Psychotherapy that works

The Human Givens

A positive approach to better emotional and mental health

I’m always fascinated by the fact that large numbers of people spend a great deal of time working hard to maintain or improve their physical health, yet it seems almost a rarity for people to take proactive steps to improve or maintain their mental health. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, we do not pay much attention to our emotional health until we are suffering some sort of distress.

From psychoanalysis to group discussions about one’s problems, there are now over 400 different approaches to psychotherapy, with each having its own set of dogma and beliefs. In the last ten years however, thanks to the organising ideas of two innovative psychologists, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, we have come to a new and deeper understanding of the ways in which the human mind works, and how to help it heal when it is not in the best of health. This has given rise to what is now known as the ‘human givens’ view of psychotherapy, where the focus is on helping each individual to develop their skills so they can meet their own emotional and physical needs with the innate resources with which they were born.

Our ‘given’ needs naturally look for fulfilment through the ways we interact with our environment and through the use of the resources that nature gave us. However, when our emotional needs are not fulfilled, or when our resources are being used incorrectly, we may suffer considerable distress. Of course, those resources may have been damaged, in some way, by events in our lives over which we had no control, so we may need help in developing those resources and ‘repairing’ the damage that was done.
There is now widespread agreement as to the nature of our emotional needs. The main ones are:

• Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully

• Attention, to give and receive it — a form of nutrition

• Sense of autonomy and control — having the ability to make responsible choices

• Being emotionally connected to others

• Feeling part of a wider community

• Friendship, intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, so we can just be ourself

• Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience

• Sense of status within social groupings – acceptance within the tribe

• Sense of competence and achievement – feelings of success

• Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think, having people who need us, or perhaps having philosophical or spiritual meaning.

Along with physical and emotional needs, we have been given guidance systems to help us meet those needs. These ‘given’ resources which help us to meet our needs include:

• The ability to develop complex long-term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge, and to learn

• The ability to build rapport, to empathise and to connect with others

• Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our emotions, to use language and to problem solve more creatively and objectively

• A conscious, rational mind that can check out emotions, question, analyse and plan

• The ability to ‘know’ — that is, to understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching

• An observing self — that part of us that can step back, be more objective and be aware of itself as a unique centre of awareness, apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning

• A dreaming brain that preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance every night by metaphorically defusing expectations held in the autonomic arousal system because they were not acted out the previous day.

Over hundreds of thousands of years our ‘human givens’ underwent continuous refinement as they drove our evolution forwards. They could perhaps be thought of as inbuilt, biological templates that continually interact with one another and (in undamaged people) look for their natural fulfilment in the world in ways that allow us to survive and thrive together as individuals in a great variety of different social groupings.

It is the way those needs are met, and the way we use those wonderful resources, that determine the physical, mental and moral health of any individual. If we are getting the emotional nourishment we need and it is being absorbed into our brain and our mind we will not suffer emotional disturbance.

As such, the human givens are the benchmark position to which we must all refer, in education, mental and physical health and the way we organise and run our lives at work, at home and in our leisure pursuits. When we feel emotionally fulfilled and when we are operating effectively within society, we are more likely to be emotionally and mentally healthy. But when too many innate physical and emotional needs are not being met in the environment, or when our resources are used incorrectly, unwittingly or otherwise, we suffer great distress, and so do those around us.
From the therapist’s couch to the classroom, from the HR department to the social worker, and from the prison to the residential home each and every person concerned with the emotional and mental well-being of others should be addressing whether or not their innate needs are being met by their given resources. Much of my own work is in helping people to develop the necessary skills to ensure they are able to do exactly that.

Use of the imagination to rehearse success is a powerful and effective way to overcome the continual negative rumination which can lead to depression, addiction or anxiety. Using that imagination to build resilience so as to deal with real stressors is proving to be one of the most successful therapies ever.

John Halker is a Psychotherapist and Senior Clinical Hypnotherapist using the Human Givens approach to his work. He also applies those principles to his work in executive and business coaching coaching. John is the Clinical Supervisor in the Channel Islands for the General Hypnotherapy Standards Council. John and his colleagues also apply these organising ideas to his work with companies and organisations through You can find out more about John and his work at In Guernsey call 01481 265009 or in London call 020 7193 2842. You can find out more about Human Givens at

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