Human 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.
Human givens was developed by Ivan Tyrrell, Joe Griffin, and Pat Williams, 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 base 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, practitioners created the Human Givens Institute (HGI), which has since published a number of self-help books, such as Tyrrell's 2003 book, Human Givens: The New Approach to Emotional Health and Clear Thinking. The Human Givens Foundation, a UK charity founded in 2004, further promotes education and research on psychotherapy and human nature.
Find a Therapist
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.
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.
- 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 can attempt to identify challenges based on one or more of these givens and then develop solutions uniquely suited to the individual's situation.
According to human givens theory, psychological distress occurs in three contexts:
- When people live in a toxic environment that prevents them from meeting their basic needs.
- When a person’s conditioning or instincts inhibit their ability to meet their needs.
- 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 integrate techniques from interpersonal therapy, solution-focused brief therapy, CBT, reflective listening, motivational interviewing, behavioral therapy, and hypnotherapy.
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 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 the approach. After the training courses, mental health practitioners who wish to become fully qualified human givens therapists can apply for a diploma course to become certified.
The Human Givens Institute 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.
Some critics have expressed concerns about the MindFields College, which is not an actual college. Further, 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 the approach will provide stronger validation for the approach. Further, because human givens rejects some of the traditional aspects of therapy, such as supervision, some members of the mental health care community have expressed skepticism regarding the approach.
- Andrews, W., Twigg, E., Minami, T., & Johnson, G. (2011). Piloting a practice research network: A 12-month evaluation of the Human Givens approach in primary care at a general medical practice. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 84(4), 389-405. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8341.2010.02004.x
- Andrews, W. P., Wislocki, A. P., Short, F., Chow, D., & Minami, T. (2013). A five-year evaluation of the human givens therapy using a practice research network. Mental Health Review Journal, 18(3), 165-176. doi:10.1108/mhrj-04-2013-0011
- Human givens. (2015, October 10). Retrieved from http://www.hgi.org.uk/human-givens
- The human givens diploma. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.humangivenscollege.com/diploma/index.html
- Taylor, A. (2009, March 6). Hartlepool Mind's human givens approach. Retrieved from http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2009/03/06/hartlepool-minds-human-givens-approach
- Training and online courses. (2015, October 20). Retrieved from http://www.hgi.org.uk/resources/training-and-online-courses
- Yates, Y., & Atkinson, C. (2011). Using human givens therapy to support the well-being of adolescents: A case example. Pastoral Care in Education, 29(1), 35-50. doi:10.1080/02643944.2010.548395