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Psychosocial Development Case Study Analysis

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For this paper, I viewed the movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. I will identify the life stages the three characters I chose are in, what their psychological crisis each is, apply psychosocial theories to the situation presented, discuss the character’s life, how they function as a family unit, and evaluate the significant challenges and strengths related to wellness and resilience.

In this particular movie, there are three characters that I would like to focus on. Gilbert, is an older sibling who is primarily the caregiver in the home. Bonnie, the mother, and lastly Arnie, who is about to turn eighteen and has autism. Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. The diagnostic criteria require that symptoms become apparent before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize.

Throughout this course, we’ve studied Erik’s Psychosocial Developmental Stages. Bonnie’s age range is around 40-64, which would put her at the Generativity vs. Stagnation phase. During middle age the primary developmental task is one of contributing to society and helping to guide future generations. When a person makes a contribution during this period, perhaps by raising a family or working toward the betterment of society, a sense of generativity- a sense of productivity and accomplishment- results. In contrast, a person who is self-centered and unable or unwilling to help society move forward develops a feeling of stagnation- a dissatisfaction with the relative lack of productivity. Gilbert’s age range is between 20-39.

The Intimacy vs. Isolation conflict is emphasized around the age of 30. At the start of this stage, identity vs. role confusion is coming to an end, though it still lingers at the foundation of the stage (Erikson, 1950). Young adults are still eager to blend their identities with friends. They want to fit in. Erikson believes we are sometimes isolated due to intimacy. We are afraid of rejections such as being turned down or our partners breaking up with us. We are familiar with pain, and to some of us, rejection is painful; our egos cannot bear the pain. Erikson also argues that “Intimacy has a counterpart: Distantiation: the readiness to isolate and if necessary, to destroy those forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to our own, and whose territory seems to encroach on the extent of one’s intimate relations” (1950). Once people have established their identities, they are ready to make long-term commitments to others.

They become capable of forming intimate, reciprocal relationships (e.g. through close friendships or marriage) and willingly make the sacrifices and compromises that such relationships require. This becomes apparent when Gilbert meets a young lady by the name of Becky. They become very close friends and love spending time with one another. Lastly, Arnie is at the developmental stage of 13-19, The adolescent should be newly concerned with how they appear to others. Superego identity is the accrued confidence that the outer sameness and continuity prepared in the future are matched by the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for oneself, as evidenced in the promise of a career. The ability to settle on a school or occupational identity is pleasant. In later stages of Adolescence, the child develops a sense of sexual identity. As they make the transition from childhood to adulthood, adolescents ponder the roles they will play in the adult world.

Initially, they are apt to experience some role confusion—mixed ideas and feelings about the specific ways in which they will fit into society—and may experiment with a variety of behaviors and activities (e.g. tinkering with cars, baby-sitting for neighbors, affiliating with certain political or religious groups). Eventually, Erikson proposed, most adolescents achieve a sense of identity regarding who they are and where their lives are headed. Because of Arnie’s autism, I would say he’s really at the stage of Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt for ages 2-4. Gilbert and his siblings provide a strong base of a security from which the child can venture out to assert their will. Arnie likes to explore the world around him and he is constantly learning about his environment. Caution must be taken at this age while children may explore things that are dangerous to their health and safety. In addition, at this age children develop their first interests. For example, a child who enjoys music may like to play with the radio.

Children who enjoy the outdoors may be interested in animals and plants. Highly restrictive parents, however, are more likely to instill in the child a sense of doubt, and reluctance to attempt new challenges. With family dynamics, I think it is significant to mention the extent to which the children went to protect their mother. It seems apparent that this woman should have received counseling or mental support. Her grieving process for the husband was completely dysfunctional. I found that the children aided in her practice of isolation by providing total care for her. Gilbert was the only one who seemed to look at the reality of her situation and declare how bizarre it actually was, but he never told her. The children protected their mother from reality. For example, when Arnie kept repeating “Dad’s dead” at the table, the attention turned to the mother and getting Arnie to stop saying the statement.

