Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 27–37 | Cite as

The Holistic Phase Model of Early Adult Crisis

  • Oliver C. RobinsonEmail author
  • Gordon R. T. Wright
  • Jonathan A. Smith


The objective of the current study was to explore the structural, temporal and experiential manifestations of crisis episodes in early adulthood, using a holistic-systemic theoretical framework. Based on an analysis of 50 interviews with individuals about a crisis episode between the ages of 25 and 35, a holistic model was developed. The model comprises four phases: (1) Locked-in, (2) Separation/Time-out, (3) Exploration and (4) Rebuilding, which in turn have characteristic features at four levels—person-in-environment, identity, motivation and affect-cognition. A crisis starts out with a commitment at work or home that has been made but is no longer desired, and this is followed by an emotionally volatile period of change as that commitment is terminated. The positive trajectory of crisis involves movement through an exploratory period towards active rebuilding of a new commitment, but ‘fast-forward’ and ‘relapse’ loops can interrupt Phases 3 and 4 and make a positive resolution of the episode less likely. The model shows conceptual links with life stage theories of emerging adulthood and early adulthood, and it extends current understandings of the transitional developmental challenges that young adults encounter.


Early adulthood Emerging adulthood Early adult crisis Life structure Holistic 


  1. Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469–480.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnett, J. J. (2001). Conceptions of the transition to adulthood: Perspectives from adolescence through midlife. Journal of Adult Development, 8, 133–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Caplan, G. (1964). Principles of preventive psychiatry. New York: Basic Books Inc.Google Scholar
  4. Denne, J. M., & Thompson, N. L. (1991). The experience of transition to meaning and purpose in life. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 22, 109–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity, youth and crisis. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  6. Erikson, E. H. (1980). Identity and the life cycle. London: W.W.Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  7. Finlay-Jones, R., & Brown, G. W. (1981). Types of stressful life event and the onset of anxiety and depressive disorders. Psychological Medicine, 11, 803–815.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Forer, B. R. (1963). The therapeutic value of crisis. Psychological Reports, 13, 275–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Freund, A. M., & Ritter, J. O. (2009). Midlife crisis: A debate. Gerontology, 55, 582–591.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Galambos, N. L., Turner, P. K., & Tilton-Weaver, L. C. (2005). Chronological and subjective age in emerging adulthood: The crossover effect. Journal of Adolescent Research, 20, 538–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gould, R. L. (1978). Transformations: Growth and change in adult life. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  12. Halpern, H. A. (1973). Crisis theory: A definitional study. Community Mental Health Journal, 9, 342–349.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hollis, J. (1993). The middle passage: From misery to meaning in midlife. Toronto: Inner City Books.Google Scholar
  14. Jung, C. G. (1966). The collected works of C. G. Jung—two essays on analytical psychology. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.Google Scholar
  16. Kierkegaard, S. (1996). Papers and journals: A selection (translated by A. Hannay). London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  17. Kotre, J. (1995). White gloves: How we create ourselves through memory. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  18. Kumar, R., Marks, M. N., Wieck, A., Davies, R. A., McIvor, R., Brown, N., et al. (1997). Neuroendocrine mechanisms in postpartum psychosis and postnatal depression. Biological Psychiatry, 42, 130–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lachman, M. E. (2004). Development in midlife. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 305–331.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lazarus, R. S. (2000). Stress and emotion: A new synthesis. London: Free Association Books.Google Scholar
  21. Levinson, D. J. (1978). The seasons of a man’s life. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  22. Levinson, D. J. (1986). A conception of adult development. American Psychologist, 41, 3–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Levinson, D. J. (1996). The seasons of a woman’s life. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  24. Lidz, T. (1976). The person: His and her development throughout the life cycle. New York: Basic Books, Inc.Google Scholar
  25. Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 551–558.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Marcia, J. E. (1993). The ego identity status approach to ego identity. In J. E. Marcia, A. S. Waterman, D. R. Matteson, S. L. Archer, & J. L. Orlofsky (Eds.), Ego-identity: A handbook for psychosocial research (pp. 3–21). New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Maslow, A. H. (1998). Some basic propositions of a growth and self-actualization psychology. In C. L. Cooper & L. Pervin (Eds.), Personality: Critical concepts in psychology (pp. 189–202). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. McAdams, D. P. (1993). The stories we live by: Personal myths and the making of the self. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  29. McManus, S., & Bebbington, P. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: Results of a household survey. Leicester: National Centre for Social Research.Google Scholar
