Dr. Kate Truitt & Associates
A Psychological Corporation
It's time to Live Your Excellence
Excerpt from the book Fifteen Minutes to Freedom: The Power and Promise of the Havening Techniques, compiled and edited by Harry Pickens.
Dr. Kate Truitt is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and trauma specialist leading a group private practice in Pasadena, California.
Harry: Kate, how did you first discover Havening?
Kate: I was very lucky to be introduced to Havening in the summer of 2014 by our colleague Bill Solz, LCSW. At that point I myself had been living with PTSD for over 6 years and had given up hope of changing certain symptoms and behavioral patterns that plagued my life. You see, in 2009 I experienced a traumatic event that led me to develop PTSD. My partner of 10 years died suddenly. It was a week before our wedding and I had been invited to a Welcome to the Family bachelorette party with his sisters. When he didn’t answer my calls to pick me up at the end of the evening, I knew something was wrong. I took a taxi home and came home to a dark and locked house. I had left my keys at home so I had to break in to the house and when I found him, he was non-responsive. I was unable to resuscitate him. It was a terrifying and traumatic evening that left an indelible imprint on me. The week that followed further encoded the trauma as our wedding became his funeral with everything from the wedding flowers to the rehearsal dinner photos transitioning to partake in the marking his passing.
As a clinician, I had already been doing trauma work for over a decade. I was utilizing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and the Trauma Resilience Model (TRM) in my private practice. I had been living and breathing trauma treatment in my work with patients. But this was the first time that I had an acute traumatic experience that resulted in a clinical diagnosis of a traumatic stress disorder.
I went the traditional route for my own treatment. I knew fantastic practitioners in all these areas I had trained in, so I reached out to them, spending thousands of dollars trying to heal. EMDR and TRM helped the trauma be "softer" but the nightmares, panic, and fear still ran my life.
I had what’s referred to as an intractable memory. That’s a memory that just can’t budge and feels permanent. It has been encoded in the brain in such a manner that the brain will not release it. This memory was causing me turmoil in my daily life.
Luckily, I had friends and family who loved me and would handle the chaos of my emotional world. It felt like I was living and breathing in a crazy space. Somebody would leave my house and would agree to call or text and tell me they got home safe in 30 minutes. If they didn’t call or text me in that time, I would go into a panic. I would call them repeatedly while mentally spinning stories about their horrific deaths.
I remember driving to my parents house 2 hours away because they would sometimes get home, fall asleep and forget to call me. I didn’t know they were home safely. Every day I was constantly reliving the trauma and my powerlessness to save him. I couldn’t break the patterns so I just adjusted my life around it, but living this way was exhausting.
My late fiancé passed a week before our wedding. June 13, 2009 was the night of the trauma. I lived with this memory until I found Havening in October 2014.
Earlier in 2014, I was in Jacksonville, Florida at a treatment center conference where I ran into a colleague, Bill Solz, who had already trained in the Havening Techniques. We started to talk about trauma work and he mentioned the techniques to me.
To be honest, It sounded too good to be true. But I was desperate. It had been over 5 years at that point and this was something new that was based in neuroscience. I have a Master of Arts in Psychology with an emphasis in psychophysiology and am a neuroscientist. Brain science is extremely important to me. So I thought, okay, it’s based in neuroscience; it’s new, but I’ll try it because I’m desperate.
I flew out to New York and during the very first breakout group of that conference everything changed. On that beautiful October day, Dr. Steven Ruden, one of the founders and developers of Havening, happened to sit down at my breakout group and said “does anyone have anything to work on?”
I told him “I have this issue and I’ve tried everything else. What do you think?”I still remember that sparkle in his eye and his smile. He just looked at me, like “we’ve got this.”
Just a few minutes later, that memory that I had literally spent well over $10,000 trying to alleviate changed.
Fifteen minutes later that memory was different. It was completely different. In my memory, above the body, where it had been, I now perceived a glowing light. And my late fiancee’s name was John; I called him Angel, Johnny Angel, and my mind just manifested that image as we did the work. I was able to walk myself through the experience of that night with no activation. Instead my mind kept focusing on the warm glowing light and I felt peaceful. I was shocked, to say the least. I was also incredulous.
