Mental health care practices are based on modern developments in psychology are characterized by the works of historical psychologists like Abraham Maslow, whose work formed the foundation of humanistic psychology. Maslow’s was interested in understanding how normal human being functioned and focused most of his studies on motivation and human needs. His focus on human needs formed the basis of his theory on the hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s life, education, and interaction with the works of other scholars played a key role in the development of his psychological theory and his understanding of mental health. Despite the existence of different worldviews and biases affiliated with Maslow’s theory, the concepts in his theory describe people’s needs, their interaction, and the possible effects of human needs on mental health.
Birth, Early Childhood, and Education
Maslow’s biography serves a window that sheds light into the kind of man he was and factors that inspired him to focus on humanistic psychology. Maslow was born in New York on April 1, 1908, and named Abraham Harold Maslow by his parents, Samuel Maslow and Rose Maslow. Maslow had six other siblings named Edith, Harold, Paul, Ruth, Lewis, and Sylvia. He was raised in a Jewish family. Maslow studies at a boys high school in Brooklyn before beginning his university education in 1925 at the City College in New York. One year later, he joined the Brooklyn School of Law. Although his father inspired his education pursuits in Law, he abandoned the career path before graduating and transferred to Cornell University, which was an agricultural school. He, later on, joined the University of Wisconsin and enrolled in the School of Psychology. He graduated from the school with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1930, a master degree in 1931, and a Ph.D. in 1934. He married his cousin Bertha and had two children. Maslow died on June 8, 1970, due to a heart attack (Mercado, 2018). His studies at Wisconsin inspired his psychological theories.
Maslow was the first student in the doctoral program in the school of psychology at Wisconsin. The program focused on development of primates’ behavior based on initial interactions and affection. He wrote his first publication in 1932, Delayed Reaction Tests on Primates from the Lemur to the Orangoutan, which was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology. The publication was co-authored by Harry Harlow, a psychology professor at Wisconsin University. He read the works of John Watson, Alfred Adler, and Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, which assisted him to form a correlation between sexual impulsiveness and the tendencies to power and domination based on the works of Adler and Freud (Mercado, 2018). The works of these psychologists played a critical role in Maslow’s development of his beliefs about human needs and interactions.
Family Issues that Impacted Maslow’s Theory
Family and people’s upbringing plays a key role in influencing their behavior and beliefs. This is also applicable in Maslow’s life as he grew up in a miserable home. He grew up without friends and often spent his time with books and in libraries. His father spent most of his time away from their home and his mother was not affectionate. He felt rejected as a child and did not share his family’s beliefs in religion as he viewed the practice as a combination of superstition and hypocrisy (Mercado, 2018). His upbringing, interaction with his parents, and the social life that he had outside his home may have impacted his perception of human needs and human relationships and contributed to the ideologies that formed his psychological theories. The difficulties Maslow experienced as a child might have affected his perception of belonging and the importance of social support. By not being able to interact with other children at a young age, Maslow was able to meet his physiological needs and security needs but he did not get the feeling of belonging because of lack of affection and friends. This could explain his prioritization of the different needs in his theory.
Maslow was among the first psychology theorists to come up with a theory that addressed both the physiological and biological needs of people. He believed that some of the biological and physiological needs that people have included safety, food, water, sleep, and the need for belonging. He developed the theory of human needs or the hierarchy of needs to illustrate the importance of different factors in people’s lives. Maslow’s theory comprises of five levels of needs that are often illustrated through a hierarchical pyramid (Aruma & Hanachor, 2017). The levels are physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs. Maslow described physiological needs as urgent needs that all human beings were required to meet to survive such as eating, drinking, resting, and sleeping. He believed that all human beings needed to fulfill these needs to feel satisfied (Schlappy, 2019). People’s inability to meet their physiological needs could affect their survival.
The second and third tier of Maslow’s hierarchical model focused on safety or security needs and belonging or social needs respectively. Safety needs are concerned with the need to protect oneself and survive chaotic experiences. They are based on achieving protection from social disturbances, physical and psychological dangers, and other crises in the human environment. Physical dangers can include killings, riots, terrorism, communal conflicts, or natural disasters. These situations are characterized by numerous uncertainties that can affect a person’s physical and mental health (Lestari, Waluyo, & Wardani, 2019). While people need to gain a sense of tranquility and orderliness in their lives to achieve this need, it cannot be fulfilled completely due to life’s uncertainties. Partial fulfillment can be obtained by living in a safe neighborhood or having the knowledge of safety measures put in place by local communities to address natural disasters. The need of belonging and love is based on the need to be part of a group, which might either be based on familial relationships, peer groups or social classes (Aruma & Hanachor, 2017). People meet this need by identifying themselves with social organizations in their communities, which helps them to gain confidence in themselves.
