Therapists may sometimes find that, although they bring all their expertise to sessions with clients and work hard at creating a good client/therapist relationship, something is still missing and progress seems to stall.

Frances found herself in this situation, and her attempts to get past it resulted in compelling evidence of the benefits of working from the human givens approach.

She had become interested in the approach when a visiting tutor gave a talk about it to the students on the counselling course that she was taking, and so she decided to start attending some 1-day human givens workshops at the same time. Meanwhile, for her counselling course, she was working in placements to build up her hours and expertise; one of these was at a bereavement service, where she was expected to use her person-centred skills. “But I found that I was just endlessly following my clients around, as they made remarkably little progress. The contract was open-ended at the bereavement service and the sessions went on seemingly forever.

“Indeed, I had been seeing one woman for a year, during which time, in true person-centred style, I was helping her express her emotions. Then, as Christmas loomed, she told me she felt suicidal. At this point, as I had gradually become more confident of human givens ideas and methods, I decided I had to shift my approach. I talked to her about depression as a trance state, causing black-and-white thinking. We looked at various aspects of her life, what needs were and weren’t being met, and what was and wasn’t working for her. She talked of wanting to change her job and mentioned for the first time that perhaps she might consider another relationship.

“Then I did a guided visualisation with her, building on her resources and her hopes for the future, focusing on what she would like to do next. She left that session no longer suicidal and dreading Christmas but looking forward to the New Year, full of hope and plans. After a year of listening intently and doing nothing but unwittingly embedding her depression more deeply, I discovered that she had done all she needed to do to bring about positive change after just one human givens session. I saw her just once more, and she was like a different person.” 

Frances then decided to qualify and work as a human givens practitioner.  Her experience is not uncommon; many qualified therapists attend human givens training. Some choose to go on and complete the Human Givens Diploma; others use its understandings and techniques alongside their existing skills. What makes the human givens approach stand out is that it is not a model of therapy; it is much bigger than that. It is based on how the brain works and provides a simple yet profound framework for understanding human nature and for working to help individuals in distress develop fulfilling, emotionally and mentally healthy lives. As therapists very often remark after attending courses: “It just makes so much sense!”

The term human givens refers to the emotional (as well as physical) needs we must be able to meet and balance in order for us to be mentally healthy, and the innate resources we have to help us meet them. Our essential emotional needs include a sense of control, security, connection, community, competence, status and meaning. Our innate resources include memory, imagination, problem-solving abilities, the ability to build rapport, self-awareness and a range of complementary thinking styles.

We can be blocked from having our needs met if our environment is toxic in some way (for example, an abusive home life, relationship, bullying at work or living in an unsafe neighbourhood); if we are unwittingly misusing our resources (such as using our imagination to catastrophise) or have not learned essential skills, such as how to communicate effectively with others; or if there has been damage to our innate resources, whether through genetics, injury or the ongoing experience of post-traumatic stress. 

Therapists have found that starting from this understanding puts a whole new complexion on their work.

The human givens approach involves helping clients identify what is missing from their lives and explore how to put that right. That includes giving clear psycho-education about what causes depression, excessive anxiety, addiction or psychosis – human givens understandings about essential needs not being met explain all this quite clearly, in a way that instantly resonates with clients. (Indeed, demystifying such frightening feelings is helpful in itself.) It includes drawing from tried and tested therapeutic techniques as appropriate, to reframe clients’ negative perspectives, look for and build on unrecognised life resources, set tasks geared to focusing people on what will bring helpful change and help them rehearse new, more empowering perspectives and courses of action through guided imagery. Human givens practitioners expect to teach missing social skills and make strong use of metaphor and story in their work.  

Many counsellors, psychologists, clinical hypnotherapists and even psychiatrists have chosen to add on training in this approach because, they say, it brings so much to their own understanding of the human condition.

And what clients find so refreshing is that sessions involve a collaborative effort to identify what is lacking in their lives, rather than in them. They quickly reach a place of positive expectation that things can be different and learn that change can happen much faster than they ever imagined. And that, in turn, can be a powerful driver for the therapist.

Find out more about training at the Human Givens College