Blog Post

Is the Havening Technique New Age?

Dr.Donald A. Ruden Dr.Donald A. Ruden

LT asks: "Is Havening (Technique) new age? Should one avoid Havening?"

Yes, one should avoid the Havening Technique but not because it's New Age (it's not). It should be avoided because it has not been clinically proven to work.

The Havening Technique (HT) was developed by Ronald Ruden, M.D., along with his twin brother, Steven, a dentist, and seeks to treat people suffering from trauma with a combination of memory recall and touch.

This article, written by Christian Jarrett, Ph.D. and appearing last year in Psychology Today,  describes the technique as follows:

"First is activation of the emotional content of the [traumatic] event by imaginal recall ... A gentle and soothing touch is then applied to the upper arms, palms and around the eyes. It produces an extrasensory response of safety that arises from the evolutionary equivalent of what a mother’s touch does at the time of birth. It is innately wired. Concurrently with havening touch the therapist distracts the individual. Since the mind cannot hold two thoughts simultaneously, the use of distraction displaces the recalled event from working memory and prevents it from re-activating the amygdala [a part of the brain associated with feelings of fear and aggression]."

The big question is, does the therapy work and do we know this from sources other than proponents of the technique.

The answer is no.  Jarrett's routine search for clinical trials turned up no results and a search on a similar field - thought field therapy - turned up only one test that had methodological problems.

"Consistent with Havening, there is evidence that memories are particularly amenable to change just after they've been recalled," Jarrett writes. "There is also evidence that being touched affects emotional processing. However, putting these two broad facts together does not necessarily make a recipe for a breakthrough touchy therapy. If it does, this needs to be demonstrated in properly controlled trials. These could address important issues - such as, what kind of clients does the therapy work for, and for whom should it be avoided; how long do the benefits really last, and how to optimze the process."

Unfortunately, none of this has been done, which is surprising to me because Ruden is a highly educated doctor who certainly knows the value of subjecting his work to clinical trials and peer review.

Jarrett concludes by saying that HT breaks a few of his own personal rules put in place to protect himself from "neurononsense", such as how claims for HT are too good to be true and subject to hype, and because of its "gratuitous, embarrassingly simplistic neuroscience references."

Jarrett sees some potential dangers in this kind of over-hyped therapy, not least of which is that it wastes the time and money of health professionals who could be trained in proven therapies.

And, "Second, the hype and misinformation around havening could well have a knock-on effect on the reputation of, and public trust in, bona fide therapies. Third, it's naive to assume that untested therapies will, at worst, have no effect. Diverting vulnerable people away from effective treatments is harmful. Fourth, it concerns me the way the promotional materials for this havening technique misappropriate neuroscientific jargon. There may well be a place for complementary medicine, but I think it's wrong to dress up non-scientific alternative therapies as if they are an evidence-based treatment supported by mainstream science. "

My advice is to take a pass on HT and stick to methods that have been proven to work.