My introduction to Havening started out with my attempt to nurture a relationship with someone related to an entirely different model. As the executive director of a U.S. military veteran organization, I was attempting to seek a short-term, peer-facilitated, and somatic model to resolve symptoms associated with trauma. I reached out to Elaine Miller-Karas, who is now a dear friend, to learn more about the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) (Leitch, L., & Miller-Karas, E., 2008). She connected me with Steve, a military psychologist who is married to a pastor and we became friends as well. While speaking with Steve about CRM, he shared with me a new cutting edge model known as Havening. Initially, I struggled to understand the word he used, and I heard “hazening” and assumed it was a poorly-done word play on “hazing.” Steve told me about using the model as a quick alternative method to work with military combat veterans with traumatic experiences, even mentioning that one client stated that he resolved much of her distress in only one session. I recall rolling my eyes and declaring to myself that if such a model existed, I would already know about it.
Now, I know about it.
I met the incredible Dr. Kate Truitt who quickly has become one of my favorite humans on the entire planet. I have found that Steve’s description of Havening being “like EMDR on steroids” was a pretty accurate description. It is a model I now implement into my clinical work as a therapist as well as into my mentorship as a wellness coach. I have always been a bit eastern in my understanding of the human experience but deeply valued the western respect for science, and havening is a nice balance of eastern relationship with the body and the western neurophysiology justification.
Havening is an unusual method that uses very normal and usual techniques to restore wellness to various levels of human living and engagement. The Havening Techniques are a method designed to alter the brain in order to de-traumatize specific memories and remove their negative effects from both mind and body (Truitt, 2020a). These techniques affect the amygdala-based distress cycles by using touch to elicit neurochemical pathway reactivity to alter how responses to trauma and distress are encoded (Ruden, 2011). It is proposed that the kinesthetic component augments serotonin release in the brain, thereby promoting gamma-aminobutyric acid release, which can be seen through increased delta wave activity (Ciranna, 2006; Darbari et al., 2005; Spoont, 1992).
Broad Overview of the Brain
Havening utilizes basic concepts of neuroscience to use the brain’s operations to reduce emotional and physical reactivity to recollections of traumatic experiences or patterns.
While MacLean’s model of the brain is not a thorough representation of the brain’s complexity, it serves as a simple way of describing the main operations of the brain (Cantor & Price, 2007; Miller, E., 1974; Smith, Chris, 2010).
Executive: The neocortex is the most evolved portion of the brain. This part of the brain supports all intentional functioning, and it allows us to think critically, make meaning, do math, figure things out, and plan. The primary language of the executive functioning center in the brain is words (Truitt, 2020).
Limbic: The limbic system, or mid part of the brain, is the emotional relational “control center.” This part of the brain houses the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the thalamus, and it is crucial in navigating and evaluating the physical and emotional safety present in our world. (Truitt, 2020).
Primal Brain: The lower part of the brain is crucial for all essential functions of the body. All the necessary functions that take place outside of our awareness, and often control, are governed here. This includes heart rate, temperature control, temperature, sleep, heart rate, and the execution of the fight/flight/freeze response. The language of this part of the brain is sensation.
Within these general areas of the brain are particular structures that maintain valuable functions and are involved in reducing distress through Havening (Truitt, 2020).
Amygdala: The role of the amygdala is growing commonplace in the field of trauma resolution. It has long been understood to be a key player in the impact of trauma and PTSD. The interesting role of the amygdala has been researched and finds support embodied in mindfulness-based practices. Interestingly, researchers like Blair (2008) who examine the role of the amygdala have found that there is an inverse relationship between the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Essentially, the more we notice on-purpose, the smaller the amygdala becomes.
This has become a favorite “friend” in the Havening community – the amygdala is usually referred to as “Amy.” Amy is responsible for keeping us alive, although she does not care about our quality of life. Amy has two sides. The left side is tasked to find and connect with the safe other, while the right is tasked with our independent survival. This is the side of the brain that drives our behaviors when no safe other is available. Our primary manner in which to maintain safety is to tend and befriend. When this is not available, the body seeks the method that is most protective: to flee. If this is not possible, the body will fight or drop into a freeze. This decision is made at a fraction of a second and often below the level of conscious awareness. Amy seeks an “other” to provide warmth, connection, and collaboration in maintaining safety, but in the absence of a safe other, Amy will protect and defend by employing these protective strategies (Truitt, 2020).
Hippocampus: This part of the brain serves as the brain’s historian. The hippocampus encodes episodic memories and pulls in all data available during a stressful or traumatic experience to ensure it has all the necessary cues to protect from similar situations in the future (Taube & Golob, 1997; Rudy & Matus-Amat, 2005; Dark, Harnett, Knight, & Knight, 2021). This part of the brain sort of “teams up” with Amy to protect us from previous harm or suspected danger. When this works well, it is an effective manner in which to avoid harm. However, when the hippocampus is stuck or otherwise out of sorts, this can lead to great difficulty.
