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The Emotional Needs Scale

Brett Culham describes the outcome of his research to validate the needs-based human givens approach to psychological health.

The organising idea that defines the human givens approach is that universal human needs exist and that, if these needs are not met (through correct use of innate resources), psychological stress and distress ensue.1 This is a powerful idea that drives an effective approach to therapy but it has not till now been shown, in a way that would satisfy academic researchers, that fulfilment of the stated innate needs is a valid measure of mental health.

Speculation about the psychological needs of humans has a long history but, until relatively recently, had rather fallen by the wayside. In 1908, psychologist William McDougall claimed that certain behavioural tendencies were innate, rather than learned, including curiosity, self-assertion and gregariousness;2 Sigmund Freud famously believed that sexual satisfaction and aggression were driving human needs, which were largely in conflict with the mores of society, resulting in a further major motivating need – the reduction of anxiety caused by the conflicts.3 In the 1950s, Abraham Maslow classified needs in a hierarchy, from the basic physiological variety (water, food and sex), through needs for safety, belonging and esteem to self-actualisation (self-fulfilment and insight); in his view, needs lower on the hierarchy would take precedence until fulfilled.4 In between, in the late 1930s, came psychologist Henry Murray, who developed a list of in excess of 20 needs. This list, along with autonomy, curiosity, affiliation and nurturance, also includ- ed the acceptance of blame and punishment, the enjoyment of pain and misfortune, admiring and yielding to a superior person and making things clean and tidy.5 His definition of needs was so broad that the concept became seen as in great danger of leading to longer and longer lists of dubious utility. This stalled interest in psychological needs, which were becoming widely employed in motivational psychology at the time. The rise of cognitive psychology, based on thinking strategies, also helped put theories of instinctive needs out of favour.6

However, over the past few decades, there has been renewed academic interest in psychological needs, principally through self-determination theory (SDT), which has evolved over the past 30 years through psychological research carried out by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, professors of psychology at the University of Rochester in New York. As might be expected with a theory developed in a university, SDT is a theoretically driven model, and it has been thoroughly researched and tested in a variety of areas, such as education, healthcare, parenting, industry, sport and exercise, and mental health.7

Academia-speak apart, it is clear from the following description that SDT and the human givens approach have much in common. SDT is "a macro-theory of human motivation concerned with the development and functioning of personality within social contexts. It is based on an organismic-dialectical meta-theory, which begins with the assumption that people are active organisms, with innate tendencies toward psychological growth and development, who strive to master ongoing challenges and to integrate their experiences into a coherent sense of self. This natural human tendency does not operate automatically, however, but instead requires ongoing nutriments and supports from the social environment in order to function effectively. That is, the social context can either support or thwart the natural tendencies toward active engagement and psychological growth.

"Within SDT, the nutriments for healthy development and functioning are specified using the concept of basic psychological needs, which are innate, universal, and essential for health and well-being. That is, basic psychological needs are a natural aspect of human beings that apply to all people, regardless of gender, group, or culture. To the extent that the needs are ongoingly satisfied people will function effectively and develop in a healthy way, but to the extent that they are thwarted, people will show evidence of ill-being and non-optimal functioning. The darker sides of human behavior and experience are understood in terms of basic needs having been thwarted."8

In the human givens approach, human emotional needs are regarded as expressions of genetically programmed innate knowledge. The biological templates interact in a state of continuous ebb and flow, instinctively seeking fulfilment in the environment, with emotions driving action. Nine psychological needs are proposed that humans naturally seek to fulfil, to accomplish the necessary conditions for nourishment, growth, integrity, and wellbeing: security, giving and receiving attention, connection with a wider community, an intimate close relationship to at least one other person, autonomy, a degree of status within family and peer groups, competence, access to privacy, and meaning. So, if someone lacks intimacy, for instance, that in-complete innate pattern drives the person to seek to make a friend.9

The human givens needs model, in principle at least, fulfils the criterion for a valid needs model: that need satisfaction should be predictive of wellbeing.10 Some previous theoretical approaches have not incorporated this idea and have postulated needs that may actually be damaging to psychological health, such as Murray's proposed needs for abasement and aggression. As the human givens model also proposes a dynamic interaction between the biological templates driving needs, it avoids the rigidity that has dogged hierarchical models such as Maslow's, which are confounded by ample examples of needs higher in the hierarchy taking precedence over needs lower in the hierarchy.

