Tag Archives: Human Development Theory

Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development


Vygotsky was able to look past other theorist’s approaches and see that children don’t only learn after they develop, but that they start to learn as soon as they are born.   He also states that learning needs to be matched to the developmental level.  It wouldn’t make sense to give a first grader geometry because most 1st graders are not ready to learn those skills.

This part of the theory helps us in the counseling field to know that even thought someone is a certain age chronologically; it does not mean they are in the same place mentally.  We should look at each person as an individual and assume they will be able to grasp the concepts you give them in the same way as the last person you were talking to.

Vygotsky states there are two levels of development, the actual development level and the zone of proximal development.  The actual development level is where a child is actually at in development.  This level shows you what a child can do right now.  The zone of proximal development shows us what a child will be able to do.  It is defined by looking at what a child can do first without help and then looking at what they can do with some adult guidance.

This helps a counselor by allowing them to see future cycles and maturation processes.  Knowing what is probably coming will help the counselor choose the best treatment for that child.  Instead of making a guess based on other children.  Instead of making a guess based on other children, the guess is more educated and centered on that one person.

Vygotsky also says children’s development is structured by cultural artifacts and specific social experiences, meaning, knowledge not only comes from the environment around the child but also that the child learns from the beliefs and values of the adults in the culture around them.

Another belief of Vygotsky’s is that human development is influenced on the levels of phylogenetic, historical, and ontogenetic.  The phylogenetic level says that we are different from the apes because we have more abilities than they do, but still looks at development through evolution.  The historical level says that cultures have developed differently over centuries in order to create diversity throughout the world.  The ontogenetic level says that each person’s development is dependent on culture.

This information is useful to a counselor when trying to understand where certain beliefs or behaviors come from.  Many cultures have different views when it comes to things like marriage, relationships and religion.  It would be very helpful to the counselor to know these things as well as how the client’s culture views the counseling process.

Nature, nurture, and the effect of theory on personal development


The adoption of one or more developmental theories could have significant implications on implementation of real world therapy practices. Our theoretical worldview has the potential to bias our views of developmental change and the antecedents that drive that change. Will the therapist sitting across from you attribute your current situation to biological antecedents? Is nature responsible for (insert any psychological condition here)? Or, instead, will your therapist choose to focus on the environmental and societal factors that have influenced your personal developmental trajectory? Before any of us engage a therapist, or any of us engage in the practice of therapy, we should consider the theoretical underpinnings that form the foundation of our helping professionals’ worldview. Obviously there’s a good reason why individual therapists choose the theories they do… conscious consumers should not be afraid to ask for the reason.

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When change occurs in my personal life, I usually attribute it to entropy. The illusion of being able to control my environment is tempting to say the least, but I believe self realization comes as a result of accepting that you have little or no control over the sequence and timing of developmental change. For me, clinical counseling represents a vehicle by which individuals learn to control reactions to a constantly changing chaotic world. My goal for all of my clients, and for myself, is to be able to embrace change and employ it as a springboard to drive structural, functional, and behavioral growth. To me, it’s almost irrelevant as to whether it is “governed by nature (i.e., genetics, maturation or biological structures) or nurture (i.e., child rearing methods, cultural values, planned learning experiences, unplanned life events).” (Bergen, 2008, p. 3) Regardless of the governance, the reality is that we have the opportunity to change tomorrow by acting today.

As I continue to process and refine my own theoretical perspective on human development, my expectation is that the theory provides individuals I serve with an outcome that can be predicted with reasonable certainty. For example, if we engage dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) I should be able to predict with reasonable certainty that you will experience an increase in mindfulness. If DBT fails to produce that result, I am content to attribute that failure to individual variability… to me, it doesn’t much matter if it’s nature or nurture… so long as we identify the point of failure and try again (this time modified to fit the individualized participant). Perhaps we could integrate religious and metaphysical concepts into the effort to increase the traction of our DBT efforts. Or, perhaps we will go in a parallel direction and focus more on interpersonal effectiveness or emotion regulation since they are contributing factors to the overall efficacy of DBT? Maybe we abandon DBT altogether and take another angle? The options are endless… but a theory some provide some direction, some purpose, to the decisions that are made in that process.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) meets all of my expectations for a theoretical construct. ABA is committed to resolving real world issues not theoretical quandaries. Practical importance is at the forefront of my interest. ABA focuses on the behavior that needs improvement, not just any behavior. Good results must be measurable, conceptually systematic, and able to be replicated. Finally, a good theory must possess generality of the in the respect that it lasts over time and it appears in environments other than the one in which… it was implemented. (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 18)

As a sidebar…

Does anyone out there have any real world examples of entrainment? (juxtaposition of one or more systems to form new combinations)

What strategies do you use to ensure you are employing “activated knowledge” as defined by Bergen (2008) on page 33?

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References

Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.