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Is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Accurate? An Overview for Students in Life Coach Training

As a life coach, you’ll be responsible for assisting clients in setting their goals and carving an appropriate path to success. Understanding the motivations that influence different people’s paths is an essential part of offering productive coaching. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation that discusses five needs driving human behaviour. (Montag, 2020). The hierarchy suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic physiological needs, before moving on to more advanced needs (Cherry, 2021).

While Maslow’s hierarchy can offer a guide to the essential needs for human fulfillment, life coaches should be aware of its limitations in broadly applying it to understand client behaviour. For professional life coaches, the model should be used as a platform for creativity, growth, and adopting new solutions, rather than narrowing our way of seeing things (Winter, 2015). Read on for a closer evaluation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and its relevance in modern society. 

Examining the Pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy 

According to Maslow, the five needs governing human behaviour are physiological, safety, belong, esteem, and self-actualization (Cherry, 2021). The hierarchy of these needs is widely represented in a pyramid shape, beginning with physiological and progressing to self-actualization. While the five basic needs are considered to be universally valid, their linear succession is often disputed (Winter, 2015). 

People often return to Maslow’s hierarchy because it is a simple, orderly, and well-defined representation of their life experiences (Winter, 2015). In actual fact, the theory behind the pyramid image is understood to be more nuanced and complex than people realize (Winter, 2015). While some research has supported the existence of these needs, the idea of a needs hierarchy is yet to be substantiated: there is little evidence for the ranking of these needs in a hierarchical pyramid (Cherry, 2021). Students undertaking life coach training should be aware that the needs and motivations of many clients will be far more nuanced than Maslow’s hierarchy suggests. 

Students in life coach training should prioritize the individual motivations of their client

Does Each Need Have to be Satisfied?

Maslow believed that the ultimate desire of an individual is to be self-actualized (Cherry, 2021). Before achieving this goal, however, a number of basic needs must be met, including the need for food, safety, and love (Cherry, 2021). In other words, some needs must be satisfied before others. In that way, Maslow’s model is not only a theory of human needs but also a model of personality development (Montag, 2020). 

Since the hierarchy of needs is popularly depicted as a pyramid, it is naturally understood as a linear, step-by-step progression. In reality, human needs are constantly changing, with a dynamic interplay between them (Tiryaki, 2021). At any time, we may be influenced by several different needs at once (Tirayki, 2021). Applying this notion to life coaching school, a life coach is responsible for helping a client understand their current physical, emotional, and mental needs. By understanding that a client may be juggling multiple different forces in their life, a life coach can offer balanced and productive advice to help their clients prioritize their goals.

Life coaches should respect the dynamic interplay of different needs in their clients

Things to Consider When You Become a Certified Life Coach

The job of the life coach is to consider the patient in front of them. While your work should inevitably draw from theories and empirical evidence from other clients, your primary resource should always be the client at hand. 

Maslow’s theory was largely based on his own personal observations, rather than any credible empirical research (Winter, 2015). His theory was largely designed to stimulate research in the area of human motivation, an untapped field at the time (Winter, 2015). Given that Maslow’s research was based on a very limited sample of individuals, his definition of self-actualization is difficult to identify and test scientifically (Cherry, 2021). As such, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs should be considered as just one mental model among others that can serve as a useful starting point for understanding the motivations and desires of human behaviour. 

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Works Cited:

Cherry, K (2021). The 5 Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-4136760

Montag, C (2020). Linking individual differences in satisfaction with each of Maslow’s needs to the Big Five personality traits and Panksepp’s primary emotional systems. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387820/

Tiryaki, T (2021). Coaching for Self-Actualization: Part I. Retrieved from https://coachingfederation.org/blog/coaching-for-self-actualization

Winter, T (2015). Maslow’s Hierarchy: Separating Fact From Fiction. Retrieved from https://www.td.org/insights/maslows-hierarchy-separating-fact-from-fiction

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