The Foundations of Psychiatry

By Silvano Arieti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

THE CONCEPT
OF PSYCHOLOGICAL
MATURITY

Rachel Dunaway Cox


The Meaning of Maturity

SINCE THE EARLY 1950's maturity as a term and a concept has come into widespread use in psychiatry, psychology, social work, and education. Its facile employment in both formal presentations and informal discussions might suggest that the parameters of maturity have been systematically, unambiguously established. Actually this is by no means the case; although the state of maturity, often assumed to be synonymous with psychological health, is described in a growing body of literature, the number of empirical studies is still relatively small.

Psychological maturity is, in fact, a difficult subject for scientific inquiry and scholarly discourse. The hazard in treating it stems in no small measure from the tacit assumption that everybody—professional and lay people alike —knows what is meant by the term. The seeming general agreement about meaning may well arise out of the vagueness of the concept itself and the looseness of the way it is discussed. The inexactness and hence the slipperiness of the ideas clustering around psychological maturity is no doubt characteristic of any emerging concept and its lexicon, which will in time give way to greater precision. Meanwhile, the usefulness of the notion of psychological maturity is matched, perhaps exceeded, by its opposite—immaturity. Both concepts have come into rapid currency because they seem to describe aptly an important unitary something about persons. The great serviceability of the idea and the terminology has thus led to an accretion of meaning that makes for a certain level of communication. Indeed, maturity has become an allpurpose word, vague enough to fit into any

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