Untapped Richness in Erik H. Erikson's Rootstock

Helen Q. Kivnick, PhD, LP; Courtney K. Wells, MSW, MPH


Gerontologist. 2014;54(1):40-50. 

In This Article


Erik H. Erikson published his groundbreaking theory of 8 stages of lifelong psychosocial development in 1950. His theory expanded psychoanalytic concepts of psychosexual development to include the importance of social dynamics; it transcended then-current thinking that psychological development culminated in early adulthood, acknowledging that systematic human development continues throughout the entire life cycle. The theory made Erikson a pioneer in developmental psychology. His last authored book, Vital Involvement in Old Age, rearticulated and elaborated 3 principles that, in different words, are rooted in his original theory of healthy life cycle development: (1) Dynamic Balance of Opposites; (2) Vital Involvement; and (3) Life in Time. Using a lens informed by knowledge gained over the past 30 years and by reflections of one of the original researchers on that project, the current manuscript seeks to spark new interest in Erikson's late-life contribution. It explains the principles in new detail, links them to relevant research, and suggests ways they could enable Erikson's ideas to further enrich gerontological practice and research.