Abraham Maslow

Abraham Harold Maslow was an American Psychologist of Jewish Russian heritage who formulated the idea of self-actualization and the hierarchy of needs. One of the things Maslow noticed early in his career was that certain needs take precedence over others. For example, if you are hungry and thirsty, you will tend to reduce the thirst first. Thirst is a stronger need than hunger. Likewise, if you are thirsty, but you can't breath, the need to breathe is stronger than the thirst.

Maslow took this idea and created his now famous hierarchy of needs. Beyond the details of air, water, food, and sex, he laid out five broader layers in order of need: the physiological needs, the needs for safety and security, the needs for love and belonging, the needs for esteem, and the need to actualize the self.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

The physiological needs - These include the needs we have for oxygen, water, protein, salt, sugar, calcium, and other minerals and vitamins. They also include the need to maintain a pH balance and temperature. Also, there are the needs to be active, to rest, to sleep, to remove body wastes, to avoid pain, and to engage in sex

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The safety and security needs - When the physiological needs are satisfied, the second layer of needs comes into play. Finding safe circumstances, stability, and protection, and the development of structure, order, and limits becomes important.

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The love and belonging needs - When physiological needs and safety needs are satisfied, a third layer becomes important. The need for friends, partners, children, affectionate relationships, and a sense of community becomes important. One becomes increasing susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties if these needs are not fulfilled.

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The esteem needs - Self-esteem issues now become the central need. Maslow noted two forms of esteem needs, one lower and one higher. The lower one is the need for the respect of others, status, fame, glory, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation, dignity, and even dominance. The higher form involves the need for self-respect, including such feelings as confidence, competence, achievement, mastery, independence, and freedom. Self-esteem is seen as the higher form as, unlike the respect of others, self-respect is more permanent. Maslow theorized that the lack of esteem was the root of most psychological problems. Lack of respect leads to untold problems.

The preceding four levels are called deficit needs. If an individual is searching for satisfaction, he feels the need. If the need is satisfied, he feels nothing. In other words, the need ceases to be motivating and the individual is in a state of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the principle by which your body operates optimally. Hunger needs are satisfied with food. Maslow extended the homeostatic principle to needs such as safety, belonging, and esteem and sees all these needs as survival needs. Even love and esteem are needed for the maintenance of health.

Individuals move through the levels like stages. As newborns, the focus is on the physiological. Then we begin to recognize that we need to be safe. Then we crave attention and affection. Under stressful conditions, or when survival is threatened, we regress to a lower need level. When a crisis ensues, we seek out attention. When experiencing a job loss, money becomes the focus.

These needs occur on a society-wide basis as well: When society becomes chaotic, people start looking for a strong leader to take over and bring relief. When the violence is present, individuals look for safety. When the food becomes unavailable, the needs become more basic.

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The final level is different from the rest and Maslow has used a variety of terms to refer to this level: He has called it the growth motivation and the self-actualization level.

These needs do not involve homeostasis. Once engaged, they continue to be felt and are likely to become stronger as they are nourished. They involve the continuous desire toward fulfill potential and lead to self-actualization. Someone who is in the process of being self-actualized need to have the lower needs satisfied. The lower needs must be neutral experiences. When lower needs are unmet, individuals cannot fully devote themselves to fulfilling their potential. Maslow suggested that only about two percent of individuals are truly, predominantly in the process of self-actualizing.

People who are actively pursing self-actualization are reality-centered - they can differentiate what is fake and dishonest from what is real and genuine. They are problem-centered - they treat life's difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be surrendered to. They have a different perception of means and ends - that the ends don't necessarily justify the means, that the means could be ends themselves, and that the means-the journey-is often more important than the ends.

The self-actualizers have a need for privacy, are comfortable being alone, are independent of culture and environment, relying on their own experiences and judgments, are not susceptible to social pressure, have democratic values - open to ethnic and individual variety, have social interests, compassion, humanity, and enjoy intimate personal relations with a few friends and family members, rather than more shallow relationships with many, have a sense of humor, have acceptance of self and others, are spontaneous, prefer being themselves rather than being artificial, have a freshness of appreciation, are creative, inventive, and origin.

A peak experience removes the individual from the ordinary, becoming one with life (the nature or God or one). It brings a feeling of being a part of the infinite and the eternal. These experiences tend to leave their mark on a person, change them for the better, and many people actively seek them out. They are also called mystical experiences, and are an important part of many religious and philosophical traditions.

Self-actualized individuals believe in:

Truth rather than dishonesty.
Goodness rather than evil.
Beauty not ugliness or vulgarity.
Unity, wholeness not arbitrariness or forced choices.
Aliveness not deadness or the mechanization of life.
Uniqueness not bland uniformity.
Perfection and necessity not sloppiness, inconsistency, or accident.
Completion rather than incompleteness.
Justice and order not injustice and lawlessness
Simplicity not unnecessary complexity.
Richness not environmental impoverishment.
Effortlessness not strain.
Playfulness not grim, humorless, drudgery.
Self-sufficiency not dependency.
Meaningfulness rather than senselessness.

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  • Inner Wisdom has a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) where patients meet in groups with a therapist on a daily schedule. Patients have a variety of mental illness diagnoses including Bipolar Disorder Schizoaffective disorder Schizophrenia and substance abuse which interfere with their ability to live a full and productive life. Students will have the opportunity to shadow therapists facilitate therapy groups and Psychoeducation groups meet individually with patients and understand the case management required by Medicare and private insurance companies. Students work under a variety of therapists and can observe different styles and strengths. A strong team approach is encouraged. Students have the opportunity to get direct experience with patients and to use their skills creatively in offering therapy.

    Bonnie Fall
    Former Student Intern