What is Human Givens Therapy?

by Lyn Tonks (Human Givens Therapist at the Affinity Centre)

What do we need in order to survive and thrive?

To survive, all living organisms must take nourishment from the environment to maintain and rebuild themselves. We need air to breathe, water to drink, nutritious food and sufficient amounts of the right quality of sleep. These are our physical needs. They also include such things as exercise, secure shelter and freedom to stimulate our senses. These basic physical ‘givens’ must get met, in order for us to survive.

But we also have emotional needs, which are equally crucial for our wellbeing.

Our vital emotional needs

The Human Givens model identifies the following specific emotional needs:

Security – a safe territory and environment that allows us to live without undue fear, develop fully and have space to grow.

Autonomy – a sense of control over what happens to us, and the freedom to make our own decisions and choices.

Attention – giving and receiving it.

Emotional connection to others – friendship, love, intimacy.

Community – connection to the wider community, through work, hobbies, sport.

Status – a sense that we are accepted, valued and have status within the groups to which we belong.

Achievement & Competence – a sense of our own abilities, knowledge and skills, without which we may feel inadequate, lack confidence and develop ‘low self-esteem’. Confidence, built through competence, gives us resilience to cope with life’s difficulties.

Privacy – enough time and space to reflect on and consolidate our experiences.

Meaning and Purpose – which comes from being stretched, mentally or physically, and having purpose in what we do. This can be through service to others, learning new skills or being connected to ideas or beliefs greater than ourselves.  Meaning makes suffering tolerable.

Our emotional needs overlap and interconnect – we need all of them to met in balance to keep us well.  In order to get our needs met, we have an inbuilt set of human resources we can use.

Our inbuilt human resources

The Human Givens approach identifies our key resources as:

Emotions and Instincts – These help us to understand what’s happening around us and respond accordingly.

Empathy – the ability to build rapport and connect with others.

Memory – the ability to develop complex, long-term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge and learn.

Imagination – with which we can focus away from our emotions and problem solve creatively by trying out ideas in our mind.

Pattern-matching – the ability to ‘know’ and to understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching – a fundamental way in which our brains work.

Reason – a conscious, rational mind that can check out emotions, analyse and plan.

Observing self – that part of us that can step back, be more objective and recognise itself as a unique centre of awareness, separate from intellect, emotion and conditioning.

Dreaming – our brain’s way of preserving our instincts and defusing uncompleted, unresolved or unfulfilled emotional arousals to create spare mental capacity for the next day.

These inbuilt resources are designed and developed to meet our needs.

A practical framework for achieving emotional health

The Human Givens model defines what we need in order to be healthy (innate needs) and what nature had given us to get these needs met (innate resources). These are the ‘human givens’.

Just as a lack of one of our physical needs can make us ill, so a missing element of our emotional needs can cause us emotional difficulties that can lead to mental and physical ill health. Conversely, when all of our needs are met in balance, we will thrive and be in good emotional health.

Psychologists, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell, co-founders of the Human Givens approach, used the above principles to develop a scientifically up-to-date, integrative approach to emotional health and a practical framework to assist those in need of help.

How does the HG approach help us to treat mental illness?

Many therapists have found the Human Givens approach to be effective, efficient and consistent in helping a broad range of issues including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Phobias
  • Trauma and PTSD
  • Anger problems
  • OCD

It also helps with life changes, including bereavement, relationship and work challenges or changes.

The HG framework helps people through their difficulties by looking at their unmet, or out of balance, needs and at their resources, which may be missing or not being used correctly. It can help them to get back in charge of their lives once more. It is a fast and effective way to help a wide range of people.

Why does this approach work?

It is in tune with how we feel and explains why we feel the way we do.

Therapy sessions have an efficient structure, which help people understand quickly what they can do to make things better for themselves.

It looks at everyone as a unique individual with different solutions to their difficulties.

It takes into account the context of the person’s difficulties without delving unduly into their past history.

It works in tune with the way the brain works. When something disturbs us, the brain unconsciously pattern-matches to what that means, which arouses emotions in us. The emotion then makes us think or behave in a way, which we may not even be aware of.

It leads us to set positive, achievable and needs-oriented goals, making problem solving easier.

Human Givens therapists are trained in a wide range of effective psychological techniques to assist the person requiring help.

It uses a technique for mentally rehearsing any changes or actions needed to overcome obstacles that may be in the way.

It uses clear, easy to understand language.

It provides a clear framework for helping, using targeted interventions.

It gives people the opportunity to own their own recovery and be in charge of their own life choices, building their own resilience for the future.

Where’s the evidence?

The HG approach draws on research findings from psychology and neurobiology about what people need to function well, and on which psychotherapeutic techniques are most effective.

The evidence-based efficacy of human givens therapy is well established. HG therapists work in an outcome-informed way.  People often need only a few sessions, saving them time and money.

Who is using the HG approach?

The HG approach has many applications, within health, education and business, with many people reporting great improvements in their lives.

Find out more

The book aboave (affiliate link) is a great gudie to Human Givens, or you could go to The Human Givens Institute website www.hgi.org.uk is another source of information about the approach, courses, articles etc.


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