Methods for Meeting Basic Needs

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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.


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