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Human givens is a relatively new approach to therapy. Developed in the 1990s and popularized by the 2003 book Human Givens: The New Approach to Emotional Health and Clear Thinking, by Joe Griffin, Ivan Tyrrell, and Denise Winn, the practice offers a holistic framework for understanding how individuals and society work and coexist.

Just as humans have physical needs for water, food, and shelter, human givens proposes, they are born with emotional needs that they must meet, human givens therapy’s founders suggest, with these nine primary among them: security, attention, a sense of autonomy and control, feeling part of a larger community, intimacy, privacy, status within social groups, competence and achievement, and meaning and purpose. When these needs are unmet, or cannot be met by an individual’s innate resources and instinctive knowledge, the result is likely to be stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns. The human givens therapeutic approach is to help people learn ways to think and act that will enable them to meet their core needs.

What to Expect

Human givens practitioners believe mental health concerns often develop from being in an environment that prevents people from meeting their core needs; from having been conditioned to respond to challenges in unhealthy ways; or from a lack of social and emotional skills that can help them meet their needs. Therapists who follow the human givens approach aim to offer practical help, often through direct instruction, for dealing with mental and emotional distress in the here and now, based on their determination of what is keeping the client from being able to meet their needs.

Therapy sessions tend to be less focused on exploring the past and its influences on clients’ issues or going on lengthy voyages of self-discovery into their psyche, but they do attempt to drill down on a client’s specific challenges and develop solutions tailored to their individual needs, challenges, and level of emotional resources. In what is ideally a short number of sessions, human givens therapists hope to provide people with the coping skills they need to address their immediate concerns and hopefully, those that will arise in the future.

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When It’s Used

Humans givens therapists work with adults, children, and groups. Their approach is geared toward helping people overcome a range of emotional and behavioral difficulties including anxiety, depression, stress, OCD, self-harm, relationship issues, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, addiction, pain, anger, workplace stress, eating disorders, bereavement, psychosis, and stress.

According to human givens practitioners, when people’s resources are used properly, and their environment is healthy, their emotional needs should be generally satisfied: They are emotionally well, their lives have meaning, and they flourish. When some or all of these needs are not met—perhaps because of misused resources or inadequate or faulty beliefs—individuals may become distressed and develop mental health problems that negatively impact their lives and relationships.

How It Works

The human givens approach looks at the areas in which a person’s life is, and is not, working well, with the goal of identifying missing emotional needs or misused resources—in other words, which needs are not being met and how they can be met.

Its pragmatic, adaptable framework allows therapists to tailor brief, highly personalized interventions that typically integrate education and solution-driven thinking with some of the most effective elements of other therapeutic styles, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, reflective listening, motivational interviewing, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, and guided imagery.

Clients will receive education about their specific problem. A human givens psychotherapist will also help clients shift to taking on a healthier perspective, learn the skills necessary to resolve their difficulties, and rehearse making changes in their lives. Patients often see significant progress in a short time due to this practical, problem-focused approach.

As a fairly new therapeutic modality, there is as yet limited empirical evidence of the efficacy of human givens therapy, either as a standalone technique or as one element of an overall approach to treatment, but some studies suggest it can be an effective approach to managing psychological distress, anxiety, and depression, and may be particularly beneficial in treating veterans living with PTSD.

What to Look for in a Human Givens Therapist

Look for a licensed and experienced psychotherapist with specialized training in the human givens approach. The Human Givens Institute, based in the UK, trains and certifies therapists (both in person and through online courses) and can provide referrals to accredited counselors.