There are countless ways to assist in managing tension and uneasiness in the moment you experience them — and the Havening technique is one that may not sound as familiar as, let’s say, breathing exercises. The practice gained widespread attention after Justin Bieber revealed his use of the technique in his YouTube documentary Seasons.
Buzz Mingin, Psy.D., who treats Bieber using the Havening technique, commented on the method during the documentary: “Havening is a psycho-sensory technique that effectively elevates the feel-good chemicals in your brain on demand. [Justin] and I coordinate cues that enable him to know what actions to take when he’s feeling stressed, and then he signals back to me to indicate what’s wrong, how he feels, and what he requires,” he explained.
So, how does that work, exactly? Here are the fundamentals of the practice, including whether the Havening technique genuinely works.
The Havening Technique, Explained
Havening is a psycho-sensory technique, meaning it employs the senses (in this instance, touch) as a remedial tool in stressful situations. “Havening is a technique which employs sensory input like touch to alter how the brain functions,” explains Ronald Ruden, M.D., a primary care doctor who created the technique alongside his brother, Steven Ruden, D.D.S. “It accomplishes this by generating a distinct type of brain wave, [a delta wave,] that operates in a curative manner,” he states.
Dr. Ruden notes that he was initially inspired to develop Havening after learning about acupressure, a form of massage therapy originating from traditional Chinese medicine that involves applying pressure to specific points on the body to address ailments. The concept of acupressure is founded on the notion that people possess meridians or channels throughout the body, and Qi — understood as a life-sustaining energy force — flows along these meridians. The aim of acupressure is to maintain the flow of Qi energy by using pressure at precise points.
However, Dr. Ruden argues that he “does not believe” in meridians and Qi flowing through the body, asserting that acupressure fails to account for biological changes that occur in the brain in response to touching certain pressure points on the body. “Therefore, I pursued the path of solving the problem of how events and emotions are encoded in the body and subsequently discovered [that Havening provides] a avenue through which we can modify them for the benefit of the client,” he explains.
During a typical Havening therapy session, a patient will recollect a distressing memory and a therapist who is specially trained in Havening will utilize gentle touch on their hands, arms, or face, states clinical psychologist Jaime Zuckerman, Psy.D. “The concept is that because your brain is incapable of processing two thoughts simultaneously, the gentle touch eliminates the trauma memory and interrupts activation of the amygdala — the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions,” she clarifies.
Self-Havening is also an occurrence — rather than a therapist touching you, you apply the touch — but it’s advisable that individuals with severe trauma or a psychological disorder collaborate with a trained Havening therapist, remarks Dr. Ruden. Moreover, in addition to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Havening has also been used to enhance emotional resilience and self-esteem and address phobias, he asserts.
Does the Havening Technique Really Work?
At this juncture, the Havening technique hasn’t been substantiated by research studies (for what it’s worth, the Havening website has a disclaimer regarding this), leaving some mental health experts doubtful of the approach.
“Given the availability of evidence-based psychotherapies, they should be the primary form of treatment preceding alternative approaches that have not yet been examined in clinical trials,” states Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., a professor in the department of allied health science at the University of Connecticut. “Sometimes we assume that there is no harm in attempting a new therapy, but this is not always the case. Harm can result from unverified therapies; for instance, they could delay a patient from receiving a treatment that is effective,” she emphasizes.
Alternative therapies can entail the potential for harm, confirms Liz Morrison, L.C.S.W., owner of group psychotherapy practice Liz Morrison Therapy in New York. “Individuals who have undergone trauma are continuously seeking some form of relief to mend memories that elicit emotional distress,” she expresses. “If it appears that Havening therapy could offer this to them, then most likely they would want to attempt it. However, this approach to trauma could be perilous as it could lead to retraumatization and deeper scars,” Morrison acknowledges.
That being said, the Havening technique shares some resemblances with more extensively researched forms of therapy, states Morrison. “Havening seems to be very similar to other treatment modalities such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which specifically concentrates on addressing trauma and PTSD by engaging in particular eye movements and tapping to aid in processing a specific traumatic event. Numerous studies have examined the impacts of EMDR and have proven its effectiveness as a treatment,” she expounds.
Still, while some aspects of Havening have been researched, Havening itself is only supported by anecdotal evidence. “There is evidence that memories of traumatic experiences are adaptable when recalled from [short-term] memory,” says Zuckerman. “Moreover, there is backing for the notion that sensory stimuli can affect how we process our emotions of trauma. However, there are limited controlled studies on the effectiveness of this treatment. More research is necessary to determine if Havening therapy is, indeed, an empirically supported treatment for patients diagnosed with trauma, depression, and/or compulsive behaviors,” she continues.
The bottom line: If you’ve tried more scientifically established techniques and believe the Havening technique might work for you, go for it — but proceed with caution. There are more reputable and better-proven techniques for grasping and addressing mental illness, and those should be your primary defense.
Thanks for your feedback!