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Chapter 1 - Self-help: What is it?Chapter 2 - Understanding the Nature of your ProblemChapter 3 - Overview of Bio-Psycho-Social TheoriesChapter 4 - Meeting Basic NeedsChapter 5 - Changing Behavior and ThoughtChapter 6 - Changing Your MoodChapter 7 - Changing Your KnowledgeChapter 8 - Changing Your RelationshipsChapter 9 - Changing Your Identity and MotivationChapter 10 - Your Unique Self-Help PlanChapter 11 - Dependency
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Methods for Meeting Basic Needs

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 25th 2016

A brief review of Maslow's hierarchy of needs sets the tone for this "basic needs" methods section. According to Maslow (and most other mental health professionals since), peoples' needs are arranged in a hierarchical relationship to one another. It is impossible to live without the basic physiological necessities of food and water, clothing and shelter. The next level of need involves safety (as in having a safe place to live). It is difficult to think clearly when you are unsafe or living in a continual state of fear (as do many abuse victims and people caught in war zones). Above this in the hierarchy of needs, Maslow placed the need for love, for belonging (to a family or community), and for esteem (as in 'self-esteem'; feeling good about yourself). Finally, at the very top of the heap, Maslow placed something he called "self-actualization", which is each person's need to become the very best person they can possibly become. Higher level human needs (such as belonging to a family or social group, or for expressing yourself) are simply not important to most people when their more basic needs (for food and water, clothing and shelter, for safety) are not yet met. Any self-help plan that you create needs to take this hierarchy into account or it will be very likely to fail (or become irrelevant). Only after your basic needs have been attended to will you have extra attention to give to your problems.

Maslow, and most psychologists who’ve followed since, fundamentally agree that it’s close to impossible to address higher level needs when lower level needs are not met. You don't worry about feeling good about yourself when you're hungry, for example. You don't worry too much about belonging to a community of like-minded people when you are cold and need shelter to keep from freezing to death. This is why human service professionals don’t offer homeless people therapy right away, but instead focus on helping them get adequate housing, food and clothing. You have to consider which of your needs is most pressing, and make sure you address that need first, if you are to be successful with and benefit from your self-help efforts.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

it is about being aware - Shelley - Oct 18th 2008

I think that it is about being aware, that you might be emotionally "stuck" at different levels. The power comes in the awareness because then you have a choice about how you respond to the emotional knee-reaction.

Hierarchy of needs - pocojo - Jun 1st 2008

While there is some intuitive rightness to the hierarchic structure proposed by Maslow, that may generally help to prioritize which problems to tackle first (e.g. housing more urgent than therapy for the homeless). However, on an individual level I'd agree with detractors of that ranking (like Max-Neef) in that the urgency of resolving basic needs of different levels might not respond to that hierarchy, might indeed be non-hierarchical at all. I can easily imagine a person whose self-esteem issues might mess with his job-security. Thus, a second-level need (employment) might depend on solving a third-level need (self-esteem). If things go really bad, this person might find it impossible to keep a job, thus being unable to supply first-level needs (housing, food, etc) because of a third-level defficiency. In this case, helping to  develop this person's self-esteem will probably do more good in the long run than giving the person free housing and free food, which might mess up his or her self-esteem even worse. (Note: don't take this as a critic on welfare, please. I'm talking about a hypothetic individual, not a policy).

In my case, I have issues all over the hierarchy. But I'll be hard pressed to isolate my first-level needs without taking my confidence levels and even my need for creativity into account. It just won't work for long, I've tried. 

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