The Human Givens – Just what I needed

Reni Landor on what the approach has brought her, professionally and personally.

Working as an Educational Psychology Team Manager in a Local Authority back in 2006, I knew a few things about my professional life… and myself. I felt in danger of losing touch with my psychological skills: I was spending too little time in direct contact with children, young people, their parents and teachers. I knew how much I enjoyed and valued providing professional supervision for the EPs in the team – I even wondered I was vicariously enjoying the life of an Educational Psychologist through discussing casework and projects with supervisees. I felt confident that I did not wish to progress further up the career ladder to become a Principal Educational Psychologist. I knew that I was feeling increasingly cynical and negative about my professional role, my work and my ability to ‘make a difference’. With hindsight, perhaps I was in danger of burnout. I knew that I really enjoyed working directly with adults as well as children, and that I wanted another string to my bow. So I started to explore the possibility of training as a psychotherapist. 

The BACP Training Counselling & Psychotherapy Directory arrived through the post, and I spent hours ascertaining what theoretical approach might be the most stimulating, useful, relevant, affordable and realistic training route. By chance I talked about my dilemma with someone I sat next to one lunchtime, a mental health nurse who was working creatively with our local health visitor team. She said she thought I needed the Human Givens approach.

In September 2007 I attended my first Human Givens workshop, ‘Stories that heal; a practical storytelling workshop for medical and caring professionals’, with the extraordinary Pat Williams. The Human Givens approach makes use of therapeutic stories to visualise and encourage therapeutic change. One cannot know what goes on in another person’s mind, but if one perceives the ‘pattern’ of a story and understands that it could be useful at this point in a person’s life, that is reason enough to tell it. Stories can help people bypass rigid views about life, enhancing their flexibility of thought and fuelling their imagination and innate creativity to problem solve and attain their goals.

The workshop took me out of my comfort zone, taught me some new skills, challenged some of my preconceptions about therapy and gave me just what I needed (to be stretched and challenged, and to have meaning and purpose in my life). I felt like I had found the missing link in my professional life. It reminded me of the immense relief I felt when I completed training in Solution Focused Brief Therapy within my first year of working as a qualified EP, when I realised that my role was not to provide a way of removing someone’s concerns or problems (an unachievable goal), but to help them find a way forward for or within themselves, to learn to cope with their situation. I became a qualified Human Givens therapist in 2010, partly aided by the flexible and generous approach of my manager at the time. 

What are the Human Givens?

In essence, the Human Givens framework is a simple organising idea, in line with scientific discoveries about the mind/body system, which aims to move away from ideologies and encompass effective techniques, methods and interventions from other therapeutic traditions. 

Every living thing comes into the world with a set of needs, and a set of innate resources, which work together to help get these needs met. When the emotional needs of human beings are met in a balanced way then people – and societies – are emotionally healthy. Emotional needs will not be met if the resources are missing, damaged, misused, or overwhelmed by circumstances. Such situations can lead to mental distress, such as depression, anxiety disorders, addictions, phobias and even psychoses. High emotional arousal focuses and locks attention, and when the emotional brain (or the limbic system) is aroused, it inhibits the higher levels of the brain (cortex), preventing effective thinking and cognitions. A Human Givens therapist helps people get their needs met in balance, to achieve good mental health. There is a growing evidence base for Human Givens therapy, and the Human Givens Institute’s register of fully qualified HG therapists was accredited in 2016 by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care.

I started attending local Human Givens Peer Groups (there is a network of these across the country), and discovered a therapeutic programme for parents based on the Human Givens framework, written by Linda Hoggan and Carmen Kane, two Human Givens therapists working at the time for Milton Keynes council. The programme is called Just What We Need (JWWN). Attracted by the dynamic and creative approach of this duo, I completed their 4-day training a few years ago. At the time of writing I am setting up a second JWWN programme in my local authority, offering it to parents of children who have a sensory impairment.

JWWN has been delivered over 20 times in the Milton Keynes area, and over 130 practitioners have been trained across the UK and Ireland. Moreover, Just What We Need is the only therapeutic programme for parents to achieve the CANParent quality mark, showing that it is an evidence-based programme. The programme has been adapted for different client groups such as teenage parents, and adolescents. The charity Ignite Trust has run the programme in North London for many years, supporting parents whose children are in the youth offending system. Milton Keynes YMCA has adopted Just What We Need as its Wellbeing programme, after trying others without the desired impact.

