Insights to enhance emotional well-being


The human givens framework offers an organising idea derived from the latest scientific understandings from neurobiology and psychology, ancient wisdom and original new insights. It is a bio-psycho-social model of psychotherapy. Disseminated and taught since 1997 and initially focused on the treatment of mental distress, this new school of psychology and psychotherapy is rapidly being recognised as a profoundly important shift in our understanding of human functioning.

Human Givens psychotherapy has been called “the missing heart of positive psychology” and many now refer to it as “enhanced CBT”. The startling success produced by the efficacy, adaptability and practical nature of these new ideas, is borne out by the speed at which this model is moving into new areas, ranging from psychotherapy, education and social work to international diplomatic relations and the corporate world of business.

" When we feel emotionally fulfilled and are operating effectively within society, we are more likely to be mentally healthy and stable. "

Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell Founders of the Human Givens Institute

" But when too many innate physical and emotional needs are not being met in the environment, or when our resources are... "

Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell Founders of the Human Givens Institute

" ... used incorrectly, unwittingly or otherwise, we suffer considerable distress. And so do those around us. "

Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell Founders of the Human Givens Institute


Human Givens

It is such needs and tools together that make up the human givens, nature's genetic endowment to humanity. Over enormous stretches of time, they underwent continuous refinement as they drove our evolution on. They are best thought of as inbuilt patterns — biological templates — that continually interact with one another and (in undamaged people) seek their natural fulfilment in the world in ways that allow us to survive, live together as many-faceted individuals in a great variety of different social groupings, and flourish. It is the way those needs are met, and the way we use the resources that nature has given us, that determine the physical, mental and moral health of an individual. As such, the human givens are the benchmark position to which we must all refer — in education, mental and physical health and the way we organise and run our lives.

What are the Human Givens?

We are all born with innate knowledge programmed into us from our genes. Throughout life we experience this knowledge as feelings of physical and emotional need. These feelings evolved over millions of years and, whatever our cultural background, are our common biological inheritance. They are the driving force that motivates us to become fully human and succeed in whatever environment we find ourselves in. It is because they are incorporated into our biology at conception that we call them 'human givens'.


​​​​​​​Given physical needs

As animals we are born into a material world where we need air to breathe, water, nutritious food and sufficient sleep. These are the paramount physical needs. Without them, we quickly die. In addition we also need the freedom to stimulate our senses and exercise our muscles. We instinctively seek sufficient and secure shelter where we can grow and reproduce ourselves and bring up our young. These physical needs are intimately bound up with our emotional needs — the main focus of human givens psychology.


Given emotional needs

Emotions create distinctive psycho-biological states in us and drive us to take action. The emotional needs nature has programmed us with are there to connect us to the external world, particularly to other people, and survive within it. They seek their fulfilment through the way we interact with the environment. Consequently, when these needs are not met in the world, nature ensures we suffer considerable distress such as, anxiety, anger, depression etc. and our expression of distress, in whatever form it takes, impacts on those around us. People whose emotional needs are met in a balanced way are unlikely to suffer mental health problems.

When psychotherapists and teachers pay attention to this they are at their most effective. In short, it is by meeting our physical and emotional needs that we survive and develop as individuals and a species. There is widespread agreement as to the nature of our emotional needs. The main ones are listed below.

Emotional needs include

  • Security — safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully
  • Attention (to give and receive it) — a form of nutrition
  • Sense of autonomy and control — having volition to make responsible choices
  • Being emotionally connected to others
  • Feeling part of a wider community
  • Friendship, intimacy — to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts 'n' all”
  • Privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience
  • Sense of status within social groupings
  • Sense of competence and achievement
  • Meaning and purpose — which come from being stretched in what we do and think


Along with physical and emotional needs nature gave us guidance systems to help us meet them. We call these 'resources'. The resources nature gave us to help us meet our needs include:

  • The ability to develop complex long term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge and learn
  • The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others
  • Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our emotions, use language and problem solve more creatively and objectively
  • Emotions and instincts
  • A conscious, rational mind that can check out our emotions, question, analyse and plan
  • The ability to 'know' — that is, understand the world unconsciously through metaphorical pattern matching
  • An observing self — that part of us that can step back, be more objective and be aware of itself as a unique centre of awareness, apart from intellect, emotion and conditioning
  • A dreaming brain that preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance every night by metaphorically defusing expectations held in the autonomic arousal nervous system because they were not acted out the previous day.