The fourth tier in Maslow’s theory is based on esteem, prestige, and ego needs. This tier focuses on people’s need for respect, status, recognition among peers, admiration, confidence and self-worth. It is natural for people to seek recognition among their peers whenever they feel secure in social groups. When people attain security and feel like they belong or are loved by their peers, they focus on gaining admiration from their social groups. Gaining recognition or esteem corresponds with attaining more responsibilities in the human environment (Aruma & Hanachor, 2017). The fifth tier on self-actualization is based on the need for self-realization and can only be attained after achieving the rest of the human needs. People who have reached this tier have the need to develop their inborn talents and increasing their accomplishments in life. The need for self-actualization suggests that people have attained their full potential and are working towards becoming the best versions of themselves (Neto, 2015). Reaching this level becomes a reality when people are not afraid to explore their talents.
Impact of Theory on Mental Health
Maslow’s theory focused on explaining the needs of people who were happy and living normal lives. According to his theory, people must fulfill the needs that were in the lower segment of the hierarchical pyramid and work towards the upper parts of the hierarchy in a linear approach. He believed that higher needs would emerge once basic needs were fulfilled. In people diagnosed with mental illnesses, the focus in their management is to ensure that their physiological and psychological needs are addressed. In homeless individuals, the risk of mental illness is high due to a person’s inability to meet physiological, safety, love and belonging, and esteem needs addressed by Maslow in his theory (Henwood, Derejko, Couture, & Padgett, 2016). His hierarchical model can be used to assess the aspects of human needs that have not been met in a person’s life and determine the correlation of those factors with the person’s mental health problem.
Individuals from vulnerable groups such as children living in foster homes have a higher likelihood of suffering from mental illnesses due to the quality of their living environment, relationships with their family members, friends, and caregivers. Maslow’s theory can be used to explain the impact of unmet human needs of the mental health of children living in foster homes among other vulnerable populations. Children living in overcrowded foster homes have a lower likelihood of meeting their physiological needs, which suggests that they have an even lower likelihood of focusing on other needs (Steenbakkers, Steen, & Grietens, 2018). Their struggle with attaining adequate food, shelter, clothing, sleep, and other basic needs can lead to mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders, and other behavioral-related mental health problems. These children have a higher likelihood of struggling in school due to poor cognitive development and the effects of the other mental health issues on their concentration (Turney & Wildeman, 2016). The challenges faced by these children support Maslow’s theoretical considerations.
Cultural Worldviews and Theoretical Systematic Biases
Some of the cultural worldviews and theoretical systematic biases that have been raised regarding Maslow’s theory of human needs are based on the decision-making process that he applied in placing self-actualization at the top of his hierarchy and physiological needs at the other factors below self-actualization. While physiological needs are considered primary needs, which justifies their placement at the bottom of the hierarchy, Maslow’s decision regarding the order of the mid-section of his hierarchical pyramid can be considered subjective, illogical, or random, as different people perceive certain things as being more important. Although a set of needs that might be necessary for achieving self-actualization may exist, it is unclear how one could place them in a hierarchy based on their importance to everyone (Henwood, Derejko, Couture, & Padgett, 2016). As such, his organization of the hierarchical pyramid can be viewed as being biased because he did not provide concrete evidence to support the position of the different needs in the hierarchy.
Another theoretic bias associated with his theory is that it does not consider people with different mental health needs and those recovering from mental illnesses, a factor, which has theoretically been defined through the concept of recursion and iteration. This concept explains the need for executing a set of instruction repetitively while iteration involves repetitive execution of the same instruction until a certain condition is met (Henwood, Derejko, Couture, & Padgett, 2016). As such, individuals recovering from mental health might not be able to focus on achieving the different needs that lead up to self-actualization because of the challenges they might face in executing certain tasks related to basic physiological needs.
In terms of cultural worldview, Maslow’s theory has been considered bias because it is ethnocentric and disregards cultural differences among people. Maslow’s theory generalizes people’s needs and does not consider how cultural differences among people could affect their perceptions and value of different needs. For instance, among minority communities living in the country, factors like racial discrimination and security can be considered as basic needs and could be placed at the same level as Maslow’s physiological needs. Among such communities, the ideology of belonging could be linked to racial discrimination factors in the community, which might affect their ability to feel like part of the community. The psychological needs of these individuals could also differ from those living in privileged communities (Mogro-Wilson & Fifield, 2018). Individuals such as Frederick Douglass and Booker T Washington can be considered to have attained self-actualization by overcoming the racial discrimination against their race and achieving their goals in life. Their self-actualization differs from people from individuals like Abraham Lincoln who came from a privileged race (Jones, 2017). As such, Maslow’s inability to address cultural differences in his theory places limitation is its applicability in different populations.
To counteract some of the biases associated with his theory, Maslow suggested that the pursuit of self-actualization was in some cases linked to people’s frustrations in life over not being able to meet some of their needs and not necessarily from the gratification they got from meeting their basic needs. This suggests that facing hardships and failure could also lead people to seek self-actualization. Viewing people’s lives based on this assumption raises questions about the accuracy of the hierarchical model of human needs that he developed and their applicability in real life (Henwood, Derejko, Couture, & Padgett, 2016). While his argument was meant to justify the inability of his theory to cater for the needs of different groups of people, it also raises questions about its reliability in explaining the behaviors and needs of normal people.
