The human givens approach: needs must


“It is such common sense!”

This is the reaction of most people who attend any Human Givens College training courses, many of them already trained as counsellors and psychotherapists in other methods. What makes the human givens approach so different from other approaches – and thus motivates people either to complete our training and gain our qualification, or else incorporate what they learn into their existing practice – is that it has a profound, yet simple, organising idea behind it. 

At the heart of the human givens approach is the understanding that we all have emotional needs, which must be met in balance, and innate mental resources designed to help us meet them. When essential emotional needs are adequately met and innate mental resources are used correctly, human beings will be emotionally and mentally healthy, able to deal with setbacks and even personal tragedies in their lives without their mental health becoming a casualty. 

For it is not difficult circumstances that determine mental health but the personal and social strengths we can draw upon in how we respond to them. 

What does the human givens approach focus upon?

Essential psychological needs identified over decades of work by health and social psychologists include needs for autonomy, sense of control, security, connection, attention, achievement, status and meaning. Innate resources, much studied by neuroscientists, include our abilities to learn from experience, plan, judge, imagine, remember, relate one thing to another, empathise, develop a moral sense, and so on.

When emotional needs are not adequately met, are met in unhealthy ways, or when innate resources are damaged for any reason or unintentionally misused, do undesirable mental states such as anxiety, depression, addiction, anger and psychosis develop. 

So rather than looking to see what is ‘wrong’ with a person and focusing on their symptoms, the human givens practitioner will focus on what is missing or not working in their clients’ lives in order to help them find better ways to fulfil their needs. It is thus an empowering, positive approach.  

For instance, someone may be deeply unhappy in their choice of career and start misusing the resource of their imagination to see a miserable future in which they will never be happy and fulfilled. They may then start looking at the whole of their life through this dark prism and find fault with the quality of their relationships, or their personal appearance and so forth. Nothing is right with the world. Gradually, they may become so dissatisfied and unhappy that they withdraw from, or alienate, friends, become more isolated, start drinking to avoid their miserable existence and quickly slide down into depression. 

If they consult a human givens practitioner at this point, they will probably have lost sight of where all this started. Depression, for them, has become something amorphous and all-encompassing. But, with careful information gathering, the human givens practitioner will help them unpick the strands of their story and see that their current depressed state is the result of missing a sense of achievement, connection and meaning and purpose. 

The practitioner can then show them how they can stop misusing their innate mental resources by catastrophising, and instead use their imaginations to investigate new, more satisfying ways to live their lives, which will allow them to regain joy and meet their needs for connection and achievement and meaning in healthier, more fulfilling ways. 

How does this work?

We do this by helping the client learn important coping and practical skills in order to make the life changes they need. Often, someone has gone into a particular course of study or career to please a parent (who wanted them to be a scientist, a lawyer, an accountant), when their own interests actually lay elsewhere. It can be liberating for them to realise that they can find ways to pursue their own dreams, even if as a hobby initially or else by identifying their passion and finding ways to retrain. 

With the scaffolding of needs and resources to build from, human givens practitioners may draw not just from one therapeutic method, but from a whole variety of tried and tested methods (such as cognitive therapy, behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy, solution-focused approaches, motivational interviewing, reflective listening and hypnotherapy), as well as from the latest neuroscientific findings, to help clients make the changes they want to make. 

It is a holistic approach which mixes teaching new, more enabling thinking styles and problem-solving skills with psychoeducation that allows clients to understand why they have been feeling so depressed or anxious or out of control. And – hugely importantly – it helps people to see their circumstances differently through careful use of nourishing stories and metaphors and, once guided into a calm, relaxed state, rehearsing in their imaginations the making of the positive changes. All human givens practitioners are expert in maximising the transformative possibilities of guided imagery.    

This is a practical, forward-focused approach which concentrates on mastery of skills and understandings that people can use in the future to move on in their lives – rather than concentrating on, and being stuck in, what went wrong in the past. This is the case, even if people have suffered horrific traumatising events. All human givens therapists are taught a reliable, safe method for detraumatising people, which in most cases works in one session.

Not only is the method effective and life-changing for the client, but it is highly satisfying and fulfilling for the therapist, who from the get-go focuses on specific positive outcomes and sees a shift in their client’s mental state before the end of the very first session. What particularly marks out human givens therapy for practitioners is that, from the outset, clients experience hope – and that not only energises the client, but the practitioner as well.

Denise Winn has been a human givens practitioner for over 20 years. She is a tutor for Human Givens College and editor of the Human Givens Journal. She has also authored and co-authored over 18 books on psychological topics.