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What is Havening – the unusual, Justin Bieber-approved anxiety technique

TextLaura Pitcher

By using physical touch in four key parts of your body, the alternative therapy claims to help with anxiety, stress management, trauma, and phobias

Last month, Hailey Bieber shared with the world that her husband Justin Bieber practices the Havening technique regularly on an episode of the singer’s YouTube docuseries, Justin Bieber: Seasons. She describes it as “almost like when you’re a kid and your mum is rubbing your back to sleep and it’s the best feeling in the world”, taking anywhere from a few minutes to hours. Taught to Bieber by his health coach Dr Buzz Mingin, it seems Justin turns to self-Havening (practising the method on yourself) for anxiety management. 

He’s not alone. Belonging to a larger group of methods called psychosensory therapies, such as the wider known tapping technique (an emotional freedom technique that involves tapping on different parts of the body), Havening uses physical touch as a “therapeutic tool”, applying the technique by rubbing certain points on the body (hands, arms, forehead, and under eyes) slowly and with moderate pressure. It’s described on the worldwide website as having three applications: “emotional disturbances and encoded psychological trauma; the second is for wellness, stress management, and peak performance; and the third is a self-help tool.”

The alternative therapy method was developed by Dr Ronald Ruden in 2001, who explained that he came up with the idea for the technique after learning about tapping. As a trained neuroscientist, Dr Ruden became interested in researching how trauma is encoded in the brain and how touch can be used to decode it. “Using simple touch, we can release a hormone in the brain called GABA and at the same time create something called Delta, which causes individuals to become very relaxed and feel safe,” he says. “If there’s an individual event like a car accident or violence at home, these can encode as trauma. Havening can address those as well as addressing the landscape of the brain, which is the neuro electrochemical level in which we perceive the world.” Dr Ruden compared the landscape of the brain to salivating before you order your favourite meal at your favourite restaurant, highlighting the connection between our thoughts and physical actions.  

The first person that Dr Ruden ever tested the technique on was a colleague with a severe phobia of cats in the early 00s. After the session, he says that she was no longer afraid of them. After releasing the book When the Past is Always Present in 2010, where he shares havening techniques, Dr Ruden says that havening is now being practised in “about 30 countries”, with hundreds of practitioners applying for certification and thousands of success stories from those suffering from phobias, anxiety or trauma. Yet, why is what seems to be such a miracle cure operating mostly under the public radar?

“Using simple touch, we can release a hormone in the brain called GABA and at the same time create something called Delta, which causes individuals to become very relaxed and feel safe. If there’s an individual event like a car accident or violence at home, these can encode as trauma. Havening can address those as well” – Dr Ronald Ruden

Wellness professional and Havening specialist Rebecca Suzanne Scott walked me through the process with a trial Havening session (usually costing around £50 to £100 an hour). Gently rubbing my arms, hands, eyebrows, and under my eyes, we counted down from 30 then I talked her through details of my happy place (which is, rather unoriginally, a beach). We do variations of this for around an hour, checking in on how I’m feeling about a specific traumatic event along the way. The technique itself is soothing and I did find the experience more relaxing than anything. I am, however, less convinced that it “cured” me of all my neuroses and trauma but, after just one session, perhaps that’s where the practice of self-Havening comes in.

While there is evidence that being touched affects emotional processing, there have been very little trials on psychosensory therapies such as Havening’s effectiveness. A related technique, thought field therapy, reported moderately positive results in a Norwegian trial, but there is currently no scientific evidence to support Havening’s claims. Despite this, the practice is increasing all over the world, with personal testimonials, and Dr Ruden’s numerous books, feeding its popularity. 

“I’ve trained around 350 practitioners here in LA, all through word of mouth and without any marketing,” says Kate Truitt, certified Havening Techniques Trainer and Global Coordinator of Continuing Education who trained in Havening in 2014. She now is the lead trainer on the west coast of the US, where an intensive two-day training takes place to achieve the certification. The Havening touch has no hard rule-book, aside from focusing on the four areas and practitioners are encouraged to choose combinations that feel right for each client. “I’ve definitely seen an increase in interest from when I first moved here and no one knew what havening was at all. With someone like Justin Bieber saying that they’ve had good results from it, obviously that's a wonderful organic advertisement for us.”

The global Havening website is careful not to “guarantee any specific results” but it does include a number of first-person testimonials. “I self-Havened and decided to push on up and out. Since then my focus, mood and energy have been high, and a clearer outlook is here! I had hoped that our meeting would have solved everything in an instant but the experience of the past weeks has given me something better; a realisation that it is one step at a time and I have the personal power and techniques now, to develop this and create the life I deserve!” wrote one client about their experience of using havening to treat their anxiety. “I am now flying with no fear whatsoever, I now can board a plane and enjoy the flight, (even the hard air!!) something that was never possible before,” wrote another about their previous fear of flying. 

Despite limited research and personal evidence, people are sharing positive experiences with Havening on and offline. This means that Justin Bieber probably won’t be the last celebrity to sing its praise, if they admit to using the technique. Considering our current “anxiety epidemic”, it’s little surprise that people are turning to alternative methods. As far as Havening goes, it’s a safe and pleasant one. If you don’t believe the hype, you can always try it for yourself

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