Sunday, 30 December 2012

Human Givens: What's in store for 2013?

2012 has been a great year for the Human Givens approach and the 2013 promises to be just as exciting.

A couple of 2012's highlights included:
  • The publication of two peer reviewed research papers on the usefulness of the emotional needs audit (ENA) and the efficacy of using the human givens approach to treat depression.

    One study recommended that "the HG model be officially considered by the NHS as a bona fide model of therapy in its own right. This would greatly hasten the implementation of further studies and ease commissioning from managers acquainted with, and confused by, the variety of therapeutic models to choose from." Anyone who has used the human givens approach over the last decade years will know what a big difference this research could make to organisations and individuals wishing to pitch for funding for HG or further develop the approach to help their clients and service users.
  • The 2012 Human Givens Conference, a huge success. With a theme of "The future of work: a shared vision - Introducing HG ideas and practice into the workplace" guest speakers Pat Gilroy and Nick Leeson blew away the audience with their talks on captivating a sustainable performance culture and blinkered banking.

The Human Givens Blog - almost a year old!
The re-launch of this blog in February 2012 has been a big success, amassing tens of thousands of hits on the 70 posts we have published.

We've had particular interest on our HG Library series, a growing collection of absorbing articles carefully selected from over twenty years of back issues of the Human Givens journal.

Some made available for free for the very first time, the most popular HG Library articles have included:

How PTSD can be treated so quickly: The shared mechanism behind EMDR, EFT and the rewind technique
Joe Griffin suggests that post-traumatic stress disorder treatments that can yield immediate success share an underlying mechanism, which explains their effect.

All in the service of meaning - Joe Griffin talks with Dr Arthur Deikman
In this 1998 discussion with one of the greatest American psychiatrists, Joe Griffin talks with Dr Arthur Deikman about how an understanding of what constitutes consciousness impacts on daily life and you can see some of questions arising that became the heart of the answers provided in their recent book Godhead: the brain’s big bang – the explosive origin of creativity, mysticism and mental illness.

Dr Aric Sigman interview - Television: paying attention, paying the price
Dr Aric Sigman talks with Ivan Tyrrell about the insidiously devastating effects of television on brains, bodies and cultures. Published in Vol 13, No 1 (2006) of the Human Givens Journal.

Twisting the truth: why the mass media misinform
You can’t believe what you read in the newspapers, even the quality ones. Award-winning journalist Nick Davies tells Ivan Tyrrell why. This article was published in Vol 15, No 3 (2008) of the Human Givens journal.

For more articles including interviews with Doris Lessing and James Le Fanu please see the HG Library index page.

What's to come in 2013?

Human Givens in Mexico and Brazil
Human Givens in Mexico and Brazil
Exciting news for Human Givens College is that a bespoke training program for 27 South American professionals (all fluent in English) has been fitted in to the College’s busy 2013 teaching programme. The delegates are being flown over to attend the 18 days of Part I of the HG Diploma in two intense sessions. The following year 20 of them will return to do Part II. The professionals currently work in South American prisons, slums, hospitals, schools and also with indigenous peoples suffering hardship. The idea is that, upon their return they will spread knowledge of human givens and therapeutic techniques to over 100 peers who are less fluent in English. It is very exciting for us that the HG approach is spreading so far.

NEW HG courses on Mindfulness and Cannabis induced Caetextia
We are pleased to announce that two brand Human Givens College courses will be running in 2013 on the topics of mindfulness and cannabis induced caetextia:

Mindfulness in Human Givens Practice, with Sandra Tideman. Sandra introduces the origins of the technique and explains how this useful mental discipline corresponds to certain aspects of the human givens approach. Throughout the day a number of exercises will give you the opportunity to experience mindfulness for yourself and learn how to teach it to patients.This course will be coming to York, Bristol and London. See the course programme and find out how to book.

Cannabis induced Caetextia with Ezra Hewing. Ezra explains how cannabis generates caetextia in a way that unravels the paradoxical effects of cannabis use that cause so much confusion in the substance abuse field, namely: why using cannabis increases the risk of developing mental health problems like depression and schizophrenia; why some people find that cannabis helps them to relax, reduce stress and alleviate the symptoms of mental health problems like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and why some people find that using cannabis gives rise to unusual thoughts and access to imagination and creativity. The day will also demonstrate, with exercises, how to help people damaged by cannabis use. This course will be taking place in Birmingham, Bristol and London. Find out more and book.

Consciousness and attention: The science of spirituality - the LAST course of its kind
On the 6th and 7th April 2013 the very last Consciousness and attention: the science of spirituality course will be taking place in Sunningdale, Berkshire.

This weekend offers you the chance to explore the most fundamental, cosmic and intimate aspect of your life: your relationship with the universal nature of consciousness. Although we mostly aren’t aware of this it is the quality of this relationship that determines how meaningful our life feels to us. (‘Meaning’ is an innate human need.) The course is designed for those inspired by the ancient injunction to “Know thyself” since all spiritual self-development requires that we do.

This is the last course of its kind that we'll be offering and placed are very limited so book soon.

Keep up to date with the Human Givens approach in 2013 by following us on Twitter and liking our Facebook page.

Most importantly, we would like to thank YOU for all your support this year. We couldn't do what we do without all our readers, subscribersdelegates and social media followers.

We wish you all a very happy new year!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Asperger's Syndrome no longer exists

So according to some, Asperger's Syndrome no longer exists. In the new DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association) the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome have now been merged with the diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

This shift in the definition of Aspreger's Syndrome has been a long time coming but is this merging of symptoms enough to fully provide a working organising idea behind this complex disorder?

Autistic traits are now recognised as occurring along a spectrum - with severe autism at one end and a higher-functioning, ‘milder’ form (formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome) at the other. The core areas affected, to varying degrees, are ability to understand and use non-verbal and verbal communication; ability to understand social behaviour and behave in socially appropriate ways; ability to think and behave flexibly; and over- or under-sensitivity to sensory information. Even people labelled as having ASD can vary in the severity and number of traits they display, ranging from severe learning difficulties and low IQ to high IQ and a talent for learning that brings acclaim.

It seems remarkably odd to us that a person who needs specialist help and assisted housing can be included in the same category as a professor of physics, say, or a gifted poet or musician, or a computer programmer who is married with a family - individuals who, despite having ASD have managed to make an accommodation with the world and learn enough of the ‘rules’ to function highly efficiently and relate to people.

We offer a new definition of ASD: 'caetextia' or 'context blindness' defined as a disorder manifesting in the inability to adjust behaviours or perception to deal appropriately with interacting variables.

We suggest that, by looking at the evolutionary history of mammals and humankind, we can arrive at a more comprehensive way of viewing the autistic spectrum than has been offered to date - and that this new understanding can help us help those who seek therapy for psychological difficulties. We are going to put forward the idea that occurring throughout the entire autistic spectrum is a phenomenon that has not previously been identified; that a remarkable mental capacity, one that came to the fore once mammals started to evolve, is missing from all people on the autistic spectrum; and that this major deficit, while it may be just one aspect of what is missing in autism, is uniquely what is missing at the higher performing end of the Asperger’s spectrum. It is the ability to read context.

Find out more about caetextia at

Discover the argument for why this new definition is needed in this video of Irish psychologist Joe Griffin exploring this idea:

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

HG Library: The APET model: emotions come first

Many therapists work with the APET Model (Activating agent, Pattern match, Emotion, Thoughts) of human behaviour. This is the article which introduced the idea to the Human Givens journal back in 2001.

Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell introduce a biologically-based theory which explains the shortcomings of purely cognitive approaches and why effective therapies can work fast. 

DENNY was given a life sentence for murder when he battered his friend to death on a freezing cold night for no reason that he could articulate. He and his best friend Nick were 'down and out'. Having failed to get jobs which they had travelled to a specific town in search of, they had both hitchhiked and trudged, cold and hungry, the 90 miles back to their home town.

On arrival, they huddled in a derelict building, desperately burning any wood they could tear down to make fires for warmth. Nick quite reasonably suggested that they go to Denny's mother's house, which was only 500 yards away, and sleep on her front room floor. Denny wouldn't hear of it. When he ran out of arguments against Nick's pleadings, he battered and killed him.

Why? All Denny could say in explanation was, "I just went too far". Denny had no idea why he felt compelled to kill his best friend, only that the 'need' was overwhelming. It subsequently emerged, through psychiatrist Dr Bob Johnson's work with him in Parkhurst Prison [1], that Denny had felt driven to murder because he was still frozen in a state of terror of his mother who had battered him cruelly as a boy. That he was now adult and a strapping six feet three and a half inches and she was 85 and five feet two did not impinge as a reason not to fear her any more.

