Griffin and Tyrrell

Foreword by Dr Farouk Okhai

IT IS a general rule in medicine that, when there are a number of different theories purporting to explain a condition, one can be certain that all of them are wrong, though each may have certain facts right. There are over 400 different models of psychotherapy in the West today, with the proponents of each model competing with the others and laying claim to primacy. How is it possible to have so many different models when there is general agreement about how the brain works? Can you imagine having 400 different schools of physics or mathematics? By dint of clear thinking, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell lead us out of this muddle. They have assembled verifiable scientific information on how the brain works, including important original work of their own, and created a new organising idea – the human givens approach – that has the potential to transform the practice of psychiatry, psychotherapy and counselling. Although my interest is in psychiatry and psychotherapy, it is obvious to me that this big idea also has great relevance to other important areas of life, such as education, social work and personal relationships. Some of the information in this book will be new and startling to many, some, at first glance, will appear familiar. But Griffin and Tyrrell’s assembly of it is unique in that the bits and pieces that stick out in other therapy models now fit together, and this fit is both aesthetically pleasing and of immense practical use.

For example, they succeed in making reading about depression exciting! This common, rapidly rising condition is costing Western society enormous pain; emotional and financial. It is also a major cause of premature death through suicide. Depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, fatigue, poor concentration, guilt, suicidal thoughts, and disturbed sleep and appetite, are generally agreed criteria used to diagnose depression. Often a person with depression will complain of early morning wakening, with depressed mood and tiredness worst at that time. To overcome the fatigue he or she may try to sleep longer than usual but the tiredness persists. We also know that depressed people spend a greater proportion of sleep time in the REM (rapid eye movement) state, that artificially shortening the REM periods leads to a temporary lifting of the depression, and that antidepressants, when effective, shorten the REM sleep time.

Griffin and Tyrrell link these findings in a way that makes sense of the facts and provides the basis for rational treatment, which could save millions of pounds. The story begins with Griffin’s findings from his research into dreams and REM sleep and makes a convincing case for the central importance of REM sleep in depression. A trigger or Activating agent (which may be a divorce, death, unemployment and so on) sends the brain on a search for similar Patterns (previous negative events) setting off a train of introspection which gives rise to the Emotion of depression with resultant Thoughts (such as “I am useless”, “nothing ever goes right for me”) that the depressed person gets locked into seeing as absolute truth. The prolonged REM sleep periods are attempts to deactivate this highly arousing chain of introspection, explaining the early morning wakening (in the more severely depressed) as a mechanism to limit the exhaustion caused by the intense REM activity.

If, when depressed, we are locked into ruminating on all that has gone wrong in our lives, it makes sense that treatment should aim at reversing this deepening spiral. Griffin and Tyrrell explain how the REM state can be accessed to lift the trance of depression quickly using inborn biological mechanisms. Their insight into depression  makes sense of the unfortunate, but not uncommon, occurrence that will be familiar to many psychiatrists. Often a patient with depression is admitted to hospital or seen in a clinic, and put on anti-depression medicine, but found to be even more depressed a few days or weeks later. Many such patients are often encouraged by well-meaning staff, including counsellors and therapists, to “talk about their problems”. In the light of the findings presented in this book, however, talking about problems and past failures can be seen to simply grind in a guilt-ridden, worthless, useless and unlovable self-narrative as ‘the truth’ from the patient’s locked-in perspective.

In contrast to insight and ‘getting to the root’ therapies, cognitive and behavioural methods have been shown to be effective for depression. We can now see that this is because they engage the cognitive

or motor circuits of the brain, thus allowing the locked-in, highly aroused emotional brain to calm down, so enabling the patient to see alternative truths, possibilities and stories for his or her predicament. In addition to pointing out the erroneous assumption that thought precedes emotion, which forms the basis of the cognitive behaviour therapy model, the APET frame, which they introduce here, provides a much broader perspective. Just as significant, perhaps, as the introduction of the Arabic numerical system with its zero digit was to mathematics, providing as it did a much wider vista than the Roman number system (I–X).

People love stories and this book is illuminated with a number of these, including those known as case histories. Case histories, stories, metaphors, pictures and jokes make things much clearer than a linear argument.  Imagine describing a rose to someone who has never seen one and then asking him to identify one at a florist’s. But show him even a sketch (i.e. a pattern) of a rose and from then on he will recognise one regardless of the variety. Griffin and Tyrrell explain that we ‘see’ the world through such patterns, and run into problems when we use the wrong pattern to make sense of our predicaments.

Perception through pattern matching is of crucial importance in the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias. In both, the Activating agent (the trauma or phobic stimulus) is of such moment that it imbues a Pattern into the fast brain pathway (the limbic system) so that future experiences with even a fragment of that pattern evoke the terror (Emotion) of the original encounter. Again Griffin and Tyrrell explain how this can be reversed by accessing the REM state, with resolution of symptoms often in one or two sessions.

