How Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Influenced Person-Centred Counselling
During the time when Carl Rogers was first developing his Person-Centred therapy – in the 1940s – another US psychologist, Abraham Maslow (born just six years after Rogers), conceived an idea that has become known as ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’.
This takes the form of a triangle or pyramid shape, representing what humans need in order to be able to move towards self-actualisation.
Published as a journal article in 1943, Maslow’s theory fitted with Rogers’ childhood observation of the potatoes striving to grow in the cellar, as well as his experience working with disturbed children, war veterans and other clients.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs originally had five levels:
- At the bottom of the triangle is what Maslow described as ‘physiological needs’ – such as air, water, food, sleep, shelter, excretion etc. Maslow believed that these were the basic elements that humans need to survive.
- The second part of the pyramid is ‘safety needs’;this means that humans need to feel safe and protected. This usually means having somewhere reasonably secure to live, so that the person is protected from danger.
- Third on the triangle in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is ‘belonging and love needs’. This means having friendships, being accepted by peers, and having a loving relationship with family, a partner and/or pets. It could include having a sexual relationship.
- ‘Esteem needs’ are the fourth layer of the triangle. This layer is about how people feel about themselves in the wider world, e.g. employment, activities that provide a sense of personal achievement (e.g. studying), or hobbies (such as playing an instrument). These things can all give people a sense of status and self-confidence.
- The final part of the triangle, at the peak, is known as ‘self-actualisation’, which represents the realisation of the person’s full potential. Some people see individuals such as Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa – who have overcome personal difficulties to achieve great things – as having reached this level.
The idea here was that the needs had to be met from the bottom upwards, and that the lower four layers were all ‘deficiency’ or ‘lower-order’ needs – so that, for example, a person who doesn’t have enough food would not be focused on needs relating to the higher levels.
You cannot exchange one need for another, for example exchanging the need to breathe air for the need to have shelter: each level of the triangle must be met before progressing to the next level.
This highlights the importance of people having access to what they need at a more basic level before they can fully engage in counselling.
Thus, if a client presents to a counselling service with housing problems, for example, it will probably be necessary to signpost or refer them to an organisation to help them sort this out before they will be ready to begin counselling.
People would have to have all four lower levels of needs met before they could self-actualise (the only ‘growth’ or ‘meta’ need in the original model).
Shortly before his death in 1970, Maslow added three additional levels of growth/meta need to his earlier model; these new ideas formed part of a book published posthumously, one year after he died.
Cognitive needs (for knowledge, reason and meaning) and aesthetic needs (for beauty and creativity, e.g. in music and art) now came before self-actualisation, while self-transcendence came at the very top, as the pinnacle above even self-actualisation.
While self-actualisation was seen to be the achievement of individual potential, self-transcendence focused on helping others to self-actualise and sensing a spiritual connection.
Maslow and Rogers
Abraham Maslow influenced the work of Carl Rogers, in particular in the seven stages of process (which track people’s development, including clients in counselling). Both men believed that human beings need certain conditions to be in place before they can reach their full potential and have fulfilled life.
Carl Rogers adopted the self-actualisation concept and integrated it into the person-centred approach.
Rogers believed that as clients overcome barriers, they move towards becoming a more fully functioning person by means of the actualising tendency, spurring us on towards self-actualisation.
© Counselling Tutor, updated 10/11/2020
Maslow A (1943) ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’, Psychological Review 50 (4): pp 370–396: https://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm
Maslow A (1971) The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, The Viking Press