Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the human givens approach

The human givens (HG) approach originated in the field of psychotherapy, and the many new insights provided by the research of its founders, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, have been quietly revolutionising the effective treatment of mental health and behavioural problems for the last 30 years.

The organising ideas and framework contained in the human givens approach have since been found so universally applicable that HG principles are now also used in many other settings, such as education, business and diplomacy – improving outcomes and increasing our understanding of human nature and how to interact with people in a way that enhances their emotional health and helps them make the most of their abilities and talents.

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 than this. If human beings' physical and psychological needs are met healthily and in appropriate balance, they won't get depressed; they cannot have psychosis; they cannot be in the grip of addictions.

To help us 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 in order to survive and thrive, and a set of inner resources that can help us achieve this, provided we use them properly and are living in a sufficiently healthy environment.

There has been a distinguished cast of contributors to our knowledge about human needs, going right back to ancient times. In more recent history, William James, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler all 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.[1] It was Abraham Maslow who introduced the idea that, until basic needs are met, people cannot engage with questions of meaning and spirituality – which he called self-actualisation.

Another important 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.[2]

So the human givens approach belongs to no specific people, and 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 added 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 to 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 wellbeing. (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, 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 first began to be taught, back in 1997, this new school of psychology and psychotherapy has increasingly been recognised as representing 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, as appropriate, a combination of effective psychological interventions (as taught by Human Givens College),  education and direct practical help. The insights into what we all need to live fulfilled, satisfying lives also bring clarity to the much-used phrase 'wellbeing' and point to concrete ways of achieving and maintaining such a state.

The often startling impact produced by the efficacy, adaptability and practical nature of the human givens approach, along with the new insights and models for effective therapy it encompasses, has led the approach to be adopted in wholly new areas, ranging from education, law and social work to international diplomatic relations and the world of business (see our Resources section for a wide range of examples).

>  Why human givens therapy differs from other approaches

> Celebrating 20 Years of the human givens approach

Training in the human givens approach



  1. Maslow, A H (1971). The farther reaches of human nature. Viking, New York.
  2. Glasser, W (1965). Reality theory. Harper & Row, New York.
  3. Aserinsky, E and Kleitman, N (1953). Regularly occurring periods of eye mobility and concomitant phenomena during sleep. Science, 18, 273-274.

Latest News:

SCoPEd - latest update

The six SCoPEd partners have published their latest update on the important work currently underway with regards to the SCoPEd framework implementation, governance and impact assessment.

Date posted: 14/02/2024