When experiences encode in our brain and are not able to be fully and thoroughly processed in our brain, we seem to re-experience the situations repeatedly (Truitt, 2020). While this is observable in major ways with, for example, veterans who may jump, run, and take cover during a fireworks display, there are more subtle ways that Amy and the hippocampus team up in this process of re-experiencing. These are the ways our past experiences continue to show up in our day to day lived experiences. Researchers suggest there is an association between hyperarousal and negative mPFC-amygdala coupling along with re-experiencing and altered insula-hippocampus function (Sadeh, Spielberg, Warren, Miller, & Heller, 2014).
Encoding Traumatic Memory
As an event happens, the brain pulls in all necessary sensory information. Havening practitioners identify particular elements that remain stuck following an event. These include aspects such as the landscape of the event, the reality or sense of inescapability, and the acquired internal or explicit meaning (Truitt, 2021).
When experiences become stuck, they cue the brain and body, thus “triggering” the body’s response. This can be seen in a neurophysiological response. Sometimes the sympathetic nervous system will activate and prepare to deploy necessary resources in order to engage the perceived threat, while at times the parasympathetic nervous system will dominate to pull the individual into a more passive protective experience. This extreme state is seen when the person falls into a collapse or freeze response. This is also present when an individual dissociates so that the full lived experience is not engaged again. While these experiences cue the body’s natural responses, they also impede the individual’s ability to fully connect and engage in relationships and to thrive in life and function at their best (Truitt, 2020).
Havening uses the theoretical understanding of the neurocognitive responses to trauma and stress. These include brief activation of the client’s emotional distress, employing a sensory input/distraction, and the use of touch. The body’s natural neurochemical response to touch and massage is well supported in literature (e.g., Field et al., 2005; Barbour, McGuire, & Kirchhoff, 1986; Field, 1998; Malkin, 1994).
Havening uses touch to elicit delta waves in the brain to facilitate the depotentiation of traumatic encoding. Facilitated Havening uses contact by the provider, while self-Havening uses self-applied touch. Areas associated with the highest increase of delta waves include the eyebrow area, the cheek bones, and the outside of the upper arms and the hands. Considering each area, one notices that these are the places that we contact naturally when we are stressed ourselves or when seeking to soothe another person. These are also areas utilized in many ancient and eastern practices, such as EFT and other theories rooted in the meridians of the body (Truitt, 2020).
Preparation: Preparation through the Havening model begins with educating the client on the neurophysiological responses of the body. Havening practitioners seek to educate the client to know how their brain and body works to be able to apply these skills in a manner that results in fewer symptoms while increasing life satisfaction. After the client has an understanding of the neurophysiology of the traumatic process and Havening, Havening providers gather an inventory of distraction techniques that would be comfortable and possible for the client to use. This part is important, because prompting a distraction technique that would increase activation would cause an increase in activation rather than a decrease. Recommendations for distraction techniques include items that can be listed, imagining counting a series of repeated movements, mathematical activities, and even singing songs. It is recommended that the types of activity vary in order to elicit activity from various centers of the brain (Truitt, 2020).
Protocols: Havening has different protocols for different intentions. Some are used sequentially, while others are used alone. I will describe these different protocols below. The following protocols were learned through several trainings lead by global trainer, Dr. Kate Truitt. (Truitt, 2020; Truitt, 2021).
Event Havening is the protocol used when there is an event that the individual experienced which, when recalled, explicitly or implicitly results in a response that is not desired the first step in event havening is assisting the client in identifying the event that is causing the distress. The client is then prompted to identify the moment that captures the worst of the experience and then encouraged to heighten the experience in their mind through eliciting various sensory experiences. The therapist will ask the client to notice what they see, hear, smell, taste, and feel in their body, along with the intensity, quality, and location of each sensation. The client is invited to allow the experience to intensify and develop and grow until it is as though it were the worst experience possible. Afterward, the client is then given the SUDs scale, with 0 being no distress and 10 being the worst distress imaginable. Once the client identifies their units of distress, the client is invited to engage in the various distraction techniques while applying the Haavening techniques. The main protocol recommendations are three sets of distraction techniques. These can include identifying 10 vegetables, listing 15 locations that start with the letter C, counting backward from 45 by fours, or imagining walking along the beach picking up stones and throwing them into the ocean counting out loud as they imagine the events. The client is then invited to take a breath in through their nose to the count of four and out through their mouth to the count of six. This sort of breathing has also been shown to bring on parasympathetically-dominated states. The client is then invited to reimagine the targeted experience and to identify on the SUDs scale their level of distress. When the client’s distress level is under the protocol number, often a different number depending on factors such as in-person vs. remote sessions, the client either goes into another round of the event Havening with distractions or moves into the secondary protocol (Truitt, 2020; Truitt, 2021).
