Tag Archives: psychotherapy

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


Interview about psychotherapy

For many months we’ve read John Halker’s articles in The Guernsey Life and we finally got him to keep still long enough to ask him some questions about his work.

Q. In the two years you’ve been writing for us we have seen you described as a psychotherapist, a clinical hypnotherapist, a relationship counsellor and a corporate advisor. What are all these things and what is the difference between them?
A. The dividing line between all the headings is blurred, but what I really do is to help people change their minds and to design and build a life for themselves that will work. People can use whatever title they want and which may suit them. Each of those words conjures different things for each person but they are all areas in which I have skills, qualifications, success and experience. Of course, they all mesh together very well and it’s just a matter of reaching inside the toolbox to use the right tool at the right time. Hypnosis is a tool that I use and I’ve seen that it can have a powerful effect if used in the right way. The foundation for my work is the Human Givens philosophy of psychotherapy, which is the first real scientific approach to understanding and improving mental health.

Q. What about the corporate work?
A. I used to be President and CEO of a US corporation involved in software development for the medical world, so I know what is involved in running a company and employing people. So, my colleagues and I are eminently qualified to offer pragmatic solutions which work – there’s no place for airy-fairy ideas in the boardroom, and companies steer a very wide berth around some of the more weird ideas to help companies and people. I’ve done this kind of work in the corporate world for many years and it’s usually so easy from the outside looking in to see some of the problems in a company’s culture. Very often the problem can be people in the team competing with each other instead of competing outside, so my colleagues and I do quite a lot of work in building original ideas to get everybody sharing the common goal. It’s OK to compete at being the best batsman as long as everybody is batting in the same direction. We also do individual and executive coaching at senior management level, both here in the Channel Islands as well as in the UK. I think of it as Just-In-Time training in some instances, but it does have wider application.

Q. How do you juggle family life with all your trips to work in the UK?
A. My colleagues in The Grove Consultancy now do much of the corporate work in the UK, helping all sorts of organisations and companies including some significant global players to improve the way they help their people to help the organisation. For me personally the UK end of things is really only a couple of days every few weeks, and I can fit in two full days’ work and only be away for one night.

Q. There is always a lot of mystique surrounding hypnosis and what it really is, and searches on the Internet show thousands of web sites that disagree with each other. Can you explain what hypnosis actually is?
A. I wish I could find a way to explain exactly what is happening when somebody is hypnotised, but it is somewhat difficult to get one’s head round, and each person’s perception is different in terms of what happened to them and what it felt like. To hypnotise somebody you need to get them to suspend their critical faculty, and to then accept selective thinking. How that’s done is a bit like asking a surgeon how he does an operation. He or she knows he needs to make an incision, and he knows that no two people will look exactly the same when he gets inside. So he has a body of knowledge and a wealth of experience to dip into once he has made his cut. Once there he may well find other things that had not been identified as problems before but they must be dealt with for the job to be finished. Think of hypnosis as accelerated learning – I can give some information to somebody to help them change their life, but using hypnosis I can take away much of their fear of using that new ‘tool’ and give them a much clearer picture of how good life will be once they have made the necessary changes. Try not to get too caught up in how it’s done, but you could get mesmerised by how powerful it is in the right hands.

Q. Can hypnosis be dangerous?
A. There are many people who have attended ‘learn how to be a hypnotist in one weekend’ courses. Mostly, they simply end up using it to entertain their friends, but it is worth remembering that you can do serious psychological damage, much more so if somebody is stressed and also a good hypnotee, and it would be too easy to put somebody into an artificially psychotic state without realising it. If you are going to see somebody to help with changing your mind in some way, just make sure the person has received many years of training in general psychology and psychotherapy as well as hypnosis, so they can just use hypnosis as one of a numbers of tools in their toolbox.

