‘I’m scared of spiders, can you help?’
‘Heights make me feel like I’m about to faint, is there anything you can do for me?’
‘I have a social phobia – what can I do?’
Questions like this are common when you work as a clinical hypnotherapist. I have seen literally thousands of clients over the years who struggle with phobias and anxiety.
Treating phobias and anxiety disorders can be incredibly challenging to overcome using conventional therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) , but one technique has emerged as a ‘gold standard’ in hypnotherapy circles when it comes to having lost-lasting benefits.
Let me hold up my hands before telling you what it is: because on first impressions it seems slightly bizarre.
In fact, it’s so strange that many people look at me with blank faces when I explain what it is and how it works.
The technique in question is called Havening – and it transformed how I did hypnotherapy when I first trained in it in 2014. In fact it’s so powerful, that I’ve used it with every client since.
About the Havening technique
When I first mention Havening to my clients, they often look at me with a sense of curiosity and intrigue (if they’re generally open to new ideas) or downright disbelief (everyone else).
They wonder how it can possibly help them overcome their challenges. Why the sense of scepticism? Let me explain…
In short, Havening involves using touch and distraction to help calm the brain and reduce the impact of traumatic memories or negative emotions. It essentially allows you to remove the emotional component of a memory.
At its core, Havening involves stroking the arms in a particular way that helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and calmness. This simple act of touch can help to reduce anxiety symptoms, stress, and other negative emotions that can contribute to phobias and other mental health challenges.
Of course, this explanation is just the tip of the iceberg. Havening is a complex and nuanced technique that requires training and practice to use effectively. But the results can be remarkable, as I’ve seen first-hand in my practice.
Results backed up by research
Research has shown that Havening can be an effective way to deal with everything from anxiety and depression to phobias and PTSD. One study by Nottingham Trent University found it could help people to overcome traumatic experiences.
Dr. Alexander Sumich, Associate Professor in Psychology at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “Hormones and brain chemicals, such as oxytocin and dopamine are released through our bodies with desired social contact, such as sharing a hug, and are critical to our psychological and physical wellbeing, supporting our immune system.
“Oxytocin also helps an area of the limbic system called the amygdala adaptively determine whether we should be fearful of something or not.”
When Havening was used alongside a form of distraction therapy, Dr Sumich said that, “While our findings suggest that both conditions carried therapeutic potential, we see that incorporation of the Havening Touch accelerates the reduction in distress, with even just a single session.”
But what exactly happens during a Havening session? Let me walk you through the process.
Understanding the Havening process
The first step is to identify the specific issue or challenge that you are facing. This could be anything from treating phobias such as a fear of flying to addressing severe anxiety or neutralising traumatic memories from the past.
Next, we’ll begin the Havening process. This typically involves sitting or lying down comfortably and closing the eyes. I’ll then guide you through a relaxation process to help you feel calm and centred.
Once you are relaxed, I’ll guide you through the process of stroking your arms in a specific pattern. This pattern involves a series of gentle, rhythmic strokes along the length of the arm.
While you are stroking your arms, I’ll encourage you to focus on the specific issue or challenge that you’re facing. This could involve visualising a traumatic memory, acknowledging a phobia, or simply allowing yourself to feel any negative emotions that come up.
As the Havening process continues, you will typically begin to feel a sense of calmness and relaxation as we ‘Haven out’ the negative feelings associated with whatever is bothering you.
We can then use words like ‘calm’ and ‘safe’ to ‘Haven in’ more positive emotions.
The goal of Havening is to help the client feel safe and calm, even when they’re confronting difficult emotions or memories.
By using touch to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, we can help the brain to release negative emotions and reduce the impact of traumatic memories.
A powerful tool to help with anxiety disorders and when treating phobias
Of course, Havening is not a magic solution that will work for everyone. But in my experience, it can be a powerful and effective tool for addressing a wide range of mental health challenges.
I have found it to be especially beneficial when I am asked to treat anxiety, to address phobia symptoms and to help people dial down negative thoughts they experience in their day to day life.
And with thousnads of clients having already benefited from this rapid method when treating phobias and/or an anxiety disorder, I’m certain that it will continue to be one of my most reliable hypnotherapy techniques for years to come.