This famous case serves to epitomise, in stark form, the shortcomings of the basic idea underlying cognitive therapy - that it is beliefs and thoughts which give rise to emotions and behaviours. Denny's fear was powerfully reactivated by a pattern from the past. It was emotion which led to the belief that he must kill, not vice versa.

The case provides a highly graphic example of how extremely strong emotional reactions precede conscious understanding and reasoning. This can be explained in terms of what is now known about how the brain works and, we propose, has important ramifications for how we can carry out therapy most effectively.

New understandings

Using new understandings about the functioning of the brain, we have developed a theory we have called the APET model. It is, in effect, a necessary updating and enlarging of the model underlying cognitive therapy, which was first developed well before the current explosion of knowledge about brain function.
The basic fallacy underlying the cognitive approach doesn't detract from the power of cognitive therapy - it is highly successful, particularly when coupled with behaviour therapy, because it acknowledges the reciprocal interaction between cognition and emotion. But it does limit the scope and thinking of its practitioners when treating mental disorders, and extends the time taken to do so.

As clinical psychologist Pat Frankish, immediate past president of the British Psychological Society [when writing in 2001], was moved to comment in her year 2000 presidential address, which centred on thought and feeling, I do not ... deny the value of the cognitive approach or the research findings. Rather I aim to warn against too many eggs in the same basket, and to remind us all that the complexity of the human brain cannot be reduced to its individual components without some considerable loss."

Faulty thinking

Before we explain the meaning and purpose of the acronym APET, we need to look first at the theory underlying cognitive therapy, an approach which takes the stance that changing faulty thinking processes is the key to changing inappropriate behaviour and emotions, and to see where it falls short of current neurophysiological knowledge.

The first cognitive therapy was rational emotive therapy (RET) devised in the 1950s by disenchanted psychoanalyst Albert Ellis. (Since 1993 the therapy has been called rational emotive behaviour therapy -REBT - to reflect the fact that people's thoughts, feelings and actions are integrally related and inevitably influence each other.) Its aim is to identify flaws in people's thinking that can have adverse emotional consequences.

Ellis proposed that the two most common maladaptive thoughts are "I am worthless unless I am completely competent in everything I attempt to do" and "Everyone must love and approve of me." Such maladaptive thoughts, which place impossible demands on individuals, inevitably lead to anxiety, depression or other abnormal behaviours, he believed. [2]

He thought it was important to disabuse clients of the unhelpful but common belief that it is events or situations which cause them to feel or act in certain ways. For instance, if someone feels anxious on arrival at a first therapy session, they might conclude that coming to therapy is making them anxious, instead of realising that it is their expectations or fears about the therapy that are making them anxious.

The ABC model

He illustrated this idea neatly in his ABC model. The A stands for activating agent agent - any situation or stimulus that prompts a reaction. The C stands for consequences - either feelings or actions. The incorrect assumption is that C is caused by A. In reality, said Ellis, C is caused by B which stands for beliefs - the thoughts, images, perceptions and conclusions that we draw from A. (In the updated REBT, A stands for adversities and B for belief-behavioural system.)

As holding unhelpful or outmoded beliefs can undoubtedly cause mental distress, this cognitive approach represented a giant leap forward in therapeutic terms. It enabled therapists to concen trate on helping clients change faulty thinking in the here and now, instead of vainly rooting about in their pasts.

Aaron Beck, another former psychoanalyst, took the ideas further and developed cognitive restructuring therapy. Here he concentrated primarily on classifying and identifying the thought disorders which he believed were underlying all psychological disorders. [3] Cognitive therapists have continued to add to and refine his categories ever since. We may be broadly familiar with cognitive-speak from categories such as catastrophising ("I've a headache; it must be a brain tumour"), overgeneralising ("Joan is a better person than I am because she is a good cook"), fault-finding ("the company was out to get me"), anthropomorphism ("computers and I don't get on"), etc.

In sum, Ellis, Beck and others who have written on cognitive approaches take the stance that psychological problems occur because thinking is defective. We maintain that this is not so. It is 'emotional thinking' that leads to problems: a conclusion clearly pointed to by the findings of recent brain research.

The emotional brain

The emotional centre of the brain, housed in the limbic system, developed some millions of years earlier than the neocortex, the highest part of our brains, concerned with thinking, planning, memory, etc.
The limbic system is concerned with raw emotion; it is the higher centres that put a more delicate spin on things, enlarging pleasure and desire into a capacity to bond with and care for other beings, for instance. Because the neocortex grew up out of the emotional brain, there are innumerable connections between the two - and more extend upwards than extend downwards, giving the emotional brain enormous influence on how we think as well as feel.

The limbic system first developed in our distant mammalian ancestors to deal with instinctive behaviours, such as eating and mating and surviving. One of the main roles of a structure called the amygdala was to promote survival by alerting the organism to possible danger and triggering the physiological fight or flight response.

In essence, the amygdala - so-named because it is almond shaped and amygdala is Greek for almond - was the limbic system's emotional alarm system, continually scanning the environment and interpreting each new stimulus in terms of whether it was safe or suspect. In colloquial terms, it was asking, "Can I approach this or not? Can I eat this or will this eat me? Will I fight (and win) or should I flee?"

The limbic system developed a rudimentary ability for memory and learning. After all, it would hardly be economic in energy terms for the amygdala to go on full alert each time that it saw a tree. It needed to be able to recognise that a tree was not a source of danger. And it did that by a process that we term pattern matching, which still underlies our mental functioning today.

Pattern matching

All mammals are programmed with species-appropriate instinctive behaviours during REM sleep while still fetuses in the womb.[4] REM sleep accounts for a high proportion of sleep in fetuses and newborns and drops off markedly as an organism starts to mature. The laying down of instinctive templates at these times explains all our species-specific behaviours, such as birds' ability to know what materials to use to build nests, wild animals' ability to recognise a predator, and babies' knowledge of the need to locate the nipple and to search out human faces to establish bonding.[5]

But these instinctive patterns cannot be too specific. They need to be flexible enough to enable them to be completed in different ways in different environments.

So a human baby will accept the teat of a bottle from which to take milk; baby birds will recognise a range of the kinds of sounds that their parents may make and infants will be able to speak the language that they hear around them, whatever it is. The more complex the life form, the more rich and varied are the instinctive templates laid down and the more flexibility available to it to complete the pattern in the environment.
The pattern-matching process is, then, an instinctive part of human brain functioning. It is behind our natural inclination to describe one thing in terms of another ("Such and such is like ...") and express ourselves in metaphor.

Dreams have been shown to be exact pattern matches or metaphors for emotionally arousing concerns from the day that have not been expressed before bedtime. [6] The often strange scenarios we dream during REM sleep at night are metaphorical renderings of those concerns which serve to deactivate them (this is not the same as resolving them), thus reducing emotional arousal in the brain and freeing us to deal with whatever demands the next day brings. So the same process, REM sleep, that first programmes instinctive behaviour in the form of genetically anticipated patterns, is also the means by which 'left-over' patterns of stimulation from waking are deactivated each night.

Pattern matching is what an animal's emotional brain uses when a tree looms into view and is recognised not to be a threat or when a certain other animal appears and is instantly deemed to be one. This happens within the first few milliseconds of the stimulus having been perceived. [7]

With the development of the neocortex and reason, we humans now have a much greater range of responses available to us when presented with stimuli in the environment. According to past scientific explanation, this was because information from our five senses would be relayed to the thalamus in the forebrain which passed it directly to the sensory processing centres of the neocortex. These then sent the information as appropriate to elsewhere in the brain, including the amygdala, and the body.

The thinking was that the neocortex moderated emotional responses, bringing more diversity of reasoning to a strange situation - the knowledge, for instance, that the man seemingly blatantly blocking the path of our car isn't an aggressor but a traffic policeman.

However, when the stimulus is one which causes significant emotional arousal - something crashes to the ground and we jump aside - the thinking brain has no role at all in the instant reaction. It is the amygdala which pattern matches and reacts before the neocortex even gets a look in. This is a relatively recent finding (and has great bearing on our development of the APET model).

Emotion before reason

The emotional brain's ability to be one jump ahead of the neocortex was the discovery of researcher Joseph LeDoux. He found that certain fear signals from the senses, once relayed to the thalamus, are immediately sent along a neuronal 'fast track' to the amygdala, arriving half a second before signals relayed by the usual route reach the neocortex. [8] That half a second is a long time in brain response terms. In effect, the amygdala can have us reacting before the thinking brain has weighed up the evidence and planned an appropriate reaction.

As a result, some emotional reactions and consequent emotional memories can be formed without any conscious participation from the thinking brain at all. The amygdala can hold on to emotional memories and impressions that have never come to full awareness. [9] (This can explain Denny's impulse to kill and the symptoms of phobias and post traumatic shock syndrome.)

When emotional arousal is high, the emotional brain is in the driving seat. It is the nature of the emotional brain to think only in survival-type choices - fight or flight; go for it or don't. While it is the job of the conscious mind to discriminate, fill in the detail and offer a more intelligent analysis of the patterns offered up to it by the emotional brain, the 'either/or' logic of the emotional brain is its more basic pattern which goes way back to earliest life forms and still forms the foundation on which much of our thinking and behaviour rests.

The degree to which the fight or flight reflex is activated is the degree to which our thinking becomes polarised - more black or more white. As psychologist Daniel Goleman describes it, the emotional brain 'hijacks' the neocortex [9] and very quickly begins to blank out more subtle distinctions between stimuli. We can't be concerned with the finer detail when making a life saving decision.

In fact, all thoughts and perceptions are fuelled by, and therefore preceded by, emotion. We are not generally aware of this because it is often a subtle process but the fact that thoughts are carried aloft on emotion becomes clear when we examine strange exceptions to this rule.

In Capgras' syndrome, for instance, the pattern-matching process is disrupted because of minor brain damage. In these cases the neocortex can no longer draw on emotional memories from the limbic system and sufferers believe that family and close friends are impostors, because they experience no feeling for them. [10]

Some recent studies have shown that amygdala damage results in problems in recognising facial expressions of fear, anger and disgust [11] and interferes with social and emotional judgement. In one study designed to test individuals' ability to make judgements about the approachability of people they were shown in photographs, researchers found that those with damage to the amygdala were much more likely to rate people as approachable, regardless of fearsome looks. [12]

Emotion, then, appears to be a precondition for thought and perception even - in cases when we might ordinarily think that no emotion is involved.

The APET model

The discovery that emotion precedes reason and perception is the fact that turns cognitive therapy on its head. Whereas the ABC model assumes that anxiety and depression - both of which are states of high arousal - arise from faulty belief systems, the APET model takes into account the latest knowledge about how the brain works and enables it to be used for more effective therapy.

Black and white thinking, which underlies all the categories identified by cognitive therapists, is the thinking style of the emotional brain. It is the result of arousal, and the accompanying hijacking of the neocortex, not the cause.

The A in APET stands for activating agent: any event or stimulus in the environment, just as in the cognitive model. Information about that stimulus, taken in through the senses, is processed through the pattern-matching part of the mind (P) which gives rises to an emotion (E) which may inspire certain thoughts (T).
To give a simple example, Anne may be sitting reading quietly at home when she hears a loud knock on the door. Anne experiences seemingly inexplicable dread. Her thought, if she has a conscious thought at all, is: "Someone is dead!"

In the split millisecond before she experienced her fear, the amygdala in her emotional brain had pattern matched to the occasion when there was loud banging on her door and she opened it to find a policeman on the step. He had come to tell her that her son had been killed in a motorbike accident. If the memory is so emotionally charged that it cannot be processed, and stays trapped in the amygdala as a pre-verbal memory, events such as loud knocking may trigger post traumatic stress symptoms such as nightmares, exaggerated startles or panics.

Points of intervention

The APET model provides many more points of intervention in therapy than simply helping a client to alter their beliefs and attitudes. Each letter of the model represents a point of possible change. Sometimes it may be most effective, for instance, to work to change the activating agent (eg. encouraging or suggesting strategies for changing an unsatisfying job or reducing loneliness).

Very often an inappropriate pattern match needs to be changed. So a woman who unconsciously pattern matches to the mental cruelty of her first lover, and consequently sabotages every new relationship she embarks on, needs help to uncouple false links between past and present circumstances.

The instinct to pattern match can be used productively by offering positive nominalisations - positive abstract nouns which have no concrete meaning, such as resourcefulness, insight, capacity, happiness, confidence - to a deeply relaxed client, so that the client unconsciously does the work of pattern matching to their past to find times when they have experienced or exercised those qualities.

(Doing this while the client is in a trance state is highly effective because the state of hypnosis is akin to the state of REM sleep, during which pattern-matching templates are first programmed. [13] It is therefore a natural learning state, when the brain is most receptive to new information.)

Similarly, the use of metaphor and storytelling directly address the pattern-matching propensity of the mind, enabling a client to draw from what they hear whatever is most relevant and meaningful for them personally.
Emotion (the E of the model) always needs to be calmed down before a client can learn to think in a less black and white fashion. It is impossible to communicate fully with anyone who is overly emotionally aroused, as very many of us will know from experience of arguments. However, depression is just as aroused an emotional state as anger, even if it is not so apparent to the onlooker.

We maintain, unlike in cognitive therapy, that it isn't individuals' faulty thinking which is causing the problem but the fact that emotional arousal, with its black and white logic, is blocking access to the more subtle reasoning of their higher brains. (Thus the depressed person thinks everything always goes wrong and no relationship will ever work, because there are no greys in black and white thinking.)

High emotional arousal locks people's focus of attention into a negative trance state where they are confined to viewing the world and their own circumstances from a limiting viewpoint. Teaching relaxation techniques and working with them while in a state of deep relaxation reduces the emotional brain's paralysing hold over the neocortex.

Finally, as every good cognitive therapist knows, it is highly important to work with any unhelpful thoughts or belief patterns (T) which may be holding clients back, diminishing their confidence, arousing distress or placing too great demands on them. When people are relaxed and their focus of attention is taken off their emotions, the neocortex can feed a new pattern back down to the emotional brain.

Cognitive therapy holds that a thought may sometimes itself be the activating agent which is interpreted by the belief system and which may then trigger off an emotional response. We would contend that there is no such thing as pure thought. A thought always subserves an emotional agenda.

Even Einstein struggling with his theory of relativity had to be motivated by some emotional need, whether the need for fame and fortune or the emotional satisfaction of discovering the rules by which the universe operates. Thought is an evolutionary adaptation that ultimately serves to help us get our needs fulfilled. A thought, therefore, is always the end, not starting, point of APET.

Dreaming is a clear example of how the brain is always serving an emotionally driven agenda. Humans experience about five periods of REM sleep a night, during which we dream. As explained earlier, dreams are exact pattern matches to emotionally driven agendas which have not been completed during the day. By providing the pattern match to the emotional arousal the dream deactivates it, freeing up our thought processes to deal with whatever the new activation agents of the next day will bring.

A swift approach to change

Incorrect or inappropriate pattern matching is at the centre of most psychological disorders. The most effective treatments for anxiety, depression, addictions, inappropriate anger, obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias and post traumatic stress all involve detaching old unhelpful patterns and cementing in new empowering ones.

Changing the P (pattern matching) changes the E (emotion) and the T (thought), and, swiftly, the patient's life.

Whereas cognitive methods are laborious and slow and involve clients in adjusting to the therapist's reality (learning to identify the many categories of faulty thinking), the human givens approach, based on the APET model, requires therapists to enter their clients' reality, and enables them to offer diverse meaningful interventions simultaneously, effecting powerful positive change from the very first session.

We hope that the APET model will help provide a useful theoretical understanding for why human givens therapy is so effective


Subscribe to the Human Givens Journal for more articles like this one.

1. Johnson, B (1997). Narrative approaches with lifers. The Therapist, 4, 3, 24–28.
2. Ellis, A. (1971). Growth through reason: Verbatim cases in rational-emotive therapy. Wiltshire Books.
3. Beck, A (1976). Cognitive Therapy and Emotional Disorders. New American Library.
4. Jouvet, M (1965). Paradoxical sleep – a study of its nature and mechanisms. Prog Brain Research, 18, 20–57.
5. Gopnik, A, Meltzoff, A and Kuhl, P (1999). How babies think. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
6. Griffin, J (1997). The Origin of Dreams. The Therapist Ltd. (Out of print – Joe Griffin's research into why we evolved to dream, has been republished in Dreaming Reality: How dreaming keeps us sane or can drive us mad)
7. Bargh, J A (1994). First second: the preconscious in social interactions. Paper presented at the June meeting of the American Psychological Society, Washington, DC.
8. LeDoux, J (1998). The Emotional Brain. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
9. Goleman, D (1996). Emotional Intelligence. Bloomsbury, London.
10. Ramachandran, VS and Blakelee, S (1998). Phantoms in the Brain. Fourth Estate, London.
11. Calder, A J, Young, A W, Rowland, D, Perrett, D I, Hodges, J R and Etcoff, N L (1996). Facial emotion recognition after bilateral amygdala damage. Differentially severe impairment of fear. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 13, 699–745.
12. Adolphs, R, Tranel, D and Damasio, A R (1998). The human amygdala is social judgement. Nature, 393, 470–474.
13.Griffin, J and Tyrrell, I (1999). Hypnosis and Trance States: a new psychobiological explanation. ETSI.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Is this really the exact cause of depression?

Adding to the wealth of neurobiological research that supports the human givens theory of depression is this Stanford study (reported here as the 'Exact cause of depression revealed') on how neural motivation pathways are found to be depleted in severely depressed brains.

But is this really the exact 'cause' of depression? We wouldn't say so. When you look at the bigger picture, it's obvious that what happens in the brain is not the first step in the cycle of depression. Something has to happen to make those motivation pathways exhausted in the first place, and the authors of this research might benefit from a bigger organising idea to make sense of the data which, as we shall see, provides implications beyond drug treatment for lifting depression.

Here's our organising idea behind the real cause of depression:

When a person starts worrying about innate needs not being met, this results in an excess of unresolved emotional arousals in the brain that must be resolved. This excess of unresolved emotional arousals can only be resolved in one way, through dreaming in REM sleep, and, as the increased REM sleep of depressed people shows, depressed people do indeed dream a lot more than non depressed people.

But how does this impact motivation pathways?

Too much REM sleep leads to the exhaustion of motivation pathways as dreaming continually fires the orientation (motivation) response - and it's these exhausted motivation pathways in depressed brains that are now visible through studies like the Standford one.

Recognising the importance of getting innate emotional needs provides gives far more implications for treatment of depression quickly, effectively and without drugs. See peer reviewed research in which it is recommend that human givens treatment for mild to moderate depression be fully included in NICE guidelines.
____________________________ - the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming sheds light on so many previously unexplained topics from dreaming, and hypnosis to psychosis and why we forget our dreams. - focusing on treating depression, this website covers the link between REM sleep and depression. - effective, evidence based training on understanding the cycle of depression from Human Givens College.

Friday, 16 November 2012

HG Library: Great Expectations by Joe Griffin

Joe Griffin goes back to basics to arrive at a some powerful new insights into the givens of human nature. This article is from a 2004 edition of the Human Givens journal and explores many of the essential insights the human givens approach is centered on. Read if you are interested in addiction, REM sleep, dreaming, neuroscience and how we function.

HUMAN GIVENS is a living school of psychology and, as such, it has to continue evolving or it will become moribund. The day we think we have all the answers we become a cult, as some schools of psychology and psychotherapy have already done. So what follows are ideas in progress (because any piece of truth we may glean is always a fragment of a larger one).

All that any new science has in its infancy is the beginnings of an approach. It took hundreds of years for astronomers to focus their minds on the central fact of their work, which was to understand the physical universe. Prior to that, studying the planets and stars was mixed up with superstition — with astrology, occult practices and mythology. Our aim with the human givens approach is to bring that same clarity of focus to psychology and psychotherapy. To do that, we must draw out from the numerous approaches to studying psychology, and the hundreds of different ideological models for doing psychotherapy and counselling, the basic starting point — the one factor that all life forms have in common.

Every living thing, from banana tree to rare orchid, from insect to worm to jellyfish, and from mouse to orangutan to human being, all have in common that they come into the world with a set of expectations about the type of stimuli they will encounter in the environment and how to deal with them. Every living thing has an innate set of responses that matches to expected stimuli, such as food or light or danger. A baby instinctively knows to latch on to the nipple; a plant turns towards the sun; a rabbit freezes in the headlights. Expectations, therefore, are about the needs of living things and about the resources they anticipate using to help them meet those needs. This holds as true for the simplest unicellular creature, swimming about in a swamp, as it does for us.

Although plants have expectations they don't, of course, have brains. They don't need them. This is because they just react to environmental changes in preprogrammed ways, hour by hour, day by day, season by season. Movement is fundamental to the existence of brains, which developed primarily to control movement, remember the result of past movements and therefore predict the outcome of future movements. So, once creatures evolved to move, the range and complexity of their expectations became more elaborate. The part of the brain that controls movement is also the part of the brain that plans and calculates and assesses. So the more complex the creature, the greater its expectations and the greater the variety of ways it develops to meet its needs. For more complex creatures, emotions are linked into expectations (I shall come back to this more fully later). Emotions, derived from the Latin emovere, 'to move outwards, to stir up', are connected to our needs and survival. Any emotional arousal caused by an expectation — to eat, to have sex, to take defensive action — is discharged by satisfying the expectation.

Taking it as the starting point, then, that expectations are about the needs of all living things and the resources they anticipate using to help meet them, we can propose the following: any life form that meets its needs by using the resources with which nature has gifted it is a successful one. When a life form is not thriving — whether plant, animal or human being — the reason is that its needs are not being met. And because not every expectation is met, nature has had to evolve a mechanism to deactivate the unfulfilled emotional charges associated with those expectations — otherwise expectations unfulfilled today would continue to dominate consciousness tomorrow. That would soon jeopardise the integrity of our instinctive responses — any response is weakened if it continually goes unsatisfied. Nature's solution to unfulfilled emotionally arousing expectations, as I proposed and gave evidence for in The Origin of Dreams,[1] is to find a sensory match for them from memory stores (pattern matching) during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and thus discharge them in metaphorical form in a dream — in effect, fulfilling them.

Monday, 12 November 2012

What is hypnosis?

A stage hypnotist transfixes his audience by making a previously sober man act embarrassingly drunk on stage. A surgeon operates on a hypnotized patient without using any other form of anaesthetic. A highly anxious client is induced into a deeply relaxed state by a trained psychotherapist to calmly rehearse an important presentation she has to give. We can quickly see that all of these situations are trance phenomena, but how does it work?

Current definitions for 'hypnosis' are meaningless

The American Psychological Association describes hypnosis as “a cooperative interaction in which the participant responds to the suggestions of the hypnotist”. This definition is meaningless because it avoids explaining the mechanism behind hypnosis by simply describing a trance induction.

In fact hypnosis is still considered a mystery in most scientific and psychological circles. Academics argue endlessly about it. Often, hypnotherapists themselves do not know how the technique they are using works, they just know that somehow, it often does.

All that confusion should change in the coming years since, thanks to the insights derived from the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming, we now have a scientifically convincing explanation for what hypnosis really is. The explanation is found in the common denominator between dreaming and hypnotic phenomena — the REM state. This is the link that makes sense of it all:

Hypnosis is the artificial activation of the REM state 

All the many methods for inducing hypnosis are paralleled by aspects of how the REM state is naturally induced and maintained. Shock inductions, when hypnosis is instantaneously induced through an unexpected occurrence, such as the hypnotist suddenly thumping a table or ringing a bell, fires the orientation response into action, focusing attention, just as happens at the start of REM sleep. And inducing deep relaxation creates the same electrical patterns in the brain as occurs in REM sleep. Guided imagery switches people into their right hemisphere and mimics daydreaming, a state associated with problem solving and learning in which new patterns of knowledge can be pattern-matched metaphorically and integrated. (See Godhead: the brain’s big bang, for how this evolved and what it means for unravelling the mystery of consciousness, how we learn and the possibilities for human evolution.)

Locking attention

The traditional swinging of the fob watch for people to follow with their eyes mimics the rapid eye movements that are triggered by the orientation response in REM sleep. Indeed anything that focuses and locks attention (e.g. “I want you to stare at that spot on the ceiling”) fires the orientation response. In fact, even an unexpected event, idea or trauma induces at least a mini-trance, just through firing the orientation response and momentarily focusing attention.

Making sense of the 'strange' phenomena associated with hypnosis

All the strange phenomena associated with hypnosis are explainable and make sense once it is understood that they are the phenomena that occur naturally in the REM state. Take wild ‘dervish’ dancing, for example: anthropologists have witnessed and filmed participants piercing their flesh with knives and nails without any apparent pain or bleeding. This practice, a staple topic of popular anthropology books, is not mysterious when we realise that the dervishes have induced deep trances in themselves by means of rhythmic repetitive activity, usually involving drumming, chanting or dancing. The real mechanism behind trance and hypnosis can be stately very simply, however there are some very profound implications behind the explanation when you start to unpack the idea.

You might be surprised to learn the following common 'facts' about hypnosis are all myths and misconceptions:
  • Hypnosis is a natural state of relaxation and concentration with a heightened awareness induced by suggestion
  • Hypnotherapy is safe with no unpleasant side effects
  • You will hear everything that is being said.
  • Hypnosis shas nothing to do with sleep, it is just an extremely relaxed state.
  • A hypnotist cannot influence you to do anything against your own will.
  • Your own 'moral code' will protect you from doing anything against your best interests.
Ivan Tyrrell explains why in this short clip:

Trance is simply a skill to be used 

Using trance and hypnosis safely in therapy is an important skill. Throughout the ages, remarkable individuals, from witch doctors to modern surgeons, stone-age shamans to present-day psychiatrists, counsellors and psychotherapists have, by chance and circumstances, found out how to access the REM state and use the hypnotic trance thus induced for benign educational, psychological and medical purposes. (Conmen, swindlers, entertainers and cult leaders have used it too but it’s the field of medicine and psychotherapy that we are interested.)

Over the last 150 years it has been well attested by scientific method that hypnosis can be used to accelerate recovery from severe burns and that, whilst in a hypnotic state, people can have dental work, and even major surgery carried out without feeling any pain. Irritable bowel, shingles, asthma, phantom limb pain, male and female sexual dysfunctions and all sorts of psychological and psychosomatic disturbances can, when careful use of trance is incorporated into treatment, be relieved in a fraction of the time that conventional therapies take.

Hypnosis is, therefore, a demonstrably powerful therapeutic tool and thousands of scientific papers document an incredible range of medical results obtained when using it.

Hypnosis for anesthesia

For example, Dr Jack Gibson, an Irish surgeon, performed during his career more than 4,000 operations, using hypnosis as the only form of anaesthesia. He also used it to help alcoholics and asthmatics, and to charm away warts and verrucas. Hypnotic techniques are frequently used with patients, to eliminate lifelong phobias and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in as little as 40 minutes.

Hypnosis can also play an important part in speeding up treatment for clinical depression, anxiety and anger disorders, and the treatment of addictions. And yet, despite the scientific evidence as to its power, and despite the fact that all mainstream churches have withdrawn opposition to it and all major orthodox medical and psychological associations around the world have legitimised its use, this proven psychological procedure has yet to find widespread acceptance among the practitioners of the medical and psychological professions.

For more in depth look at the role of the REM state, please visit our 'why we dream' website.

For training in how to use hypnosis safely please see our course Guided imagery and visualisation for therapeutic change.

The Therapeutic Power of Guided Imagery: How to use your mind to heal past hurts, motivate people and raise your intelligence, is a valuable CD that explains the process and has an example track that you can learn the skills from.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

HG Library: Struggling for meaning

Speaking in abstract terms is a powerful, manipulative tool. Gwen Griffith-Dickson considers how it is used to mislead – yet can also enhance understanding. A thoughtful and insightful article from the Human Givens Journal, Volume 13, No 2 (2006) 

When I was getting to know the man who eventually became my husband, he told me he had once taken part in a re-enactment of one of those medieval Everyman plays, where characters appear as virtues or as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I asked him which role he had played. He assumed a noble look and answered, “Chastity”. (I married him anyway.)

Chastity may have gone out of fashion, and no one cautions us against Avarice nowadays. But new versions of these vices and virtues appear all the time – like ‘Celebrity’, for instance. And we human beings are still prone to this same tendency to create abstractions out of aspects of real life, and then confer on them an independent existence all of their own. This process goes by several names (all of them very abstract themselves), such as ‘reification’, ‘hypostatisation’ or, from linguistic psychology, creating ‘nominalisations’. Basically, they are ‘thing-words’ or nouns that are general, rather vague and always, always abstract.

David Cameron’s New Tory manifesto is full of nominalisations, such as, “Instead of issuing top-down instructions, we will enable bottom-up solutions”.1 If you want to know what a bottom- up solution might possibly mean in practice, it means “empowering individuals and civil society”. So maybe we are none the wiser. I certainly still don’t know what I need to do to get a hospital appointment sooner, and this passage leads me to suspect that Cameron doesn’t know what he needs to do either.

New Labour is just as fluent in the language of nominalisations as the New Tories are. We had the Prime Minister working hard to make a nominalisation illegal: that is, the ‘glorification’ of terrorism. Newspapers’ letters pages were full of satirical responses, asking whether the ritual of children celebrating Guy Fawkes’ night, for instance, counted as ‘glorification’ of terrorism. When sarcasm hits the letters pages with such force, it is clear that there is a widespread confusion over what is actually under discussion. This, in a nutshell, is the problem with nominalisations. The brain must always seek to match words with reality – a process known, in human givens parlance, as pattern matching. This is easy enough if you are talking to someone about a ginger cat. They can picture the ginger cat. But if you use a vague and abstract noun, such as ‘glorification’ or ‘empowerment’, which means nothing in and of itself and could have lots of different pattern matches, your listener’s mind has to go on a search to identify the best pattern match from its own memory store, thus creating a personal, concrete meaning for the nominalisation. Unless speaker and listener are already agreed on what a vague term stands for, the likelihood that the listener will produce the same pattern as the speaker can be low. If I begin a sentence making a claim about ‘religion’ and talk about what ‘religious people’ are like, are you thinking of Osama Bin Laden – or Gandhi?

The use of this device has a long history in Western thought. In Europe, its origins can be seen clearly more than 2000 years ago in the writings of the philosopher Plato. These took the form of dialogues in which Plato had his own teacher Socrates speak as the main character and exponent of Plato’s ideas. (Socrates left behind no writings of his own.) Most of the dialogues take their title from the name of the character engaging with Socrates, and each had a single main theme. For example, Lysis is about friendship. Meno is about knowledge. Phaedrus and Symposium are about love. Meno, although it ends up as a discussion of knowledge, starts with a question from Meno about virtue:

Meno: Can you tell me, Socrates – is virtue something that can be taught? Or does it come by practice? Or is it neither teaching nor practice that gives it to a man but natural aptitude or something else?2

The characters then conduct a lively discussion about this word, following a format known as ‘elenctic debate’ – from the Greek word elenchus, which means a kind of breakdown. The intention is to try to push your opponent until their argument breaks down and they become incoherent, contradict themselves, concede defeat or maybe rush in shame from the room – at any of which points you win. These elenctic debates were considered such great sport that they featured at the Olympics of Ancient Greece! They were so very fashionable at the time that young men studied crib notes for how to win – rather like the ‘cheat’s notes’ for today’s computer games. But Plato – through his Socrates – took the matter seriously. The point was not to win for the sake of being clever, but to test ideas and claims to see which could stand up to critical examination. In Plato’s view, proof of an idea’s worthiness to be believed, to count as ‘knowledge and truth’ instead of mere ‘opinion and belief’, came through such a test, a kind of survival of the fittest of ideas...

Friday, 26 October 2012

7-11 breathing: How does deep breathing make you feel more relaxed?

With mindfulness now all the rage, many online articles are now advocating breathing techniques as a way to lessen anxiety and control stress levels.

We have noticed that several articles (including this Daily Mail one: Breathe easy to combat anxiety: The mind tricks that can alleviate symptoms) fail to explain how such breathing can lower emotional arousal. The answer is very simple, and once grasped, provides an extra layer of understanding which might encourage more of us to try this simple and effective tool to control our anxiety levels. Breathing techniques are not just 'mind tricks', they produce a bodily response that lowers your anxiety in a very physical way.

Deep breathing techniques all have one thing in common, they work by stimulating what is known as the Parasympathetic Nervous System. You may have heard of the 'fight or flight' response, the Parasympathetic Nervous System is simply the opposite of that ('fight or flight' is the term for the activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System) - instead of getting you ready for action, deep breathing activates a natural bodily response that can be described as 'rest and digest'. Out-breaths decrease your blood pressure, dilate your pupils and slow your heart rate – lowering emotional arousal in the process. Practising a breathing technique a few times a day will lower your overall stress levels in the long term.

It's important to realise that it's the out-breaths that stimulate the response, so it stands to reason that a breathing technique with longer out-breaths than in-breaths will be more effective at lowering emotional arousal.

Breathing techniques in which the out-breath is the same length as the in-breath, or during which you focus on your anxious thoughts (as advocated in the above Daily Mail article) are generally less effective at quickly lowering the physical symptoms of anxiety, despite being a good way of being mindful or entering into a relaxed state.

Which breathing technique should I use?

On our Human Givens College training courses, we teach a technique called '7-11' breathing because it's the most powerful technique we know.

Here is how you do it, and it is as easy as it sounds: 

1 - breathe in for a count of 7.

2 - then breathe out for a count of 11.

Make sure that when you are breathing in, you are doing deep ‘diaphragmatic breathing’ (your diaphragm moves down and pushes your stomach out as you take in a breath) rather than shallower higher lung breathing. If you find that it’s difficult to lengthen your breaths to a count of 11 or 7, then reduce the count to breathing in for 3 and out to 5, or whatever suits you best, as long as the out-breath is longer than the in-breath.

Continue in this way for 5-10 minutes or longer if you have time – and enjoy the calming effect it will have on your mind and body. An added bonus of 7-11 breathing is that the very act of counting to 7 or 11 is a distraction technique, taking your mind off your immediate concerns.

This 7/11 breathing technique for relaxing quickly is the most powerful we know and has been used for thousands of years throughout the world.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Date change: Consciousness and attention: The science of spirituality - two day course

Please note: This course will now be taking place on 6th - 7th April 2013
Location: Sunningdale Park, Ascot, Berkshire, UK 

Course overview: 

This weekend offers you the chance to explore the most fundamental, cosmic and intimate aspect of your life: your relationship with the universal nature of consciousness. Although we mostly aren’t aware of this it is the quality of this relationship that determines how meaningful our life feels to us. (‘Meaning’ is an innate human need.) The course is designed for those inspired by the ancient injunction to “Know thyself” since all spiritual self-development requires that we do.

 Topics to be addressed: 

  • What exactly consciousness is for. 
  • Why it evolved with the origin of the Universe. 
  • How it interacts with matter … and why it does so. 
  • The different levels of consciousness. 
  • Is our own unconscious a separate entity from ourselves? 
  • Is consciousness an epiphenomenon or a fundamental given of the Universe as mystics and physicists say? 
  • Bringing us to our senses: How is consciousness connected to perception, creativity and meaning? 
  • How to expand your consciousness by the way you adjust your attention mechanism (consciousness can devolve as well as evolve). 
  • Why the Universe is so extraordinarily favourable to the evolution of life forms. 
  • The claims that mystics and some physicists make about the connection between human consciousness and Universal consciousness. 
  • Avoiding mumbo jumbo: Why it is important to reach for an understanding about these questions that does not insult our intelligence or impoverish our humanity. 

Consciousness and science 

Whilst exploring some of the answers given by many of the greatest minds that have ever lived, we will also show that it is still possible to provide revolutionary new answers to these questions that are compatible with our best scientific discoveries and the insights of the wisdom traditions. We will see that a scientific theory can be right and yet leave out a vital piece of what we all perceive is important: Being an object is something everybody is, but your consciousness and your subjectivity is unique to you. Consciousness is what divides the subjective from the objective, it is the lens through which all levels of awareness reach your core being, the means by which you connect to everything you experience. Understanding what your consciousness is and can do is essential to self-development. 

How the course is structured: 

The course is a blend of talks, discussion and exercises with breaks for networking and refreshment. 

Who should attend? 

Anyone who has wondered about who or what they are.

This is the LAST course of it's kind that we will be offering and there are limited places available.

To find out how to book, please visit the Human Givens College website.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

HG Library: Dr Aric Sigman interview - Television: paying attention, paying the price.

Dr Aric Sigman talks with Ivan Tyrrell about the insidiously devastating effects of television on brains, bodies and cultures. Published in Vol 13, No 1 (2006) of the Human Givens Journal.

Tyrrell: Your brilliant but shocking book Remotely Controlled has put television in the dock. It brought home to me that the scientific jury is back in and the verdict is that TV is one of the greatest dangers to mental and physical health imaginable. Over a period of 14 years, we have been publishing in this journal material we’ve come by about the harmful effects of television. But, in your book, you have unearthed and pieced together in one place, for the first time, the diverse mass of research that supports that view. What started you on this quest?

Sigman: The catalyst for me was travel. I was always keen on going to cultures that have been sealed off from modern media, particularly Western media – places with few televisions. As a psychologist, I wanted to see what life is like when it isn’t influenced by our culture and, more importantly, when it isn’t influenced by images seen on a television screen. Some of the best cultures in which to do this are military dictatorships. You end up with a guinea-pig population that we don’t have access to here: a control group. I went to Tonga, Timbuktu, Bolivia and other places and saw cultures as they were, either before television had arrived or just as television had arrived but before Western television images took hold, and that is why I was able to see what happens.
American television dominates international TV and even local programme makers soon begin to copy the American style of programming, so rapid changes are evident within a year – for example, in body language. The way people in foreign countries walk is rapidly transformed into a funky shuffle, the kind of shuffle that British boys exhibit on the streets now, with their baseball caps and American-style body language. This is not indigenous or natural. Previously, such changes would occur slowly, through interaction with real people from different countries. Americans, for example, would land on foreign shores with either guns or goods to trade and would influence people that way. British people, or people from Timbuktu, for that matter, would go to Los Angeles and pick up the funky shuffle and breakdancing from seeing real, live Americans doing it, and vice versa. But now flimsy electronic images are creating phenomenal body language changes overnight.
When I spotted this, I was shocked at how quickly it happens. I became suspicious about why television has eluded the type of scrutiny that it should be given, not only as a cultural force but also as a health force. In the various countries I have visited, I asked policemen and teachers and health officials about the arrival of television and what changes they had noticed since. I consistently heard about an increase in aggression and the change in people’s view of their self-worth. I heard how girls started hating their body shape and began dieting almost instantly and using strong chemicals to lighten their skin, because they thought their own skin colour was ugly, or having cosmetic surgery to make themselves look like Westerners. Epidemiological research shows that murder rates have doubled within 15 years of the introduction of TV in every community studied. I am utterly convinced that those studies are correct. In many countries I’ve been to, I was told that TV had caused an explosion in crime rates of all sorts, not just greed and robbery but also gratuitous violence and disrespect.

Tyrrell: In your book, you also describe medical research showing an enormous array of problems that can be attributed to television.

Sigman: Yes. I came across a number of medical studies and I thought to myself, “Why aren’t these findings appearing on the front pages of our newspapers, and why don’t my colleagues in psychology know about this?” Most psychologists are under the impression that television, particularly educational television, is an enormous benefit to children. They have no apprehension of the harmful effects of the medium itself nor of the amount of time children spend watching it, nor that there may be a differential effect according to the age at which children are exposed. This concept seems unknown to educational psychologists I meet, and to psychologists in general – just as it was to me, I should say, before I started to travel and before I had four children and began to see the effects of television on them.
So I thought it would be worthwhile doing a medical research review of disparate areas of medicine and other sciences that are usually unrelated. Scientists nowadays tend to work in specific areas because that is the way the research market has gone. And we often don’t communicate with one another – there are so many publications that it is often difficult to ‘join up all the dots’.
So that’s what I decided to do, and a pattern emerged connecting watching television to a whole range of health and behaviour problems. There are so many that I don’t have time to tell you them all. The problems seem to magnify the more television people watch, irrespective of what kind of television programmes they see. It was this that made me suspicious about television’s power, irrespective of programme content.
Tyrrell: Yes, I was particularly interested in the biological evidence that the form television takes is as damaging as the content of much that we watch. For example, human beings have a limited amount of attention-giving capacity. Our attention mechanism can be captured, distorted, perverted, worn out, used up. And, because of this, it is important that we give attention to appropriate, fruitful forms of experience, something rarely encountered through electronic media. This is particularly so for children. So let’s take a detailed look at what you have found out about how TV affects our attention mechanism.

Sigman: Well, first of all, your observation that attention is something valuable has been borne out in the financial world. Financial academia now has a field called ‘attention economy’, where access to attention, how much people pay to gain someone’s attention, can be quantified. At Harvard University Business School, it is a formal field. Economists have a great deal of respect for attention and value it highly.

Tyrrell: I wish others did!

Sigman: Most people, including academics, take it for granted. It is not widely realised just how much television damages our attention mechanism, particularly during the formative years. The ability to pay attention is necessary for experiencing life. It is a prerequisite for introspection, as anybody who has tried to meditate knows – it is difficult, for example, to turn inward and pay attention to the rhythm of your breathing for any length of time. Giving attention is a prerequisite to having a relationship; to enjoy sex, you have to turn inward and pay attention to bodily sensations. And for children to learn through reading, or from a teacher, or from their peers, they must, of course, pay attention. Listen- ing attentively is an essential for learning.
I can’t even put into words how important this is. Attention is the lens through which we view life. Before we can talk about anything else, about memories, about emotional reactions, about consciousness, we attend to things. We have to, before we can respond to them, encode them and turn them into memories. So, if our ability to give attention is being compromised by anything, it means the quality and richness of our life and our ability to live well are also compromised.

Tyrrell: And neuroscience is revealing this?

Sigman: Yes, it is. The big concern among some scientists at the moment is that, during a child’s formative years, the ability to give attention is developing. We can now see neurological attention circuits as they grow in a child’s brain. In particular, there is a neurotransmitter called dopamine that responds to novelty. It evolved because, when we see something new, it is important we attend to it. We need to gauge whether it is a threat or not, or whether it is something we should pursue. And that can be just as much pursuing a line of thought as chasing after something tangible, such as food. Television misappropriates that natural biological response: be- cause it provides constant novelty and changing landscapes, it mimics a real changing environ- ment, but a massively condensed one, and pro- duces a novelty response over and over and over again. Probably more novelty responses are fired off by watching a day of television than our caveman ancestors experienced in an entire life!

Tyrrell: This must be putting the developmental attention systems of children under enormous pressure.

Sigman: It is and it seems to corrupt them. This may sound simplistic but the medical and scientific evidence is now compelling; something is going very wrong, particularly during the early developmental years of children.

Tyrrell: Do you mean the steep rise in childhood attention disorders, depression, etc?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Therapy for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

A quick overview of OCD and how a human givens therapist would go about treating this debilitating anxiety disorder.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the name given to a condition where people are having uncontrollable and unreasonable obsessions or compulsions that are excessive.

Obsessions could include form of a preoccupation about contaminations and germs, or anything 'unclean', an obsession with things being kept tidy, having constant doubts about whether they have done something like turning off the taps or locking the door or constant thoughts about doing something aggressive or embarrassing which they may or may not be able to control.


Compulsions are repetitive behaviours and rituals that the suffer feels compelled to do to lower their anxiety levels. The relief is only temporary so the rituals are woven into the person's daily routine and are not necessarily directly related to the obsessive thought, for example a person who has angry thoughts may count objects to control their thought. Common compulsons are cleaning, checking, repeating, hoarding or going excessively slowly and methodically about their daily activities.
'Official' diagnosis 
For a diagnosis of OCD the obsessions and/or compulsions must take up a considerable amount of the person’s time and interfere with normal routines and activities including domestic, social and working relationships.
OCD, like all anxiety disorders and highly emotional states, interfere with the ability to think and concentrate. It is not uncommon for a sufferer to avoid certain situations, for example, someone who is obsessed with cleanliness may be unable to use toilets other than ones they have cleaned themselves.

Onset of OCD is usually gradual and most often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Children with OCD, unlike adults, do not usually realize that their obsessions and compulsions are excessive.

Treatment of OCD

Effective therapeutic treatment of OCD would include a mix of all of the following:
  • Relaxation techniques,
  • Doing an emotional needs audit, formally or informally, to see where stresses are coming from,
  • Separating the person’s core identity from the OCD so they can challenge the obsessive thoughts and behaviours,
  • Educating them about how the OCD process works,
  • Instilling in them the idea that the OCD is ‘bullying’ them and that they must not allow themselves to be bullied,
  • Rewinding extreme examples of the behaviour and any traumatic incidents that may have triggered it in the first place.
  • Guided imagery to rehearse not doing the behaviour in situations where they have been doing it.
  • Showing them how to get their innate emotional needs met in their lives.
To find a Human Givens therapist with these skills, please see our online therapist register.

For training in how to help OCD sufferers please see our anxiety training days from Human Givens College.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

HG Library: Expecting the best: midwifery and the human givens

Caroline Brunt and Bindi Gauntlett describe how midwives are using the human givens approach to help support women during pregnancy and after birth.

Pregnancy and new motherhood, while commonly a time of excitement and joy, are often a source of anxiety and stress for many women. While midwives are routinely taught to deal with both normal and out-of-the-ordinary pregnancies and births and the principles of healthy living, they are not taught how to deal with the emotional and psychological factors that may put women’s health at risk during pregnancy and after. They are not taught how to deal with addictions, aggression, emotional distance, anxiety and fear. So, while feeling enormous compassion for women in difficult circumstances, midwives commonly feel quite ill equipped to help them. In Salisbury, however, we are now routinely introducing midwives to the human givens approach. It offers a practical means of giving midwives the confidence, and greater knowledge and skills, to offer appropriate help to women with mental health problems, whether mild, moderate or severe.

For, while deaths, thankfully, are relatively rare (although suicide has repeatedly been highlighted as a leading cause of them) Martin Fletcher, Chief Executive of the National Patient Safety Agency, which funds three-yearly confidential enquiries into maternal deaths, commented after the latest report,1 that “we must redouble our efforts to provide safer, better health care for vulnerable women during and after pregnancy”. Midwives are seeing more and more women who are in poor physical and mental health during and after pregnancy because of compromised life circumstances. Every area of Britain has its own challenges and our own area, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset, is certainly no different, having significant pockets of deprivation.

The publication in 2007 of antenatal and postnatal mental health guidelines by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) prompted the introduction of human givens training for our midwives. For some time, there has been an understanding of the need to screen women for serious mental health disorders and healthcare professionals have asked questions about past or present severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis in the postnatal period and severe depression. If the healthcare professional or the woman herself has significant concerns, her GP has sought further assessment and possible referral to specialist mental health services.

However, the NICE guidance goes further, recommending specifically that all women at their first contact with antenatal and postnatal services should be asked two questions to identify possible depression. These are “During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?” and “During the past month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?” If the woman answers ‘yes’ to either of these, a third question should be con- sidered: “Is this something you feel you need or want help with?” Caroline, as head of maternity services, was aware, from her conversations with midwives, that, if they got a ‘yes’ to the question about wanting help, they would rapidly feel out of their depth, and she wanted to be able to address this, using human givens principles.

Strategies to help

NICE advises that, for mild or moderate depression, the following should be considered: “self-help strategies (guided self-help, computerised cognitive behavioural therapy or exercise); non-directive counselling delivered at home (listening visits); brief cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy”. NICE also puts emphasis on the prevention of mental ill health. For pregnant women who have suffered depression or anxiety previously and who currently “have symptoms of depression and/or anxiety that do not meet diagnostic criteria but significantly interfere with personal and social functioning”2, it recommends that individual brief psychological treatment (four to six sessions) such as inter-personal psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy should be considered; for those who have not suffered previously, regular, informal social support, individual or group based, can be offered during pregnancy and the postnatal period.

The recommendations for intervention, for both mild and moderate depression, subclinical depression and anxiety, clearly allow the incorporation of human givens techniques. Applying human givens principles can certainly qualify as “guided self-help” and informal social support, and therapy based on the human givens approach is certainly an individual brief psychological treatment. So Caroline, herself a human givens counsellor, arranged training for all the community teams. Forty members of staff, spread across six teams, who carry out the risk assessments early in pregnancy, have attended in-house workshops on the human givens approach to dealing with depression, anxiety and understanding addictions. Although NICE urges that pregnant women who need psychological help should receive it within one to three months of initial assessment, pressure on services means that this doesn’t always happen. Therefore, the training aim is to equip midwives with sufficient basic tools, so that they have the confidence to decide whether they themselves can give vulnerable women the support required.

Senior midwives who support women who experience birth as traumatic or present with psychological distress have also undergone the training and, in addition, have learned how to carry out the rewind technique, so that they can offer women simple detraumatisation, if and when appropriate. (See Reducing Fears of Birth, at the end of this post)

Bindi, a former nurse and health visitor as well as a human givens counsellor who works from the Wiltshire Human Givens Centre, tops all this up by visiting our six community teams at intervals to offer supervision and further support their understanding of emotional and mental health. For instance, whilst recognising the vital importance of identifying and offering appropriate help to women suffering with depression, she helps midwives to feel more confident about asking the NICE-recommended questions to identify depression by framing them in a more positive way, and to help women cope with depressive thinking by normalising mood changes in pregnancy and helping them to use their own resources for change. Bindi also works with nurses and midwives based in the neonatal unit at Salisbury District Hospital, who care for over 3,000 families a year. A particular focus has been the neonatal intensive care unit where, every year, about 250 premature or sick babies are nursed. The aims are to help staff manage the very high emotional arousal and stress experienced by the parents of ill babies (some of whom are in intensive care because of the effects of parental addiction), to promote bonding and attachment between parent and baby – and also to learn how to recognise and lower their own high arousal during the highly stressful work that they do. In addition, Bindi provides human givens counselling sessions for pregnant or postnatal women whom midwives refer to her because of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress, where support is needed for complex issues.

Enhanced skills

Staff say that they have found their human givens training both professionally and personally valuable. Sometimes, they have absorbed information and learned skills that have completely changed their practice; at other times, it has been more a case of looking at why what they are already doing works, to encourage them to do more of it. We stress that the aim is not to turn them into mental health specialists, thus increasing their workload, but to use some simple techniques, to enhance their practice.
During the training, psychotherapist Joe Griffin encouraged midwives to view their initial interview with a pregnant woman as, in effect, a therapy session and to conduct it using the simple RIGAAR model used by human givens therapists (rapport building, information gathering, goal setting, accessing resources, agreeing strategies and rehearsing success) to get best results most quickly. Midwives have learned that building rapport is about active listening – letting women express and unload their concerns and summarising these to ensure that they have been heard correctly – rather than challenging or giving advice at too early a stage. Patients are more likely to be receptive to advice about, for instance, stopping smoking, eating less or reducing or stopping alcohol consumption if they feel heard, accepted and respected. But these are aspects of effective communication that can often get rushed or overlooked during consultations. Understanding and helping women deal with addictive patterns of behaviour assists midwives in their public health role of helping women and their families have a healthy lifestyle.

Using imagination

Midwives have also been shown how to use patients’ imaginations to motivate them to change unhealthy behaviours, and to help them experience for themselves that, say, their dreams for their child or their wish to be a healthy active mother and their fears of serious illness are stronger than the desire to eat addictively. (“You can say no to over-eating and yes to life!”) Many of us will know, from our own struggles with excessive behaviours, that willpower emerges without effort when change is positively chosen.

Belief in ability to succeed is crucial, so midwives learn that building on women’s past successes and the skills that they already have, which they can put to use to help them achieve their goals, is time well spent. It is also important, of course, to agree realistic strategies and, in imagination, to rehearse success. Much of this can be achieved in the course of normal booking interviews in early pregnancy.

Midwives have told us that they found learning how to calm down anxious women and agitated partners extremely helpful. Women who have had previous miscarriages or still-births are, understandably, often highly anxious. The clues for how to help are often in the language that they use. One woman, who had had two miscarriages and one stillbirth, used to ring the maternity services every day, complaining that no one was listening to her and seeking re-assurance that her new pregnancy would be fine. By using reflective listening skills, and normalising the many symptoms of pregnancy, midwives enabled this mum-to-be to feel that she was being heard and to recognise how she could feel better in her current pregnancy. She learned that simple breathing techniques could lower her stress and that of her unborn child, and make her more able to hear and act on the advice given to her. She regained confidence in her own capabilities and those of the team in the maternity unit.

Handling panics

Another midwife also reported back to us a specific example of how helpful she had found the 7/11 technique for relaxing (in-breath to the count of 7, out-breath to the count of 11). After learning it, she had seen a highly anxious pat- ient who had apparently been told that, if she kept having panic attacks, she could lose her baby. Unsurprisingly, she was feeling even more anxious and fearful. The midwife taught her the 7/11 technique, used guided imagery to encourage her to visualise a favourite, peaceful place as she relaxed more deeply, and then to see herself eating well, sleeping well, breathing deeply and feeling relaxed and happy. The patient agreed to practise this visualisation often, in her own home. Having something to do that could control, rather than worry about what she mustn’t do, soon stopped the panics.

For staff on the neonatal intensive care unit, learning how emotional arousal can make us stupid, and thus prevent highly stressed parents from understanding seemingly simple communications, has been highly instructive. They have realised that they need to be exceptionally clear with their use of language, to reduce any risk of misinterpretation, and that they need to work at keeping their own arousal down too.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

What is the difference between a counsellor and a therapist?

Ordinary people are confused by the terms counsellor and psychotherapist and for good reason: there is no sensible difference between what they are attempting to do, which is help people with emotional disorders. (That is why we tend to use the terms interchangeably on our mental health websites.)

No matter what they call themselves, psychotherapists and counsellors can only be assessed on their ability to deal with the common disorders that present themselves. These are usually one or more of the following: depression, anxiety, behavioural problems, psychological trauma (including PTSD symptoms), obsessional behaviour (OCD), addiction and relationship difficulties.

We have prepared an effective counselling checklist to make it easier to find a therapist with the skills to best help those suffering from mental illness. It's worth a read if you're looking for a therapist to help you regain your emotional wellbeing. Ask a potential therapist questions about items on the list in your initial conversations, or check their website to see how they approach problem like trauma, depression or anxiety.

A good therapist will set clear goals with you and have effective tools to make sure you feel more positive and confident quickly and you should leave each session feeling better than you did when you went in. If that doesn't happen, change your therapist.

The three causes of mental and emotional distress 

An effective counsellor or psychotherapist will understand the innate needs of human beings (the human givens). That is because it is only those who are not getting their innate needs met that have mental health problems.

There are three conditions that prevent people from getting their needs met:

 1. The person is living or working in a ‘sick’ environment that prevents them from doing so. Perhaps they are living in an aggressive or abusive home atmosphere or in an aggressive neighbourhood, or are suffering from bullying or humiliation at school or in the workplace. Or maybe they are not being sufficiently stretched at school or by the work they are doing.

2. The person doesn’t know how to operate their internal guidance system so as to get their needs met. They may not have been properly socialised when young or they may have been conditioned by their parents or school to have low expectations of themselves and so have developed learned helplessness, negativity and blindness to opportunities life presents them with, or they may have been conditioned into having unrealistically high expectations.

 3. The innate guidance system is damaged: perhaps through faulty transmission of genetic knowledge (as in autism spectrum disorders – caetextia), poor diet, poisoning, accident causing brain damage, sub- threshold trauma, molar memories or deep psychological trauma (post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD).

How to find an effective psychotherapist or counsellor 

Check them out. Ask for testimonials. Do not just rely on academic qualifications since these do not automatically mean a person has ‘nous’ and people skills.

Effective practitioners know how to build rapport and relax you by reflective (active) listening. They will be proactive and set clear goals for the therapy early on because they understand that the brain cannot work with abstractions. They are also skilled at harnessing your imagination to help you solve problems and rehearse new behaviours. (They usually do this by using guided imagery.) They will also have skills such as the rewind technique that they can use to detraumatise sufferers of phobic responses, PTSD symptoms and memories of abuse. They will keep the number of sessions to the minimum you need.

One of the most important things to look for in a practitioner is that you feel comfortable with them. The rapport between you and your therapist is an effective element to a good outcome in itself; so don't feel bad about shopping around. Find a therapist who doesn't make you feel uncomfortable. Often this can be done by a short free phone session before committing to any sessions, and a good therapist will not be offended if you do decide to move on because they will understand the importance of rapport.

It surprises many people to learn that feeling excessive amounts of emotional pain is not a pre-requisite for positive emotional change, and neither is committing to years of expensive ‘analytical’ sessions negative rumination about your past is encouraged. A skilled therapist usually takes only a few sessions to bring about a deep and positive lasting change so that you can move forward.

The plague of experts who aren’t 

The reason it is difficult for ordinary people to work out exactly what a mental health professional does by what they call themselves is that in the modern world there is no straightforward way of assessing expertise. In the past, when people lived in smaller communities, it was easy to see who was skilled at the various crafts. If you were a good cook, everyone could tell and enjoy the results. If you were a good builder it soon became obvious and people would seek your help and advice, you were an expert.

In ancient times the whole tribe would know who were the best hunters, tool-makers, fishhook-makers, childminders, and so on. People would know who was best at sorting out certain types of medical problems with herbs, who was good at setting broken bones and who had the most wisdom and authority to sort out relationship difficulties and conflicts. Thus genuine expertise was widely valued within the community.

Our vulnerability in the complex crowded society we live in is that we can’t rely upon our own observation of human capabilities to assess expertise. Today status is mostly awarded, or claimed for, without our being given observable proof of whether a person really has expertise and skill before we employ them.

We try and overcome this by devising various systems that are, in effect, ways of dispensing ‘badges of status’ to indicate who is or is not an expert. We allocate status through academic qualifications such as degrees, diplomas and doctorships, or through membership of trade associations such as, in the case of counsellors and psychotherapists, the BACP. Experiential knowledge about who has expertise has been replaced with the letters following a person’s name or the jargon they use.

Because we have become an appearance culture, instead of a knowledge culture, the badge of accreditation is now more important to people than the knowledge or skill that the badge was originally intended to denote. We are faced with the fact that just because somebody has qualifications it does not mean they are a competent. This causes great problems.

Remember the common-sense rule: it is always what people do that counts, not what they say they can do.

A list of registered Human Givens Therapists and how we can help.