Havening technique

What is Havening

Havening is a psychosensory therapy that helps people identify the root causes of their issues and rewires their response so that they can release issues like stress, trauma and anxiety 1). Havening is based on the neuroscience of retraining the brain to respond differently to the issue 2). The Havening Technique uses sensory input such as human touch also known as “Havening Touch” as a therapeutic tool to treat the consequences of encoded traumatic or stressful memories by altering thought, mood, and behavior 3). “Havening Touch” involves a simple touch of the hands, upper arm, and face 4). Havening is a brief intervention being utilized in the treatment of depression and anxiety 5). Havening is a protocol based intervention and there are three ways in which it can be delivered; Facilitated Havening (directly delivered by the therapist), Facilitated Self-Havening (therapist present) and Self-Havening (no therapist). The Havening Techniques are powerful tools that can be used to treat the consequences of encoded traumatic or stressful memories 6).

According to Dr. Steven Ruden and Dr. Ronald Ruden, the creators of the Havening Techniques, the use of therapeutic touch can help treat mental health symptoms by changing pathways in the brain linked to emotional distress. Havening aims to treat depression and anxiety symptoms caused due to traumatic encoding of negative events by using sensory input to alter thoughts, mood and behavior 7). During Havening, the negative event and the associated emotional state are recalled and the practitioner applies a gentle touch to the forearms, which is coupled with distracting tasks. This process increases the levels of serotonin which can disrupt reconsolidation of the link between the traumatic memory of the event and the distress it causes 8).

Even though a trusted practitioner will be performing Havening Touch, it is essential as part of the informed consent process that permission be obtained for this aspect of the session. There are certain circumstances where the practitioner or the client may not wish to touch or be touched. This is not a problem, as the client can self-apply Havening Touch 9). According to Havening.org, for some people their brain has become stuck in a pattern of high alert around certain circumstances and situations. And these situations will trigger off, what can seem like, disproportional responses. Havening.org believes the consequences of trauma and stressful life events are stored in the brain and are activated by conscious or inadvertent recall 10). Once this recall occurs, symptoms are generated. This activation also makes the pathway that generates these feelings subject to disruption. “Havening Techniques is a method, which is designed to change the brain to de-traumatize the memory and remove its negative effects from both your psyche and body” 11). The Havening Techniques are designed to disrupt this pathway through a process called synaptic depotentiation; literally, it is as if we darken a room by pulling a plug on a lit lamp. Although Havening.org can’t provide any guarantees, the emotions and sometimes even the ability to recall the memory can be extinguished after performing The Havening Techniques 12). Depending on the nature of the encoded trauma Havening can be done with guidance by a certified Havening Techniques practitioner or by oneself 13). The process of the Havening Technique requires touch 14). While difficult to find, apparently Havening “enters the brain and generates special brain waves called Delta waves” and then “deals directly with the subconscious where negative emotions, such as chronic anger, fear, and guilt are stored” 15). And apparently it does all this through a Havening Techniques practitioner or the person with the problems touching themselves. Just on the face, arms, and hands. According to Dr. Steven Ruden and Dr. Ronald Ruden, the creators of The Havening Techniques, this low frequency Delta wave interacts with the altered voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) on the depolarized post-synaptic membrane of the lateral amygdala producing a slow intracellular calcium oscillation 16). It has been shown that this oscillation arises as a consequence of calcium influx from extracellular calcium and not from intracellular calcium stores 17). This sets up a cascade of events which cause depotentiation of the AMPA receptor. Why does gentle touch signal safety? The answer lies in evolutionary biology and begins at birth 18). The newborn, unable to either speak or understand language, has an innate fear of abandonment that causes it to cry out. The mother, whose brain is suffused in the hormone oxytocin (the labor-inducing and bonding hormone), hears this cry. The sound drives the mother to hold, stroke and comfort her newborn child. The instinctive touch is indeed Havening Touch 19). It causes the infant to experience a sense of safety and feel it is not abandoned 20). As touch is continued, crying abates and both newborn and mother are comforted. This relationship between soothing touch and sense of safety lasts a lifetime. Thus, Havening Touch, applied under therapeutic conditions, tells your brain that you are safe and the event is escapable 21). In addition, as in potentiation, this glutamate release by binding to the AMPA receptor also exposes the internal phosphorus site that anchors the AMPA receptor to the membrane surface. This low frequency calcium oscillation is decoded by calmodulin and leads to the activation of an enzyme called calcineurin, a phosphatase 22). Calcineurin removes the anchoring phosphorous molecule from the AMPA receptor. Dynamin, along with clathrin, then causes endocytosis (the bringing into the cell) of AMPA receptors thus removing them from the surface membrane 23). Once inside the cell the AMPA receptors are either degraded or recycled 24). Only depolarized membranes participate in this process thus speaking to the specificity of the process 25).

