Havening: What are it and Techniques?

Havening: What is it and techniques

Havening is a newer alternative therapy technique developed by neuroscientist Dr. Ronald Ruden that relies on touch and sensations to reduce anxiety and stress associated with traumatic memories. According to Dr. Ruden, therapeutic touch can assist in the treatment of mental health problems by acting directly on the neural pathways in the brain that are associated with trauma and emotional distress. 

Havening involves changing the pathway in the brain where trauma is stored by generating a brain delta wave. These delta brain waves are induced by a soothing touch on the palm of the hands, upper arms, and forehead. The foundation of this theory lies in the belief that simple forms of touch can be therapeutic and encourage the production of serotonin in the brain. This helps you relax and alleviate the stressful and overwhelming feelings associated with traumatic memories or experiences.

Serotonin is a hormone that plays a vital role in regulating mood and emotions and can have a therapeutic effect that can help alleviate mental health symptoms and detach you from traumatic memories. 

Havening shares some commonalities with another alternative therapy method known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. However, havening does not require you to bring up any upsetting events and feelings. This therapy aims to create a “haven” for yourself.

What is emotional and psychological trauma?

Incredibly stressful events that can make you feel helpless and insecure can often result in what is known as emotional and psychological trauma. Psychological trauma can leave you scrambling to make sense of your negative emotions and thoughts. Trauma can leave you with overwhelming and distressing emotions, memories, and anxiety that are persistent. It can also result in being unable to connect with other people and being unable to put your trust in other people. Traumatic experiences typically stem from events that can threaten your life or your safety, but any extremely distressing and isolating situation can also lead to trauma. Trauma is not the result of objective experiences and situations but subjective perception and emotional experience with a person or an event.

Emotional trauma can be a result of:

  • One time events, such as a disaster, accident, or a violent attack, especially if the event was unexpected and took place during the childhood years, but this is not necessary.
  • Ongoing stressful events, such as the repeated experience of traumatic events like domestic violence, child abuse, bullying, or experiencing a terminal illness.
  • Other overlooked causes, such as loss of a close friend or family member, surgery, the end of a relationship, or even humiliating experiences.

Dealing with emotional and psychological from natural or human-based catastrophes trauma can present unique challenges, even if you were not physically present during the disaster. In the age of social media, images and other triggering media are always circulating through the internet, on the news, and on websites. These can also result in distress and anxiety, which can lead to traumatic memories. No two people are the same, which is why everyone experiences and reacts to trauma differently. There is no objective way of experiencing trauma, and every response is expected. Trauma symptoms can be hard to live with and interfere with other parts of life. There may be times when you feel a lot better but suddenly come across something triggering, and it is back to square one. Havening claims that you can treat your trauma without having to immerse yourself in these triggering memories and experiences.

What is it used for?

Dr. Ruden claims that havening can help deal with a range of emotional and mental health symptoms. Some of these include, but are not limited to:

  • phobias
  • upsetting feelings associated with painful memories and events, including embarrassing or humiliating memories or loss
  • grief and sadness due to loss or other painful events
  • post-traumatic stress after abuse, assault, catastrophes, or other distressing experiences
  • feelings of anxiety and stress, fear, and panic attacks
  • short-term or chronic fatigue and pain

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but some of the psychological problems that can be addressed by this technique. Moreover, according to the creators of this therapy, havening can also be used for general well-being and stress management, which includes improving performance at school, work, or other extracurricular activities like sports, and can help you achieve goals.

How is it done?

  1. If you are wondering how exactly this alternative therapy technique is implemented during a session, here is how a typical session with a trained havening practitioner goes.
  2. At the beginning of your session, your trained practitioner will typically ask you to rate the scale of your emotional pain at that given moment. You may express your distress out of a scale of ten or simply by indicating if it is high or low. You can also describe your distress using a single word. For instance, you might say if you feel “angry” or “afraid”.
  3. After this, you will be guided to help you empty your thoughts and concentrate on something that is more calming and relaxing. Next, you will be instructed to start lightly tapping on your collarbones while patiently blinking your eyes. 
  4. You will be instructed to close your eyes and count backward from 20 all the while you continue to tap on your collar bones. Your practitioner will instruct you to imagine yourself executing a visually oriented task, like taking out items from your wardrobe or walking down a flight of stairs. As you continue counting, with each number you will visualize going down one step or removing a single item from your wardrobe.
  5. After this, you will open your eyes and cross your arms across your chest while carrying out a set of eye movements as instructed by your practitioner. For instance, you may be asked to look left and right, up and down, and then roll your eyes in a counterclockwise and clockwise direction.
  6. You will be asked to close your eyes again and hum the tune of a popular rhyme or poem, such as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Happy Birthday”. As you continue humming the tune, your instructor will softly stroke your arms or forehead. In case you feel uncomfortable from their touch or simply prefer not to have someone touch you, you can even do this action yourself.
  7. After this, your instructor will once again ask you to rate your level of anxiety or discomfort. The entire process as laid out before then repeats for a second time, although this time you may be asked to visualize a different task or hum a different song.
  8. You will relax your arms, and you will be instructed to carry out another set of eye movements while the practitioner gently strokes your arms or forehead a few times. While you do this, they may use encouraging phrases, such as “let it go,” “almost there,” or “release”, and you will also be encouraged to perform deep breathing to calm your system.
  9. Your practitioner will once again ask you to rate how you feel at that given moment. The procedure will typically repeat until your level of anxiety falls down to 0 or 1, or if you are demonstrating stability in your emotions and thoughts after the process has already been repeated three times.
  10. Havening is performed while you are fully conscious of your body and environment and does not use any form of hypnosis. Being awake and conscious is important for the process.
  11. If this technique does work as it is supposed to, you may immediately notice that you feel relieved of your emotional pain and distress. According to its creators, the technique of havening changes the neural pathways in your brain that are responsible for activating traumatic memories or stressful experiences. Due to this, you no longer feel uncomfortable or distressed after the therapy session.
  12. In fact, according to the creators of havening, the therapy will not only help you relieve the stress and trauma that is linked to these distressing experiences, but it also makes drastic changes in your brain that can also make it difficult to even bring up those experiences and memories.

