Freud’s Psychosexual Stages and the ASWB Exam

Freud’s Psychosexual Stages and the ASWB Exam

When you’re knee-deep in study materials, prepping for your ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards) exam, you might find yourself wrapped up in theories that span the spectrum from modern social work practices to the foundational psychological theories that inform much of our understanding of human development.

Picture this: You’re hunkered down with your textbooks and a steaming cup of coffee, ready to conquer the mountains of information required to ace the ASWB exam. Among the numerous topics, you need to learn about Freud’s Psychosexual Stages, a concept that feels like it’s from another era but somehow still manages to pop up in modern Social Work discussions. Why? Because understanding human behavior is like a puzzle, and Freud handed us some rather intriguing pieces.

However, Freud’s theories can be tricky to navigate, but don’t worry; we’re about to embark on an insightful journey that will not only make these concepts clear but also demonstrate how they can appear on the ASWB exam.

Learn more about the ASWB exam and create a personalized ASWB study plan with Agents of Change. We’ve helped thousands of Social Workers pass their ASWB exams and want to help you be next!

1) Freud’s Theories

Freud suggested that psychological development takes place in fixed stages. If a child does not resolve a conflict at each stage, fixations will occur. These came from tension between the Id and the Superego.

  • Id: Operates according to the pleasure principle, fulfillment of our basic needs and desires in the most immediate and pleasurable way possible.
  • Superego: Operates according to the morality principle, strives to suppress the primitive impulses of the id, and guides our behavior in accordance with our moral standards and ideals.
  • Ego: The ego is the most rational and practical part of the psyche, and it is responsible for our ability to think, reason, and make decisions.

Learn more about Agents of Change and how they’ve helped over 15,000 Social Workers just like you pass the ASWB Exam!

2) Freud’s Psychosexual Stages: A Refresher

Oral Stage (0-18 months)

This is where it all begins. Imagine a newborn, discovering the world through its mouth.

  • An infant’s gratification comes from stimulation from the mouth.
  • This includes sucking and tasting which is done through the mouth (Breastfeeding, teething).
  • Infants need to feel safe and secure.
  • At this stage, infants are becoming less dependent on their caretakers for their basic needs.

Anal Stage (18 months -3 years)

As toddlers, we begin to assert some control over our bodies.

  • At this stage, gratification comes from the anus and bladder.
  • The primary focus comes with mastering toilet training.
  • Anal fixation or extreme pressure from parents during this stage can result in an obsession with cleanliness, perfection, and control (anal retentive).
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, a lack of attention to toileting may cause a child to be messy and disorganized (anal-expulsive).

Phallic Stage (3-6 years)

  • Children begin to explore their bodies, with an emphasis on the genitals.
  • Freud states that there is a sexual attraction to the parent of the opposite sex (Females attracted to the dad, males attracted to the mom). Oedipus (male children) and Electra complexes (female children) may occur.
  • The child will try to win over the bond between the parents.

Latent Stage (6-puberty)

  • Children’s sexual interest become subdued during this stage.
  • Children are more focused on school, hobbies, and interacting with their friends.
  • During this stage, children are more drawn to same-sex peers as playmates.
  • Role models or interests are developed outside of the family.

Genital Stage (puberty onward)

  • The onset of puberty is different for every adolescent.
  • The individual becomes more compassionate and focused on others rather than on themselves.
  • Individuals begin to engage in physically and emotionally intimate relationships.
  • Individuals will strive for long-term healthy relationship patterns.

3) Freud’s Psychosexual Stages and the ASWB Exam: What’s the Connection?

Understanding Development through Freud’s Lens

The ASWB exam demands an understanding of human development that’s both broad and nuanced. Freud’s stages, though old-school, provide a framework for understanding how early life experiences shape an individual’s journey to adulthood.

  • Developmental Milestones: At various points in the exam, you might encounter questions that touch on developmental milestones. Knowing Freud’s stages gives you a leg up in identifying whether a child’s behavior is a potential sign of developmental progress or an indication of some hiccups along the way.
  • Behavioral Indicators: The ASWB could present scenarios where a client’s current behavior echoes unresolved issues from a specific psychosexual stage. Recognizing these indicators is crucial for formulating an accurate assessment.

Case Scenarios and Application

The ASWB loves to challenge test-takers with case scenarios that simulate real-life Social Work situations. Here’s where Freud’s theoretical contributions become practical tools.