Ethical Issues Relevant to Theory
The historical ethical issues related to Maslow’s theory can be based on Maslow’s research studies, his understanding of and his interaction with his subjects. Maslow’s theory lacks empirical support such as experimental studies conducted before the publication of his theory and work, use of control groups, and assessment of the theory’s social desirability. Maslow failed to measure the extent of attainment or achievement of the needs, people’s satisfaction in meeting on need before focusing on the next need, and the psychological well-being of people considered during the development of his theory, which would have operationalized the theory. Maslow did not focus on a group of individuals with the same mental health condition. His perception of “normal” people could be disapproved as individuals who have not been diagnosed with a mental health condition might still struggle with different mental issues. These factors suggest that Maslow’s theory may not be verifiable or testable due to the difficulty in obtaining participants with the same needs who also have the same mental health status.
Maslow’s admitted that the studies he carried out, which led to the development of his theory used inadequate numbers of samples, which included individuals whose characteristics were not defined clearly, and that his research was not scientifically datum. He stated that the populations included in his studies had all kinds of biases that might have affected his perceptions of the overall population. He acknowledged that he relied heavily on his instincts, while selecting his subjects and drawing conclusions from his research. Maslow also acknowledged that his definition of self-actualization might have been unreliable since it did not consider the needs of different people and their perceptions of what self-actualization might mean to them. His inability to define the parameters of his study clearly contributed to the ethical issues associated with his theory.
In both historical and current professional practice, psychologists have noticed that individuals use Maslow’s theory to pursue self-actualization blindly based on their interpretation of Maslow’s theory of human needs. Psychologists have also noticed that instead of seeking happiness and fulfillment, individuals who have come across Maslow’s theory could develop obsessive behaviors in their pursuance of happiness, leading to feelings of cynicism and hopelessness (Acevedo, 2018). This suggests that Maslow’s theory can misguide people when not used alongside other scientific-based evidence.
Maslow’s theory was based on his assessment of the people around his, his education background, interaction with other psychologists work, and his childhood. According to his theory on human needs, people would be able to discover the needs of the upper tier of his hierarchical model after meeting the needs of the lover tier successfully. His theory suggests that people who have met their basic needs can focus on their security and security. The hardships he experienced as a child, while living with his parents could explain his perceptions of the importance of the different needs in his model. His theory is still applicable in mental health as it explain how different mental health conditions can affect people’s ability to meet their needs.
Acevedo, A. (2018). A Personalistic Appraisal of Maslow’s Needs Theory of Motivation: From ‘‘Humanistic’’ Psychology to Integral Humanism. Journal of Business Ethics, 148(2), 741-763. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/287126295_A_Personalistic_Appraisal_of_Maslow’s_Needs_Theory_of_Motivation_From_Humanistic_Psychology_to_Integral_Humanism.
Aruma, E. O., & Hanachor, M. E. (2017). Abraham Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs and Assessment of Needs in Community Development. International Journal of Development and Economic Sustainability, 5(7), 15-27. Retrieved from http://www.eajournals.org/wp-content/uploads/Abraham-Maslow%E2%80%99s-Hierarchy-of-Needs-and-Assessment-of-Needs-in-Community-Development.pdf.
Henwood, B. F., Derejko, K.-S., Couture, J., & Padgett, D. K. (2016). Maslow and Mental Health Recovery: A Comparative Study of Homeless Programs for Adults with Serious Mental Illness. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 42(2), 220-228. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4130906/.
Jones, W. J. (2017). The Lives of Douglass, Du Bois, and Washington: Self-Actualization Among African American Males. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 60(3), 303-329. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/9ZrYi5X8KC3hVJbyB8hW/full.
Lestari, S., Waluyo, H. J., & Wardani, N. E. (2019). Humanistic Psychology Study of Abraham Maslow on the Main Character in Tiba Sebelum Berangkat Novel by Faisal Oddang. Budapest International Research and Critics Institute-Journal (BIRCI-Journal), 2(1), 110-118. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331073479_Humanistic_Psychology_Study_of_Abraham_Maslow_on_the_Main_Character_in_Tiba_Sebelum_Berangkat_Novel_by_Faisal_Oddang.
Mercado, J. A. (2018). Abraham Harold Maslow Life and Thought. Applied Ethics, 1-38.
Mogro-Wilson, C., & Fifield, J. (2018). Engaging Young Minority Fathers in Research: Basic Needs, Psychological Needs, Culture, and Therapeutic Alliance. American Public Health Association, Retrieved from 108(Suppl. 1), S15-S16. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5813776/.
Neto, M. (2015). Educational motivation meets Maslow: Selfactualisation as contextual driver. Journal of Student Engagement: Education Matters, 5(1), 18-27. Retrieved from https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1037&context=jseem.
Schlappy, M.-L. (2019). Understanding Mental Health Through the Theory of Positive Disintegration: A Visual Aid. Frontiers in Psychology, Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01291/full.
Steenbakkers, A., Steen, S. V., & Grietens, H. (2018). The Needs of Foster Children and How to Satisfy Them: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 21(1), 1-12. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5797187/.
Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2016). Mental and Physical Health of Children in Foster Care. Pediatrics Collections, Retrieved from 138(50, e20161118. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/5/e20161118.