  30. Moffitt, T. E., Harrington, H. L., Caspi, A., Kim-Cohen, J., Goldberg, D., Gregory, A. M., et al. (2007). Depression and generalized anxiety disorder: Cumulative and sequential comorbidity in a birth cohort followed to age 32. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 651–660.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Morgan, J., & Robinson, O. C. (2012). Intrinsic aspirations and personal meaning across adulthood: Conceptual inter-relations and age/sex differences. Developmental Psychology,. doi: 10.1037/a0029237.Google Scholar
  32. Murgatroyd, S., & Woolfe, R. (1982). Coping with crisis—understanding and helping people in need. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  33. O’Connor, D. J., & Wolfe, D. M. (1987). On managing midlife transitions in career and family. Human Relations, 40(12), 799–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Parkes, C. M., & Weiss, R. S. (1983). Recovery from bereavement. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  35. Pasupathi, M. (2001). The social construction of the personal past and its implications for adult development. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 651–672.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Perosa, S. L., & Perosa, L. M. (1984). The mid-career crisis in relation to super’s career and Erikson’s adult development theory. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 20, 53–68.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Popper, K. R. (1959). The logic of scientific discovery. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  38. Robbins, A., & Wilner, A. (2001). Quarter-life crisis. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  39. Robinson, O. C. (2008). Developmental crisis and the self in early adulthood: A composite qualitative analysis. Birkbeck College, London: Doctoral Dissertation.Google Scholar
  40. Robinson, O. C. (2011). The idiographic/nomothetic dichotomy: Tracing historical origins of contemporary confusions. History and Philosophy of Psychology, 13, 32–39.Google Scholar
  41. Robinson, O. C. (2012). Development through adulthood: An integrative sourcebook. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  42. Robinson, O. C. & Smith, J. A. (2008). Individual crisis episodes and cultural transition: Finding the macrocosm in the microcosm. 6th international conference on the dialogical self, Queens College, Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  43. Robinson, O. C., & Smith, J. A. (2009). Metaphors and metamorphoses: Narratives of identity during times of crisis. In D. Robinson, P. Fisher, T. Yeadon-Lee, S. J. Robinson, & P. Woodcock (Eds.), Narrative, memory and identities (pp. 85–94). Huddersfield: University of Huddersfield Press.Google Scholar
  44. Robinson, O. C., & Smith, J. A. (2010a). Investigating the form and dynamics of crisis episodes in early adulthood: The application of a composite qualitative method. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 7, 170–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Robinson, O. C., & Smith, J. A. (2010b). The stormy search for self in early adulthood: Developmental crisis and the dissolution of dysfunctional personae. The Humanistic Psychologist, 38, 120–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sameroff, A. (2010). A unified theory of development: A dialectic integration of nature and nurture. Child Development, 81, 6–22.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Slaikeu, K. A. (1990). Crisis intervention—a handbook for practice and research (2nd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  48. Wapner, S., & Demick, J. (1998). Developmental analysis: A holistic, developmental, systems-oriented perspective. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Volume 1: Theoretical models of human development (5th ed., pp. 761–805). Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.Google Scholar
  49. Wapner, S., & Demick, J. (1999). Developmental theory and clinical practice: A holistic, developmental, systems-oriented approach. In W. K. Silverman & T. H. Ollendick (Eds.), Developmental issues in the clinical treatment of children (pp. 3–30). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  50. Waterman, A. S. (1993). Developmental perspectives on identity formation. In J. E. Marcia, A. S. Waterman, D. R. Matteson, S. L. Archer, & J. L. Orlofsky (Eds.), Ego-identity: A handbook for psychosocial research (pp. 42–68). New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wethington, E., Kessler, R. C., & Pixley, J. E. (2004). Turning points in adulthood. In O. G. Brim, C. D. Ryff, & R. C. Kessler (Eds.), How healthy are we? A national study of well-being at midlife (pp. 586–613). London: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oliver C. Robinson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gordon R. T. Wright
    • 2
  • Jonathan A. Smith
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and CounsellingUniversity of GreenwichLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations