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Basic needs

Jemima wrote well, recently, about the importance of  addressing needs in their order of priority. In a comment on another blog Jem said

“needs must be met first, and anyone who fails to understand the basics of Maslow is turning therapy into a magic wand rather than the process of self discovery it is. It seems to be related to the idea that “something must be done” as you mentioned and also the idea of the therapist as someone who “makes things better” “

Thinking about what Jem had said made me ponder on the realities of life in a world where those in power do not believe they have to address Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s awhile since I have had the experience of being unemployed, but I remember well how hard it was to arrange my priorities each week; pay the bills, keep a roof over my head and clothes on my back, and feed myself. The complexities of finding a job came after all those basic needs, and had to.

In the 20 odd years since I was last unemployed it’s become harder for the unemployed. The demands of the state that claimants prove they are genuinely seeking work have become more and more complex. One of the things I know with some certainty is that not everyone who is unemployed is going to be an expert at making decisions. When I regularly recruited middle managers for the organization I worked for we used to use the in-tray test as part of the selection process; individuals would be given an in-tray with six tasks in it, and would be asked to prioritize them, and explain their reasoning. Life on out of work benefits in the UK today is a permanent in-tray test, and, like some of the people who used to apply for jobs with my former employers, some of them will fail the test. Sanctioning them for failing isn’t a way of teaching them to make better decisions – the primary effect is the same as making them do the same test again, but with less time and even less resources.

Jem was writing about therapy, and the abuses of therapy by those who lack a sense of proportion, but it seems to me that the bigger point is clear and obvious. People who don’t have enough to eat or a place to live aren’t going to prosper in a job search – getting them enough to eat and a place to live should be the first priority. Similarly in the examples Jem used in her comment, of the people going through turbulent lives to whom therapy might seem to be an irrelevance, the answer probably isn’t to discard therapy, but to take an holistic approach. Is that really such a complex idea, the notion that people with too little to eat or insecure housing might be more likely to get well, or get a job, if they’re well fed and well housed?


3 comments on “Basic needs

  1. punterthoughts
    April 19, 2014

    I am disabled and am lucky enough to be in a relatively well paid job. I have had little experience of dealing with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) other than informing them I had obtained a job which they had, incidentally done nothing to assist me in getting. Many disabled people who are capable of work and want to be employed are not in employment due to discrimination, this despite the presence of the Equalities Act. The DWP is constantly tightening the eligibility criteria for disability benefits but, on their own admission the amount of fraud in the disability benefits system is tiny. Policy is driven to much by listening to the shrill voice of The Daily Mail and the public anger which newspapers such as the Mail whip up, rather than looking objectively at the facts. I have incidentally noticed, as a punter that economic hard times are acting as an incentive to more women to turn to sex work to make ends meet. If the welfare system was more generous less women would consider this option (I would rather see those who are choosing prostitution without the wolf howling at their door, than those who feel truly desperate, however those who opt for sex work out of economic necessity are still, in my view making a choice albeit in constrained circumstances)


  2. Zarathustra
    April 19, 2014

    Thanks for this, and fully agree with what you say.

    My original blog post wasn’t because I’m anti-therapy (I’d hope not, since I’m a therapist), though I do think that therapy occupies a place roughly halfway up the Pyramid in Maslow’s hierarchy.

    For those who aren’t sure what I mean by the Pyramid, see this diagram;

    Those needs at the base of the Pyramid – food, safety, secure housing etc – do need to be addressed in order for therapy to be useful. To do so without it is simply trying to build a Pyramid in mid-air.


    • cartertheblogger
      April 19, 2014

      I agree, and think that Maslow is important in the same way that the distinctions between base and superstructure matter in marxism. Jemima in turn might refer to some Palestinian hippy type who used to like to tell people not to try to build houses on sand – it’s a seemingly universal idea to lots of people except those who spend their lives dreaming up eligibility tests to deter the poor from claiming benefits.


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This entry was posted on April 19, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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