It wasn't until I got home and had a trigger that would normally spin me into that panic cycle that I really knew that something had shifted. I got two steps into that panic cycle and it was like my panic brain circuitry just collapsed. The neurons had nowhere to go. In that moment I burst out laughing with relief. I have never experienced that cycle of behavior again.
All in only fifteen minutes.
H: Fifteen minutes to freedom.
K: Fifteen minutes to freedom! Even to this day when I talk about it I just get this glow because my goodness, who knew? And I took that leap of faith, 90% of me thinking this isn’t going to work and 10% thinking maybe. Now I just know Havening is going to change the world.
H: Clearly it is. Thank you for that story. Kate, who are your typical patients?
K: I specialize in treatment of PTSD - post-traumatic stress disorder.
I have over the course of my career developed a group private practice working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse that has since expanded to survivors of any abuse. My team and I also treat stress-related and comorbid disorders such as depression, anxiety, panic, phobias, chronic pain, eating disorders, etc.
That’s the bulk of my patientele, although I do work with individuals who have any sort of blockage that is amygdala based or fear based. And quite frequently that will lead back to difficult or stressful experiences that their brain encoded traumatically.
I also train clinicians who specialize in addiction, couples therapy, eating disorders, as well as individuals who work with children and adolescents. Because, as you know, stress, trauma and depression impact all of us.
H: What led you to work with patients who have experienced such significant degrees of stress and trauma?
K: I started by researching eating disorders. A bit of my personal story is appropriate here. I was a model for about 10 years. I lost a dear friend, a fellow model, to severe anorexia. That is when I left my modeling career and began my journey to become a clinical psychologist.
I always felt my focus would be eating disorders but the more I worked, researched and engaged clinically, the more I realized that obviously an eating disorder is a coping skill. I was treating symptoms but not really addressing what was hurting the person, which was the early life experiences that were causing their eating disorder. So my practice and research shifted into the etiology, what was causing the problem so I could treat the person.
H: What place does Havening occupy in your full repertoire of tools and interventions? Has it now become the foundation of all of your work?
K: I’m chuckling because when I think about everything I have learned and applied and integrated over the years, everything is so much more effective and more helpful because I teach everyone how to haven and I incorporate it with everyone.
If I use any other technique we are using Havening alongside it. If we are doing talk therapy we will start Havening while we are talking through it to increase the associative processes. And if an event arises, and someone remembers something that is distressing or painful, we will go right into Havening to release it. It is the foundation of my practice now. And my patients walk out in this grounded calm and open space from every session, no matter how deep the work.
H: Yes, I’ve noticed that as well. When you complete a Havening session, the patient is in a more grounded, clear and peaceful state, no matter where they began. Tell me more about your experience of Havening with your patients. What are the specific advantages you find with Havening as opposed to the many other trauma techniques that you’ve been trained in?
K: What I love about it is that it’s adjunctive. It’s not something you will use in place of a particular school of thought. It’s beautifully integrative and powerfully so.
We can have someone who is psychoanalytic, or CBT oriented, someone who is mindfulness based, does NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming), or uses hypnotherapy and they can each bring it into their practice and really make it their own while relying on the foundational principles and techniques of Havening.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who is one of the foremost trauma experts in the world, if not the foremost, talks and writes about how nothing can be accomplished without a safe place. If we can’t have a safe place then we can’t heal trauma. Havening provides that safe place electrochemically for the patient.
When I go work with my patients, some of these people have never felt safe in their entire life. And, with Havening, all of them demonstrate the capacity to create the electrochemical representation of safety within themselves. And their body has never felt that before.
H Dr. Ruden spent nearly a decade trying to decode this process of traumatic encoding. Havening developed out of his research and he came up with a powerful neurobiological model. Based on your own understanding of neuroscience which predated your exposure to Dr. Ruden and Havening, how does his model resonate with your knowledge? Do you think Dr. Ruden got it right?
K: Yes. I think he got it more right then I was ever aware of. That was one thing that really encouraged me to fly out to New York. As you know, there is the 3 DVD set training course that comes with the purchase of any 2-Day training.
