Human givens therapy

Human givens psychotherapy - sometimes referred to as HG therapy - is based on the premise that humans have a set of innate needs (or 'givens'), which determine our sense of well-being. It is believed that these needs have been refined over thousands of years and that we have in-built resources to help us fulfil these needs.

However, when these resources fail to work, and one or more of our needs aren't fulfilled, we may then suffer psychologically. By helping individuals establish which of these needs aren't being met, practitioners of human givens therapy can go on to strategise ways to fulfil these needs.

The ideas behind this approach have existed within psychotherapy for centuries, however, it was officially adapted to a type of therapy in 2003, by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell. Over the last 20 years, it has developed into a set of organising ideas, which provide a holistic, scientific framework for understanding the way that individuals and society work.

On this page, we will look at what human givens therapy is, how it works, and what it can help with.

What is human givens therapy?

When we talk about 'human givens', we’re talking about the innate needs a human requires for physical and mental well-being. According to practitioners of human givens therapy, there is a set of human givens that need to be fulfilled in order to be mentally healthy.

It is thought that this knowledge of what we need has been programmed into us via our genes, and our requirements have evolved and adapted according to modern life. There are two sets of human givens: physical and emotional. Both sets of needs can affect one another, so all need to be considered within human givens therapy.

Given physical needs

Our physical needs are relatively simple - as humans, we need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, sufficient sleep and shelter from the elements. Without these, we would not survive for long.

In addition to these essential needs, other physical requirements include the need to exercise our muscles and stimulate our senses. We also instinctively seek out a home where we can grow, reproduce and raise our young. This may all sound very primal, but these are the desires and needs we've inherited from early man.

Given emotional needs

Our emotional givens are more complicated and have adapted as we have evolved. At the root of these givens is a desire to connect with the outside world and seek fulfilment. When these desires aren't met we can suffer emotional distress in various forms, leading to mental illness.

The emotional needs outlined within human givens therapy are as follows:

  • Security - A need to find safe territory and an environment in which we can develop fully.
  • Attention - A need to both give and receive attention.
  • Sense of autonomy and control - Being able to make choices and having a sense of responsibility.
  • Emotional intimacy - Knowing that at least one person accepts you in your entirety.
  • Feeling part of a community - Knowing you are part of something bigger.
  • Privacy - Having the opportunity to reflect and consolidate experiences.
  • Sense of status within social groupings - Knowing you are valued within a social setting.
  • Sense of competence and achievement - Knowing you are competent and successful at something.
  • Meaning and purpose - A feeling that comes from being stretched in what we do and what we think.

Our innate resources

As well as these givens, practitioners of the therapy believe that we have guidance systems within ourselves that help us to fulfil these needs - these are called our resources.

These resources include our ability to:

  • Develop long-term memories, allowing us to add to our knowledge and learn new things.
  • Connect with others by building rapport and empathising.
  • Imagine - helping us to take our attention away from our emotions and problem solve in a creative way.
  • Think rationally, analyse and plan.
  • Be objective.
  • Dream, metaphorically defusing un-acted upon expectations.

When these resources do not work correctly, this, in turn, leads to the un-fulfilment of human givens, which can cause emotional distress. Human givens therapy looks to establish whether or not there is a problem with the resources and if so, how to rectify this.

Man looking at mountains

How does human givens therapy work?

The human givens approach is focused on the present and looks at practical solutions to emotional distress. Through discussion and various techniques used by the therapist, the therapy aims to establish which needs are not being met, why they are not being met, and how this can be changed.

One organising idea offered by the human givens approach is that there are three main reasons why individuals may not be getting their needs met and, thus, why they may become mentally ill:

Environment: something in our environment is interfering with our ability to get our needs met. It might be that our environment is 'toxic' (e.g. a bullying boss or antisocial neighbours), or that it simply lacks what we need (e.g. a community).

Damage: something is wrong with our 'resources'. We are either missing or have incomplete instincts, perhaps as a result of unhelpful conditioning - such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Knowledge: we may not know what we need. We may not have been taught (or may have failed to learn) the coping skills necessary for getting our needs met. For example, how to make and sustain friendships.

When dealing with mental illness or distress, this framework provides a checklist that guides both diagnosis and treatment.

What can human givens therapy help with?

While the therapy is considered relatively new, it is thought to reduce emotional distress and improve coping skills, generally. It is also thought to be helpful for a range of different issues including anxiety, depression, anger management, addiction and relationship difficulties.

If you want to find out more about human givens therapy, we would recommend speaking to a counsellor or therapist offering this approach to see if it could help you.

To find a counsellor offering human givens therapy, use our search tool. Enter your postcode then, in the ‘types of therapy’ drop-down menu, select human givens psychotherapy.

How does human givens therapy differ from other therapies?

What makes the human givens approach different from other therapy approaches is that its therapists look to see what is missing, or being misused, in clients’ lives, to help them find ways to better meet their needs.

To achieve this, human givens therapists draw from a variety of tried and tested therapeutic methods, such as cognitive therapy, behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy, solution-focused approaches, and hypnotherapy.

One aspect of the human givens approach which is different from other types of therapies is that it looks to understand the role of our dreams. Therapists can explore how our unfulfilled waking emotions are played out in our dreams as metaphorical representations. So, within human givens therapy, your therapist may ask you about your dreams as the metaphors often have therapeutic value. Through your dreams, your therapist may be able to help you understand what is emotionally troubling you in more detail.

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