Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs refers to developmental psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human behavior and its underlying motivators. Maslow originally proposed his theory in 1943 and published a comprehensive description of it in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality.
Maslow describes a series of universal needs as motivators for human behaviors. These needs are arranged hierarchically with base, physiological needs being the most essential and the most motivating; in addition, the fulfillment of these needs provides a necessary foundation before higher level needs are pursued. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is often depicted in a pyramid graphic, though Maslow himself never presented his hierarchy this way.
What are the hierarchical levels of human needs?
At the foundation of the pyramid, and therefore existing as the most motivating and important of human needs, are physiological needs such as food, water, sleep, and basic biological functions.
The next three levels, though not essential for immediate biological survival, are presented by Maslow as essential to psychological well-being. When these needs are not met, though there are no direct physical consequences, an individual may feel anxious. The first of these is safety, including security of home, income, health, property, and family. A level higher is the need for love and belonging, including relationships, family and intimacy. Then comes the need for esteem – self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of achievement.
At the top of the hierarchy is self actualization, by which Maslow meant morality, problem solving, creativity, and spontaneity; in essence, self actualization entails fulfilling one’s perceived potential.
Maslow acknowledged that human beings are complex creatures who act upon all of these needs at the time. But Maslow posited that if the bottom tiers of needs are not satisfied, there is less energy, motivation, and capacity to pursue needs higher up the ladder.
Though Maslow’s hierarchy is a limited construction of the myriad complex needs, desires, and forces that drive human behavior, and though it has not been directly substantiated by empirical research, it can provide a useful model for understanding a person’s holistic well-being. As such, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be a useful paradigm for healthcare workers – both those serving primarily physical needs and those serving primarily psychological or social needs.
How can Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs be applied to the field of health services? With Maslow’s model in mind, health-care workers can assess an individual as a whole person – a physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and moral being whose physicality cannot be separated from psychology and feeling.
At each stage of treatment, a patient’s basic physical needs must be accounted for, whether by a physician, a social worker, a psychologist, or even a speech-language pathologist. Higher level needs, such as job security, successful relationships, academic or professional achievement, and intellectual growth are dependent upon the fulfillment of lower level needs but are also essential to a person’s health, well-being, and productivity. This principle encourages professionals across the gamut to look beyond their particular area of expertise; patients or clients will be evaluated in the context of their physical health, their family and career situation, their ability to communicate meaningfully with family members, and their ability to work. Treatment can be rationally targeted to address more basic needs before investing more heavily in higher level needs.
Maslow’s model encourages healthcare professionals to consider a patient’s entire operating system and can be a useful tool for understanding a patient and providing logical, comprehensive services that address a patient as whole.
For more information on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as it informs physical and psycho-social treatments, click here.