of “client” in therapy rather than patient, was to emphasize that the person seeking therapy was actively choosing to seek help and guidance regarding his/her problem, and was therefore responsible in this relationship. Rogers’ theory moved through a course of names beginning with non-directive counseling, to client-centered counseling, and finally to person-to-person therapy. “He gradually came to realize that the relationship between therapist and client is the most important aspect underlying personality change” (Morgan, 2010, p.160). Rogers offered many new aspects to the therapeutic environment and research, namely, viewing the person as a client with responsibility and choices, a move from a standoff position to an engaged and empathic approach, non-directive stance with the client as guide on the client’s same level, and offering recordings and transcripts of live sessions for analysis and research.

Rogers firmly believed that at the core, every human being is fundamentally good, being essentially purposive, forward-moving, constructive, realistic, and trustworthy. Because of this essential goodness of the human person, every individual given the right opportunity for growth, love, and affirmation will blossom forth in his own innate potential, optimum personal development and effectiveness (Morgan, 2010, p.163)

Rogers’ theory of personality identified three major elements, which appear to structure around the therapeutic environment rather than the personality development, yet inform full personality development and congruence; (1) the therapist needs to provide a warm and permissive relationship; (2) the therapist needs to be able to assume the internal frame of reference of the client’s world and communicate an empathic understanding of this; (3) the therapist needs to be able to reach a mutual expression of feelings between the client and counselor (Morgan, 2010). Rogers identified six core conditions of the client-centered therapeutic relationship which should be met for optimal successful therapy: (1) two persons are in psychological contact and each of them is aware that they make a difference; (2) the client is in a state of incongruence in the relationship with the therapist; (3) the therapist is congruent in the relationship, fully integrated with his/her role in therapy; (4) the therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client; (5) the therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference and is able to effectively communicate this; (6) the therapist’s communication of unconditional positive regard and the empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference must be minimally met for therapeutic growth to occur (Morgan, 2010).

Rogers spoke of the “Actualizing Tendency,” described as the human beings inherent tendency to develop all of his/her capacities and capabilities.

Therefore, he says [Rogers], the fundamental principle guiding every person’s life is the drive to actualize, maintain, or enhance themselves, indeed, to become the best that their inherited natures will permit them to be. This is, essentially, the sole motivating principle in Roger’s theory of personality (Morgan, 2010, p.164).

With this, Rogers brought the notion of “self-concept,” as an organized, gestalt composed of what the individual thinks he/she is, what the individual thinks he/she ought to be, and what the individual would like to be (the ideal self). Rogers explained that the full content of one’s self-concept is fundamentally a product of social/interpersonal interactions with family, culture, and the environment, not the result of the psyche’s repressed unconscious material, as would be said by psychoanalytic theory (Morgan, 2010). Rogers focused primarily on the notion that each individual has a need for positive regard (love, warmth, caring, respect, admiration, affirmation, and above all, acceptance). He stated that when the need for positive regard was not met, there would be incongruence in the person’s self view, and lead to psychological stress, tension, and mental illness. Rogers explained that anxiety (the emotional response) and defense (denial or perceptual distortion—rationalization) are often the results of this threatening experience, causing a sense of vulnerability and possible personality disorganization.

Rogers spoke of a term called the “good life” in regards to the “fully functioning person.” The five personality traits that allow for psychological growth and development toward the fully functioning person are: openness to experience (open to new encounters and challenges), existential living (willing to face life’s challenges), organismic trusting (trust in oneself to make decisions), experiential freedom (explore possibilities in life), and creativity (full expression) (Morgan, 2010). Rogers believed in freedom rather than determinism, that a person was proactive rather than reactive to life’s situations, encouraged responsibility, and respect for the whole person. In Rogers’ phenomenological theory and approach of direct experience, he relied upon the human beings capacity for self-understanding in the here and now. “We are not merely the objective subject of scientific enquiry, but we are the subjective focus of interpersonal self-understanding. Science can help, but it must serve rather than dominate our enquiry” (Morgan, 2010, p.173).

Clinical Applications

As an analogy, I view each theorist as a sibling, a member of a larger family; each one unique with their own style, personality, and essence that they bring to family unit; each one impacts the other and creates a ripple effect on the other; each member is equally important in their significant contributions to the greater good of the family unit (behavioral sciences and spirituality); and as with all things, people outside of the family unit of the great theorists, will naturally be drawn to different members of the family depending on their own temperament, personality style, genetic disposition, and environmental influences.

A therapist, counselor, counseling chaplain is most beneficial as an instrument of change when he or she is trained in as many theories and methods as possible because of the uniqueness of the individual/family they are treating, and the unique circumstances they are dealing with. From a true existential standpoint, an existential therapist addresses the person, not the symptom, and therefore, needs to not only be able to have specific techniques to assist in symptom reduction, but also be able to be alongside the person in dealing with life’s many tragic and traumatic situations, and the existential complexities that may arise throughout the course of one’s life. We all have the ability to create ourselves everyday, regardless of the circumstances around us, or traumas and situations we have gone through. The proposed “Meaning-Centered Existential Therapeutic Approach” offers clinicians a comprehensive and adaptable framework to be able to work with individuals in addressing their unique set of life experiences and resulting symptoms.


Morgan, J. H. (2010). Beginning with Freud: The classical schools of psychotherapy. Lima, OH: Wyndham Hall Press.


These Handouts are meant for Mind-Body-Spirit (bio-psycho-social-spiritual) awareness and self-help empowerment. ENJOY!

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