Havening is an alternative therapy modality that uses touch, eye movements, and distractions to mitigate feelings of stress, unease, and anxiety. The philosophy of havening is to create new neural pathways in the brain to reduce mental health symptoms related to negative memories and experiences.
What Is the Havening Technique?
The concept of havening suggests that there are natural ways to improve symptoms of anxiety and other negative experiences. For example, physical touch reduces cortisol and increases serotonin in the brain. These chemical changes play a direct role in our mood and ability to cope with negative experiences. Havening doesn’t rely on medication, hypnosis, or exposure to any negative stimuli.1,2,3,4,5
The goal of havening is to keep painful experiences from impacting your mental health in the long term. Essentially, havening is a self-directed way to create a safe haven for yourself. The havening technique is a relatively new alternative therapy technique created by Drs. Steven and Ronald Ruden; it uses eye movement, touch, and distraction to relieve anxiety and distress from negative memories and create a “haven” in your mind.
“The Havening Techniques is a unique set of tools that utilize the electrical component of our system. It is a psychosensory approach, which reflects both our mind and our senses. Two current interventions are the talk therapies and pharmacological approaches to manage our states. One may consider this a third pillar. Havening uses our intrinsic systems to reset encoded Event Specific Biological Markers, ESBM, (Traumatic stress) and remove their effects from our body and psyche. These tools utilize electroceuticals, especially low frequency waves (delta and theta), to act as the change agent. To create these electroceuticals, Havening Touch, a group of specific protocols, is applied to generate the required outcome. In addition, imagination and attention are introduced to the session.” – Dr. Steve Ruden, Co-Creator of the Havening Technique
What Is Havening Used For?
Given that havening is a versatile and accessible form of alternative therapy, it can be adapted to use in many situations. It can help improve overall wellbeing in life, relationships, work, and personal affairs, and can help manage stress, anxiety and general unease.
Havening can be used to treat issues like:4
- Relationship problems such as divorce and separation
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Panic disorder
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Chronic pain
- Situational depression
- Manic episodes
How Is Havening Done?
Havening can be self-directed or facilitated by a licensed practitioner. It works through a series of steps that ask you to rate your distress, re-adjust your focus, take body-focused action, and make additional ratings.
Facilitated havening works through nine steps:4
- Facilitator asks you to rate your distress on a scale of 1-10
- They ask you to focus on a positive emotion
- They ask you to rub your arms up and down
- As you continue this behavior and count backwards from a set number, they ask you to visualize another action, such as opening the door, walking to the kitchen, or closing a cabinet concurrently with a number
- They ask you to open your eyes, touch your palms together, and do various eye movements
- They ask you to close your eyes again and think about/sing a simple song to yourself and continue touch motions
- They take inventory of distress and ask you to give another rating on a scale of 1-10
- They repeat this process
- They ask you to rate your distress again. This cycle may repeat anywhere between two and four times or until the distress falls to 1 or below
“The Havening Touch is the primary mechanism of action. This particular type of soothing touch, which is applied across the brow, the cheeks, down the arms, and to the palms, activates tiny mechanoreceptors in the skin called c-tactile fibers. These fibers only respond to slow, gentle touch and have projections to a variety of different brain areas. Importantly, when activated, these nerve fibers release oxytocin and other neurochemicals that support emotional regulation as well as reduce stress and pain. Incorporating the Havening Touch with different cognitive protocols allows Havening to be utilized in several different contexts.” – Dr. Kate Truitt, Neuroscientist and Licensed Clinical Psychologist
3 Self Havening Techniques
Havening techniques consist of applied touching of various body parts to change brain chemistry. When this brain chemistry changes, we can change the ways we store these memories in our brain to put the negative memories and experiences at bay.
Proponents of havening believe it allows for someone to dissociate the emotional experience from the memory of the lived experience, making any kind of negative or traumatic memory less negative or traumatic. Havening can be done on your own (self-havening), or it can be facilitated by a professional (facilitated-havening).
Here are three havening techniques that you can practice on your own:2
- Palm havening:Rubbing the palms together to distract oneself and self-soothe. This type of havening can be categorized as affirmational havening as its primary function is to stay calm and diffuse fear in the brain.
- Face havening: Rubbing the face to distract oneself and self-soothe. This type of havening can be categorized as event havening, which can help people become grounded by recognizing that their current reality is without negative experience. Oftentimes, a trauma trigger can take someone back to a painful event, and face havening can bring them out of that triggered state.
- Arm havening: Rubbing the arms to distract oneself and self-soothe. This can be categorized as transpirational havening. When we rub our arms in one directed motion, we trigger delta waves in our brain that tell our amygdala that we are safe. This can help those who experience anxiety and stress.
Does Havening Work?
Havening is shown to be effective in reducing negative mood states. Touch and non-touch interventions are shown to be effective in reducing distressing experiences.6 It appears to be effective for those dealing with trauma and predisposed physical or mental health issues; however, it is not effective for people dealing with a condition like substance use disorders or other forms of addiction.1,2,3
Dr. Truitt notes, “The ease of use combined with the efficacy of Havening is moving it to the forefront as pioneering neurobiologically based treatment modality.”
The Benefits of Havening
Havening is simple to practice and can be easily taught. It’s a tool that can be used to empower someone who feels stuck in their stress responses since they can practice on their own once they know the techniques. Dr. Truitt mentions, “The therapeutic and coaching protocols are streamlined, clear, and easy to integrate into any existing practice. Havening supports the harmful patterns, beliefs, and experiences from the past in releasing and letting go which empowers more traditional cognitive, linguistic, or narrative interventions.”
According to Dr. Ruden, here are several benefits of havening:
- It is safe, there are no drugs involved
- It can create rapid change
- In most cases the change is permanent
- Requires no sophisticated equipment or expensive machinery
- It is portable
- It encourages active well-being by teaching self-havening empowering the client
- Easy to use
- Easy to learn
- Improves our immune system by regulating cortisol levels
- Alters ambient distress
- Improves sense of well-being
- Updates our lens of perception so unwanted behaviors from past events are no longer active
- Creates resiliency
- Maintains systemic homeostasis
- Can be self-applied
- Can be shared with loved ones
Are There Any Risks to Havening?
Havening is generally a low risk therapeutic technique, however some risks do exist. Since the technique works through distressing emotions and experiences, revisiting those can be triggering at times. Some things which may occur include feeling numb, body aches or tightness, and feeling increasingly emotional.6
Havening is a new technique that some researchers believe shows promise; however, research is limited. If it sounds appealing to you, discuss it with your therapist or doctor before trying this alternative therapy approach.