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Well Known Figures in Psychoanalysis

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Well Known Figures in Psychoanalysis

Erik Erikson (1902 - 1994)

Erik Erikson was born in Frankfurt, Germany in1902. His father was Danish and his mother German. Erik's parents apparently separated before his birth and Erik was raised alone by his mother Karla Abrahamsen for the first three years of his life. Later his mother married Dr. Theodor Homberger, and it was under this surname that Erik lived most of his early life. Erik's Jewish background was to prove problematic with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.
After graduating from school Erikson trained as an artist. He spent some years traveling in Europe and living a carefree life. When he was in his mid twenties, a friend suggested that he apply for a teaching position at an experimental school for American students in Vienna. This school was run by Dorothy Burlingham, a friend of Anna Freud and it catered to the children of the many Americans who had been attracted to Vienna by their interest in psychoanalysis. While working at this school Erikson met his future partner, a Canadian called Joan Serson. During this time also Erikson became involved in psychoanalysis. He trained as a psychoanalyst and was admitted to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. Anna Freud was his analyst.
With the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Austria, Erikson and Joan Serson fled, first to Copenhagen and from there escaped to Boston. Erikson was fortunate to be offered a position at the Harvard Medical School. He practiced privately as a child psychoanalyst. It was at this point also that Erikson met a number of people who were to have a significant influence on his thinking. The psychologist Kurt Lewin and anthropologists Margaret Mead, and Gregory Bateson are some that stand out especially. Erikson later taught at Yale and at the University of California at Berkeley it was during this period that he undertook studies of life among the Native American Lakota and Yurok - studies that were to have a profound influence on his later theories. It was also during this period that he became an American citizen and officially changed his name from Erik Homberger to Erik Erikson.
Erikson is one of the founders of what has become known as ego-psychology, a particular approach to psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory that became very popular in the U.S. from the 1940s onward. This approach focuses on strengthening the ego in patients and developing strategies that help the patient to adapt to their particular social milieu. While accepting such ideas as the Oedipal complex, Erikson proposed an epigenetic theory of personality development based on eight psycho-social stages. According to Erikson, each of these 'life stages' consists of a crisis that must be resolved. The more successfully the subject deals with the crisis the healthier will be his subsequent development and the happier his life. Though personally remaining committed to psychoanalytic theory, Erikson took a more socio-genetic approach than many psychoanalysts would be prepared to accept.
Each stage in Erikson's theory involves the resolution conflicting positions, such as trust and mistrust, autonomy and shame, and so on, each of which is appropriate to a particular stage in life. Erikson suggests that there is an optimal time for the successful resolution of each task or stage, and that when one fails to resolve one task, the following tasks will become even more problematic, if not insoluble. On the other hand, the successful balancing of these conflicts will lead to a greater psychological strength.
Erikson has written a number of books giving an account of his ideas, including Childhood and Society (New York: Norton, 1950), Insight and Responsibility, (New York: Norton, 1958), and Identity, Youth and Crisis, (New York: Norton, 1968). L. J. Friedman has written an account of his life under the title Identity's Architect; A Biography of Erik H. Erikson (Scribner Book Co., 1999). Erik Erikson died in 1994.

Selected Works:
Childhood and Society (1950) Insight and Responsibility (1958) Identity, Youth and Crisis (1968)
Further Reading:
Identity's Architect; A Biography of Erik H. Erikson, by L.J Friedman (1999)
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