From the human givens perspective, mental health is perceived to exist on a continuum where increasingly poor need fulfilment will lead to dissatisfaction, stress, and mental health problems respectively. If needs aren't met, it can readily be conceived how a state of high emotional arousal and stress would ensue. For instance, someone who has little autonomy in their job might well be stressed, but there would be nothing overtly stressful that might, to the onlooker, account for that person's psychological state. The Perceived Stress Scale, which we will be returning to later, has, indeed, shown that perceived stress correlates only weakly with obviously stressful events, suggesting that other factors are of greater significance.11

Preliminary research has shown the human givens approach to be an effective brief therapy — bringing about significant change in an average of 3.6 sessions.12 The approach also has substantial anecdotal support for its efficacy, with applications extending to psychiatric disorders, youth offending, and education.13

The Emotional Needs Audit

Using the nine-needs model, the Human Givens Institute has produced the Emotional Needs Audit (ENA), an 11-item scale measuring emotional need fulfilment (see page 38). This is used by many therapists, teachers and GPs interested in the human givens approach and is also the basis for an online project designed to find out how well innate emotional needs are being met in the UK.14 The fact that the human givens approach has been found effective12 suggests the validity of the nine needs as a practical con- struct. However, published reliability and validity information on the needs as a measure of psychological wellbeing that would satisfy academics is lacking. If, as is commonly the case, the ENA is used as a starting point for exploration and discussion, the broad nature of the questions will be fit for purpose. But if it is to be used as a measure of psychological health, then thorough scale development is necessary.

Clearly, it would be useful to have objective evidence that fulfilment of the nine needs that are the focus in the human givens approach is, indeed, indicative of psychological health and that lack of fulfilment is indicative of stress. However, since Henry Murray came up with his dubious list of 20 needs, academic researchers in this field have striven to reduce need constructs to the minimum. The SDT reduces basic human needs down to just three: autonomy, competence and relatedness: autonomy is defined as the desire to self-organise behaviour and experience; competence means having an impact on and attaining valued outcomes; relatedness is the desire to feel connected to others, to give love and care and be loved and cared for.6 This 'reducing down' approach may be useful academically but is less so clinically. There is a danger that the more needs are reduced down, the less useful the information garnered. The human givens need constructs, on the other hand, were developed from the perspective of psychosocial interventions, allowing greater detail that could be more useful in practice than more reductionist measures.

However, it is on the SDT's reduced-down three basic needs that all the research has been done. Fulfilment of these needs has been shown to contribute significantly to psychological health in the workplace15,16 and general health practices,17 and the validity of the construct has been demonstrated across the life span,18 in both Eastern and Western cultures,10 between different people, and in the same people over time.19 Both the human givens and SDT needs models claim to offer holistic measures of need fulfilment. If the needs measured in the human givens model can be substantiated and a scale measuring these needs' fulfilment developed, it could be tested against measures based on SDT, and thus yield meaningful results about both validity and clinical usefulness. This, therefore, is what I set out to do in my research.

Nine into three (almost)

The needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are well established by SDT. This clearly substantiates the inclusion of autonomy and competence in the human givens list of needs. It also substantiates inclusion of the needs for intimacy, community, and attention, which can be seen to sit within SDT's notion of relatedness. Privacy has received little attention within the psychological needs literature. How privacy is conceived of is important: if, as has been suggested, privacy is not so much about removing oneself from contact with others but controlling the amount of contact,20 it may be considered an aspect of relatedness. Having time alone, if it is not chosen, is not going to contribute to psychological wellbeing — lonely people have plenty of privacy but it is not functional for them. The functionally important aspect of privacy from the human givens perspective is the opportunity to reflect upon and consolidate experience. Opportunities for self-directed reflection have been shown to be important for effective learning.21

The need for security is included as an essential need in human givens terms because, it is argued, insecurity would lead to high emotional arousal, which would inhibit learning ability and the capacity to meet other needs. This notion of security is supported by attachment theory 22 and the social-cognitive theory of psychological needs.23 However, in SDT, it is argued that, whilst psychological security can be a strong motive, it is derivative — only developing when the meeting of other basic needs is uncertain.6

The human givens concept of status pertains to being valued in one's social groups. Whilst self-esteem has featured in many needs theories, the

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© Human Givens Publishing Limited and Brett Culham (2008)

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This article first appeared in Volume 15, No, 3 (2008) of the Human Givens journal.

Brett Culham is a human givens therapist and conducted this research for his psychology degree dissertation. He has worked in private practice for four years and has recently been recruited to work within the NHS as a psychological therapist, helping to deliver the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.






> More information on the human givens approach can be found in the following books both by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell

Dreaming Reality: How dreaming keeps us sane or can drive us mad

Human Givens: A new approach to emotional health and clear thinking



















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> More information on the human givens approach can be found in the following books both by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell

Dreaming Reality: How dreaming keeps us sane or can drive us mad


Human Givens: A new approach to emotional health and clear thinking