Lucy (Beth) Powell, LCSW, utilizes a holistic, systems-based approach to evaluate and treat individuals who come to her for assistance. This approach enables a person’s strengths to be assessed and their source conflicts and struggles to be identified from a person-in-physical body, person-in-relationship, person-in-environment perspective so that the individual or individuals in session can be returned to a place of improved physical, spiritual, emotional and relational well-being as soon as possible.

An individual exists in an interconnected system of influences.  See the figure below:

Graphic from
We do not exist in a vacuum.  Our mental health is impacted by multi factors as illustrated in the graphic above.
Many clients are surprised to find out that presenting issues can stem from a number of sources that they had never considered. For example, the young man who is having trouble stringing words together, focusing and making complete sentences may improve dramatically after it has been identified that he needs to eat more than empty carbohydrates all day long. The husband who falls asleep in church (much to the embarrassment of the family and to the dismay of the pastor) finds out that he needs more sleep at night, that 4-5 hours isn’t enough. He also discovers that the reason he’s having problems sleeping is because he is a chronic worrier and can’t make his mind turn off.  Furthermore, he acknowledges that the current item he is worrying about is the fear that his wife will leave him because he thinks he isn’t good enough for her. The reason why he feels he isn’t good enough for his wife is because of the way his father treated him when he was a child. See what I mean? It’s kind of like peeling away the layers of the onion skin until we get to the core of the problems.

The system that we modify first is the system that can be changed the fastest to bring the most immediate relief.

The wife and mom who is depressed and doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning discovers that she really isn’t supposed to be able to singularly take care of 4 home-schooled newly adopted children who are as wild as March hares with no respite and no support. The first step is to find helpers for mom. The next thing is to change mom’s thinking regarding self-sufficiency. Mom can’t think and she can only react if her brain is on fight/flight/freeze just trying to get through her day.

The woman who is being physically, sexually and emotionally abused by her partner needs to be strengthened and supported to get away from the partner. She may need to be assisted in finding housing and employment and she may even need chemical dependency treatment because she has self-medicated for a number of reasons. Then when she is safe and sober can her healing truly begin.

For those individuals who can pinpoint what is causing them primary discomfort and problems in relationships such as trauma from childhood abuse, nervous breakdowns due to a partner leaving for another lover, or brain injury from birth anoxia, then the recommended plans of action are less complex because the client inherently knows where they need to start doing their work.

Certainly someone who is recovering from rape as an adult who was chronically raped as a child will have more recovery work to do than someone who was raped once as an adult. And, the individual with long-standing brain issues which have impacted memory, reasoning and focus will need to work harder and longer to recover than someone who is experiencing brain fog due to chemotherapy or menopause.

The Systems Approach fits in nicely with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs.

maslow's hierarchy of human needs
Figure 1: Adapted Maslow’ Hierarchy of Needs from

How to Interpret the Above Graphic

The triangular visual aid Maslow created to explain his theory, depicts the levels or steps of spiritual, psychological and physical needs human beings have to ascend to reach self-actualization. The above, adapted graphic includes The Aesthetics and Transcendence levels.  Going from the bottom up:

  1. Basic Needs or Physiological Needs – these are somewhat obvious and necessary for basic human survival. Without food, air, drink, warmth and sleep, the human body cannot continue to function.
  2. Safety Needs – Once physical needs are somewhat satisfied, a focus on safety needs take precedence and dominates our behavior. 
  3. Belongingness and the Need for Love – Once basic and safety needs are met, human needs become social and involve a need for acceptance and to love and be loved. If these elements are absent, anxiety and depression can arise. 
  4. Esteem Needs – This level is attained when individuals feel comfortable with what they have accomplished from a success and status standpoint. 
  5. Cognitive Needs – At this point, we feel a need to increase our intelligence and we chase knowledge to gain a better understanding of the world around us. We now feel a need to explore and desire new experiences. 
  6. Aesthetic Needs – With the previous needs satisfied, we now find we need to refresh ourselves with the presence of beauty, nature, art, music and the other aesthetically beautiful things the world has to offer. This leads to a beautiful feeling of intimacy and oneness with nature and everything beautiful. 
  7. Self-actualization – This is our instinctual need as humans to make the most of our abilities and to strive to be the best we can be. Quoting Maslow, “What a man can be, he must be.” It is also at this level that individuals experience extraordinary moments called Peak Experiences which include transpersonal and ecstatic states tinged with themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness. 
  8. Transcendence – Having personally self-actualized, there is a desire to help others self-actualize. In doing so, we connect with something beyond the ego and we experience states beyond normal human consciousness and take things to another level of being. 

The above text and accompanying graphic are from ©Conscious Aging Institute, 2011