Henry Murray, 20 Motives or Needs, Human Psychology


Q: How is your approach different from Henry A. Murray’s large list of more than 20 motives or needs?

A: Henry Murray is best known for developing the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) a test to determine personality and unconscious motivation.  He is also well known for his list of 27 psychogenic needs, a list of needs largely at the unconscious level.

According to Murray, we both have primary needs which are biologically based such as the need for water, food, air, sex and the avoidance of pain, and secondary needs that derive from biological needs or are part of human nature.   Of the long list of 27 psychogenic needs, the most often cited for their importance in research are: achievement, power (dominance), affiliation, and nuturance.

The Lifetrack tripod Model is More Succinct than Murray’s

Because the three-sphere model seeks to determine the essence of, rather than great detail about, human personality, it is more succinct than Murray’s 1938 lengthy list of more than 20 motives or needs.  Lifetrack groups all psychological needs in three primary spheres: selfintimacy and achievement.  These needs can be just as important as biological needs and are not placed in a hierarchy.  They are not in a natural state of disequilibrium; they can co-exist in all healthy and distressed individuals.

To compare with Murray, the achievement sphere incorporates the need for power or control over the environment.  Affiliation and nuturance fall into the intimacy sphere.   Notably absent in Murray’s list is the self sphere.

Interaction Amongst Psychological Needs Provides Insight

In the Lifetrack model, the intimacy sphere encompasses all forms of intimacy, but focuses in therapy on the adult couple relationship.  The couple relationship is seen as the most direct, inter-dependent and intense human adult relationship in three dimensions: emotional, intellectual-social, and physical sexual.  As such, its impact on the human psyche is important.  Intimacy in this definition goes far beyond geneal feelings of associations or friendships amongst people or nuturance.

According to Dr. Yukio Ishizuka, each of the three spheres interact amongst each other and can influence change in the other.  In Lifetrack therapy, the most important catalyst for deep transformational change has proven to be the intimacy sphere (see breakthrough intimacy), even if the source of the problem may be found in the self or achievement sphere.

The three spheres (self, intimacy and achievement) are helpful to patients and lay people precisely because they remain conceptually broad enough to encompass all critical psychological events, yet simple enough to be remembered. At the same time, the tripod model has been further broken down into three dimensions or nine elements for each sphere (love definitionself definition and work definition).  Each of the elements are tracked and measured over the process of therapy by the individual.

Personality:  Patterns of Thinking, Feeling and Acting in one’s Self, Intimacy and Achievement Spheres

While Murray differentiated real environmental forces and perceived, in his model it is the psychogenic needs that give rise to personality.  How the environment will ‘press’ or put pressure on individuals and force them to act defines our personality; ie. which of the 27 psychogenic needs are expressed most strongly.

In Lifetrack therapy, the emphasis is on the perceived or subjective interpretation of life events that contribute to happiness or distress.  It is not on the actual ‘objective’ event in our self, intimacy or achievement sphere that ultimately matters, but on the individual’s experience of that event (objective subjective).  Personality can be defined as patterns of thought, feeling and action amongst our three spheres.  Some extreme personality types may emerge when one sphere is consistently given precedence over the others.

The spheres provide a conceptual means to cluster essential elements of our personality. People can grasp the essence of three spheres, but need not remember more.  For those who wish to actively improve in the spheres, the Lifetrack model of positive mental health is broken down into 41 parameters that are defined and can be tracked daily.  The Lifetrack model provides a definition of positive mental health which takes into account the rigourous criteria set forth by Maria Jahoda.

Using a visual model of the three spheres one can illustrate how individual spheres and elements overlap and interact.  The definition of each element enables us also to quantify subjective areas of life that create fundamental change.  Over time, we can better understand and measure how spheres of psychological existence contribute to our happiness or distress.  Each element in the tripod model of health is a small lever that can help us control subjective experience that determines our experience of health and distress.

Copyright © 2010 Lifetrack Corporation

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Henry Murray, 20 Motives or Needs, Human Psychology
Dr. Yukio Ishizuka, a Japanese psychiatrist discusses a human psychology of health Lifetrack therapy, Henry Murray, and 20 motives or needs.



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