An Overview of Constructive Developmental Theory (CDT)
More than a generation ago, developmental psychologists focused on infants, children and adolescents because it was assumed that by the time we reached our early twenties, the mind was fully developed. Several decades of research later, this premise has been proven to be false; the adult mind does continue to develop, albeit in different ways for different people.
The term “Constructive-Developmental Theory” derives its name from: “developmental”, as in cognitive development; “constructive”, as in we construct meaning about the world around us; “constructive-developmental”, as in the way we construct meaning can develop.
“the adult mind does continue to develop”
Building on the work of Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, William Perry, and others, psychologist Robert Kegan developed a theory of adult cognitive development that defines five stages of mental complexity or “orders of mind”. These developmental stages are not about higher intelligence or IQ, nor are higher orders intrinsically “better”. What they represent are five levels of qualitatively more complex ways of thinking.
The Subject/Object Relationship
A key concept in understanding these orders of mind is what is known as the subject/object relationship.
There are those aspects of experience which we can perceive, take responsibility for and problem-solve around. These can be thought of as what we are able to hold as object. For example, a small child may be aware of the brightness of the sun, the texture of his clothes, and the pull of his mother’s hand. Meanwhile, there are also aspects of experience which we are not aware of, which we cannot take responsibility for and can therefore not problem-solve around. These aspects of experience we can consider being subject to. For example, when the child is angry, his expression of anger is transparent; when he experiences joy, he smiles. He has no emotional filters. He is developmentally incapable of seeing emotions as object and is therefore subject to them. Meanwhile, an adult might feel angry, identify the emotion as anger, but choose to suppress expressing his anger until he comes home from…