  • Case Formulation: You may need to develop a case formulation based on a client’s history. Freud’s stages offer a lens for understanding past experiences that could influence present concerns.
  • Intervention Planning: Some questions might require you to propose interventions. Having a grasp on Freud’s developmental stages can guide you in selecting appropriate strategies tailored to the client’s needs based on their stage-related conflicts.

Critical Thinking Beyond Memorization

The ASWB exam is designed to push you into critical thinking territory. It’s not enough to know Freud’s stages; you’ve got to apply them.

  • Analytical Skills: Questions may ask you to analyze a situation where a client’s behavior could be explained by a fixation at a certain psychosexual stage.
  • Ethical Decision-Making: Expect to encounter ethical dilemmas where you’ll have to weigh the implications of a client’s stage-related issues against Social Work ethics. This is where Freud’s stages provide the backdrop for your ethical reasoning.

Bridging Theory and Practice

Ultimately, the ASWB exam is not just assessing your knowledge but also your ability to bridge theory with practice. Freud’s Psychosexual Stages serve as a foundational element in this bridge.

  • Theoretical Foundations: Many modern theories of personality and development have their roots in Freudian thought. By understanding Freud’s stages, you’re better positioned to appreciate and integrate more contemporary developmental theories into your practice.
  • Holistic Client View: The exam, much like the field of Social Work, requires a holistic approach to understanding clients. Freud’s stages encourage a comprehensive view of the individual, considering their historical development as part of their present identity.

Exam Strategy and Freud’s Stages

When it comes to test-taking strategies for the ASWB exam, Freud’s stages can actually serve as a mental checklist when approaching certain questions.

  • Identifying Key Issues: If a question presents a developmental concern, quickly reviewing Freud’s stages in your mind can help you pinpoint the issue more accurately.
  • Predicting Outcomes: Understanding potential fixations or developmental delays according to Freud can help you predict outcomes or behaviors in hypothetical scenarios, a common question type on the exam.

4) FAQs – Freud’s Psychosexual Stages

Q: How do Freud’s Psychosexual Stages relate to contemporary Social Work practice, and why are they included in the ASWB Exam?

A: Freud’s Psychosexual Stages, despite being over a century old, still echo through the corridors of psychological and developmental theories. Their inclusion in the ASWB Exam taps into the historical roots of psychotherapy and human behavior understanding, which is foundational in Social Work practice. Here’s why they’re still relevant:

  • Human Development: Freud’s theory is one of the earliest that attempted to map out how early experiences shape later behavior. Understanding these stages can provide insights into a client’s childhood and potential developmental disruptions, which is a key component of Social Work assessment.
  • Behavioral Patterns: Freud believed that unresolved conflicts in any of the stages could result in certain adult behaviors. Recognizing these patterns can inform the Social Worker’s approach to intervention and support.
  • Theory Integration: Social Work integrates various theories to inform practice. Freud’s stages are part of the broader psychoanalytic perspective, which has influenced many other psychological theories. Having a foundational knowledge of Freud allows for a deeper understanding of these other theories.
  • Assessment and Diagnosis: In the context of the ASWB Exam, understanding Freud’s stages is crucial for questions related to assessment and diagnosis. It’s not about adhering to Freud’s theories as definitive explanations for behavior, but rather using them as one lens among many to understand a client’s history and presenting problems.

Q: Can knowledge of Freud’s Psychosexual Stages improve my client assessments and interventions?

A: Absolutely! Knowledge of Freud’s stages can be a powerful part of your assessment and intervention toolkit. Here’s how:

  • Developmental Insight: Freud’s theory provides a structured way of considering the impact of early childhood experiences on adult functioning. This can be particularly helpful when working with clients who have experienced childhood trauma or disruption.
  • Client Empathy: Understanding the stages allows for a more empathetic approach. When you can see the potential origins of a client’s behavior as stemming from earlier life stages, you can approach them with greater compassion and depth.
  • Intervention Tailoring: Knowledge of these stages can help tailor interventions. For instance, if a client exhibits behaviors indicative of an unresolved issue from the Anal Stage, you might work on control and autonomy in a way that respects the client’s developmental struggle.
  • Holistic Approach: Social work is holistic, considering the person-in-environment framework. Freud’s stages remind practitioners to consider not just the current situation, but the entire span of a person’s developmental history.

