Tag Archives: Human Development

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.

Schizophrenia Information Grab-bag

“Schizophrenia is the most crippling of the psychiatric disorders.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 298)  That’s a bold first statement.  I was curious as to the reason why typical onset times are younger (sooner) for males as compared to females.  The developmental perception I am accustomed to generally indicate that females “grow up” sooner than males… I am the slightest bit curious what could cause this phenomenon to flip-flop.  Any insight there readers?

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Although I was alive during the 1980’s, I was so young that I was wholly unaware of the de-institutionalization that took place during that era.  The statement that prisons have become the de factor health care provider reaffirms my belief that working with that population is absolutely critical to our success as a society.

Typical schizophrenia characteristics include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, and/or negative affective symptoms.  The text states that the most common types of hallucination consist of hearing voices, one or several, typically making commentaries about the individual or conversing with each other.  One word… WOW.  Persecutory, grandiose, or somatic delusions are most common.  The first person accounts depict individuals who are very disturbed to say the least.  In particular, an individual who believed that they were controlled by someone (the “controller”) and the persistent belief that other people have external controllers was beyond comprehension.

Regarding the etiology of the disorder, it is increasingly evident that there is some kind of genetic link involved in schizophrenia.  The diathesis-stress theory of illness is the predominant theory, suggesting that a predisposition may not be sufficient in itself to cause schizophrenia, but probably requires some kind of “trigger” such as exposure to prenatal insults.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 302)

This is my first exposure to “genotype” and “phenotype.”  Genotype represents the underlying genetic constitution of the individual (genetic predisposition?).  Phenotype refers to the observable traits, characteristics, or behaviors of an individual.  It is entirely possible to have a genotype that suggests a predisposition to a disorder like schizophrenia, but the disorder will not be expressed behaviorally by the phenotype.  “In other words, what the individual inherits is a liability or predisposition for developing the disease, not the disease itself.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 305)

With regard to prenatal and perinatal insult, the critical period of exposure appears to be the 2nd trimester (4th-6th month of pregnancy).  Examples might include toxemia, preeclampsia, or labor delivery complications.  Fetal hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) was strongly linked with later schizophrenia.  Prenatal stress, inclining losing a spouse or being exposed to a military invasion, has been implicated in the predisposition of schizophrenia.  Maternal viral infection, including influenza, was also implicated.  Unlike influenza studies, increased risk for offspring exposed to prenatal nutritional deficiencies was primarily attributed to growth and development during the 1st trimester, not the second.

Cognitive impairments are considered to be central, or primary, in schizophrenia.  Typically, they predate the more typical outward signs of the illness (hallucinations, delusions, etc.).  The cognitive impairments can occur in the absence of the other clinical symptoms.  “It is estimated that 90% of patients have clinically meaningful deficits in at least one cognitive domain and that 75% have deficits in at least two.”  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 309)

Neurocognitive assessment is used in contemporary practices to quantify the severity of impairment in clinically relevant domains of cognitive functioning.  Relevant domains are speed of processing, attention/vigilance, working memory, verbal learning, visual learning, reasoning and problem solving, and social cognition.  Typically, a patient with schizophrenia will struggle with verbal learning and vigilance, and have lesser impairments in visual organization and vocabulary.

A neuro-developmental view of schizophrenia is the foundation of high-risk research.  “The majority of individuals who succumb to schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders manifest prodromal signs of behavioral disturbance” in adolescence, and they get progressively worse as they approach young adulthood.  (Blaney & Millon, 2009, p. 321)  The prodromal period represents a clinically significant opportunity for intervention, with high potential to shed light on the etiological origins of schizophrenia.

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Blaney, P. H., & Millon, T. (2009). Oxford textbook of psychopathology (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

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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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.