In the last ten years we have come to a new and deeper understanding of the ways in which the human mind works, and how to help it heal. 'The Human Givens Approach' to psychotherapy focuses on helping each individual to develop their skills so they can meet their own emotional and physical needs with the innate resources with which they were born.
Our 'given' needs naturally look for fulfillment through the ways we interact with our environment and through the use of the resources that nature gave us. However, when our emotional needs are not fulfilled, or when our resources are being used incorrectly, we may suffer considerable distress. Of course, those resources may have been damaged in some way by events in our lives over which we had no control, so we may need help in developing those resources and 'repairing' the damage that was done.
There is now widespread agreement as to the nature of our emotional needs -
Security - safe territory and an environment which allows us to develop fully
Attention, to give and receive it - a form of nutrition
A sense of autonomy and control - having the ability to make responsible choices
Being emotionally connected to others
Feeling part of a wider community
Intimacy - to know that at least one person accepts us totally for who we are
Privacy - opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience
Sense of status within social groupings - acceptance within the tribe
Sense of competence and achievement - feelings of success
Meaning and purpose - which come from being stretched in what we do and think
Along with physical and emotional needs, we have been given tools to help us meet those needs -
The ability to develop complex long-term memory, which enables us to add to our innate knowledge, and to learn
The ability to build rapport, to empathise and to connect with others
Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our emotions, to use language and to problem solve more creatively and objectively
A conscious, rational mind that can check out emotions, and which can question, analyse and plan
The ability to 'know' - that is, to 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, separate from intellect, emotion and conditioning
A dreaming brain that preserves the integrity of our genetic inheritance every night by metaphorically de-fusing expectations held in the autonomic arousal system because they were not acted out the previous day.
Over hundreds of thousands of years our 'Human Givens' underwent continuous refinement as they drove our evolution forwards. They could perhaps be thought of as inbuilt, biological templates that continually interact with one another and (in undamaged people) look for their natural fulfilment in the world in ways that allow us to survive and thrive together as individuals in a great variety of different social groupings.
It is the way those needs are met, and the way we use those wonderful resources, that determine the physical, mental and moral health of any individual, and as such the 'Human Givens' are the benchmark position to which we must all refer in education, in mental and physical health and in the way we organise and run our lives at work, at home and in our leisure pursuits.
When we feel emotionally fulfilled and when we are operating effectively within society, we are more likely to be emotionally and mentally healthy. But when too many innate physical and emotional needs are not being met in the environment, or when our resources are used incorrectly, unwittingly or otherwise, we suffer great distress, and so do those around us.