Foundational Theories of Human Development

Human development theories are fundamental in assessing how people develop and grow in various life stages. Notably, nurse psychotherapists depend on the human development theories through psychoanalysis to understand the changes and developmental challenges people face. In this study, the focus on the Freud, Mahler, and Adler theories of development to evaluating how they influence psychotherapists in clinical practices.

Description of Freud, Mahler, and Adler Theories of Human Development

            Freud theory focuses on personality development in various stages of childhood based on the pleasure-seeking energies of identifying some erogenous regions. In development, erogenous zones are characterized by sensitive stimulation, covering psychosexual stages from oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital stages. Personality development is commonly established as children get to the age of five years. More so, the early experiences are vital in personality development and influencing the behavioral change later in life. At every stage of development, the theory reveals the existence of conflicts that build growth or stifle development, especially at the psychosexual stage.

Mahler theory focuses on separation and individuation that are determined in the first few years of the children in developmental stages. The separation entails the child’s external mental separation process from the mother while individuation refers to the self-development concept. The concept of separation and individuation largely depends on the attitude of the mother toward the child. The stages of development under the Mahler theory are: the normal autistic stage that covers a period of 0-1 month, a normal symbiotic stage covering 1-5 months, and separation and individuation that last for 5-24 months.

Lastly, Adler theory is based on the basic desire and goal of belonging and feeling important. The theory of personality, psychotherapy, and psychopathology are connected to the intimately humanistic philosophy of how people live and adapt to human development. The core concept is the social interest, lifestyle, equality, and directionality as the theory emphasize childhood feelings (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Stress and inferiority feeling tend to influence the psychosocial development of the children compared to psychosexual development.

Of the three perspectives, Adler theory is the one that appeals to me most since it reflects how individuals learn to relate with others after understanding self-interests, social interests, and feelings. In the individual development and humanistic philosophy, one must learn to live with others and adapt various social, lifestyle, and desires contributing to feeling important and developing a sense of belonging (Shea, 2017). In this regard, Adler’s theory is the most appealing as there is a direct contribution of the individual compared to Freud and Mahler theories that target tender age and hence no contribution and influence of the child in the development.

A Comparison Between Freud and Mahler Theories, and Between the Two and Adler Theory

Freud and Mahler theories express childhood personality development concept as children experience physical and mental change. Similarly, both theories relate to the early stages of the child’s life and development changes in the first few months and years of age (Carlat, 2017). However, Freud’s theory of development is connected to the children’s physical development in terms of the development of the erogenous area. In contrast, Mahler theory relates to the mental and emotional approach as the child is separated from the mother. Thus, Freud theory concentrate on the erogenous parts of physical and sensitivity development, whereas Mahler theory reveals the relationship between a mother and child in the first 24 months.

Adler theory differ from both Freud and Mahler theories in that while the two concentrate on the childhood development happening without their consent and involuntarily, Adler theory reflects on the desires and goals driven by feeling revealing there is a sense of self-awareness. More specifically, Adler theory reflects self-awareness and understanding whereby childhood feelings, stress, and inferiority reflect the social interest and lifestyle as revealed in psychosocial and psychosexual development. In this regard, both Freud and Mahler theories concentrate on early human development in terms of age whereas Adler theory apply during childhood self-awareness and understanding social interests and lifestyle.

Ways the Adlerian Approach Can Be Applied to Group Counselling

The Adlerian approach can be applied to group counseling to enlighten group members about social, sexuality, feelings, and self-awareness. The theory reflects on the basic desire and goal of belonging, whereby one must feel significant. It emphasizes the childhood feeling and desires and hence playing a greater part in influencing behavioral changes through counseling (Corey, 2016). The advantage of using the group counseling format under the Adlerian approach is to bring social understanding among the participants to learn from one another and as a unit. The sense of belonging would be clearly expressed, revealing how people in society integrate and address issues that influence their social and sexual development. Therefore, group counseling captures social interests, lifestyle, and equality concepts through the emphasis on belonging and feeling significant in the community.

Concepts from Freud and Mahler Theories I See as Being Useful in My Work as a Nurse Psychotherapist

As a nurse, the psychoanalytic about human development captures essential concepts applied in health care through psychotherapy. Through psychoanalytic, nurses use development theory to evaluate the personality development dynamics (Friedman, 2017). The analysis of personality organization and personality development helps guide clinical methods applied in treating psychopathology. The Freud theory, for example, focuses on personality development, especially for children’s sensitivity and sexuality development. Moreover, Mahler theory of separation and individuation reflects the child and mother’s relationship, especially at a tender age. In contrast, Adler theory focus on the childhood feelings and desire of belonging. In this regard, as a nurse, I would apply the knowledge of developmental theories in psychotherapy in my clinical practice.

Reasons the Nurse Psychotherapist Should Understand Developmental Theories for Application in Clinical Practice

The theories provide a background of understanding psychosocial and psychosexual development in human development, hence using the concept in offering clinical services. The development theories reveal the framework for human growth motivated by thought and behaviors. Therefore, the theories provide useful insights into the nurse psychotherapists concerning individual development and growth. Moreover, nurse psychotherapists use psychoanalysis to assess and understand human development and growth in various stages of life and this knowledge is essential to them as they address and apply psychosexual and psychosocial among other aspects in clinical practices.    


The human development theories are essential and are applied in clinical practices by nurse psychotherapists in evaluating challenges and changes in how people grow and develop in different stages. The overview of human development theories covers various development stages in the clinical practices by nurse psychotherapists. Therefore, psychoanalysis of the human development theory enables nurse psychotherapists to focus on developing human, social life, and self-awareness as revealed in the theories.


American Psychiatric Association. (, 2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

Carlat, D. (2017). The psychiatric interview (4th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.

Corey, G. (2016). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (10th ed.). Cengage.

Friedman, R. (2017). The Theory and Art of Child Psychotherapy: A Corrective Developmental Approach. Psychoanalytic Review104(5), 561–593.

Shea, S. C. (2017). Psychiatric interviewing: The art of understanding (3rd ed.). Elsevier.

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