Before flying out to NYC for my initial Havening Techniques training, I I started watching them. Now, mind you, I had already written a 200 page thesis on the defense cascade, which is all about information processing in the amygdala and trauma responses. And then I went in and did my own research in information processing and traumatized individuals using quantitative EEG and EEG. That was my thesis for one of my master's degrees.
The point is that I have been investing heavily in learning all about the brain, information processing, trauma, and psychophysiology. That’s what encouraged me to go to New York. When I read his book the alignment with my own studies was remarkable. He references the same articles I referenced in my research. He references the same books. He references the same people. He is an MD and also has a doctorate in neuroscience, so he has been living and breathing this stuff for decades. It’s in alignment with everything I have come across with doing trauma work for only 10 years and he has 40 years on me. Dr. Ruden’s work has allowed me to go much deeper with the work that I do in my practice.
H. From your perspective, what exactly does Havening do that other tools and modalities can not do as easily or readily?
K: Havening allows for the depotentiation of the traumatically encoded experiences in the amygdala. What that means is we can now go in target the neurons that are holding the traumatic experience active in the brain. We can empower the brain to release these experiences that are serving as a trauma filter for present day information processing.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is a misnomer because it basically implies that we are living in a past experience. When a patient walks in the door they are there because of their current symptoms. So it’s a present day disorder that is being run by the information processes in the present day that were designed and developed from past experiences.
As I explain it to my patients, your brain has a trauma filter in it now and we have to clear out that trauma filter. That’s what Havening does. It allows us quickly and effectively take a traumatic experience and release the traumatically encoded components so it becomes just another memory.
What that does for the brain is that now this specific memory will not activate the entire physiology of fight, flight, or freeze when the individual encounters a stimulus similar to one in the traumatically encoded experience. It will no longer burn out the adrenal system or cause the person to reach for food or alcohol or sex to soothe their nervous system because of the impact of that earlier trauma. So the individual is back in a place of empowered control. I’ve never seen anything like it.
H: Hence the gateway to true client empowerment. What was most challenging or difficult for you as you integrated Havening into your current work?
K: The integration into my work has been simple. My patients are in pain and I have a tool that alleviates that pain and results in huge positive systemic change. They trust the techniques. I have experienced the challenge in supporting other clinicians to feel comfortable using the technique. When I explain the science to my patients and start showing them the Havening touch and they have the initial experience with it, then everyone’s on board. They can see that it works and they take it home and start using it immediately. I haven’t had a single patient push back.
But for clinicians, especially in psychology, we are taught that this is not a touch based field. Havening is a touch based technique. We have facilitated self-havening, where the clinician models the touch while the patient provides the touch, but even that can feel uncomfortable for the clinician.
When we look at EMDR, initially before we had the tools, you would sit in very close proximity to the patient and move your fingers back and forth in front of their eyes or tap on their knees. So that was touch based and EMDR has provided to portal into a whole new world psychosensory work.
H: So the clinician’s hesitation is because of the existing paradigm that they are living out of?
K: Exactly. Transcending that has actually been the harder thing. I do a lot of adjunctive work with other clinicians and they witness the huge shifts their patient’s experience in a very short period of time. They’ll send someone to me that has a trauma come up or experiences trauma; I will do two or three sessions with that person just to clear them and the amygdala and then send them back. Those are the clinicians signing up for the training. They see the transformative effect of the technique and say, “I don’t want to have to refer my patients out to you to do that.”
H: Of course.
K: “I want to create that change.”They sign up.
H: So once they have the tangible experience with the patient, like you did, then it breaks down any resistance or discomfort they might have experienced with a touch-based technique.
K: Exactly. And when I go to do a lecture or presentation and I intro the techniques I have everyone do a little self facilitated havening, then they say, “I want in. I want to help my patients do that.” But the dominant paradigm right now is that people are nervous and don’t know how to effectively integrate it into their own practice.
H: How do you approach the issue of touch with patients who are coming from a history of sexual or physical abuse where touch was used in a way that violated them?
