What is Havening?
Havening is a Psychosensory therapy this means it uses physical touch to change the way we store distressing memories in the brain.
At a practical level these memories and the emotions associated with them can be changed through physical touch, namely to the upper arms, face and palms of hands. These hand positions are hypersensitive to the production of seratonin.
Who developed it?
It was developed by Dr Ronald Ruden a medical doctor and neuroscientist living and practising in New York. After many years of research he discovered the precise region of the brain where trauma was encoded and stored and how touch therapy permanently changed that.
He developed a set of protocols consisting of soothing bodily movements which produces electrical delta waves in the brain (a state normally found during deep sleep) and therefore ideal for reprogramming the mind and body.
Essentially he discovered any anxiety based issues that cause distress/ trauma can be helped by Havening.
What can it help?
Phobias (fear of flying, spiders, dentists, blood, needles etc.)
Panic Attacks (thumping heart, sweaty palms, dizziness, flashbacks)
Removing emotional response to distressing memories (losing a job, broken relationship)
Removing the response to traumatic events (a car crash, an assault, rape, sexual abuse)
Removing anger responses
Removing fear of abandonment
In fact any anxiety based events and emotions that are ‘time frozen’ in the brain.
These experiences are encoded and stored in a bunch of neurons in the brain called the Amygdala. Interestingly, hearing about a traumatic situation second and even third hand can also cause a person to become traumatised. This will happen more easily if a person’s life experience has been fear based, unpredictable, insecure, anxious, as opposed to the person whose life has been steady, secure, grounded, loving thus creating a more resilient brain landscape and less chance of becoming traumatised
How does it work?
The name Havening also known as Amygdala Depotentiation means ‘to put one in a safe place’. A Haven. It works on the basis that the human body is an electrical chemical organ and any trauma experienced by the body is transformed into an electrical chemical signal and this is sent to the brain.
When a traumatic event or long time stress occurs the memory and emotions are also stored electrically and chemically in the Amygdala, specifically on receptors on the surface of the brain cells (neurons) called AMPA receptors. These receptors are like protruding spikes that lock in and superglue every aspect of the experience, from the sounds, smells, images, pounding heart, sweaty palms etc. sears it into our memory and stores it there. In fact when survival is threatened in any way the Amygdala takes over and focuses on survival whatever that takes, be it that it produces enough rage, or in contrast, paralysis to get us out of the situation.
Havening deals directly with the subconscious, it seeks the events that cause the symptoms and by removing the AMPA receptors it permanently disconnects the emotions from the memory thus freeing you up from the effects of the distress.
What makes a trauma a trauma as opposed to an upsetting experience?
Permanence, the way it affects you when you remember it and the response and symptoms it triggers (beating heart, sweating, dizziness, anger, pain, flashbacks etc.)
There are four components that encode a trauma.
Obviously something must happen and it tends to be highly emotional (a chronic health diagnosis, being humiliated, attacked etc.) in order to encode something as a trauma.
The event or experience has meaning in that at the time we feel unsafe, our sense of security is threatened. This can be physically (our life being threatened) or mentally (threat of a relationship breakup, or a threat to someone we love, or the loss of a loved one, or of our status in society) things we are attached to and feel threatened at the loss of. All these situations have the potential to encode trauma in the brain.
The third component to encoding trauma is the landscape of the brain at the time of the event. This will be determined by your level of stress at the time, how sensitive you are generally and past traumatic experiences. If life has been one distressing situation after another you are more vulnerable to becoming traumatised as opposed to the person whose life has been smooth with little distress or anxiety then the same situation will be unlikely to traumatise that more resilient brain.
The fourth and final component that encodes trauma is the perceived feeling of being trapped. That could mean mentally feeling trapped i.e. in a job that you feel you can’t leave due to financial commitments, or trapped in a relationship that diminishes you to physically being trapped in a crashed car, a lift or a plane etc.
These are the four components that have the potential to encode a traumatic memory.
What happens during a Havening treatment?
That depends on what we’re working with. There is a suite of Havening Techniques so we decide which one/s are appropriate given the event/s.
Event Havening (EH)
As the name suggests this Havening works with a particular situation or event. The client is asked to briefly recall the event, activate its level of distress and measure that on a scale from 0-10, 10 indicating the highest, 0 none at all. Generating the emotional response is key here to the outcome of the treatment. The practitioner then immediately uses straightforward techniques of distraction (walking on a beach, counting 20 steps, humming) while gentle soothing touch is applied to the arms, face and hands, or if preferred applied by the client guided by the practitioner. This touch produces a significant increase in electrical Delta Waves in the brain and this sets off an electrochemical chain reaction (the surge of particular hormones and chemicals) through the body resulting in the removal or in neuroscience terms ‘de-potentiating’ the receptor/s at the encoded neuron/s thus de-linking the memory from the emotional response.
One of the appealing aspects of Havening is that if the client prefers not to disclose the detail of the event it can be done content free and have the same effect.
For the most part this is how we begin a Havening treatment.
Transpirational Havening (TH)
Frequently done after Event Havening. Transpirational Havening is particularly helpful at drawing up and releasing pent up emotions where there is no obvious event that the client can bring to mind. It may be that they feel anxiety building over a period of time even though they don’t know why. Sometimes that can be a build up of lots of small stresses that the system didn’t get a chance to release.
