Erik Erikson made significant contributions to a broad range of disciplines, but the application of his theories to clinical practice has not received proper recognition. Although considered among the group of ego psychologists who transformed psychoanalytic theory in the 1950s and 1960s, Erikson’s emphasis on how the individual is inextricably bound to sociocultural and historical forces has broad and largely underdeveloped clinical significance.
David Rapaport described Erikson’s work as the culmination of ego psychology, the first psychoanalytic theory of the person’s relationship to the social reality with which the ego is always engaged. Rapaport noted, “[Erikson’s] concept of mutuality specifies that the crucial coordination is between the developing individual and his human (social) environment.” This concept extends clinical work beyond the boundaries of the individual and opens it to larger scrutiny. From his clinical study of patients, Erikson recognized how the pathology and recovery of patients are linked to how they engage and are engaged by their world.