The Just What We Need programme provides a secure base for parents to build trusting relationships, develop confidence, learn about their own emotional needs and how to get them met in healthy ways in their environment, learn new skills, make positive changes and begin to understand and meet the needs of their children appropriately.

It is a different programme in that it has a needs oriented focus, with a strengths based, solution focused approach. It begins with the parents’ unmet needs and helps them take steps to get them met (Zone of Proximal Development, i.e. what they can do with help versus what they can do without help). It is not explicitly focused on changing a child’s behaviour, which is refreshing for many parents; it offers a wider system for their developmental skills, achievements, goals, changes, aspirations, and creates time/space for the reflection necessary for change. The aim is to move from conscious incompetence to unconscious competence.

The end of a JWWN session brings two unusual ‘treats’ for the participants; guided imagery and a therapeutic story. Through guided imagery or visualisation, participants learn how to begin to quieten their minds, focus their attention, see things differently and rehearse (in their mind’s eye) new behaviours and responses. They learn to calm down their nervous system, free up their minds to access new, healthier patterns of thinking. Many participants will not have heard of or experienced a guided relaxation exercise before, so the programme starts with simple ones and progresses over time. By the end of the guided imagery participants are in a frame of mind to listen to and ‘receive’ the therapeutic story, which is told rather than read to them, and can use props and illustrations to pique their interest. Some parents comment that sitting still and listening to my voice for a few minutes at this point in the programme is the most restful thing they have done for years.

The evidence?

All Just What We Need programmes use wellbeing data as evidence of impact as well as anecdotal evidence. Completion of measures such as an Emotional Needs Audit or the CORE-10 at the start, middle and end of the programme, as well as one month and six months after its end, provides longer term data on the impact. However, there are many skilled psychologists and other professionals who actively promote the idea of innovative practice building their evidence base (i.e. ‘practice based evidence’), rather than their practice having to wait for the research to build the evidence before they can apply it to their practice – and I would like to count myself amongst them. The evidence for the impact of the Human Givens framework and the JWWN programme is growing, as practitioners/researchers have their work published. An insistence on ‘evidence based practice’ should not prevent access to qualified and experienced practitioners who are creative (but still safe) in their work with clients. 

When promoting the Human Givens approach more widely within my local authority, some colleagues have been reluctant to consider using an approach that is not explicitly recommended within NICE guidelines. I am always pleased to be able to point out that Human Givens therapists use approaches which are within NICE guidelines, such as diaphragmatic breathing/controlled breathing, structured relaxation, cognitive restructuring and cognitive reframing.

Getting my own emotional needs met

Learning about the Human Givens framework and running the JWWN programme has helped me get my own emotional needs met. I know how modelling being ‘open’ and prepared to learn from others can help others feel empowered to do the same. I feel amazed at the resilience and strength of so many people as they cope with adverse life events. I know that I can use a creative, flexible and responsive programme, leading to greater insight and creativity for myself. I experience how powerful group dynamics and group development can be. I gain huge levels of personal and professional satisfaction.

- Reni Landor is an Educational Psychologist and Human Givens Therapist


Further information

Human Givens Institute

Just What We Need

Andrews, Wislocki, Short, Chow, Minami (2013). A five-year evaluation of the Human Givens therapy using a practice research network. Mental Health Review Journal, 18 (3), pp. 165-176.

Tsaroucha, Kingston, Stewart, Walton, Cort (2012). Assessing the effectiveness of the Human Givens approach in treating depression: a quasi experimental study in primary care. Mental Health Review Journal, 17 (2), pp. 90-103.

Andrews, Twigg, Minami, Johnson, (2011). Piloting a practice research network: A 12-month evaluation of the Human Givens approach in primary care at a general medical practice. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, British Psychological Society, Volume 84, Issue 4, December 2011, Pages 389–405.

Yates, (2011). Human Givens Therapy with Adolescents: a practical guide for professionals. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

“Just What We Need”, Linda Hoggan and Carmen Kane, Human Givens Journal, Vol 15 No.2 Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice.

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