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Human Givens Approach
March 2016

Human Givens


When I did a counselling course as part of my psychology honours degree at Victoria University twenty years ago, I was introduced to the major schools of counselling. I subsequently dabbled with learning psychotherapy and Rogerian approaches. I realised that many of these approaches relied upon the therapist having an extremely skilled approach to anticipating the needs of the client and also complete trust on the part of the client. I perceived a potential to cause harm on both counts given the highly suggestible nature of some clients and the fallibility of all therapists, especially myself. I set myself the task of finding therapies that are evidenced based, and found Narrative Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Biofeedback, Hypnosis, Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy, all of which I received training in to varying levels - particularly in Biofeedback and Hypnosis. Some elements stood out for me as effective such as establishing rapport, externalising problems, focusing on the here and now, teaching people how to breath (probably the single most important thing), the importance of knowing how to relax the body, unhelpful beliefs, the power of imagery, and the role of subconscious processes in keeping some of us stuck in the past. I also became acutely aware of the role of stress and how unmet needs create stress. It is of course obvious that people's situations are often the cause of their stress and dis-ease.


I was pleased therefore to come across the Human Givens Therapy approach, which encapsulates most of the approaches I have found useful over the years. Ivan Tyrell and Joe Griffin who originated this approach, also looked for effective therapies and have distilled them into a fairly cohesive whole with a few useful theories thrown in. They have undertaken some research and have obtained good results thus far. I first came across their work when I obtained a monograph of theirs concerning their rewind technique for trauma, derived from the Neurolinguistic Programming fast phobia technique that I was already successfully using. I began using this and find it very powerful. I have written about this in a previous newsetter. More recently I have attended two of their on-line courses and purchased some of their books. Although they have a somewhat evangelical approach to promoting their therapy, they do include what I know to be most of the best interventions and have made them easy to comprehend.


I particularly like their list of emotional needs (human givens) that underlie stress if not met. This is a good summary of the work of Maslow, Marmot, Cole, Frankl and others. Although obvious, I find that without consistentlyasking the questions, it is easy to miss important unmet needs.


The human givens approach defines nine emotional needs (Wikipedia):

  1. Security: A sense of safety and security; safe territory; an environment in which people can live without experiencing excessive fear so that they can develop healthily.

  2. Autonomy and control: A sense of autonomy and control over what happens around and to us.

  3. Status: A sense of status - being accepted and valued in the various social groups we belong to.

  4. Privacy: Time and space enough to reflect on and consolidate our experiences.

  5. Attention: Receiving attention from others, but also giving it; a form of essential nutrition that fuels the development of each individual, family and culture.

  6. Connection to the wider community: We have evolved as a group animal and need to feel part of something larger than ourselves.

  7. Intimacy: Emotional connection to other people - friendship, love, intimacy, fun.

  8. Competence and achievement: A sense of our own competence and achievements, that we have what it takes to meet life's demands.

  9. Meaning and purpose: A sense of meaning and purpose which comes from being stretched in what we do and how we think - it is through 'stretching' ourselves mentally or physically by service to others, learning new skills or being connected to ideas or philosophies bigger than ourselves that our lives become purposeful and full of meaning. Meaning makes suffering tolerable.


Tyrell and Griffin use a guide of 3 or less on a scale of 1-7, 7 being excellent, to highlight the client's unmet needs needing work. Just naming the deficit gives the client knowledge to begin addressing it themselves. Support in finding remedies becomes a key role of the therapist, the ultimate goal being a reduction in stress levels and a return to homeostasis. This would be inconjunction with other techniques named above as required. I plan a trip to England this year to do further training in this approach.