Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Maslow, Teleporting, and How to Get Beyond the Basics...

Maybe the current social work paradigm is Maslow-sick. Maslow revolutionized the ideas around personal growth, but the linear nature of his model is perhaps misunderstood, or over-applied. Case in point: I work in an emergency shelter, on the night shift, and I hand out tons of blankets and sandwiches to people who come to the door after the shelter has filled. It seems that in the Maslow model, the folks at the door are struggling to make ends meet, somewhere at the bottom of the pyramid of needs. Is self-actualization possible at this moment, when I am handing the sandwich over? I think most would say no, we have to focus on what is needed; look after the client's basic needs, and they MAY have the opportunity to explore life choices at some undefinable point in the future. Yet I notice a difference when I hand out a blanket with a smile instead of indifference. If I am tired and I plop the blanket in their arms, they don't seem to make much eye contact. I wouldn't either, were I receiving a blanket from someone who didn't seem to care.

If, on the other hand, I express my genuine concern and say "that is the best I can do tonight" the response is one of appreciation and connection, even with those who have been judged as typically unresponsive. I would like to note that "connection" is found a little higher up on Maslow's hierarchy, somewhere after self-esteem and a sense of belonging. It is as though the client and I have been "teleported" through the hierarchy.

The current models of motivational interviewing seem to have the same directional growth ideas, as a person is said to move through different levels of awareness and action, from pre-cognition to awareness to cessation. Yet, a drug user can stop doing drugs without thinking about why. Motivational interviewers would say that a sudden halting of drug use is an example of a person moving through the cycle REALLY quickly, but I wonder if there is something more to be said about this phenomenon. Of course we are limited by our capacities, and time constraints, but I believe we might be able to think "outside the pyramid." Thoughts?

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