Developmental theories are often based on an age-related stages, or milestones, that signify meaningful changes in physical, cognitive, behavioral and social aspects within the human lifespan. One of the most well known developmental theories is Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual stages of development. Freud, like others after him, theorized that early childhood experiences play an important role in personality development. Although, contemporary developmental theories include adolescence, adulthood, and late adulthood, the theories early focus on childhood development makes this approach particularly useful when working with children.
Erick Erickson created his theory of psychosocial stages of development based off of his interpretation of Freud’s psychosexual stages, and with added aspects of social development. Erickson describes nine, age related, stages in which a person faces conflicts that could have positive or negative outcomes. Successful development through a particular stage helps the person develop ego strength (competence) in that area of life. Assuming that all developmental stages can be successfully traversed then provides a framework of normal development that psychologists can use for, “understanding and intervening with clients whose development is not processing according to normal expectations” (Rubin, 2001, p.226).
Erikson’s psychosocial stages generally occur with important age related events, presenting the individual with a conflict, or question to be answered. For example, the first stage (birth to two years of age) presents a crisis of trust vs. mistrust coinciding with the important event of feeding. In this stage a child develops a sense of competence (or lack of) over their ability to trust others.
This developmental stage coincides with Piaget’s sensorimotor stage in which a child is experiencing their world through their physical sensory system. In art therapy, “working with young children or people who have developmental or cognitive disabilities…introducing pre-art materials such as flour, oatmeal, Jello shaving cream, feathers, or sand [can help to enhance] the client’s cognitive, sensory, and motor awareness and involvement” (Moon, 2010, p.51).
Images created in art therapy can be useful in determining assessment of the developmental stage an individual is experiencing. In describing the developmental hierarchy of the Expressive Therapies Continuum, Hinez writes that, “elementary school-aged children are capable of making fully formed images. They have moved away from the schematic representations that characterized earlier stages of drawing, and have moved to a realistic stage” (Hinz, 2009, p.103). Hinz goes on to say that inclusion of detail that support the image’s identity (for example, drawing a mustache in the image of father) is a reliable way of determining this developmental stage.
Viktor Lowenfeld, author of Creative and Mental Growth, was an art educator who held strong beliefs that early...