Introduction to Abraham Maslows Hierarchy of needs

When your in graduate school for counseling you are going to learn so many different concepts, theories, laws, schools of thoughts, models and cycles about how human behavior occurs. In drug and alcohol you’ll learn about Motivational Interviewing, in Sex-Offense specific counseling you’ll learn the sexual abuse cycle. Out of all the different material you learn though one that will make sense no matter who you end up counseling is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who received his doctorate in Psychology in 1934. He studied motivation and identified five basic needs a human being has in life. The hierarchy or needs is a five stage model and is shaped like an upside down pyramid. The premise of this model is that you have to meet the need on the bottom tier of the pyramid before you are going to be able to meet the need above it. This model came into existence between the years of 1943 and 1954.

The first tier of the pyramid consists Biological and Physical needs. This means food, shelter, air, sleep and even sex. If you don’t have these things you aren’t going to be concerned with meeting all the needs above it in the pyramid. The second tier of the pyramid is safety and security. Once our bellies are full and we have shelter and a place to sleep we want to feel safe. The third tier of the pyramid is to feel a sense of belonging and love. We all want to have somewhere where we belong such as a family that loves us, friends we can count on and somebody to love. The fourth tier of the pyramid is self esteem needs. A human being has the need to feel like they are competent and have achieved something in life. Finally, the last tier of the pyramid is self-actualization. It’s not only about feeling competent its about feeling true to who you are. At 32 years old I’m only beginning to start working on this one.

So why is this important when working with people?

First of all, you have to know where your client is on this hierarchy of needs in order to effectively help them. If your client is homeless and hasn’t eaten in three days and you’re talking about college you’re going to be frustrated and the individual is going to think you’re clueless. If a woman is in a domestic violence relationship and doesn’t feel safe she’s not going to be able to think about entering a job program to become independent. Until you’ve met all the needs on the lowest tier an individual isn’t going to be ready to work on self actualization or self-esteem.

If you’re a teacher and you have a child who is coming from a home that is safe and secure you’re probably not going to be able to get them to engage in school because they will get into college someday. I used to teach GED classes for homeless youth and before I even opened a book I handed out some fruit and crackers. I made sure the classroom was a safe environment where racism, homophobia and disrespect would not be tolerated. I worked to make sure each client felt like they belonged in that room. Although I can’t say it was perfect, I got a lot more out of those kids by making sure that in that moment, those needs were met.

Finally, its important to examine for yourself. If you aren’t in a place in your life where you feel safe and secure then you aren’t going to be able to ascend the pyramid either. If you are reading this right now then you probably have something to eat and a place to sleep but are you safe? Do you feel loved and like you belong? If you haven’t met these needs you have to take steps to address those and make your life better.

Abraham Maslow definitely gave people a useful tool to examine the lives of themselves and other, assess where they are and make steps to make life better.