Havening refers to a newer alternative therapy technique that incorporates distraction, touch, and eye movements. Its goal is to reduce anxiety and distress associated with negative memories.
According to Dr. Steven Ruden and Dr. Ronald Ruden, the creators of the technique, the use of therapeutic touch can help treat mental health symptoms by changing pathways in the brain linked to emotional distress.
The theory rests on the idea that touch can help boost the production of serotonin in your brain. This, in turn, helps you relax and detach from an upsetting memory or experience.
The release of serotonin is said to have a soothing effect that helps relieve mental health symptoms and keep painful memories from troubling you further.
In short, this approach aims to help you create a “haven” for yourself in one short session.
According to havening’s creators, it can address many types of emotional distress and may help treat:
- memories of painful events, including breakups and humiliating experiences
- grief and sadness
- post-traumatic stress after assault, disasters, or other frightening experiences
- persistent feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic
- unwanted cravings
- short-term or chronic pain
They note that this technique may also boost general well-being and lead to improved performance at work, at school, or in physical activities — which may help you see greater success with your goals.
Interested in trying out the havening technique for yourself? Here’s how a session with a trained havening practitioner might look:
- Your care provider will ask you to rate your current level of emotional distress. You might say “8 out of 10” or “high,” or describe your concern in one word, such as “scared” or “angry.”
- You’ll then be instructed to clear your thoughts or focus on something positive and calming.
- You’ll next be instructed to rub your arms up and down.
- While continuing this action, you’ll close your eyes and count down from 20. Your practitioner will ask you to imagine yourself doing some sort of visually oriented task, such as walking down stairs or removing items from a drawer. With each number counted, you’ll visualize taking one step or one item from the drawer.
- With open eyes, you’ll cross your arms and then perform a series of eye movements. You might, for example, be asked to look left, right, up, and down, then roll your eyes in a complete circle, first clockwise and then counterclockwise.
- Next, you’ll close your eyes again. Your practitioner will ask you to hum a simple song, such as “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” As you hum, they’ll use gentle touch to stroke your forehead or arms — or, if you prefer not to be touched, you can perform this action yourself.
- At this point, they’ll ask you to assess your level of distress a second time.
- The process then repeats, though your provider may ask you to use a different visualization or song.
- You’ll relax your arms and perform another series of eye movements as your provider strokes your arms or forehead a few more times. They may use a phrase or mantra such as “release,” “let it go,” or “almost there,” or they might encourage you to take a few deep breaths.
- Your provider will ask how you feel. The aim is to repeat the process until your level of distress falls to 0 or 1, or remains stable after three repetitions of havening.
Havening doesn’t require any sort of hypnosis, so you’ll remain fully conscious and awake, helping direct the process.
If the technique works as intended, you might notice your emotional tension diminish right away. Its creators believe this happens because havening disrupts the pathways in your brain that activate distressing memories.
Along with helping ease the pain and trauma associated with these events, havening could make it more difficult for you to bring up those memories at all, according to the creators.
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 reported symptoms of depression or anxiety serious enough to affect their work. 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.
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.
A small, randomized
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.
To sum up, havening could certainly 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.
As a therapeutic technique, havening carries a fairly low risk of harm.
Navigating past trauma and other emotional distress can often prove deeply upsetting, however. It’s important to keep this in mind, whether you try havening on your own or with support from a trained provider.
While havening might not require you to openly discuss upsetting events, it could still trigger distress.
Without support from a trained mental health professional, these painful feelings might become overwhelming. Some symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, could potentially get worse.
You might notice some temporary effects after a session, including:
These sensations tend to pass on their own. But if you experience any lingering or unwanted distress, you’ll want to talk with a healthcare provider or therapist before continuing with the technique.
Also keep in mind that havening does require touch. If you don’t feel comfortable with therapeutic touch, mention this to your provider before the session. You can perform the havening techniques for yourself under their guidance.
There’s not much research on the topic, but anecdotal reports suggest that havening may be a helpful technique for addressing symptoms of anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues.
There’s little risk involved, so if you’re interested, it likely can’t hurt to give it a try. It may not work immediate wonders, but it might offer some measure of relief.
Just remember that havening is considered a complementary approach. This means it isn’t necessarily a replacement for talk therapy and other evidence-backed approaches to mental healthcare.
You’ll likely see the most benefit when using havening alongside any medical and mental health treatment recommended by your therapist or healthcare provider.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.