Introduction to Human Givens, by Joanne Theaker

Human Givens – Joanne Theaker at the Ullet Road Eco Offices Therapy Forum 12th April 2016, 6.30pm

Origins and Influences

First disseminated in 1997 by the psychologists Ivan Tyrrell and Joe Griffin, Humans Givens takes from a whole range of earlier ideas, from Maslow (his hierarchy of needs), Neuro Linguistic Programming, Sufism (which Ivan studied) and other ancient religions which emphasise the need for balance (Yin/Yang) and neuroscience (via Joe’s research on sleep and dreaming).

Based on the concept of the emotional brain, it looks at the three main human processes – doing, feeling and thinking – and asserts the primacy of feelings.  Emotions, centred in the limbic mammalian brain, come before thought and have the power to shut down the other parts of the brain if need be.  The thinking brain, the cortex, has two parts:

  • Left – logic and rationality – sequential processing
  • Right – creative and imagination – parallel processing

The mammalian limbic system triggers movement toward or away from perceived threats, fight or flight respectively.  Half the therapist’s job is calming the limbic system down from a state of emotional arousal, to allow in the thinking part of the brain.

40,000 years ago, there was an explosion of human consciousness in the human species, resulting in the take-off of art, culture and language, the brain’s Big Bang.  However, we’re still living in its wake, and the mammalian brain hasn’t gone away.

Organising principles of Human Givens

Most human emotional difficulties arise when our emotional needs are not met.  When the following needs aren’t met, we don’t function well, and anxiety sets in.  These are the needs for:

  1. Security
  2. Attention (both giving and receiving it) – therapists often have a deficit on this one
  3. Autonomy and control
  4. Emotional connections to others
  5. Being part of the wider community
  6. Having status in your community – knowing you’re valued by it
  7. Achievement – being competent in what you do (thus combating low self-esteem)
  8. Privacy to reflect on and evaluate life experiences (it was remarked by Kerry that this one was under threat from our busy lives and constantly being available to people, and that a desire for privacy was becoming seen as pathological)
  9. Meaning and purpose

The society we live in isn’t very conducive to the meeting of our needs.  A child by age 11 will have been subjected to 30,000 hours of advertising.

Self auditing

Joanne introduced a questionnaire used to evaluate the extent of our needs being met.

Tools and Resources

The good news for people is that they have a range of innate tools and resources available to them to help themselves:

  1. Long term memory, for learning, though it’s not always 100% reliable
  2. Curiosity and imagination, using right side of the Cortex.  This allows us to create potential solutions and test scenarios out.
  3. Ability to understand the world and other people using metaphor – pattern matching
  4. An observing self – to allow us to be objective about ourselves
  5. The ability to empathise and connect with others
  6. A rational mind – to check out emotional perspectives
  7. A brain that dreams – to de-arouse our autonomous system from un-acted out expectations and thus maintain the integrity of our instincts.  Dream processes maintain the DNA.  Depressive people dream a lot, and it can be exhausting, causing people to awake un-refreshed and still tired.  When a dream wakes us up, it’s to protect the mind from too much processing.  However, not sleeping means that the body isn’t refreshed, and sufferers endure a mind/body conflict.

Read ‘Why we dream: The definitive answer’, by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell.

Hurdles to Recovery

  • Lack of skill in the following
    • Self calming
    • Rapport building
    • Spotting anxiety in our thinking
    • Using metaphor and story telling
  • Toxic environments
    • The money system
    • Bullying

HG techniques

People tend to have core patterns, and therapy is a process of breaking them up.  Anxieties are personal and pervasive.  Where they result from trauma, even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the therapist first needs to get the client into a relaxed and safe place, then get the client to scramble the traumatic event and emotionally re-experience it, by continually rewinding and fast-forwarding through it, starting from a safe place and providing a safe ending point.  Techniques used by NLP, in particular Milton Erikson, are used to bring people into the REM state, but HG tends to call it guided imagery rather than hypnosis.

This de-conditioning process can be very fast, 4-5 hours tops.  This should allow the client to reframe traumatic events and reform some of these core patterns.  It opens up the trauma locked in the emotional brain and allows the client’s ‘observer’ to see inside.  EMDR does the same.

Feedback from other therapists at the meeting included the observation that getting rid of the obstacles can be very empowering.  Another compared reframing to Cognitive Analytic Therapy’s philosophy of ‘Compassionate Understanding of the Past’.

Guided imagery is, however, less effective for people on the Autism spectrum.  Rather than call it ‘autism’, however, HG refers to it as ‘context blindness’, of which there are both right brain and left brain versions, the left brain type more associated with Asbergers, a lack of emotional understanding.

APET, an acronym to describe the 4 stages of a troublesome pattern (script)

Activating Agent

Pattern Match

Emotional Arousal

Thought Processes

Interrupting a pattern can be done at any one of these 4 stages.

Wellbeing Continuum (from top)


Cruising along