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Humanistic Psychology is a field of psychology that views the human being as an entire integrated person and focuses on his or her innate drive towards growth and actualization. This stands in sharp contrast to the mainstream psychological and psychiatric model which focuses on symptoms and problems rather than helping a person reach his or her highest potential. A crucial alternative to the overmedicalized paradigm of modern mental health, I think humanistic psychology one of the most important fields to understand.

Along with Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow is probably the best known of the humanistic psychologists and perhaps his most lasting contributions to the field are his model of the Hierarchy of Needs and his concept of self-actualization.

The Hierarchy of Needs and Self-Actualization

hierarchy of needs

The idea of the Hierarchy of Needs is that humans are driven to fulfill their needs in a basic sequence. At the base of the hierarchy are the most basic physical needs, such as food, water and oxygen, without which life is not possible at all. As each level of needs becomes fulfilled, the higher levels of needs begin to assert themselves, driving a person to seek satisfaction in areas such as safety, belongingness, esteem, cognitive or intellectual fulfillment and aesthetics.

At each level, the theory goes, the person grows closer to their full potential, until they fully realize it or become "self-actualized". Once a person is self-actualized, they gain access to states known as peak experiences, and some models show that they are driven to help others, moving to an even higher phase known as "self-transcendence".

Even Maslow did not claim that the hierarchy was completely rigid. While the physical needs are indeed universally primary for all humans as they initially grow, many people meet the other needs in a variety of orders, and sometimes may feel driven to meet various levels partially at the same time. In addition, I think that based on the different value priorities of people with different personality types, some people may feel more driven by certain needs higher on the pyramid even before they are driven by those lower. For instance, an extremely intellectual person may find themselves driven more strongly to meet cognitive needs even before their belongingness needs have been met.

Furthermore, I believe that many people actually attain moments of self-actualization and peak experiences even before they have fulfilled all of the levels of the hierarchy. However, I believe that with greater fulfillment of those levels, the peak experiences may become more frequent and lasting. Because of my belief in this more fluid framework of meeting needs, I often refer to it as a "mosaic of needs" rather than a hierarchy.

The focus on the meeting of needs as the catalyst for growth and fulfillment is central to the approach of my company, Emergent Associates.

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