Delta waves are a real thing, and they do happen in your brain, particularly during the deepest stages of sleep. Delta waves is a slow (1 to 4 hertz) electroencephalographic (EEG) brain waves that emanate from the forward portion of the brain during deep sleep in normal adults that characterize stage 4 (slow-wave) sleep 26). Slow-wave (stage 4) sleep is most difficult to awaken someone; hence it is considered to be the deepest stage of sleep 27). Delta waves aren’t generated by rubbing your hands together and there’s no reason to think that you can somehow transfer them to another person or cause someone else to experience them by rubbing their face. Rubbing isn’t all you do in Havening, though; you also work on “distracting” yourself while rubbing your face after you think about your trauma.

Havening is essentially just a new spin on the idea that trauma can be effectively treated only via some type of “sensory” input. The Havening Technique developer admits as much when he groups Havening in with what he calls the “psychosensory therapies” of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) 28). In emotional freedom techniques (EFT) and thought field therapy (TFT), you tap certain “energy points” on your body while repeating certain phrases or mantras about yourself. In Havening, you rub to induce “biological changes.” Even with all the pseudoscientific jargon and explanations for how Havening “works,” perhaps the most damning aspect of it is a lack of research showing that it actually works. Buried deep in the Havening.org “Disclaimer” page is this admission: “Although Havening appears to have promising emotional, mental, and physical health benefits, Havening has yet to be fully researched by the Western academic, medical, and psychological communities. Therefore, Havening may be considered experimental, and the extent of its effectiveness, as well as its risks and benefits, are not fully known. Havening is self-regulated and is considered alternative or complementary to the healing arts that are licensed in the United States” 29).

Everyone feels stressed from time to time, but what is stress? Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Any type of challenge such as performance at work or school, a significant life change, or a traumatic event—can be stressful 30). Stress can affect your health. It is important to pay attention to how you deal with minor and major stressors, so you know when to seek help. If you’re overwhelmed by stress, ask for help from a health professional.

There are at least three different types of stress:

  1. Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family, and other daily responsibilities
  2. Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness
  3. Traumatic stress, which happens when you are in danger of being seriously hurt or killed. Examples include a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster. This type of stress can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Different people may feel stress in different ways. Some people experience digestive symptoms. Others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger, and irritability. People under chronic stress get more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold. Vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them.

So if you are troubled by a traumatic event, would it be worth it to try Havening? No, given the lack of plausibility behind the idea itself and the lack of scientific data showing it works. It appears to be merely the next in a long line of trauma therapies that don’t actually do what they say they do. Rather than waste your time, find a mental health practitioner who is well trained in prolonged exposure therapy or cognitive processing therapy, all of which are gold standard, evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapies for PTSD that can actually help.

There are ways to manage stress. If you take practical steps to manage your stress, you may reduce the risk of negative health effects. Here are some tips that may help you to cope with stress 31):

  • Be observant. Recognize the signs of your body’s response to stress, such as difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol and other substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed, and having low energy.
  • Talk to your health care provider or a mental health professional. Don’t wait for your health care provider to ask about your stress. Start the conversation and get proper health care for existing or new health problems. Effective treatments can help if your stress is affecting your relationships or ability to work.
  • Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your health.
  • Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy and relaxing activities.
  • Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
  • Stay connected. You are not alone. Keep in touch with people who can provide emotional support and practical help. To reduce stress, ask for help from friends, family, and community or religious organizations.
  • Consider a clinical trial. Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and other research facilities across the country are studying the causes and effects of psychological stress as well as stress management techniques. You can learn more about studies that are recruiting by visiting Join a Study  (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/research/research-conducted-at-nimh/join-a-study) or ClinicalTrials.gov (keyword: stress) (https://www.clinicaltrials.gov).