Transpirational Havening protocol uses the understanding of existing networks in the client’s brain. It queues one experience through event Havening, and then, when the client is at a low enough SUDs level, this protocol gently opens up the entire neural network of related experiences. So, for example, if a client described their SUDs level as a five after describing a past car accident, the therapist would ask what the current most prominent experience might be. Thus, if the client were to say fear, the client would be invited to say the word fear over and over again while applying the Havening technique until it had no meaning. Often this word becomes neutralized and the therapist would then ask about a new state or experience. This transpirational Havening process has the effect that the person has memories that seem very unrelated in terms of quality but are connected in terms of the experience or other sorts of connecting material. This was described to me as a Google search for experiences in the brain. As the brain goes through Google searches of these experiences while doing the Havening, it sort of grabs all of the experiences and E potentiates them as a unit, this is very similar to what is described with EMDR. However, the client is not in distress as a client is while undergoing EMDR. Often, after a few rounds of these experiences the client acknowledges that the event seems neutral even though they can remember the experience and have evaluative thoughts about it, and their emotional response is neutralized. This means that the next step of the Havening sequence can be applied (Truitt, 2020; Truitt, 2021).
Creating Possibilities is an interesting protocol because it really seeks to pull the client directly into what is most often understood as post-traumatic growth. This has been one of the most curious elements of Havening that I have experienced with clients after getting through the excitement of a near immediate reduction of symptoms. Creating Possibilities Havening replaces the previous distressing sensation, belief, or idea with the desired experience. For example, if someone was in a traumatic experience in which they felt helpless, the therapist would ask the client what they wish they would have felt or what they would like to think of, experience, or feel when they think of the event in the future. So in the example of a client feeling helpless, they may tell the therapist that they wish they would have felt capable. The therapist then asks the client if they have ever had an experience where they have felt the desired emotional state. If a client does not have their own experience to draw upon, the client is asked if they’ve ever seen it or if they’ve seen a film or a literary character that has demonstrated what they believe it would look like and if they can imagine how the character felt. The process then goes in a similar way to event Havening, where the client is invited to heighten the experience through all of their imagined sensations. Afterward, the therapist uses Havening techniques to ask questions of the client’s mind and body as if the client was embodying the desired quality. They ask this question about five times while applying the Havening techniques, followed by inviting the client to offer their validity of the experience on a scale of zero to 100 (with zero being not true at all and 100 being absolutely true). The client is then asked to shift the question from “what if I can be” to “I will be” to “I deserve to be” to “I am the” desired quality. Each time, they are asked to rate the validity of those statements on the same scale of zero to 100 (Truitt, 2020; Truitt, 2021).
When the client is able to fully experience that belief, the therapist invites the client to pair the belief with another sensory experience. I often use color associated with the belief system. After the client is in the 90s on the scale of believing that their desired experience is true, I invite them to imagine what color would be representative of the belief. When they identify the color, I ask them to imagine that color moving through their entire body. That color is connected to the belief and they feel that belief throughout their body linking it into that color. The interesting thing with this process is that when the individual needs to rely on that belief – when a client needs to believe that they are competent, prepared, or disciplined – they can remember that color and that will cue the body’s somatic memory of the experience of the desired belief (Truitt, 2020; Truitt, 2021).
Future performance Havening grew out of a partnership involving Havening trainers working with the US military. Leadership reached out to Kate Truitt, the global trainer, and described struggles that they had with their men and women in uniform continually struggling to pass the physical fitness test. Psychologists noticed that individuals would fail their test, and then the retest would cause so much anxiety that men and women often performed more poorly during the retest than they did in their initial test failure. It was understood that the pressure to physically perform was higher than it would normally be because the careers of men and women in the military are so directly tied to their ability to complete not only their job but also physical fitness and weapons qualifications, etc. Future performance protocol relies on knowledge gains through sports psychology and performance psychology to maximize not only the appropriate mindset to be able to perform successfully, but also the neurobiology and Havening principles to increase the bodies experience of successfully engaging in the desired outcome (Truitt, 2020; Truitt, 2021).
This protocol begins with event Havening targeting the imagined failure or the imagined feared experience. The therapist takes the client through event Havening to depotentiate the fear of failure and moves through transpirational protocol to unhook it from a wider network of a sense of failure or other developed belief and creates a desired experience when approaching the targeted activity. Future possibility protocol invites the client to go through the Havening process and imagine the successful outcome while applying the havening techniques. This process really takes the pieces of positive self-talk positive affirmations and not only grounds them in the body but seals them in the brain through an imagined lived experience. In the same way that the body is filled with anxiety thinking of failing at which point the body fears the experience because the body already feels like it has failed, this replaces that experience with the body feeling like it has already succeeded and in so doing removes the fear from the event and replaces it with a sense of mastery (Truitt, 2020; Truitt, 2021).
In part, what drew me to Havening was the ability to apply the techniques in a non-clinical environment. While there are other methods that are used in a manner outside of the traditional realm of psychotherapy, it has always been important to me that techniques are not rogue psychological interventions but are truly normal techniques that maximize the brain and body’s normal process of healing. I have found that while using Havening in coaching it has resulted in rapid resolution and surprises me as much as it seems to surprise my clients. I have found it has facilitated rapid development in my clients in areas from self-identity to beliefs surrounding capacity and future career paths.
While I am unable to see beneath my client’s skulls, their rapid improvement and reports of increased satisfaction and decreases in less desirable experiences supports my belief of Havening as being an effective model.
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