The world of health and wellness is constantly evolving, and interestingly, a newer therapeutic technique called havening emerged in 2001 to address anxiety, trauma, and other mental health conditions. While it’s always best practiced under the guidance of a professional, in this article, you’ll learn what it is, how it works, and techniques to help you safely practice it within your home. Let’s get started.
What Is Havening?
Created by brothers Dr. Steven Ruden and Dr. Ronald Ruden, havening is a psychosensory therapy that involves using touch as a therapeutic tool to treat mental health symptoms by reducing cortisol and increasing serotonin in the brain. The word “Haven” means a place of safety or refuge. Therefore, by changing pathways in the brain associated with stress, trauma, and painful memories, this technique teaches you how to calm your nervous system and detach from the pain itself.
Does Havening Work?
While more research is needed to fully understand its effect on treating mental health conditions, according to its creators, havening is effective in a variety of situations;
- Eating disorders
- Chronic stress
- Panic disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Short-term pain or chronic pain
- Relationship trauma, such as divorce
- Persistent feelings of anger, fear, and pain
How to Get Started with Havening
Havening can either be self-directed, in the comfort of your home, or by a licensed practitioner. Typically, a session will involve 9-10 steps;
- Your facilitator will ask you to rate your stress on a scale of 1-10
- Then, they will ask you to focus on a positive emotion in an attempt to re-adjust your focus
- They will ask you to rub your hands and arms up and down
- While continuing this behavior with your eyes closed, you’ll focus on counting backward from a set number and visualizing yourself completing a daily task like walking down the stairs or opening your bedroom door
- You’ll open your eyes, cross your arms or touch your palms together, and complete specific eye movement exercises like looking up, down, left, and right
- Then you’ll close your eyes and begin humming a simple song like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” while continuing the touch motions
- Your facilitator will ask you to rate your stress again from 1-10
- You will repeat the previous steps with the end goal of reducing your stress number.
- The facilitator may repeat the process 2-4 times until you feel more relaxed
7 Havening Techniques for Beginners
1. Create a safe space
Find a quiet place where you feel safe and won’t be disturbed. You can even set the mood by practicing other grounding techniques for anxiety and panic attacks. For example, make it part of a routine, take a hot bath, use aromatherapy, and follow a guided meditation to help you breathe, relax, and let go.
2. Choose a stressful memory
Next, choose a stressful moment or experience on a scale of 1-10. However, since you are practicing this technique alone, choose a number in the middle, for example, a 4 or 5. Maybe you fought with your partner, you received an upsetting email from a colleague, or you had a misunderstanding with a loved one. Choosing a more neutral number will allow you to follow the steps safely and regulate your parasympathetic nervous system rather than potentially retraumatizing you.
3. Refocus your attention
Before learning how to apply the havening touch, refocus your attention by practicing a breathing exercise. For example, imagine seeing an outline of a box in front of you. Breathe in and out of the box, slowly and deeply. Pairing breathwork with touch redirects your thought process from the initial stress and deepens your mind-body connection.
4. Apply the touch
There are three touch motions you can safely practice at home.
- Palm havening. Place your palms together like you’re washing your hands and rub them together at a speed and friction that feels good for you. It allows you to stay calm while removing fear from the stressful memory in your brain.
- Arm havening. Place your arms across your chest, resting your fingertips on the tops of your shoulders, and then glide your hands down your arms to your elbows. Think of it as giving yourself a warm and soothing hug. This motion activates your amygdala and tells your brain “I’m safe”.
- Face havening. If you feel overwhelmed or you’re experiencing a stressful moment, place your hands on your cheeks and gently rub your face. Doing so will help you leave a depersonalized state and calm your nervous system after experiencing a traumatic trigger.
5. Rate your distress
After practicing one of the three touch movements listed above, open your eyes and ground yourself to your surroundings. For example, describe where you’re at by focusing on the colors, shapes, and textures around you. Perhaps take a few deep breaths and repeat a positive affirmation like “I am safe, supported, and loved”. Then, return to how you currently feel and rate your stress from 1-10. Do you feel better?
6. Repeat as necessary
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, repeat the above steps until you feel more grounded and relaxed, or use other grounding tools to self-soothe before continuing. For example, if you’re struggling to learn how to challenge anxious thoughts and worries, take a moment to label your thoughts, practice your preferred breathing technique, or journal about the process. Write about what came up, how you felt, how the process impacted your wellbeing, and think about other support you may need.
7. Seek professional guidance
While the step-by-step process involves specified eye movements, tapping techniques, and humming a simple song, the process we included in this article allows you to safely practice some of the steps of havening alone. It’s not always advised or safe to practice a therapeutic technique without the guidance of a mental health professional. Returning to stressful or traumatic events can be dangerous and worsen your mental health. Therefore, it’s exceedingly important to schedule an appointment with a therapist or psychologist to help you receive the support you need to heal.
Havening is considered a complementary approach and shouldn’t be practiced as a replacement for cognitive behavior therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or another gold-standard therapy that helps treat trauma and other conditions. Therefore, if you’re experiencing trauma, stress, or any mental health condition, speak to a therapist about adding it to your treatment plan as you work towards healing.
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