By Sybil Cummin, MA, LPC, ACS
You have been working with a client for several months and feel completely frustrated and stuck. What the heck is going on? I’m not a bad therapist, am I? Nope, this client must be resistant to real change, right? Hmmm. As you are doubting yourself and your client’s motivations, you might be missing something much more basic. Something we learned in the early stages of our training to become mental health professionals.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was developed in 1943 by Abraham Maslow and represents a shift in thinking about people’s motivation and psychology from a more “what is wrong with you, why can’t you reach your potential” to a more “what do you need to reach your potential.” His model can be seen as a pyramid (see the image below) where the most basic needs are seen in the bottom of the pyramid and the more complex or growth needs are pictured at the top. So, basically, we need to have our physiological needs met before we work our way up to improving our self-esteem and self-actualization (realizing our full individual potential). Do you remember this from one of those developmental classes or classes on theory?
While the theory may seem to be fairly inflexible, that your clients must meet each and every one of the items on each level to move up to the next step in their healing journey, it is all in how you use it. It is a framework, a checklist for setting your clients up for success. And setting you up for less self-doubt and frustration.
So, back to our most frustrating client. Have you assessed where they might be on this hierarchy? Is your agenda for them to gain a self-confidence and have daily insights on their behavior? Well, if they are worried about the possibility of getting kicked out of their home or possibly getting shoved into a wall and berated until they collapse or maybe they are scared to death because their children are spending the night for the first time at an abusive ex-partner’s home, then self-actualization is the last thing on their list. And it should be the last thing on yours. A basic awareness and check-in with Maslow’s hierarchy can honor where your client truly is, can guide your treatment, and can prevent your frustration and self-doubt.