Three generations of family members hold hands and walk in a line across hilly field at sunsetHuman givens (HG) therapy, a scientifically based approach to mental health treatment, asserts that all people share certain innate emotional and physical needs. When these needs go unmet, individuals may be more likely to experience stress and other emotional and mental health concerns.

Practitioners of human givens therapy can offer support to people seeking help by teaching them ways to think and behave that may be more effective for getting their core needs met.

History and Development

Human givens was developed by Ivan Tyrrell and Joe Griffin, who founded the European Therapy Studies Institute (ETSI) in 1992 to explore the traits effective approaches to psychotherapy had in common, with the goal of an integrated and effective model of mental and emotional health care. Their research eventually led to the creation of a journal, The Therapist. In 1996, Tyrrell founded MindFields College, a mobile “school" offering instruction in emerging data about effective strategies in psychotherapy. By 1997, practitioners were using the term “human givens” to describe the basic principles of the nature of human beings according to these research-endorsed core needs, and the name of the journal was changed to Human Givens

In 2001, the Human Givens Institute (HGI) was established. A number of books have been published under the HG Publishing Imprint, such as Griffin and Tyrrell's 2003 book, Human Givens: The New Approach to Emotional Health and Clear Thinking and self-help guides for handling depression, anxiety, anger, addiction, and pain using human givens principles. The Human Givens Foundation, a UK charity founded in 2004, further promotes education and research on psychotherapy and human nature. Human Givens College was established in 2010.

Proponents of human givens believe continuous learning is vital to human development and wellness, and this is embraced in therapy, with the approach being refined as new data necessitates. 

Principles of Human Givens

The theory behind the human givens approach holds that physical and emotional needs are inextricably linked, as emotions encourage people to connect with the external world and fulfill both their physical and psychological needs.

Some of the human givens in the system include:

  • Food, water, and other survival necessities, such as shelter and a safe environment. 
  • Emotional needs such as attention (both given and received), emotional intimacy, and feelings of efficacy and achievement. 
  • Privacy
  • The sense that one has control over one's own life.
  • Connection to a broader community and a sense of importance within one's social group(s).
  • An overall sense of life purpose and meaning. 

When a person is experiencing difficulty in some aspect of life, human givens practitioners attempt to identify challenges based on one or more of these givens and then develop solutions uniquely suited to the individual's situation. 

How Does Human Givens Therapy Work?

According to human givens theory, psychological distress occurs in three contexts:

  1. When people live in a toxic environment that prevents them from meeting their basic needs.
    • Being in an abusive relationship or living in poverty are two situations in which a person may not be able to meet their core needs. 
  2. When a person’s conditioning or instincts inhibit their ability to meet their needs.
    • Someone who grew up in an abusive home might find they tend to end up in abusive relationships
    • A child never taught impulse control skills may struggle to maintain their relationships
  3. When a person lacks knowledge about what they need or how to meet those needs.
    • Making friends is a skill that can be taught and modeled, but not everyone masters this skill. 

No system of therapy is complete on its own, according to human givens. Principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might work well for one person but may do little to help another person address challenges. Thus, human givens therapists blend several methods to create an individualized approach for each person they treat. 

In addition to utilizing their understanding of innate human needs, practitioners also draw techniques from interpersonal therapy, solution-focused brief therapy, CBT, reflective listening, motivational interviewing, behavioral therapy, and hypnotherapy where appropriate.

How Can Human Givens Therapy Help?

Therapists begin by identifying any neglected needs of a person seeking treatment. They then collaborate with the individual to get those needs met. For example, a person in therapy might, with the help of the therapist, determine a pattern of substance abuse is the product of social isolation, ineffective stress management, or financial distress. The therapist’s goal, then, is to explore each of these issues with proactive strategies that address the thoughts and behaviors that might have a negative impact. Human givens therapists blend several methods to create an individualized approach for each person they treat. 

A handful of studies suggest human givens therapy can reduce emotional distress and improve coping skills. A small case study that evaluated the effectiveness of HG on three teenagers coping with anxiety and depression found that this approach led to overall improvement in all three participants. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests human givens is effective as a form of treatment for trauma. Human givens therapy also appears to have benefit in the treatment of posttraumatic stress in veterans, according to findings from PTSD Resolution, a UK-based charity. 

A study examining the impact of a human givens approach in general medical practice found preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of the modality and suggested further research might further validate the effectiveness of HG. A larger study that included thousands of people demonstrated that the human givens approach to mental health treatment could reduce psychological distress. However, the study had several limitations: it lacked a control group and offered no specifics on which components of HG were used with each participant. Future studies are needed to further substantiate the effectiveness of HG. 

Training and Certification

Training in the human givens approach can be pursued in the UK and online. The training courses can be taken by therapists and other professionals in the mental health field, but they are also open to members of the public who wish to learn more about mental health and behavioral problems such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, and addictions. After the training courses, mental health practitioners who wish to become fully qualified human givens therapists can apply for a diploma course, after successful completion of which they can become certified. 

The Human Givens Institute (HGI) maintains a registry of therapists who are licensed to practice therapy and have agreed to uphold the educational and ethical standards of the Institute. Members must also meet HGI’s supervision requirements. The HGI's professional register is independently accedited in the UK by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA).

Limitations and Concerns 

Because the Human Givens Foundation is linked to the founders of the human givens approach and, as such, likely has a vested interest in promoting the program, it has been pointed out that the research it supports could potentially be subject to bias. 

According to the founders of the approach, the theories behind human givens draw from decades of scientific evidence. However, there is limited empirical evidence supporting human givens by itself, and critics have said that more clinical studies and scientific data in support of human givens could provide stronger validation for the approach. 


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