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

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Piagetian Models of Adult Development

In keeping with the epistemological orientation of Piaget, most Piagetian models of adult development begin with a concept of unfolding or maturing cognitive structure, and their impact on personal and interpersonal aspects of self.. Kegan (1982), for instance, offers a six-stage theory of development that traces the maturation of the construction of meaning processes in one’s life, believing that human development consists of a series of stages in which one’s sense of self becomes increasingly differentiated from his or her sense of the external world.

Nature of cognitive maturity

A comparable model of adult development that relies on cognitive maturation (Loevinger, Wessler. and Redmore 1970), while clearly in the Piagetian camp, questions the Piagetian assumption that each stage builds on the previous stages and is somehow superior to them. Each stage “has its weaknesses, its problems, and its paradoxes, which provide both a potential for maladjustments and a potential for growth” (Loevinger 1966. p. 200).

Loevinger also focuses on the extent to which one is able to reason and make decisions independent of other people and. in particular, the dominant frames of reference offered by the society in which a person lives. In many ways, the research and theorizing of Gilligan and her colleagues take the concerns of Loevinger one step further. Not only are “higher” stages of cognitive development not necessarily better than lower stages, they also may represent a model of development that is neither descriptive of development in all people nor necessarily an appropriate source of normative guidelines.

Implications for coaches

(1) What the client is manifesting to the coach might not be resistance. Rather it might be that the client simply “doesn’t get it” – can’t make sense of what the coach is suggesting or asking the client to reflect on (2nd order learning required for reflection on self). The coach might try changing the language she is using, might make her conversation more concrete—using examples and metaphors, encouraging specific action steps and immediate evaluation of impact and outcomes.

(2) Coach needs to be patient about reflective processes. The client is often not just reflecting on his own assumptive world, but also learning something about the processes of reflection.

(3) The coach needs to consider addressing issues in their specific context rather than moving quickly to an abstract level or to generalization of the lessons learned by the client.

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