Tag Archives: human givens

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 www.grove-consultancy.com. You can find out more about John and his work at www.grove-clinic.com. In Guernsey call 01481 265009 or in London call 020 7193 2842. You can find out more about Human Givens at www.humangivens.com



Anger is short-lived madness, and only one letter short of danger.

Emotionally charged people do stupid things – that’s a simple fact of life. We’ve all done it, haven’t we – said or done something really daft because we were scared, passionate or angry. That’s OK in itself, as anger is an ancient survival mechanism that nature has given us to use in appropriate ways. As we mature, most of us are lucky enough to have learnt the appropriate and proportional reactions to events which would previously have made us angry, but if our guidance systems are damaged in some way our expressions of anger can develop into violent outbursts, which often leave us feeling confused, powerless and out of control. If that way of dealing with stress continues then we are in danger of being ‘stuck’ in an addictive and harmful cycle of anger.

Oddly, our disproportionate reaction to anger is addictive in the same way that any strong expression of emotion can be addictive, but the consequences of an addiction to anger can result in unhappiness, more stress and even death. That addiction can be very strong indeed, as it provides real satisfaction for the perpetrator, and a short-term fix, much like a dose of heroin to a junkie.

When anger kicks in there are several important physiological changes which are worth looking into more deeply. Increased adrenalin, an increase in oxygen supply, a surge in testosterone in males, as well as our bodies being flushed full of cortisol resulting in massive lowering of our immune defences. There are other factors to consider which can lower our anger threshold such as tiredness, ill health, hunger cravings, hormonal changes and dementia. All of these factors can increase stress and increase our readiness to be triggered into an unreasonable outburst of anger.

There are many myths about anger, perhaps the most damaging of which is that it’s best to ‘let it out’ and express it. Well meaning therapists used to encourage angry and frustrated people to punch pillows and express their anger in a very physical way, but we now know that this simply provides a very temporary relief from symptoms of anger whilst really fuelling the next outburst.

All anger is manageable, and anger management programmes aim to find healthier ways of discharging aroused anger, but anger management is an incomplete answer to the problem. We can only suffer from anger rages if our innate guidance system is damaged and we are misusing the tools we have been given to meet our emotional needs, so to be successful in treating the cause any anger management programme must include practical help in designing and planning a life that works and which offers healthy balanced ways of meeting the emotional needs of each individual.

Remember, anger seems to come from nowhere, almost as an automatic response so it is unlikely we can be released from anger using logic and rational thought, but what we can do is to give our bodies and minds a fighting chance by learning and reprogramming ourselves to act in more appropriate ways. Nature provides us with a wonderful tool to discharge unexpressed anger through our dreams, where we dream in metaphors to unload that anger, painlessly in the night. Of the many tools we have to help us avoid explosive and dangerous outbursts of anger perhaps the best is to find a way of relaxing which suits us. From breathing in a certain way to progressive relaxation there are many methods of lowering the body’s baseline arousal. Finding ways to practice mindfulness, either through meditation or simply being absorbed in an activity, can greatly help relaxation. Email me for details of breathing methods or relaxotherapy CDs.

We often hear people talking about anger which they’ve carried with them for many years, but we now know that anger does not build up over many years. In fact, what they are doing is constantly recharging the anger by rehearsing the events in their mind, and replaying their frustrated imaginary response to the initial event which caused the anger. Anybody can improve their performance at anything by constantly repeating and rehearsing it, and the same applies to anger.

We also now fully understand why that anger is so often aimed at those we love and to whom we are closest, and steps must be taken to stop that cycle of repetition before it is passed on to our children and it becomes their ‘normal.’ The anatomy of anger and the way it takes hold is now much more fully understood, and the interventions that can help reduce and manage anger so it is used in a healthy way are easily available. So we treat the cause, not the symptom. Don’t get mad, get help.

Based at The Grove Clinic in Guernsey and London, John Halker is a Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist using the Human Givens approach to his work. He also applies those principles to his work in life coaching and relationship counselling, and in helping organisations create a healthier and more productive working culture. You can find out more about John and his work at www.grove-clinic.com. In Guernsey call 01481 729911 or in London call 020 7193 2842.

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