Home Concepts Adult Development Searching for Vitality: Coaching through the Lenses of Adult Development Theory and Research

Searching for Vitality: Coaching through the Lenses of Adult Development Theory and Research

9 min read

Developmental crises may be very traumatic and demand a reevaluation of one’s priorities and needs, yet without these crises and the structural changes they bring about, men and women are likely to remain caught in their current stage and will be ill prepared for addressing the age-related challenges of their next era in the life cycle. Originally, the midlife crisis was identified as the struggles of men and women in their late 40s who have never addressed the life changes inherent in their early 40s, not the normal and necessary transitions of the early 40s that are the points of “crisis.” It is the failure to address midlife issues that produces the “midlife crisis” not the transitional period itself. This area is often misunderstood in the popular literature on adult development.

While Levinson built on the Eriksonian model by focusing on points of transition and, in particular, on midlife. Gilligan (1982) focused primarily on differences between men and women in their movement through the life cycle. She challenged the assumption in Erikson’s model that all adults form their one identity in early adulthood prior to the formation of intimate relationships. She asserted that this assumption might be specifically applicable to males (and even more specifically to males raised in Western European or USA cultures). Gilligan noted that many women (and some men) form their identities in conjunction with their experience of becoming intimate with another person. Moreover, she argues. Erikson overemphasizes a movement toward greater individuation and the clarification and reformulation of one’s own personal identity independent of the specific context within which one lives. One’s identity, after all, exists within a specific context, and maturation could be considered a movement toward mutuality of care rather than greater individuation.

Implications for coaches

(1) Is this a period of stability or change for client? Often it is a period of change between life stages. Client needs coach’s support to match/balance off the challenge inherent in this transition.

(2) Is it is a period of change, then client might experience themselves being in Bill Bridge’s “neutral zone” – a state of limbo in which there is an attraction back to the old (and this attraction must be honored) as well as a pull toward the new.

(3) Coach can help client acknowledge the shifting values, interests and priorities that come with a shift in stages

(4) Coaching questions about the four adult stages (as well as the other four): identity, intimacy, generativity, ego-integrity. All four stages are in operation (actually all eight stages) even though one stage is in the spotlight.

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