  Another fascinating topic covered, and one of the human givens, is the attention factor. ‘Attention-seeking’ and ‘manipulative’ are often used pejorative descriptions of patients and clients, but if the importance of both giving and receiving attention as a normal human need was more widely recognised, the health systems of the world would be freed of an enormous burden. The ‘thick notes (or thick chart) syndrome’ is no doubt familiar to many hospital doctors: a patient is passed from one specialist to another with each doctor doing a set of investigations and often surgery to remove various organs, but the patient keeps coming back again and again! If their attention needs were met effectively in other ways these particular patients would not need to fulfil them through the ritual of history, examination, investigation, medication and surgery.  On the flip side, if doctors and therapists were more aware of the attention factor, they would be better prepared for avoiding the trap of prolonging treatment in order to have their own attention needs met through their patients.  As Griffin and Tyrrell relate, the evidence for the importance of the attention factor includes a shocking, ancient, but relatively unknown, experiment carried out by a European emperor.

And there are yet more treasures in this remarkable book including: why trance (focused attention) is a normal frequent everyday occurrence, during which suggestibility is heightened, and its role both in helping (the placebo effect, the transmission of culture and its morals) and harming (the nocebo effect, indoctrination); the conceptualisation of schizophrenia as waking reality processed through the dreaming brain; why autism may be the result of the genetic absence of mammalian templates; why unbridled anger makes you stupid and shortens your life; the therapeutic usefulness of seeing addictions as attempts to meet basic human needs; and why avoiding greed and helping others is good for your health.

The authors have put in a lot of work to show how knowledge of the way the brain works (gathered from a panorama of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology and neuroscience), can be used to help the distressed humanely. This book should be essential reading for all psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and counsellors. For the general public, this knowledge is vital if they are to protect themselves, friends and relatives from the chicanery, often unwitting, which passes for much that is called counselling and psychotherapy. 

But that is not all. In an intriguing afterword, using the new

understandings about the REM state, Griffin and Tyrrell cast a new light on the nature of consciousness and why it might have evolved, a remarkable achievement which should attract the attention of any truly curious human being.

Farouk Okhai

MBCHB, MD (Texas), MRCGP, MRC Psych, FHGI, Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy



Part I: New discoveries about human nature

Chapter 1 Seeking completion

   The need for meaning

   The postmodernist fallacy

   The science of human nature

   Adapting to now

Chapter 2 Where does human nature come from?

   The risk and the prize

   Why the brain is a metaphorical pattern-matching organ

   Without sleep, we warm blooded creatures die

Chapter 3 The dreaming brain

   Modern dream theories

   The all-important PGO spikes

   Recording dreams

   To dream, and let off steam

   Anticipating reality

   Is dreaming connected to learning?

   Why we evolved to dream

   A dream ship

   Some bitter juice

   Using dreams intelligently

Chapter 4 The mind entranced: sane and insane

   First things first – directing attention

   The trance state of dreaming

   Posthypnotic suggestions and the REM state

   Hypnosis and expectation

   Scientific study of hypnosis

   Focusing attention – inwards and outwards

   Uses and abuses of hypnosis

   Dreams and psychosis

   The observing self

Part II: Appreciating our biological inheritance


Chapter 5 The human givens

   The need for security

   The need for intimacy

   Love and resilience

   The need to give and receive attention

   The search for social support

   The threats to community life

   Keeping greed in check

   The too many tribes problem

   The law of 150

   By helping others we help ourselves

   The need for control

   Coping with change

   Symptom control

   Taking responsibility

Chapter 6 The gendered brain

   Rough and tumble

   Educating facts

   Brain differences

   Violent men and violent women

Chapter 7 The body-linked mind

   The stress and anxiety factor

   All the rage

   Why depression is linked to disease

   The great addiction mystery

   Using the mind to help the body

Chapter 8 Water babies and our distant aquatic past

   Fishy features

   Autistic fishlike behaviours

   Oceanic feelings of transcendence

   Support for the ‘water babies’ theory of autism and Asperger syndrome

   Casualties of evolutionary pressure


Part III: Emotional health and clear thinking


Chapter 9 APET model: the key to effective psychotherapy 

   The importance of perception

   Emotions before thought

   Three vital principles

   The power of thought

   Using the APET model

   Panic attacks


   Negative ruminations

   Anger disorders


   Placebo – nocebo

   Nocebo counselling

   Metaphor, storytelling and learning

   The bigger pattern

Chapter 10 A very human vulnerability – depression (and how to lift it)

   Depression is not a genetic illness

   Dreaming and depression: why depressed people wake up tired and unmotivated

   Why some people get depressed and others don’t

   Bipolar disorder – manic depression

   The most effective way to lift depression

   Taking the wrong road

   An avoidable death

Chapter 11 Terror in the brain: overcoming trauma

   Freeze, fight or flight

   Creating calm

   How to cure post traumatic stress disorder

   Fast, non-voyeuristic and safe treatment for trauma

   Curing phobias

   Panic attacks and agoraphobia

   Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

   The chair’s problem 

Afterword: A new scientific metaphor:

   Consciousness – more is less

   The mystery of consciousness

   Why all learning requires consciousness

   Consciousness must be matter

   The relaton field

   ‘Free’ relatons

   Consciousness: what we don’t yet know

   Another way of knowing

   Back to the REM state

   Developing consciousness

   Glimpses of the possibilities



   I       Inducing relaxation using guided imagery

   II     Effective counselling and psychotherapy: What people should expect

   III   Human givens and social work

   IV    Human givens and disability

   V     Human givens and physical pain

   VI   Human givens and trauma treatment

   VII Human givens and education

References and notes