Erik Homberger Erikson was born in 1902 near Frankfort, Germany to Danish parents. Erik studied art and a variety of languages during his school years, rather than science courses such as biology and chemistry. He did not prefer the atmosphere that formal schooling produced so instead of going to college he traveled around Europe, keeping a diary of his experiences. After a year of doing this, he returned to Germany and enrolled in art school. After several years, Erickson began to teach art and other subjects to children of Americans who had come to Vienna for Freudian training. He was then admitted into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. .
In 1933 he came to the U.S. and became Boston's first child analyst and obtained a position at the Harvard Medical School. Later on, he also held positions at institutions including Yale, Berkeley, and the Menninger Foundation. Erickson then returned to California to attend the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto. Later he went to the Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco, where he was a clinician and psychiatric consultant. Erickson's interests were spread over a wide area. He studied combat crises in troubled American soldiers in World War II, child-rearing practices among the Sioux in South Dakota and the Yurok along the Pacific Coast, the play of disturbed and normal children, the conversations of troubled adolescent suffering identity crises, and social behavior in India. .
Erickson was also constantly concerned with the rapid social changes in America and wrote about issues such as the generation gap, racial tensions, juvenile delinquency, changing sexual roles, and the dangers of nuclear war. Erikson proposed that people grow through experiencing a series of crises. They must achieve trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, their own identity, productivity, integrity, and acceptance. .
Erikson's main contribution was to bridge the gap between the theories of psychoanalysis on the problems of human development, which emphasize private emotions, and the broader social influences that bear upon the individual.