Human givens therapy

Written by Becky Banham
Becky Banham
Counselling Directory Content Team

Last updated 27th April 2022 | Next update due 26th April 2025

Human givens psychotherapy - otherwise referred to as the human givens approach or HG therapy - is based on the premise that humans have a set of ‘givens’, which comprise innate needs identified over decades of health and social psychological research. Fulfilment of these, through correct use of our innate resources, determines our sense of well-being.

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.

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?

The human givens approach to therapy was developed by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell in 1997. It introduced a set of organising ideas, which provide a holistic, scientific framework for understanding the way that individuals and society work.

In this video, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell discuss the need for this approach and its far-reaching implications.

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.

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.

It is by meeting our physical and emotional needs that we survive and develop as individuals and as a species.

- Read 'What is the Human Givens approach?'

Our innate resources

As well as these givens, we have guidance systems within ourselves that help us to fulfil these needs, which HG practitioners term our 'innate 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 - a process which enables unacted upon emotional arousals from the previous day to be discharged.

When these resources are unwittingly misused or do not work correctly, this prevents adequate fulfilment of emotional needs, which can cause emotional distress.

How does human givens therapy work?

The human givens approach is focused on the present, dealing with past events only as they impact the present, and looks at practical solutions to emotional distress. Through relevant information gathering and the use of various tried and tested techniques, the therapist establishes which needs are not being met, why they are not being met, and how this can be remedied.

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?

HG therapy has been shown to reduce emotional distress, caused by conditions such as anxiety, depression, anger management, addiction and relationship difficulties, and to improve coping skills, generally.

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 the HG approach 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.

Its practitioners are all trained in an effective non-invasive detraumatisation approach.

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