Havening Techniques®

Last updated 8th August 2022 | Next update due 7th August 2025

Havening Techniques® are a surprisingly simple set of techniques for resolving trauma and negative emotions and building up inner strengths and resources.

What are Havening Techniques®?

Havening Techniques® are based on the body’s own systems for dealing with stress and were developed by Dr Ronald Ruden, a physician in New York, in collaboration with his twin brother Stephen, a dentist. They fit well with hypnotherapy.

In 2001, Dr Ruden became interested in the question of why and how people develop phobias and anxiety in response to life’s experiences, and how they can be best helped to overcome these issues. With his background in medicine, it was important to him that any treatment should be based on science and he spent nearly a decade studying the latest scientific research on the brain and anxiety and trying out different approaches until he eventually developed the approach he called ‘Havening’.

Havening is based on the healing power of touch - gentle stroking of the upper arms, face and palms of the hand. This is something that we all do naturally as a way of soothing, comforting or reassuring ourselves or others, such as:

  • putting your face in your hands after a stressful conversation
  • stroking the arm of a friend who is upset in order to comfort them
  • holding hands with a loved one

In Havening, these natural behaviours are used in a systematic way to reduce and even remove negative emotions and create positive ones.

Havening is something that you can do for yourself, though in the first instance, you might find it best to work with a registered Havening TechniquesⓇ practitioner who will be trained in the full range of techniques - this is particularly so if you have experienced severe trauma or suffer from mental health issues.

Dr Ruden describes Havening and the science underpinning it in his book When the Past is Always Present (2010). The first training in Havening took place in London in 2013 and since then, a range of additional techniques have been developed.

What can Havening Techniques® be used for?

Havening Techniques® are aimed at alleviating any conditions caused by trauma - a trauma being any memory that, when brought to mind, causes feelings of distress. 

As such, they are used to help with conditions including:

They can also be used for personal growth, such as:

  • building resilience and confidence
  • improving sports performance
  • public speaking
  • developing optimism

How do Havening Techniques® work?

To understand how it works, it's important to understand what's happening in our bodies when we're feeling under threat or feeling anxious, stressed, angry or depressed.

The fight or flight or freeze response

When we feel under threat or in danger, a part of the brain called the amygdala triggers changes in our body to enable us to deal with the threat.

The most common set of changes is called the 'fight or flight' response. They are called this because they have evolved to enable us to fight the threat or run away. The changes include:

  • release of adrenalin, noradrenalin and other hormones like cortisol into the body
  • increase of heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure
  • diversion of the blood supply from non-urgent functions like digestion to muscles in the legs and arms so that we can fight or run away
  • increased muscular tension
  • tunnel vision and hearing with attention focused on the perceived danger

Another set of changes is called the freeze response. This response evolved for situations where it is not possible to escape or fight back. It can be described as “playing dead” to avoid attracting the attention of a predator.

These changes all occur rapidly and automatically without any conscious input to enable us to protect ourselves. We experience them with feelings of fear, anxiety, panic or anger. In the freeze response, we may also feel trapped or hopeless.

These responses are useful if we are actually faced with physical danger, but not very helpful if they occur in situations where it is not appropriate to fight, run away, or freeze - like taking an exam, going into a lift; or if the responses are aroused by simply thinking about such a situation.

Returning to a state of calm

The key to getting over these feelings, whether they are the result of a new experience or the memory of a past experience, is giving the amygdala the message that we have escaped the situation and we are safe.

What normally happens after the amygdala sets off the fight or flight or freeze responses is that, once the danger has passed, another part of our brain evaluates the situation and, if it considers that we are safe, sends a message to the amygdala to switch off the response and we return to a state of calm.

However, if we don’t reach the feeling that we are safe, the amygdala may well store memory of that situation so that the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation or even think about the memory, the fight or flight or freeze response is automatically triggered. Needless to say, if we are regularly in a state of anxiety, fear, anger or hopelessness, it can have a very detrimental effect on our mental and physical health.

So, if we find ourselves suffering from any of these emotions or feelings on a regular basis, how can we resolve them? This is where Havening comes in.

How does Havening work?

The basic Havening technique for deactivating feelings from a specific stressful memory (for example, being bitten by a dog) is very simple:

  1. We activate the memory by remembering it and then rating the strength of the associated feelings out of 10, where 10 is the maximum they could be.
  2. We then apply Havening while distracting our attention from the memory by, for example, imagining us walking on a beach, humming a tune, or counting aloud.
  3. After a couple of minutes, we pause and rate the feelings out of 10. Usually, the intensity will have reduced.
  4. We repeat this process until the intensity of the feelings subsides to zero. If the feelings do not subside to zero, further investigation is needed to find the root cause of the feelings and go through the process again.

When Havening is successful, recall of the memory lacks the emotional response and sometimes it may not be possible to bring the memory to mind at all.

Why Havening works

Applying the Havening touch (e.g. gently stroking upper arms, face and hands) when a stressful memory is activated sends a message to the amygdala that we have reached a safe place - or safe haven - and the neural circuits triggering the fight, flight or freeze response can be switched off. It’s for this reason that Dr Ruden called the technique ‘Havening’, meaning to bring to a safe haven.

From a neuro-scientific point of view, it is believed that Havening works because it stimulates natural processes in the brain, in particular the production of delta waves, which cause the neural circuits in the amygdala relating to the activated memory to be disconnected.

What happens in a Havening session

Every Havening appointment will be different. However, you can typically expect a Havening session to include the following:

  • a discussion of the help that you need
  • an explanation of Havening and how and why it works
  • exploration of how any negative emotions you are experiencing originated
  • working on any negative emotions using Havening
  • a demonstration of Havening that you can do for yourself at home

A Havening session can take place online or in person. If in person, the practitioner will let you decide whether you would prefer the Havening practitioner to apply the Havening touch or to do it yourself.

Havening Techniques® is a registered trademark of Ronald Ruden, 15 East 91st Street, New York. This page was written by Roger Gilbert (MA (Cantab), D Hyp (Distinction) PDCHyp, MBSCH) and has been approved by the developers of Havening Techniques®.

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