You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs or alcohol more frequently as a result of stress. Your doctor may be able to provide a recommendation. Resources are available to help you find a mental health provider.

  • Call your local emergency number if you or someone you know is in immediate danger or go to the nearest emergency room.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects callers to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
    • Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En español 1-888-628-9454
    • People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.
  • Crisis Text Line: Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.
    • Text “HELLO” to 741741
  • Veterans Crisis Line: The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that connects veterans 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a trained responder. The service is available to all veterans, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare.
    • Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 or text to 838255
    • People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can call 1-800-799-4889.
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: The disaster distress helpline provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. The helpline is free, multilingual, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Call or text 1-800-985-5990

National Agencies and Advocacy and Professional Organizations:

Federal Resources: Some federal agencies offer resources for identifying health care providers and help in finding low-cost health services. These include:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (https://www.samhsa.gov): For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA also has a Behavioral Health Treatment Locator on its website that can be searched by location (https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov).
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (https://www.hrsa.gov): Health Resources and Services Administration works to improve access to health care. The Health Resources and Services Administration website has information on finding affordable healthcare, including health centers that offer care on a sliding fee scale.
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (https://www.cms.gov): Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has information on its website about benefits and eligibility for mental health programs and how to enroll.
  • The National Library of Medicine website has directories and lists of organizations that can help in identifying a health practitioner (https://medlineplus.gov/organizations/all_organizations.html).

Do not use the Havening Technique with yourself for a serious trauma or if you suffer from any psychological disorders 32). Havening.org advises that you seek the help of a professional mental health care provider who is certified in the Havening Technique if you have experienced severe trauma or suffer from a psychological disorder 33).

Figure 1. Self havening

Self havening
[Source 34) ]

Havening technique

The Havening Techniques is a psychosensory therapy which uses sensory input such as human touch known as “Havening Touch” as a therapeutic tool to treat the consequences of encoded traumatic or stressful memories by altering thought, mood, and behavior 35). Havening is known as a psychosensory technique because it uses the application of non-specific sensory input, touch, to change the psyche 36). According to Havening.org, “Havening Techniques is a method, which is designed to change the brain to de-traumatize the memory and remove its negative effects from both our psyche and body” 37). The process of the Havening Technique requires touch 38). The Havening Techniques are a system comprised of protocols and methods that uses touch as a therapeutic tool, which Havening.org call Havening Touch®. The Havening Techniques have three distinct applications—the first is for emotional disturbances and encoded psychological trauma; the second is for wellness, stress management, and peak performance; and the third is a self-help tool. Therefore, The Havening Techniques can be used within a psychotherapeutic setting with professional mental health care clinicians who have been fully trained and certified in The Havening Techniques. In addition, The Havening Techniques can be used by non-licensed practitioners as a protocol for coaching sessions or as a tool in allied health care practice by individuals who have been fully trained and certified in The Havening Techniques. The Havening Techniques can also be used as a self-help technique and shared with family members and friends.

Post-havening outcomes 39)

A relaxed state is always seen after successful Havening, and retrieval of the memory is reportedly altered in one of six ways.

  1. The unconditional threat stimuli is no longer accessible by imaginal recall. The emotional content is changed or gone.
  2. The memory is blocked and is inaccessible. This occurs when the entire event is included in the emotion producing content.
  3. The memory is fuzzy and incomplete. This occurs when aspects are stored as complex content and context.
  4. The memory is viewed from a distance and as if by a detached observer. The experience is of being emotionally detached, literally removed from the event. As time goes on, the ability to recall the moment fades into the distance.
  5. The memory is richer in peripheral detail. With the emotional component gone, the complex content and context become clearer.
  6. The memory is resolved metaphorically. This is the most remarkable of all resolutions where the mind solves the problem.

Other feelings may arise after Havening, for example, fatigue, spaciness, sadness (this occurs most often after Havening anger) and a feeling of lightness 40). These feeling can last from minutes to days. Once depotentiated, the emotion-producing memory and its co-encoded components are lost and cannot be reconstituted. This removes the allostatic load and alters the landscape. The client’s facial expressions and posture are altered. Clients appear younger as the stress is removed from their bodies. This observation reflects the removal of internal distress that had been written large on their physiognomy (person’s facial features or expression) 41).