Q: In what ways can understanding Freud’s Psychosexual Stages be misleading or counterproductive when preparing for the ASWB Exam?

A: While Freud’s Psychosexual Stages have historical significance, they can be a double-edged sword if not contextualized properly:

  • Outdated Concepts: Some of Freud’s ideas, like the Oedipus complex, are viewed as outdated and lacking empirical support. Focusing too much on these can lead to overlooking more contemporary and evidence-based theories.
  • Overemphasis on Sexuality: Freud’s theory heavily emphasizes sexual development, which can overshadow other important developmental aspects such as cognitive or emotional growth.
  • Cultural Bias: Freud’s theories were developed in a different era with a Western-centric perspective. Applying these stages universally can be culturally insensitive or irrelevant.
  • Overpathologizing Normal Behavior: Using Freud’s stages to interpret every behavior runs the risk of overpathologizing what might be normal variations in development or personality.

5) Conclusion

It’s clear that while Freud’s theories are not without their controversies, their influence persists in the field of Social Work. The stages provide a scaffolding that invites us to think about developmental milestones and their long-term impacts. They encourage a reflective approach to understanding clients’ behaviors through a developmental lens, an approach that remains a valuable part of the Social Work toolkit. Even as new theories emerge and reshape our perspectives, the echoes of Freud’s work continue to inform the ways in which we comprehend human behavior and development.

For Social Workers studying for the ASWB exam, the journey through Freud’s stages is more than a trip down psychology’s memory lane. It is an integral part of a holistic study strategy. The knowledge of these stages primes test-takers to think critically about case scenarios and to consider the multifaceted nature of human development. Balancing this theory with a broad array of modern social work practices is key to not just passing the exam but also to laying a strong foundation for a future in empathetic, ethical, and effective Social Work.

Learn more about the ASWB exam and create a personalized ASWB study plan with Agents of Change. We’ve helped thousands of Social Workers pass their ASWB exams and want to help you be next!

6) Video

7) Practice Question – Freud’s Psychosexual Stages

A Social Worker is working with a 5-year-old child who exhibits extreme dependency on their parents, often displays anxious behavior when separated from them, and is overly concerned with pleasing authority figures. According to Freud’s Psychosexual Stages, these behaviors are most indicative of issues related to which stage of development?

A) Oral Stage

B) Anal Stage

C) Phallic Stage

D) Latency Stage

Correct Answer: C) Phallic Stage, marked by attachment to the opposite-sex parent and the development of gender identity.

Rationale: The correct answer is C. According to Freud’s theory, the Phallic Stage occurs around ages 3 to 6. During this stage, children become more aware of their bodies and develop attachments to the parent of the opposite sex, known as the Oedipus complex in boys and the Electra complex in girls. This stage is characterized by the development of gender identity and the beginnings of understanding the dynamics of relationships. The behaviors described in the question — extreme dependency, anxious behavior when separated from parents, and a preoccupation with pleasing authority figures — align with the characteristics of issues that can arise during the Phallic Stage.

The Oral Stage (Option A) occurs from birth to about 18 months and focuses on issues related to feeding and weaning. The Anal Stage (Option B) occurs from about 18 months to 3 years and involves struggles with control, particularly around toilet training. The Latency Stage (Option D) spans from about 6 years to puberty and is characterized by a focus on developing social and intellectual skills, rather than the behaviors described in the question. Therefore, the Phallic Stage (Option C) is the most likely stage associated with the behaviors observed in the child.


► Learn more about the Agents of Change course here:

About the Instructor, Meagan Mitchell: Meagan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has been providing individualized and group test prep for the ASWB for over five years. From all of this experience helping others pass their exams, she created the Agents of Change course to help you prepare for and pass the ASWB exam!

Find more from Agents of Change here:

► Facebook Group:

► Podcast:

#socialwork #testprep #aswb #socialworker #socialwork #socialworktest #socialworkexam #exam #socialworktestprep #socialworklicense #socialworklicensing #licsw #lmsw #lcsw #aswbexam #aswb #lcswexam #lmswexam #aswbtestprep #aswbtest #lcswtestprep #lcswtest #lmswtestprep #lmswtest #aswbcourse #learningstyles #learningstyle

Disclaimer: This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment