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Have You Heard of Human Givens Therapy? Here’s How It Could Help Your Career

The lure of human givens teaching was too strong for Cathriona Edwards, who left a high profile role leading the television press department at RTE to retrain as a psychotherapist.
The solutions focused therapy is increasingly being applied to the workplace to help leaders better understand human nature, and therefore the motivations of their employees.
Here Cathriona explains the theory behind it, and how it can help your career.


I always wanted to be in a ‘caring’ profession. Psychology was a perennial interest so a psychologist or psychotherapist felt like a likely fit. I did an honours degree in pure psychology in Trinity but then decided not to go straight into clinical psychology.

I felt I wanted to gain more life experience before committing myself to facilitating others’ life journeys – which it felt like psychotherapy would be. With communications being my other passion, I chose that route.

I worked in advertising agencies in PR and marketing, and then spent thirteen years in RTÉ, most of which was spent heading up the Television press office. I gained loads of life experience as a result.


Human beings have innate needs that need to be met through balanced use of innate resources in order to be emotionally well.


Psychology was always a big draw though. I returned to my ‘core’, as I called it, in 2012, when I left RTÉ and studied to become a Human Givens psychotherapist, consolidating that with a Masters degree in CBT in the years following. The Masters enabled me to do some research on the effectiveness of Human Givens psychotherapy which was a gift. 

‘Human Givens Psychotherapy’ marries together the findings from a range of psychological disciplines – including neuroscience, social psychology, neurolinguistics, cognitive behavioural therapy – to generate the organizing idea that underpins Human Givens: That human beings have innate needs that need to be met through balanced use of innate resources in order to be emotionally well.


Believing that perfection = normality compromises our resilience and can leave us feeling terribly isolated


What are the benefits of Human Givens over other types of psychology?

All psychological approaches have their merits. For me though, Human Givens is the pragmatic and effective approach that lured me back to psychology because it very much works on the principle of parsimony – start with the simplest hypothesis and work forwards.

It also has refined the ‘rewind’ technique, which is hugely effective in treating post-trauma symptoms. More and more research points to the role that trauma has in the later difficulties (anxiety, depression, anger issues etc).

This technique is safely and easily administered in a specific and targeted way that means other coping mechanisms and scaffolding does not have to be dismantled in the process. Instead, clients’ healthy mechanisms are reinforced and unhealthy or unhelpful adaptation – often as a result of trauma – is tweaked or changed.


We are all conditioned by our past experience. We need to get in and change the patterns to change the outcome.


I’m continually struck by a common equation that prevails: that perfection = normality. That kind of core belief can really work against us when the inevitable challenges of life, whether inside or outside the workplace, throw themselves in our path.

It compromises our potential resilience and can leave us feeling terribly isolated, often searching out someone or something to blame. And ‘me’ is often the victim of that search. This can manifest as burnout, depression, dissatisfaction, lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence etc.

One of the most salient factors underneath this is trauma – and I mean with a little ‘t’ or big ‘T’ – are those experiences that we keep on revisiting because they aren’t fully processed, those that are triggered easily in our day-to-day experience.

We are all conditioned by our past experience. Our brain learns how to act in given situations. When a new situation occurs, our brain will pattern match the new one to the older, and the full whammy of emotions associated with it will be the result – whether good or bad.

So, an experience that was difficult for us sets up a domino effect of compounding actions and reactions. We need to get in and change the patterns to change the outcome. 


6 Ways to Apply the Teachings of Human Givens to Your Career


1.Learn to Control Your Emotional Response

Learn how to relax and de-arouse the sympathetic nervous system. This is absolutely imperative. Otherwise, you will be victim to amygdala hijacks that will not only lead to outbursts but also skewed interpretations of situations and others’ behaviour.

Nobody relishes an outburst in the workplace – whether being the out-of-control instigator or subject of it. 


2. Practice, Practice, Practice

When it comes to performance, rehearse. Your imagination is a reality generator. Whether for a presentation, key meeting, interview etc., rehearsal in a low-aroused state will help you achieve the envisioned outcome in reality. (The corollary here also stands: Don’t scare yourself witless with endless worry. In neuroscientific terms, it can become a wish fulfilling prophesy). 


3. Believe and Accept Positive Feedback

Consolidate positive experiences and feedback. Our brain is designed to magnify the negative as it’s hard-wired to ensure our safety. This means that it’s harder to forget criticism. We need that (realistic) positive feedback though to build confidence. Take note of it. Include it in a gratitude journal. Remind yourself of it.


4. Look Beyond the Surface of Colleagues

Understand colleagues, direct reports, line managers etc. through the prism of needs: what need is this person trying to meet at the moment? What is his/her behaviour telling me? Do they need to feel secure, give and receive attention, feel competent, feel connected and understood, be part of a community, have status, get enough privacy, have meaning and purpose, have a sense of control and autonomy?

You can be sure it’s at least one of these, if not an amalgam. 


5. Self Awareness

Examine yourself through the needs prism. Notice if there is a pattern in your responses to people or situations, particularly if it feels disproportionate to the circumstances. If there is, trace the emotion back to the earliest of such reactions you can remember.

The strength of the reaction could stem from the past. If so, see if you can dissolve it yourself through understanding, or search out a therapist to diffuse it for you.


6. Take Care of Yourself

Harness your innate resources (brain) by ensuring you get enough sleep, eat properly, practice self-control and calming techniques. Imagine and rehearse positive outcomes, learn and consolidate good coping mechanisms, practice self-care.

You can do that through running, yoga, mindfulness, singing, drama, reading, workouts and/or whatever helps you regain and maintain equilibrium.

That way, your brain gets to perpetuate cycles of positive affirming experience, reinforcing those lovely neural pathways lining our past and future expectations with light and positivity.


About the Author 

Cathriona Edwards Human Givens

Cathriona Edwards, MA (CBT), BA (hons) Psych, HG Dip P, MHGI, is a fully qualified Human Givens Psychotherapist, a registered member of the Human Givens Institute, has a Masters degree in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy from ICHAS, Limerick and an Honours Degree in Psychology from Trinity College Dublin.

Cathriona also holds a Diploma in Executive Coaching and is practicing Human Givens Psychotherapy at Actualise, in DCU Alpha, Glasnevin and at the Dublin Human Givens Centre, Dun Laoghaire. She also delivers emotional health and communications consultancy, workshops and training to the corporate sector.

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