A blueprint for human flourishing

Joanne Theaker discovers the concept of ‘human givens’

Sometimes we’re fortunate to witness a new strand of thought arising, which we sense has the power to help people and whole societies move to a higher level of understanding. You can’t predict where you might find such ideas. In my case I was in the Bristol area at a weekend seminar in October 2011, entitled The Science of Spirituality. I was intrigued by the title but little could have prepared me for what in my experience was a truly revelatory event.

The conference was inspired by a new book, Godhead: The brain’s big bang, by Ivan Tyrrell and Joe Griffin, founders of the Human Givens Institute (HGI). The book follows from the development of a broad new model of psychotherapy called human givens.

Rooted in current scientific discoveries about the workings of the brain, the term ‘human givens’ refers to physical and emotional needs genetically programmed into us, such as: security, connection to others and community, fun, love, a sense of control and competence, and a drive for meaning and purpose. The term also refers to innate resources that nature has provided to help us meet those needs.

Tyrrell and Griffin believe that mental illness is caused by the meeting of these needs being blocked. The focus of human givens is in addressing where those needs are blocked in our lives and where our resources are being misused. It integrates aspects of many other techniques, such as counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

The British Psychological Society has published a peer-reviewed evaluation of the approach, which assessed patients at a GP’s surgery in Luton and found the technique to be highly effective. Further research is taking place, but beyond its application in therapy, the human givens concept seeks to provide a new understanding of our development and the world.

Tyrrell and Griffin’s new book begins with what it regards as a key event in human evolution, ‘the brain’s big bang’ – when around 40,000 years ago human imaginative power exploded creating complex language, art, culture and science. The book then offers a framework for understanding the way individuals, society and the universe work, drawing on neurobiology and psychology as well as ancient wisdom.

At a time of chaos and rising mental illness, “humans need to raise their game,” says Ivan Tyrrell. “We have the knowledge and skills. But we need to up-skill people and be aware of what constitutes good mental health. It’s only if we can create this healthy space in our minds that we can anticipate the uplift of consciousness necessary to create this great shift.”