How human givens differs from other therapy approaches
People often ask how the human givens (HG) approach differs from other therapeutic approaches. Indeed, we were asked by the Professional Standards Authority when the HGI register was being assessed for accreditation. This is what we told them.
The human givens approach – which was developed 20 years ago – derives from the understanding that, when essential emotional needs are met and our innate mental resources are used correctly, a human being will be emotionally and mentally healthy. Essential 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, relate one thing to another, empathise, develop a moral sense, remember, etc.
It is when emotional needs are not adequately met, or are met in unhealthy ways, or when innate resources are damaged for any reason, or are unintentionally misused, that undesirable mental states such as anxiety, anger, depression, addiction and psychosis develop. For instance, misuse of the imagination – to conjure up worst possible or threatening scenarios – is a common feature of all these states.
What makes the human givens approach different from other therapy approaches is that its therapists look to see what is missing, or being misused, in clients’ lives, with the aim of helping them find ways to better meet their needs.
For instance, someone who is bereaved may seek to mask their sadness through drinking, and then try to mask the drinking by withdrawing from activities and friendships, resulting in depression; similarly, someone who is laid off work with a back injury may, wrongly, become frightened to take any exercise and, as a result, not only lose companionship at work but cease to take part in previously enjoyed physical activities, resulting in increased physical disability, isolation and depression. While the symptoms of depression in such scenarios are important as guides, it is the learning of coping skills and making specific life changes that will shift the depression.
Thus, assistance in changing unhelpful thinking styles (cognitive) will be just one part of a holistic process that involves, usually all in one session, giving psychoeducation (explaining the experience of anxiety and depression in a way that normalises it and takes the fear out of it – this includes an understanding of the role of dreaming in depression); helping clients take a different perspective on their situation (through the use of reframing, metaphor and storytelling); problem solving (helping clients recognise times when they are not experiencing problems, what is different about those times, and how they can build on that); teaching whatever skills are required (for instance social skills, communication skills, assertiveness skills); and rehearsing making desired changes successfully (though guided imagery).
It 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, evidence-based method for detraumatising people, which in most cases works in one session.
The success of this fluidity of approach is evidenced by research findings that show it helps an unprecedented three out of four clients achieve significant improvement or cure, usually in between one and six sessions.1
1. Andrews, W P, Wislocki, A P, Short, F, Chow, D and Minami, T (2013). A 5-year evaluation of human givens therapy using a practice research network. Mental Health Review Journal, 18, 3, 165–76.
Explore our articles and interviews
Community psychiatric nurse Liz Potts describes her experience as one of the few primary care professionals in Coventry using the human givens approach.
In 1991 Sue Hanisch was caught up in an IRA bombing at Victoria Station, London, lost of her right leg and sufferd from severe PTSD for nine years…
Chris Dyas vividly describes how he teaches troubled children to be their own therapists.
Read Mike Beard's therapist account of Nina's treatment.
An article about the human givens approach that appeared in the major American publication, Family Therapy Magazine.
Emily Gajewski describes how the human givens approach has provided a practical focus for working with women struggling to cope with everyday life
Joe Griffin goes back to basics to arrive at a some powerful new insights into the givens of human nature.
Hugh McNab illustrates how to successfully detraumatise even the most severe cases of trauma and anxiety-related disorders and help a client back to a meaningful livelihood.
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