Does it actually work? Here’s what we know.

We are yet to be certain if this therapy technique actually works or not, since researchers are yet to conduct highly controlled studies on whether havening is effective or not. Since havening is a relatively newer form of therapy, it is quite young when compared with its other psychological treatment counterparts. This is why it is still in its early stages in terms of research.

In a small study conducted in 2015, researchers observed 27 healthcare professionals who experienced severe anxiety and depression symptoms that interfered with their work lives. These subjects completed self-report measures of depression, anxiety, and social adjustment. Subjects reported an improvement in their depression and anxiety and increased performance at work after a single session of havening. The improvements were also reported to last till about two months after the first session.

The obvious limitation of this study is that the sample size is very small and lacks diversity, and the results cannot be generalized to the larger population. There is also the lack of a control group, which makes the results of the study limited and unreliable. Moreover, the results are self-reported, which questions the validity and reliability of the results. Another study conducted on a small group in 2018 took this into consideration and introduced a control group. The study investigated the effectiveness of havening as a technique of pain management post-surgery. The results of this study, however, showed less validity for the effectiveness of havening.

Havening did not necessarily demonstrate any difference in the participants’ pain levels or any difference in their use of pain killers, both when the study was initially conducted as well as a month later when a follow-up with the subjects was conducted. Another study conducted on havening techniques was published in the Journal of Psychophysiology in September of 2020. This study investigated the effect of havening techniques on trauma responses in 125 participants to measure Type D personality. Type D personality (distressed) summarizes the stress associated with trauma and is linked to a predisposition to problems with physical and psychological health.

The group that received this therapy demonstrated a significant decrease in the distress scores as compared to the control group. Moreover, the results also indicated a significant decrease in levels of cortisol and blood pressure. The findings validated the effectiveness of havening techniques specifically in Type D personality. Havening can work differently on different people, and it can help relieve some negative emotions and relax you for some time, but trauma cannot be immediately erased. Therefore people should have practical expectations from this technique. Most mental health professionals will agree that trauma can be overwhelming, and recovering from trauma is a process that can take time and effort.

Navigating trauma can present uniquely to different people and can be challenging nonetheless. Easier and effortless paths to healing can sound ideal, and they may help to some extent, but they can be quite unpromising and may even not have any results in some cases. Techniques like this may even delay or hold you back from getting help using treatments that albeit more time-consuming, are tested and are bound to have effective results, like addressing where your feelings of anxiety and stress stem from and navigating these emotions and experiences.

Are there any side-effects or risks of this therapy?

Havening has a fairly low risk of physical or emotional injury or any other form of harm since it is a considerably safe technique. However, dealing with and addressing past experiences of trauma or other upsetting events can leave a person deeply troubled. This should be noted, and hence this technique should be performed carefully, regardless of whether you are with a trained practitioner or you are practicing it alone.

Havening does not require you to bring up events and experiences that are deeply painful or traumatic, but it could still be triggering, depending on each person’s bandwidth. If you are performing this technique in the absence of a trained practitioner, your emotions may feel immensely distressing. This may even aggravate your depression or anxiety, or other mental health symptoms.

A session of havening may typically involve some effects afterward, which include feeling lightheaded or nauseous, feeling emotionally numb, physical discomfort or tension, and in some cases even increased anger. These feelings tend to be temporary and will get better after some time. However, in case these effects persist for longer, or you are experiencing stress for a considerable amount of time, you should immediately reach out to a mental health professional or a trained practitioner before performing the technique again.

Also, it is important to note that havening does require touch since it focuses on healing through therapeutic touch. In case you do not feel comfortable with gentle touch administered by the trained practitioner, you should let your practitioner know this prior to your session with them. If this is the case, you can perform the therapeutic touch for yourself in their presence and guidance.

The Takeaway

Havening is a newer form of therapy, still in its youth stage, and research is underway. As of now, there may not be sufficient research to know whether this technique is effective or not, but personal testimonies seem to suggest that havening can be helpful in relieving symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

From the research that does exist, the design of the studies themselves have many limitations, factors that have not been considered and factored into the study. These are external factors that can influence the research. For instance, most research on this technique is not conducted with double-blind trials. These factors can influence the data collected and can make the data unreliable or invalid.

As a therapy technique, it is quite safe, with little to no risk, and if you wish to try this alternative therapy technique, you should go for it. It may not instantly heal all traumas or cure all illnesses, but it can help to temporarily alleviate symptoms of trauma and may help calm and relax your body and mind. The procedure of the technique itself closely resembles that of guided meditation. Regardless of the effectiveness of this therapy, trying this therapy technique should not have any risks or potential harms, and should help you clear your thoughts.

Although it can help in relieving your stress and anxiety, it is not a replacement for other tested and research-backed forms of therapy, and it should be considered as such. Havening can be used simultaneously while you are receiving a treatment that is planned and recommended by your therapist or healthcare specialist. If you are experiencing the negative symptoms of anxiety, depression, trauma, or other mental illnesses, you should reach out to a therapist or another psychological healthcare specialist and find an effective treatment plan that is best for you.

Also read How Long Does It Take to Become A Physical Therapist

Havening: What are it and Techniques?

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