Does havening technique work?

There’s no clear answer, since experts have yet to conduct the high-quality controlled trials needed to support havening’s effectiveness. Keep in mind that havening is young in terms of mental health treatments — less than 20 years old — and research remains in the early stages. One small 2015 study looked at 27 healthcare professionals who self-reported symptoms of depression or anxiety serious enough to affect their work 42). After one Havening session, participants reported general improvement of their symptoms and work performance. These benefits seemed to persist as long as 2 months after the session 43). These results seem promising, but the study’s limitations — including no control group, a small number of participants, and self-reporting — make it less than conclusive 44).

A small, randomized controlled trial from 2018 explored Havening’s potential usefulness as a pain management technique after total joint arthroplasty 45). However, the results of this study were less promising. Havening didn’t seem to make a difference in the participants’ pain levels or their use of pain medication, either at the time of the study or when the researchers followed up a month later 46).

In summary, Havening could may help you feel a little better, but it’s best to maintain realistic expectations. Most mental health professionals agree that recovering from trauma and other emotional distress takes time and usually plenty of effort. Quicker or easier paths to healing, like havening, may have benefit in some cases, but they don’t always work. These strategies can also prevent you from taking action to address the root cause of your distress — a tested, if slightly longer, route to recovery.

You should seek help right away if you have suicidal thoughts, are overwhelmed, feel you cannot cope, or are using drugs or alcohol more frequently as a result of stress. Your doctor may be able to provide a recommendation. Resources are available to help you find a mental health provider.

  • Call your local emergency number if you or someone you know is in immediate danger or go to the nearest emergency room.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects callers to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
    • Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En español 1-888-628-9454
    • People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.
  • Crisis Text Line: Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.
    • Text “HELLO” to 741741
  • Veterans Crisis Line: The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that connects veterans 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a trained responder. The service is available to all veterans, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare.
    • Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 or text to 838255
    • People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can call 1-800-799-4889.
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: The disaster distress helpline provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. The helpline is free, multilingual, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Call or text 1-800-985-5990

National Agencies and Advocacy and Professional Organizations:

Federal Resources: Some federal agencies offer resources for identifying health care providers and help in finding low-cost health services. These include:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (https://www.samhsa.gov): For general information on mental health and to locate treatment services in your area, call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA also has a Behavioral Health Treatment Locator on its website that can be searched by location (https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov).
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (https://www.hrsa.gov): Health Resources and Services Administration works to improve access to health care. The Health Resources and Services Administration website has information on finding affordable healthcare, including health centers that offer care on a sliding fee scale.
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (https://www.cms.gov): Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has information on its website about benefits and eligibility for mental health programs and how to enroll.
  • The National Library of Medicine website has directories and lists of organizations that can help in identifying a health practitioner (https://medlineplus.gov/organizations/all_organizations.html).

Do not use the Havening Technique with yourself for a serious trauma or if you suffer from any psychological disorders 47). Havening.org advises that you seek the help of a professional mental health care provider who is certified in the Havening Technique if you have experienced severe trauma or suffer from a psychological disorder 48).

Havening therapy side effects

Every healing method has side effects and it is possible to experience negative side effects with the Havening Techniques. Potential risks with using the Havening Techniques include in-session abreactions (crying, anger, physical movements), post-havening lightheadedness and rarely, a worsening of symptoms or emotional numbing 49). These last two effects can be a consequence of bringing to awareness long since forgotten but biologically active memories 50). These should be treated by a qualified mental health care practitioner. In addition, highly traumatized individuals who use anger as a defense may become agitated by the premature removal of their protective anger and may increase their distress. If you choose to use the Havening Techniques as a self-help tool, it is possible to experience some emotional distress and/or physical discomfort, and additional unresolved memories may surface during or after using the Havening Techniques that can be perceived as negative. Emotional material may continue to surface after using the Havening Techniques, indicating other issues may need to be addressed. If you inadvertently experience any distressing reactions or negative side effects, you are strongly advised to stop using the Havening Techniques and seek appropriate professional help 51).

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