K: I always lead with the neuroscience. I break it down. “This is what’s going on in your brain.”That way they understand that they are not crazy, these things happen and their brain develops these mechanisms. Then I introduce the Havening touch based purely on the neuroscience, so that the touch cannot be misconstrued as anything other than a tool that is part of a neuroscience based technique.
Then when it’s time to do the reprocessing and engaging the touch, I first model it for them. I have them apply the self-havening touch to themselves. Then I talk about the pros and cons of me facilitating the touch and them facilitating the touch and doing facilitated self-havening.
And the cons being that, for me facilitating the touch, I will be in close proximity to them and will be applying the touch. The pros being that by me facilitating the touch they will have exponentially increased delta wave activity and they will have the opportunity to focus on the work rather than managing the motor cortex while focusing on the work.
So basing it all on the science has created the receptiveness. They know that this is pure science and everything we are doing is based in literature to support the fastest and most gentle healing process.
After all, that’s what they want. They want relief - don’t we all when in pain?
H: Yes, and the combination of both fast and gentle is profound and significant.
K: Havening is the only tool I’ve seen that with.
H: What are some of the specific conditions you have been able to successfully address with Havening?
K: The easiest are panic attacks and phobias. As you know those are amygdala based disorders, so we can find the key stone event and heal those.
I’ve seen fantastic shifts with long term major depressive disorder, so that people who have had depression across their lifespan have just been able to release and move forward. That’s where that stress based disorder component of depression comes in.
I also see success with generalized anxiety and obviously PTSD. With complex PTSD, I’ve seen incredible transformations working with individuals who were completely and utterly hopeless, came forward with horrifying things that happened in their childhood, and survived and are living in this chronic cycle of trauma. By the time our work is resolved they would say they are cured. That’s their language, which is unbelievable to me.
I also do a lot of work with intractable pain; in other words, pain that doesn’t have a physiological cause. I am so impressed with this work but, as we know, the amygdala encodes pain.
I do a lot of work with individuals who have chronic high stress and have had multiple cardiac events. I work with them to help alleviate the stress so that their nervous system calms down. We have seen blood pressure drop in incredible ways. I have a lot of cardiologists now that refer to me. Havening is such a multifaceted tool for so many things.
H: We spoke a good bit before about the fact that you have shifted your practice where at one point you had a number of different tools and approaches you were using in terms of addressing trauma. Now Havening is part of everything you do. I’d like you to speak a little bit more about the specific distinction between EMDR, which gets to the same end result as Havening in terms of clearing the traumatically encoded memory but gets there in a very different fashion, and Havening and why you’ve chosen to transition more and more to Havening.
K: I started training EMDR back in 2004, which was 12 years ago. It blew me out of the water. It was amazing. It was the new hot thing and for a very good reason. That being said, there were very certain patients that I was very reticent to use it on and with good cause.
One of the side effects of EMDR is “opening somebody up” and even though they have containers and safe places and all these protocols in place, to close somebody back up before a session ends wouldn’t always work.
Sometimes we’d open up an associative network in the brain and that person’s left spiraling in it. My practice is working with complex PTSD so I have a lot of personality disorders. I work with a lot of self-injurious people. I have a lot of people who struggle with suicidality. To open up somebody and then send them home with a good chance they might end up in the ER, whether it be for twenty-seven stitches from a self inflicted wound or suicide attempt, is pretty scary to me.
And yet, I also knew that in order to really do the healing work we had to be able to get into the limbic system because talk therapy doesn’t work for trauma. Their prefrontal cortexes shut down. So I would use EMDR a lot of the time but it was nerve-racking for me with a lot of my patients.
H: It was nerve-racking because specifically of those associations?
K: For a number of reasons. One was we could be working on a highly traumatic event and we get half way through the session, the session ends and we haven’t finished the reprocessing.
Traditionally EMDR requires eight to ten sessions to reprocess a discrete trauma. So you’d send them home in the middle of it, but some of the defense mechanisms that were previously helping them process it may have shifted or may not be available anymore.
Or, you may be working on a traumatic experience and they don’t have a tool to use between sessions to calm themselves down. They’ve become activated in it.
I would also experience patients who would dissociate in session. They would have a really severe abreaction, and there wasn’t a way to support their system in calming down and to keep doing the reprocessing because now they’re in a completely dissociative state.