Equally TH works effectively for clients who have experienced a number of disturbing events throughout their life. TH draws up from the roots these unhelpful emotions and experiences and releases them. The beauty and effectiveness of this is that many distressing situations over a lifetime share the same emotions, so TH provides the domino effect, get to one and the others organically follow.
TH begins with the client recalling a memory that evokes a specific emotion, they begin to recite the word that describes it then TH is applied. Depending on what the situation is words like anger……anger…….anger…….frustrated……..frustrated……..afraid……..afraid etc. are used and that can be a number of times until the tempo and emotion drops and the words end.
The words don’t always only describe the emotion sometimes the emotional state will be used too
trapped….trapped…….alone…..alone….in danger……in danger…….frightened….frightened.
Very often many events are related to the same emotions and they surface spontaneously from the subconscious during TH.
OUTCOME HAVENING (OH)
Outcome Havening allows for the implantation of a new outcome around the traumatic event, essentially it provides an escape route. It does this by going in and mentally rewriting the script as they would have liked the outcome to have been while being havened. The brain responds well to this and the new outcome is what the brain remembers when the client goes back to de-brief.
AFFIRMATIONAL/HOPEFUL HAVENING (AH/HH)
Some people when they have lived with the consequences of trauma for many years can feel worthless, helpless and lacking in any self worth. Affirmational Havening can help here. It needs the client to connect with a positive memory, maybe an achievement they had like scoring a goal for their team, or the pleasure they felt while listening to a piece of music something that creates a positive, feel good feeling inside. The goal is to connect and reinforce the positive qualities the client has but no longer feels. ‘I am’ is unspoken and precedes words like
while applying Havening Touch and again this can be done by self or the practitioner. In order for AH to be effective it is essential for the client to connect with a positive feeling at the outset.
Hopeful Havening is often used at the end of a session and the idea is to instill a sense of hope in the client. While being havened the client recites the word ’Hopeful’ while the practitioner adds words like
My pain will go away…… I will drive again…….I will trust again……
Phrases that link in with the clients session.
IFFIRMATIONAL HAVENING (IH)
Iffirmational Havening is used to ease a client towards Affirmational Havening. Sometimes an individual is so beaten down that they can’t feel or believe anything good about themselves, so we take them gently towards that with IF. Clients tend to use statements like
“What if……” I’m not good enough…..I’m not smart enough….. I am not enough……I’m useless……I can’t forgive myself or others……and so on.
After a few rounds of Havening we replace the phrases with open ended statements like
“What if” I am good enough…….I am smart enough…….I am enough…..I can forgive myself and others…….I am capable……I am loveable……I am resourceful……
Again this is done while being Havened and is effective because the client is producing Delta Waves which is changing the electrical chemical landscape of the brain making it amenable to change.
Iffirmational Havening is used to aid the process of gently moving a client towards Affirmational Havening where they can begin to create more positive pictures of themselves and to help build their self worth and resilience.
While all of this may appear a bit “Iffy” forgive the pun, it is nonetheless solidly backed by neuroscience and is very much of its day. Up until now the two main pillars of healing were talk therapy (psychotherapy) and drugs (psychopharmacology I have the utmost respect for both and in the past have used psychotherapy to come to terms with difficult situations in my own life.
Today Havening is offering another approach, a third way. Everything that happens to us is absorbed by the thalamus gland and downloaded electrically to an area of the brain called the Amygdala, part of the limbic system. The transport system of the brain is electrical pathways and neurons. In the moment of trauma receptors pop up from the neurons and electrically encode every aspect of the experience, (as mentioned before from the shock, fear, smell, thumping heart etc. )and remain protruded and in the ever present.
Due to the adrenaline the individual is experiencing at the time it produces a glue like substance called phosphorus, this surrounds the AMPA receptors and keeps them permanently out on hold. When the client is reminded of the experience/s (that could be 20 years later) those electrical pathways become activated again and fire up the receptor/s triggering all the initial symptoms. So the fact that the trauma is encoded electrically and chemically and Havening removes trauma electrically and chemically it’s easy to see how Havening is indeed an accepted new third pillar of therapeutic healing and very much of our time.
My personal experience with Havening
Six months ago I was hanging a picture in my bedroom and fell and broke my ankle in three places. I was alone in the house, upstairs lying on the floor with no phone knowing it would be another two hours before my husband returned from work. Again, forgive the pun….but get the picture!
It was my right ankle, it was throbbing and swelling up fast and my foot was hanging off to the side. Knowing that help wouldn’t be around for a while I decided to do some Havening. This was my first time using it in the moment of, well, a little trauma! I was testing it out.
While lying on the floor I made myself imagine the fall again and hear the sound of the bones breaking and feel the emotion/ anxiety fill my body. As you can imagine on the measurement scale I was a 10. I did Event Havening, used the distraction techniques and on recalling the accident afterwards I felt no anxiety at all, I was down to 0. This happened with only one round of Havening.
I stayed calm when taken to hospital by ambulance that evening and throughout my nine hour wait in A&E. The same applied to the next afternoon when I went down for surgery to have a plate and nine pins put in, I remained steady and felt safe which is not the way I felt previously when having surgery.
As time went on I also began to realise that that one round of Havening also created the foundation for the calmness I continued to feel throughout my whole recovery.
Caitriona Doyle is a Certified Practitioner of the Havening Techniques since May 2016