Academic journal article TCA Journal

Developmental Theories: It's Time to Review

Academic journal article TCA Journal

Developmental Theories: It's Time to Review

Article excerpt

Classical developmental theorists have weathered criticism and stimulated a great amount of research. Since counselors often use many of these theorists' ideas as benchmarks .for understanding individuals and their problems, it is good practice to review these paradigms, from time to time.

Counselors by the nature of their training are developmental specialists, and in practice, professional judgments about a person's problems are often based on developmental concerns. For instance, school consultation often focuses on whether problems manifested by a child are "normal" developmental concerns or whether there are other explanations for the behavior. It is a good strategy then to review the developmental literature to help refocus the counselor's attention to the needs of individuals during counseling and at different points in their lives. The purpose of this article is to highlight some classical ideas from the developmental literature and present contemporary ideas relating to concerns of individuals in the 21" century. The major developmentalists theoretically revisited include Arnold Gesell, Jean Piaget, L. S. Vygotsky, Lawrence Kohlberg and Erik Erikson.


Crain (1992) explains American psychologist Arnold Gesell's (1949, 1972) two main ideas of maturation as follows. Maturation is a product of genetic individuality and is directed from within. Individual uniqueness is a result of the genetic makeup of the individual, a concept which leads to the logical expectation that all persons develop differently. Each individual person has his or her own schedule of development and develops potential when the environment is in tune with developmental processes. Gesell believed that genetically directed development determines when children are ready to learn, when they benefit from their surroundings, and what they experience in those surroundings. Rushing children to develop ahead of this internal schedule is pointless, because all aspects of development are governed by the inner, gene directed maturational process.

According to Gezell, inner development is self regulating and tends to govern how much change can occur in any given time. Consequently, an individual will only be able to go so far before this "homeostatic" mechanism requires the individual to wait until an internal balance is reestablished. A unique idea Gesell presents is that a person may seem resistant to change because he or she is trying to reestablish balance. A person is not able to change beyond a certain point in a given time because too much imbalance may result. In such instances, no further change can occur for a period of time and to attempt to do so will result in failure. When the individual once again gains balance, further change may be undertaken. No specific time frame for this process exists because it is inner directed and unique to each individual (Cram, 1992). The unique individual meets the environment and makes demands of it. Gesell maintains that the environment (culture) should adapt to the needs of the individual; and that institutions, while responsible for transmitting standards, should first address individual needs.

Current Utilization

Today, many counselors believe in the developmental uniqueness of the individual, attempt to assist in environmental changes to facilitate individual change, and realize that change is self regulated within appropriate time frames. Such practices are consistent with Gesell's ideas.


Counselors are concerned with how people think, because problem solving, decision making and other interventions are governed by an individual's thinking. Jean Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory focuses on how individuals think and how the thinking process is unique at different developmental stages. Piaget (1952, 1952, 1964) describes the thinking process of four developmental stages-the Sensorimotor (birth to 2 years of age); Preoperational (2 to 7 years of age); Concrete Operations (7 to 11 years of age); and Formal Operations (11 years to adulthood) (Cram, 1992; Woolfolk, 1998). …

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