They rip off the headphones, the bilateral audio, they toss the buzzers, they’re not going to look at any light and they’ve just completely capsized on themselves. I have to rely on all of my training just to help them ground. Thank goodness I had a bunch of other tools.
But it was scary in those moments. I would ask them to go into the hardest thing in their lives and to relive it and to do that repeatedly, recognizing there was incremental change every single time, which was great.
But there were some things that were a little too big or some people whose lives were so intense that I would have to spend eight months doing resource development before we could even begin trauma reprocessing. A lot of times that would lead to attrition because in their eyes we’re not actually doing the work. Not recognizing that this resource development is a really important part of working, no matter how often I would say that, they would still walk away from treatment saying I wanted to work on this trauma, not feel better about these other things in my life.
EMDR is still a fantastic tool. I still utilize many components of EMDR with Havening. I still utilize a lot of the protocols and I find them very effective. And, I’ve found there are certain things with Havening that are transformative and the key one is that I can get through more experiences more quickly without any loss in thoroughness or impact.
Here’s an example. Tonight I had a patient I was working with, just before our call, and we’re working completely content free. She brought in a list of fifteen different highly traumatic experiences and I don’t know a single thing about any of them. I’ve been doing forty-five to sixty minute sessions, reprocessing each one in its entirety.
So it would’ve been more extensive work, you know each trauma taking eight to ten sessions possibly. Sometimes you can collapse across, but it has basically been one session per item. Sometimes now because we’ve done four or five sessions, we’re doing two traumas in one session because of the exponential growth effect of Havening. We work on one and she heals across all of them regarding a certain feeling, state, or cognitive flashback.
And it’s gentle. Even though she’s abreacting, she’s crying, she’s shaking, in some ways she’s acting out the trauma, this is called a traumatic discharge. We want that. That’s a good thing because of the Havening touch releasing the GABA and the serotonin, her system’s actually very calm. Even though she’s in the middle of it, she’s still present with me, I can still engage with her, and I have a tool to ground her immediately with, the Event Havening, if the Transpirational Havening, which is a deeper more complex neural work, gets too much for her to handle. I know I have a tool that can immediately stop that processing and pull her back in the present moment within minutes.
H: So the process itself allows for a greater grounding.
K: Yes. My patient also has something to take home in between sessions. So if she were to somehow get activated by something (and a lot of my patients have really, really severe complex PTSD, so they do struggle with nightmares the first two or three sessions or may still have panic attacks), they have a tool that they can use immediately to stop it without reaching for a benzodiazepine.
K: So they’re empowered to do their own healing. The final piece is that it is just so much quicker. One of my patients came and spoke at the training that I gave. She came and gave an amazing testimonial and answered questions from everybody.
We’d done twelve sessions worth of work and she was a survivor of really severe childhood sexual abuse. Her perpetrator lived in the house and she was perpetrated upon sexually almost everyday. And it took us only twelve sessions. We terminated! Our work was done! I don’t know anything else that can do that. She was back at work. Vibrant, vivacious, empowered, no nightmares, no panic. I can go into the neuroscience of all of it for you but basically every symptom marker that we know for PTSD was no longer there.
You tell me something else that can do this in twelve sessions. She's up there saying ‘this is the most amazing thing ever; every session I walked out feeling clearer and stronger’. That was the thing with EMDR. People would leave and they would be wrecked. They would get to the end result but it was agonizing sending them back into their world in a place of pain and distress.
H: Thank you. That’s a beautiful and lucid explanation of the distinction.
K: You’re welcome.
H: Are there other cases that you’d like to share?
K: I did have another patient that comes to mind. I did some EMDR with her, and we ended up putting pause on the EMDR because her current home state was too chaotic and reflective of the violent, abusive home state that she grew up in.
Even though the current home state was now safe, she, as we know many of our patients do, recreated the chaos of her childhood in her present life – repetition compulsion disorder. This was a patient who is highly highly dissociative.