Q. Hollywood has given us an impression of what psychotherapy is all about. Is that an accurate depiction of what will happen to a client?
A. Far from it, in my experience. There are simply too many therapists and counsellors asking clients to tell them all about how bad they feel, how angry they feel and how badly it is all affecting their life. That approach can be very damaging indeed and it is now generally recognised that the psychodynamic approach or the psychoanalytic method can simply exacerbate the problem. I often get chatting to people at social or business events, and they freely exclaim that they have been in therapy for many months, sometimes years. When I ask them if they are feeling better yet they mostly say that they are making progress but they hope to feel better soon. Where I come from we call that patient abuse, and it is such an old-fashioned idea of how to help somebody. It’s as daft as telling somebody to punch a cushion or to do primal screaming to let out their anger – it just makes things worse. The simple act of sitting down with somebody who is a good reflective listener, and trying to explain the problem, can be a healing experience in itself, but it is vital that anybody involved in counselling is trained in reflective listening so that the client is not dwelling and ruminating on an age-old problem, and how their every waking moment has been blighted by the fact that their mother spoke to them sharply when they were very young. I’m not in any way belittling people who have suffered difficult lives for those kinds of reasons, but it is vital that the client’s focus is steered towards finding an answer to the problem, and using their imagination to experience the day when the problem is gone, and what their world will look like when they no longer have that problem. They are standing in the station telling me about their problem and the cause of it, so I ask them to buy a ticket to a destination of their choice and to tell me how they will know when they’ve reached it, and how we can measure progress towards it. That’s the very basics of solution-focused therapy. I believe everybody needs to leave my room feeling better than when they arrived, and that should continue for every visit. Quite often we are able to find a solution in one or two sessions, leaving the client to do their homework for a few weeks before coming back to me to make sure that he or she has achieved their goal. It may also be helpful to mention something about men and psychotherapy – sadly, we are still at a stage where many men see psychotherapy as a matter for women, as men are not in touch with their feelings and do not express themselves in the same way. Many men end up on my couch only after many years of suffering when they could have been helped much sooner, if only they had asked. If I could make a change in the world of therapy I would simply get men convinced that they can be helped to lead much more fulfilling and rewarding lives if they were to ask for help a little sooner rather than suffering in silence.

Q. There still seems to be a stigma about mental and emotional health matters. Why is that, and what can be done about it?
A. I believe that much of that stigma is to do with fear of the unknown and the very old idea that mental illness is to do with a weakness in character. Very recently I was chatting with a group of people about exactly that issue. A very well educated and intelligent local men’s group believed that depressed people merely needed a good talking to and to pull themselves together. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having something wrong with your mind is exactly the same as having a broken leg – it’s a real problem which needs good help and support to fix it. In most cases both can be fixed with the right treatment and a little patience and understanding. It is quite natural to fear that which we do not understand so some basic information about emotional health issues will serve to bring it out into the open. I am not exaggerating when I say we are in the middle of an anxiety epidemic, fuelled by the media in many cases, but also primed by the use of clever psychology in trying to sell us products and services.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
A. There is so much that I enjoy, and it is a brilliantly rewarding profession to be involved in, but I do get most satisfaction from dealing with children, as kids have such an open and vivid imagination. It is always so sad to see children as young as six or seven being brought to me because of their anxiety or their phobia. Happily, much can be done to help children and it is always so fulfilling to see results in that way.

Q. If you could change one thing what would it be?
A. I couldn’t just stop at one I’m afraid. I do believe that we can all have much better emotional and mental health with very little effort and negligible expense. It’s really time to embrace the concept of us all taking a proactive approach to our mental health. Youngsters need to be offered basic anxiety management tools when they are still at school, using simple, basic tools such as mindfulness exercises. We are all told we must keep our bodies fit through good diet and exercise, but we tend to wait until we are greatly distressed be fore we ask for help to sort out our emotional health. A great deal could be done to bring emotional health issues into the open at school, university and in the workplace so that we can all start to take a proactive approach to maintaining good mental health.

Based at The Grove Clinic in St. Peter Port, 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 coaching and relationship counselling. 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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