Fundamental importance of needs
I consider needs the foundation of any form of life, from the simplest species (such as single-celled organisms) to the most evolved (such as man). They can be distinguished into innate (i.e. genetically determined and immutable) and acquired (i.e. formed as a result of experience and modifiable through further experience). They can also be distinguished into attainment needs and avoidance needs. Acquired needs (self-induced or induced by third parties) develop as a means of meeting higher order (innate or acquired) needs.
The mind as a cybernetic system
I consider the mind a cybernetic system of autonomous intercommunicating agents, mostly unconscious and involuntary, whose purpose is to determine the behavior of the individual in order to promote his survival and the conservation of his species. This happens through the satisfaction of his needs (both innate and acquired).
Origin of mental disorders and purpose of psychotherapy
I consider mental disorder an effect of lacking or insufficient satisfaction of one or more innate needs due to external or internal obstacles, conflicts between needs and/or inadequate satisfaction strategies.
Psychotherapy is the methodical treatment of mental disorder. It should help the patient to know his or her unsatisfied needs and the reasons for their dissatisfaction, in order to correct satisfaction strategies that have proved to be inadequate.
Classification of human needs
I have divided human needs into the following six classes. The concept of need is here understood in a broad sense and includes instinct, desire, passion, interest, attraction, drive, motivation, hope, etc., and the corresponding rejections, i.e. the need to avoid that which is opposed to the satisfaction of the needs of attainment.
They concern: life, health, survival, sexuality, shelter, nutrition, protection and rearing of offspring, stimulation, sensations, rest, sleep, exercise, hygiene, healing from illnesses, etc.
Needs of community
They concern: community, cooperation, membership and social integration, imitation, sharing, alliance, affiliation, solidarity, affinity, intimacy, interaction, participation, service, acceptance, approval, welcome, respect, morality, rituality, dignity, reputation, responsibility, etc.
Needs of freedom
They concern: freedom, individuation, diversity, rebellion, opposition, transgression, novelty, innovation, creativity, change, humour, selfishness, confidentiality, irresponsibility, etc.
Needs of Power
They concern: power, strength, competition, skill, ability, supremacy, superiority, dominance, ownership, possession, competitiveness, aggressiveness, control, arrogance, jealousy, envy, etc.
Needs of knowledge
They concern: knowledge, language, cognition, understanding, exploration, calculation, measurement, information, observation, surveillance, curiosity, prediction, progress, memory, recording, documentation, etc.
Needs of beauty
They concern: beauty, harmony, simplicity, uniformity, conformity, cleanliness, symmetry, synchronism, regularity, purity, rhythm, dance, singing, sound, music, poetry, aesthetics, enchantment etc.
To the six classes listed above I have added one that concerns all the others in the sense that it aims at coherence between them, in order to avoid and overcome conflicts between needs:
Needs of coherence
They concern: coherence, consistency, not contradiction, concordance, conciliation, unity, synthesis, synergy, harmony, order etc. between needs. They also concern the understanding of the “meaning” of existence.
Psychotherapeutic tools – Synoptic Training
The effectiveness of a psychotherapy (of any school) can be increased through the use of recorded information (writings, drawings, photographs, etc.) that the patient himself can produce (with or without the assistance of a therapist), and of repertoires, questionnaires, forms and guides that the therapist can make available to the patient; these tools can help him/her to identify and evoke unsatisfied needs and stimulate a reorganization of his/her own cognitive, emotional and motivational automatisms in order to make them more adequate to the satisfaction of his/her own and others’ needs.
Synoptic Training (which I have conceived and experimented on myself) is a method based on the synoptic perception of words, sentences or other graphic or auditory material capable of simultaneously evoking contents of the patient’s mind, relevant to his or her mental disorder or distress. Such material should be collected and recorded (on paper or by means of a computer) during the course of the therapeutic process, as facts or ideas relevant to the process emerge.
In this book I present the principles of Synoptic Training and provide practical tools to facilitate psychotherapy.
Key concepts for understanding life
I believe that the key concepts for understanding life are those of system, information, interaction and need and, for more complex forms of life, such as human life, that of feeling.
The concept of system is important because the world is a system of systems, as are the biosphere, all living beings, humans, their minds and societies.
A living system is a set of parts that interact while obeying the laws of physics and biology, i.e. trying to satisfy their needs. From the interaction can emerge characteristics that were not present in the individual parts, such as consciousness. This is why it is said that a system is more than the sum of its parts.
The concept of information is important in living beings because life is based on information (encoded in DNA) that instructs living matter to preserve itself, develop, learn, reproduce and die of old age. In fact, the parts, or organs, that constitute a living being communicate with each other by exchanging information (as well as substances) and their behaviour is determined by information both of genetic origin and acquired through previous interactions.
The concept of interaction is important because a living system cannot exist as a species, let alone as an individual, without an interaction between its parts, i.e. an exchange of information, substances and energies. Moreover, the human mind is formed through interactions with others and in order to learn to interact with others in a way that is functional to the satisfaction of one’s own needs and the people on whom it depends.
The concept of need is important for a living system (organism or ecosystem) because every part of it, going back to the cell, behaves in such a way as to satisfy needs that are encoded in its DNA and others that have developed through interactions with the rest of the world. The most basic need is that of genes, which need to reproduce and do so with strategies that differentiate themselves through the evolution of the species. Such strategies may involve the development of new needs or subordinate needs. In fact, every need is a means, attempt, or strategy to satisfy a higher order need.
Feelings and needs are intimately linked because feeling is the measure of the degree of satisfaction of one or more needs. In fact, pleasure derives from the satisfaction of needs, and pain from their dissatisfaction. Without needs there would be no feelings, no emotions, no pleasures, no pain, no joy, no sadness, no conscience.
Importance of social roles
The needs of a human being can only be met through interaction and cooperation (direct or indirect) with other human beings. Human interactions are generally regulated by cultures, or civilizations, internalized at an unconscious level, which define forms, norms, values, languages and roles through which (and only through which) non-arbitrary and therefore non-violent interactions are possible.
Each role corresponds to one or more social functions, i.e. behaviours through which an individual contributes to the satisfaction of his/her own and others’ needs.
The choice or assignment of roles can be competitive, and gives rise to internal and external conflicts, i.e. between the different needs of the subject, and between the subject’s needs and those of others.
A role that is not shared, not consensual, unrealistic, confused, indecisive or false, and therefore not easily implemented, can hinder the satisfaction of one or more needs and thus cause suffering and mental disorders.
Happiness and wisdom
I define happiness of an individual as a habitual condition in which his or her basic needs are sufficiently satisfied before any frustration of them causes psychophysical damage. By sufficient I mean to such an extent that the individual willingly accepts the life he leads and does not wish to change it structurally.
The ultimate goal of this book is to help people become wiser, that is, more capable of knowing and satisfying their own and others’ needs, and consequently suffer less and enjoy more. All this in a sustainable way for the person, society and the environment in an ecological sense.
The following figure is a synoptic of the Psychology of Needs, containing many of its founding concepts. See the explanation in the section “General outline of human relations” of the chapter Trilateral relations, emotional coherence, social value.