The Psychology of Medical Assisting

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Daymar College

What does Psychology have to do with medical assisting? According to the CMA exam administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants, the medical assistant must understand human behavior and the development of humans throughout their life. This is illustrated for medical assistants in two theories including Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Erikson’s behavior stages of life.

Behavioral Theories

There are two main behavioral theories that are tested for in the CMA exam. They include a hierarchy of needs, formed both from Maslow and Erikson. Any stage of the hierarchy can shape the future of an individual and will explain to medical assistants what they observe and why.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory explains human behavior. There are five levels of need in the hierarchy with the most fundamental level at the bottom of the pyramid of needs, they include:

  1. Physiological – Required for human survival. The need for air, water, and food are metabolic requirements for survival. Clothing and shelter provide protection from the elements. The Physiological need also involves maintaining an adequate birth rate to keep the species from going extinct.
  2. Safety – Once the Physiological needs of an individual are satisfied, the human looks to the need for safety both physical and economic. The specific safety and security needs include personal security, financial security, health and well-being, and a safety net against accident or illness.
  3. Love & Belonging – Involves a feeling of belongingness and the individual’s ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships with friends and family. Many people are susceptible to loneliness, social anxiety and clinical depression in the absence of love and belongingness.
  4. Esteem – All humans need to feel respected including the need to have self-esteem. They want to have a sense of contribution or value. Psychological imbalances, like depression, can hinder a person’s ability to obtain self-esteem.
  5. Self-Actualization – a person’s reaching of full potential and accomplishing everything that they can. Graduating from a medical assistant program from a career college can help you achieve self-actualization.

Erikson’s Life Stages

The hierarchy of needs by Erikson follows a person through their life, from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, a person experiences a psychosocial crisis that either positively or negatively effects personality development. Erikson identified eight stages, they include:

  1. Trust vs Mistrust – as an infant, they are uncertain about the world and need to resolve the feelings of uncertainty. The infant looks to their parents for stability and consistency of care. Success in this stage will lead to hope and development of a sense of trust (or without hope the development of fear).
  2. Autonomy vs Shame – between the ages of 18 months and three years, children begin to become more independent and learn that they have skills and abilities. The parent needs to encourage their child to become more independent while at the same time protecting them from constant failure.
  3. Initiative vs Guilt – from age three to age five, children assert themselves. In this stage, play provides children the ability to explore their interpersonal skills through initiating activities. If that same child is overly criticized they develop a sense of guilt. Too much guilt can make the child slow to interact with others. A healthy balance between initiative and guilt will help the child build purpose.
  4. Industry vs Inferiority – a stage that children go through between the ages of five and twelve. During this stage, the child is learning to read and write and do things on their own. The child’s peer group and teachers become more important in the development of self-esteem. If the child is encouraged for their initiative they feel industrious and confident about their ability to achieve goals. If the child is restricted then they begin to feel inferior and doubt their own ability, not reaching their potential.
  5. Ego Identity vs Role Confusion – occurs during adolescence, from 12-18 years of age. During this stage, the search for self and personal identity dominates. They begin to explore their personal values, beliefs and goals. This exploration shapes the role they play as an adult. If successful, the adolescent feels fidelity or a commitment to accepting others that have different ideological beliefs.
  6. Intimacy vs Isolation – occurs in young adulthood, between the ages of 18 and 40. During this stage, we begin to share ourselves more intimately with others. Successful completion of this stage can result in positive relationships and a sense of commitment and safety within relationships outside of family. Avoiding intimacy and fearing commitment can lead to isolation, loneliness and depression.
  7. Generativity vs Stagnation – occurs during middle adulthood, between the ages of 40 to 65. This is when we establish our career, begin our family and develop a sense of the bigger picture that we are a part of. If we raise children, are productive at work and are involved in the community we achieve success in this stage. By failing to achieve these objectives a person can feel unproductive or stagnant.
  8. Ego Integrity vs Despair – as we grow older and become senior citizens we slow down our productivity and explore life. This stage allows contemplation of our accomplishments. If we feel we are leading a successful life we develop integrity, if unproductive we may feel guilty and may develop despair. Success in this stage develops wisdom and the ability to look back on one’s life with a sense of completeness, accepting death without fear.

As a medical assistant, each patient may fit into the behavioral theories set forth by Maslow and Erikson. Understanding the different stages a person goes through can help medical assistants understand why patients are suffering from specific problems or the situations they have experienced during their development. Helping a patient at any stage of the hierarchy comes with a different set of challenges and if success is not met in any of the stages, the medical assistant may receive some insight into the patient and how to treat them more appropriately.

Does the Psychology of medical assisting interest you? Ready to become a medical assistant? The Medical Assisting program at Daymar College is appropriate for entry-level positions in doctor’s offices, hospitals, home health agencies, and other allied health organizations. The medical assisting program is available at all Daymar College campuses including Bowling Green, Clarksville, Columbus, Murfreesboro and Nashville. Contact us today to learn how you can start a rewarding career as a medical assistant.