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What Is Human Givens?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The human givens is an all-encompassing approach to psychology developed by Ivan Tyrrell and Joe Griffin, based partially in the research of many previous psychotherapists, including Sigmund Freud and others. The basic idea is that people have a lot of natural cravings, including physical, emotional, and social needs. They also have abilities that might be able to help them fulfill those needs in various ways. According to the people behind human givens therapy, fulfilling those needs and effectively using those abilities leads to happiness, while ignoring any of them might lead to different emotional problems. Some people have a lot of skepticism about this therapeutic approach and question some of the claims surrounding it.

The whole idea behind this type of therapy goes back to the concept of evolution. There is a general belief that people evolved to favor certain behaviors that have survival advantages. For example, people generally feel happy when they’re part of a team, and therapists from this school would suggest that this response is an evolutionary reaction. Joining groups often has major survival benefits in primitive societies while being alone is often more dangerous.

In the same way, according to these therapists, some negative emotions can be seen as an internal form of correction to keep people on an evolutionarily-advantageous path. So, when people are alone for too long, they might begin to feel depressed, and this is also thought to be an evolutionary response that can make people want to seek out a group. The human givens school generally views all emotions in this light, and it tries to use this understanding to correct people’s problems. Some other examples of how this might work include feelings of romantic attraction being linked directly to reproduction or feelings of pride in one’s work being linked to the usefulness of achievement to survival of a group. These ideas aren't that unusual in psychological circles, but people involved with this type of therapy tend to give them more attention than some others.

The second aspect of the human givens involves the skills required to satisfy needs. There is a belief that people also have a need to use their natural gifts, such as physical prowess or intellect, and if those gifts are neglected, people might have psychiatric issues. Sometimes application of this therapy approach might involve helping people find outlets for their natural talents.

There is some skepticism surrounding the human givens, partly because of how therapists are certified, and partly because some of the claims are considered fairly broad. The therapy method isn’t generally taught in a normal college. Instead, people are certified directly by the official institute. They also make claims of unusual therapeutic treatment methods for longstanding illnesses like schizophrenia, which are generally thought to be primarily structural problems with an individual's brain.

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