But why? Arnie was mentally disabled and he was stating the truth that the mother was unable to except after so many years. Another important part of family dynamics that I recognized in this film was how much Arnie’s condition brought the family together. For example, when Arnie was arrested for climbing the water tower, after repeated warnings, his mother finally came out of the house with the children and they all went to get him out of jail. Also, Arnie’s 18th birthday party was a big collaborative effort. In the scene where Arnie was saying that he wanted hot dogs at his party, the mother and sisters seemed to be creating their own picture of what the party should be like. I felt that the party was also a way of celebrating the care that they had provided for Arnie over the years.

The mother also places a lot of pressure on the children and their roles. Several times throughout the film she stated that they “need to try harder” to watch Arnie, take care of him and fulfill their responsibility. These children appear to be selflessly engaging themselves with Arnie’s and their mother’s needs. This creates a very complicated and dynamic family. The theoretical model that is appropriate to describe the Grape family in this film is the Neuman Systems Model. “Neuman defined the family as a group of two or more persons who create and maintain a common culture; its most central goal is one of continuance” (Harmon-Hanson, Gedaly-Duff, & Rowe Kaakinen, 2005). I found this model useful in reference to the Grape family because throughout this film I learned that they have a culture unique to their family.

This culture involved the children providing isolation for their mother and fulfilling her role in the household. Their priority goal appeared to be continuance of this culture because it was safe and protective. Within this model, “the family has the ability to open or close its boundaries to protect its members and preserve the integrity of the family as a whole” (Harmon-Hanson, Gedaly-Duff, & Rowe Kaakinen, 2005). This characteristic of the model is perfectly depicted in various scenes of this film. One example is that the children are consistently closing in on society to protect their mother. The scene in which the children went with their mother to the jail to pick up Arnie was a display of the family preserving their integrity. The children helped their mother and stayed together as the crowd of townspeople gathered around them snapping pictures and making cruel comments.

At the end of the film, when the mother passed away, the children burned the house down to protect their mother’s integrity. In this scene, Gilbert stated, “No one is going to make a joke out of my mother.” This model is unique in that it “addresses family health promotion, family reaction when a stressor affects the family and restoration of the family via family functions to achieve balance or equilibrium” (Harmon-Hanson, Gedaly-Duff, & Rowe Kaakinen, 2005). This aspect of the model was evident when Gilbert left the house after his fight with Arnie. The family was very distraught and the mother was uncertain whether Gilbert was going to return. The family was restored following this stressor by Gilbert’s return home for Arnie’s birthday party. Gilbert also went to talk with his mother when he returned home and he promised that he would never “up and leave” the family as his father did.

This event provided balance and trust to be restored to the family dynamics. In closing, this movie provided me with a real life-like scenario that I may face in the future as a counselor. I’ve identified the life stages the three characters I chose were in, what their psychological crisis each were, applied psychosocial theories to the situation presented, discussed the character’s life, how they functioned as a family unit, and finally will move into how this family evaluated the significant challenges and strengths related to wellness and resilience. In this film, I think this family would have benefited from a rehabilitation counselor.

Rehabilitation counselors function in a variety of roles while employing many different competencies in the provision of services (Leahy, Chan, & Saunders, 2002). A major function of rehabilitation counselors is the development of counseling relationships to facilitate adjustment to a disability. Critical to the adjustment process, but often overlooked, is client resiliency. Resiliency is associated with ability to adapt to disability (Lustig, 1997), which in turn is essential to effective rehabilitation counseling services and successful outcomes (Kosciulek, 1994). Although difficult at times, the Grape family made the best of their situations and still functioned as a family. Further, one important component of individual resiliency is the resiliency of the family in adjusting when a family member acquires a disability.

England, M. (2000). Caregiver Strain: Considerations for Change. Nursing Diagnosis , 164-175. Greenberg, J. S., Seltzer, M. M., Krauss, M. W., & Kim, H. (1997). The differential effects of social support on the psychological well-being of aging mothers of adults with mental illness or mental retardation. Family Relations, 46,383-394. Harmon Hanson, S. G.-D. (2005). Family Health Care Nursing. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company. Kosciulek, J. F. (1996). The Circumplex Model and head injury family types: A test of balanced versus extreme hypothesis. Journal of Rehabilitation, 62(2), 49-54 Leahy, C. &. (2007). Use of the resiliency model of family stress, adjustment and adaptation by rehabilitation counselors. The Journal of Rehabilitation , 44-46. Shallcross, L. (2010). Ramping Up Resiliency. Counseling Today , 2-5.

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