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Aug 8, 2022

What Maslow Missed in his Hierarchy of Needs - The Native Self Actualization Model: An Interview with Dr. Sidney Stone Brown

Curt and Katie interview Dr. Sidney Stone Brown on the Native Self-Actualization Model. We look at Abraham Maslow’s work, which was created after spending time with the Blackfoot people as well as how his Hierarchy of Needs supports greed and capitalism. We also talk through indigenous wisdom and how Dr. Brown incorporated their lifestyle and teachings into her work on the Native Self-Actualization Model. She emphasizes the power of altruism, reciprocity, and working together collaboratively.

Transcripts for this episode will be available at!

An Interview with Dr. Sidney Stone Brown, LPC

Sidney Stone Brown was born in Kalispell Montana, and is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Indian Nation of Browning Montana. She was raised on / near her reservation until 1955, living in her great grandmother’s log house with her parents, great uncle, brother and older sisters. They had no running water or indoor toilets; the house was heated with oil and light by kerosene lanterns until 1950.  Dr. Brown’s family relocated to Coos Bay Oregon when their reservation faced termination in 1955.  Thereafter Dr. Brown attended west coast schools.  She attended 30 different schools between first grade and graduation at Oregon State University in 1974.

Dr. Brown worked her way through college and was employed by her tribe as an employment counselor, where she met a resident psychologist working at the tribal Hospital and became interested in Psychology. Near completion of her master’s program she contracted with  1) the  University of Minnesota developing  community action teams for the Red Cliff Reservation, 2) a Lakota CAP agency in Rapid City South Dakota acting alcohol program director and 3) the University of Utah (Montana Wyoming) Alcohol Counselor Trainer and 4)  became permanent employment as director of NARA 1974.  The program was originally funded at $81,000 and in ten years was 1.2 million.  NARA (1981) won a national recognition award for program excellence and it was noted at the presentation in New Orleans that the model (Native Self Actualization) she developed was the most innovative cross-cultural model ever submitted to the National Council on Alcoholism since the awards began in 1946.

She has served on many other non-profit boards, appointed a member of the (ADAMHA) Alcohol and Drug Abuse Mental Health Administration Minority Advisory Committee (1974-1976).  She lobbied for Indian and minority services at the Oregon State Legislature subcommittees, and before the US Senate.  she helped form the board and helped develop the certification criteria for NW Indian Alcohol Drug Counselor Certification Board.

In 1989 she shifted her career emphasis from administration to clinical services receiving 3 years of clinical supervision at a community mental health center and a residential treatment center to obtain licensure (LPC and NCC-MAC).  Later she was mentored to be a CQI coordinator when employed at a JCAHO certified facility in Newberg Oregon. The program won re-accreditation with accommodation the second year of my employment.  She was admitted to the spiritual/psychology integration program at George Fox University George Fox for fall 2001. 

Her clinical work with Native people convinced her she had to understand the impact of religion abuse and abuse by clergy.  She is committed and determined to fulfill her goals to mentor the next generation of minority students and contribute to the literature and research that supports good practices for Native Americans. 

In this podcast episode, we talk about The Native Self-Actualization Model

Most of us learn Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but did not hear the story about his time with the Blackfoot Tribe. There is more and more evidence that he took Native teachings and transformed it to match our individualistic, capitalistic society. We reached out to Dr. Brown to help us gather some of the history and the true wisdom about what actualization actually looks like.

How has native teaching impacted psychology?

  • Erickson and Jung studied with different tribes
  • Maslow studied with the Blackfoot people before creating his Hierarchy of Needs
  • Maslow did not publish or acknowledge the work of the Blackfoot tribe
  • Maslow’s work was for corporations

What did Maslow find when studying Native people?

  • Most people were secure (versus the high percentage of folks in poverty on the East Coast)
  • He moved from behaviorist to humanist
  • Learned the way of life with the Blackfoot Tribe

What is the Native Self-Actualization Model?

“Our world is suffering, people are suffering, because as we grow, and as we live in this world, we see the disparities. And it was never meant that just a few could have extreme wealth, at the expense of everyone else. Every person has a place and a purpose. And security is inherent in indigenous communities.” – Dr. Sidney Stone Brown

  • Inverted Lodge or Teepee (turning Maslow’s hierarchy of needs upside down)
  • The inherent purpose or promise babies come into the world with
  • The philosophy of Indigenous People
  • The importance of culture and altruism

“When I learned what the Blackfoot people were teaching [Abraham Maslow], I felt the world needed to know that we can look at this differently. Because right now that hierarchy of needs is causing harm. Just a few people being able to be actualized. And I would like to believe that everyone can be actualized.” – Dr. Sidney Stone Brown

What has impacted Native mental health?

  • Clement Bear Chief’s concept of the holes torn through Native communities
  • The sexualization and objectification of Native women
  • The need for protection people, earth, animals
  • The story of the Blackfoot relationship with the buffalo
  • The commonality of the indigenous experience
  • Everything that was taken from Native people creating holes
  • How to incorporate indigenous practices and teachings to support mental health treatment

Important Takeaways

“I also want to remind people that I'm doing this because Maslow didn't. I'm doing this because it's possible now. I don't think they would have listened to Maslow if he tried to explain what he learned from the Blackfoot people, so it's time and we need to help each other and teach each other.” – Dr. Sidney Stone Brown

  • The importance of intergenerational knowledge
  • It is essential that indigenous wisdom and way of life survive
  • The power of altruism and reciprocity
  • We all are human beings and need to take care of each other

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Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!
Facebook Page: Transformation Beyond Greed

Interviews of Dr. Brown

To get the book now, contact Dr. Sidney Stone Brown:

New Publisher for the Book Coming Soon!

Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

Therapy as a Political Act: An interview with Dr. Travis Heath

The Person of the Therapist: An Interview with Dr. Harry Aponte

Bridging Cultural and Communication Differences in a Bilingual Psychotherapy Practice: An Interview with Dr. Carmen Roman


Who we are:

Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making "dad jokes" and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at:

Katie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt's youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at:

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