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The principles behind the human givens approach grew out of the work of a group of psychologists and psychotherapists who were trying to bring greater clarity to the way people who become depressed, anxious, traumatised or addicted are helped, as well as making such help more reliably effective (read more).
THE HUMAN GIVENS APPROACH is a set of organising ideas that provides a holistic, scientific framework for understanding the way that individuals and society work. This framework encompasses the latest scientific understandings from neurobiology and psychology, as well as ancient wisdom and original new insights.
At its core is a highly empowering idea – that human beings, like all organic beings, come into this world with a set of needs. If those needs are met appropriately, it is not possible to be mentally ill. Perhaps no more powerful a statement could ever be made about the human condition: If human beings' needs are met, they won't get depressed; they cannot have psychosis; they cannot have manic depression; they cannot be in the grip of addictions. It is just not possible.
To get our physical and emotional needs met, nature has gifted us our very own internal 'guidance programme' – this, together with our needs, makes up what we call the human givens. We come into the world with an instinctive knowledge of what we need and with a set of inner resources that can help us get our needs met, provided we use them properly and are living in a healthy environment.
In terms of the history of where our knowledge about human needs comes from, there has been a distinguished cast of contributors, going right back to ancient times. More recently William James, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler explored human needs, and there was an outstanding contribution by Abraham Maslow, the pioneer of humanistic psychology, who first talked about a hierarchy of needs. It was Abraham Maslow who introduced the idea that, until basic needs are met, people can't engage with questions of meaning and spirituality – what he calls selfactualisation.
Another contributor was William Glasser, who put forward the idea that fulfilment of people's needs for control, power, achievement and intimacy depends on their ability to behave responsibly and conscientiously; he argued vehemently that mental illness springs from these needs not being met. So the human givens approach belongs to no specific people, certainly not exclusively to its co-founders Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, as Griffin states "although we may have named it; it belongs to the human species. We are just talking more precisely about what nature has gifted us, and there have been many great contributors down the millennia and the centuries, who have contributed to our understanding of the human givens.
"What we have started to do, in what has come to be called the human givens approach, is look at human needs in the light of increasing knowledge and recent discoveries that flesh them out, so that we can define them and concretise them and make them more real. We now know that having meaning and purpose, a sense of volition and control, being needed by others, having intimate connections and wider social connections, status, appropriate giving and receiving of attention etc, are crucial for health and well-being. (Attention needs weren't understood in Western psychology at all, before the contribution of Idries Shah.) So, on one side of the equation, we now have a much fuller understanding of human needs.
"And, on the other side, we have our human resources Ê the innate guidance system. We are learning much more about how that works and the more we understand, the more effective we will be, for sure."
Since it was first disseminated and taught, back in 1997, this new school of psychology and psychotherapy is rapidly being recognised as a profoundly important shift in our understanding of human functioning. (It has been called “the missing heart of positive psychology”.)
The human givens framework enables us to see where a person's life is not working well and to tailor solutions for each individual using a combination of effective psychological interventions (as taught by Human Givens College), education and direct practical help, as appropriate. The insights the approach brings into what we all need to live fulfilled, satsifying lives also brings clarity to the much-used phrase 'wellbeing' and points to concrete ways of achieving and maintaining such a state.
The often startling success produced by the efficacy, adaptability and practical nature of the human givens approach and the new insights and models for effective therapy it encompases, is borne out by the speed at which the approach is moving into new areas, ranging from psychotherapy, education and social work to international diplomatic relations and the corporate world of business (see our Archive and An Idea in Practice: Using the human givens approach, for a wide range of examples).
We are all born with innate knowledge programmed into us from our genes. Throughout life we experience this knowledge as feelings of physical and emotional need.
Emotional needs include:
Along with physical and emotional needs nature gave us guidance systems to help us meet them. We call these 'resources'.
The resources nature gave us to help us meet our needs include:
It is such needs and tools together that make up the human givens, nature's genetic endowment to humanity.
Over enormous stretches of time, they underwent continuous refinement as they drove our evolution on. They are best thought of as inbuilt patterns — biological templates — that continually interact with one another and (in undamaged people) seek their natural fulfilment in the world in ways that allow us to survive, live together as many-faceted individuals in a great variety of different social groupings, and flourish.
It is the way those needs are met, and the way we use the resources that nature has given us, that determine the physical, mental and moral health of an individual.
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. When we feel emotionally fulfilled and are operating effectively within society, we are more likely to be mentally healthy and stable. 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 considerable distress. And so do those around us.
See our online archive, for a wide selection of articles, several of which discuss new insights and many others show how the human givens approach is improving the work of professionals in a wide range of fields.
> Find out more about the human givens, including supporting research and many examples of how this approach is being used, see:
> and hear why the approach could be of profound importance for our collective future, by listening to the CD: Evolution and the human givens... hope for the future
> See how well your own emotional needs are being met, by doing the HGI Emotional Needs Audit