woman crying in therapy session
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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 the brain chemical, serotonin, is said to help relieve mental health symptoms and keep painful memories away.

This approach aims to help you create ahaven for yourself in a single session.

“According to havening’s creators, it can address many types of emotional distress.”

They note that this technique may help you see greater success with your goals, as it may boost general well-being and lead to improved performance at work, school, or in physical activities.

Interested in trying out the havening technique? A trained havening practitioners might look at this.

  1. Your care provider will ask you to rate your emotional distress. You could say something like “8 out of 10” or “high” or you could say something like “scared” or “angry”.
  2. You will be told to clear your thoughts or focus on something positive.
  3. Rub your arms up and down.
  4. 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.
  5. You can perform a series of eye movements with open eyes. You could be asked to look left, right, up, and down, then roll your eyes in a circle.
  6. Next, you will close your eyes. Your doctor will ask you to hum a song, such as “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” If you prefer not to be touched, they will use gentle touch to stroke your forehead or arms.
  7. They will ask you to assess your level of distress again.
  8. Your provider may ask you to use a different visualization or song.
  9. As your provider strokes your arms or forehead, you will relax your arms and perform another series of eye movements. They may use a phrase such as “release,” “let it go,” or “almost there” to encourage you to take a few deep breaths.
  10. Your provider will ask how you are. The aim is to have your distress fall to 0 or 1 after three havenings.

Havening doesn’t require any sort of hypnosis, so you’ll remain fully conscious and awake, helping direct the process.

If the technique works, you might notice your tension is reduced. The creators believe that havening causes a disruption in the pathways in your brain that make you sad.

The creators say that havingning could make it more difficult for you to bring up the memories of these events.

There is no clear answer since experts have yet to conduct high-quality controlled trials to support havening.

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.

“The study’s limitations make it less conclusive, despite the results being promising.”

A small, randomized controlled trial from 2018 explored havening’s potential usefulness as a pain management technique after surgery. However, the results of this study were less promising.

“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.

“Some quicker or easier paths to healing may have benefit, but they don’t always work. These strategies can prevent you from taking action to address the root cause of your distress, which is a tested, if slightly longer, route to recovery.”

Havening is a therapeutic technique that has a low risk of harm.

Navigating trauma can be very upsetting. It is important to keep this in mind, whether you try havening on your own or with support from a trained provider.

“Havening could still cause distress even though it doesn’t require you to openly discuss upsetting events.”

Without support from a mental health professional, these feelings might become overwhelming. Depression or anxiety could get worse if they are symptoms.

You might notice some effects after a session.

These sensations are not passed on by others. If you experience any distress, you should talk to a healthcare provider or therapist.

“Touch is required for havening. If you don’t feel comfortable with therapeutic touch, talk to your provider before the session. They can help you with havening techniques.”

There is not much research on havening, but anecdotal reports suggest that it is a good way to address symptoms of anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues.

It can be done, so if you are interested, it can be done. It may not work immediately, but it might offer some 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 will likely see the most benefit when using havening with any medical or mental health treatment.

Crystal Raypole worked as an editor for GoodTherapy. Her interests include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. She is committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.