I remember one session in particular, this was probably ten years ago when I was working with her. I was in a clinic that had a play therapy room. There was a dollhouse in the room and for whatever reason, I don’t recall right now, we ended up going in that room to do our work. I think the usual room I worked in had some work being done on it. And so we went into that office, she saw the dollhouse and went into a complete dissociative state, regressing down to about five years old. It was pretty intimidating to me to be honest.
H: I can imagine.
K: We had been doing some EMDR and had been working on a memory at five years old. The dollhouse never came up in the memory we were working on, or obviously I wouldhavenever brought her into that room.
H: Of course.
K: Basically she regressed back to the state of the last memory we had been working on. This was at an outpatient clinic, and it took me maybe four hours to ground her, get her centered, collected and back together again. After that experience she was terrified to ever do EMDR again. She had never had an experience like that in her life but we had removed those protective defenses and she didn’t have the strength even though we had built her containers and her safe place and had done all the resourcing.
It was a low fee clinic, so we were able to work together for a really long time, and she had been doing really incredible work. We had done all the protocols that EMDR required for somebody who has severe PTSD. I was seeing her two to three times a week. So she had really strong structure around her. But after that incident, she’d never had anything like that happen before, so she refused to do it ever again.
Over the years, she’d sent me e-mails on how she’s doing, as some patients do, which is always a gift. She’s been doing a little better but still ever since that time had some regressive states. She tried TFT (Thought Field Therapy) with somebody and got some benefit just from the tools because she could take it home. However, she was still very scared to go back and do any actual reprocessing. And I don’t blame her.
When I completed the Havening training and was looking for case studies, she came to mind. I had continued working with her for about a year after that incident with the doll house. By the time we wrapped up, she was in a strong place and she was ready to go independent and not be in therapy anymore.
I reached out to her and said, “we still have some work to do. Would you be willing to try this technique?”She had actually just been in a car accident. So she says, “Fine. But we’re only working on that.”
I say okay. That’s acute trauma, that’s perfect. We’ll work on this one thing and just do the Event Havening. I knew we’were not going to go into any old memory networks. She came in and we reprocessed the car accident and in ten minutes it’s cleared completely. She had been scared to drive, and hadn’t been driving in the past two months because of the car accident. But you know how this stuff works. It’s just so fast. She opens her eyes and says, “that was amazing. I’m fine.”
We had scheduled for ninety minutes, since it had been awhile, so we would have extra time if we needed it. I said ‘so we still have eighty minutes, what do you want to do?’And she could've just said, “I’m good. Thanks so much, that was great, let’s do talk therapy or whatever, this is what’s been going on in my life.”
But she looks at me and goes “I want to go back to that memory.”I knew immediately what she meant. “I trust you. We did a lot of good work with EMDR and we talked a lot about tabling it and that was the right choice. It was not for me. But I’m wondering if this can do something else. I’ve never felt this calm and clear in my life after ten minutes of doing this.”SoI say, “okay.”
I was a little nervous, to be honest. I started Havening her, applying the Havening touch. She had quite a bit of delta wave activation in her system from the work related to the car accident. Then we started working in baby increments of that memory at five years old. Just touching on tiny peripheral elements.
Within that eighty minutes we reprocessed that entire memory down to a zero, and there were many many components to it. As we got lower on our experience of the memory, got down to a 2-3 on the SUDS scale, I started bringing in some Transpirational Havening and she started collapsing entire memory networks.
I remember she opened her eyes when we were done and it was one of those moments. I have yellow walls in my office and I’ve had this happen seven or eight times with different patients. She looks around and she says “Your walls are yellow, they weren’t yellow when I walked in.”And we know what that is. That’s the serotonin shifting. That’s that dopamine decrease in the thalamus and the amygdala so they’re no longer having that hypervigilant lose the forest for the trees experience. All of a sudden she’s taking in regular sensory data.
K: It was just transformative. And that was one session. So we did seven more sessions and she all of the sudden starts making these huge sweeping life changes. She moves out of her boyfriend’s house (her boyfriend had been abusive). She changes her job. She goes back to school. Everything's changing.
She disconnects from her family completely, draws strict boundaries, even calls CPS on her dad. I didn’t know this was a component back when we were first working together, but she brings it into a session. She says, “well you know I have a niece. I’m worried that my dad interacts with the niece.” She knows I’m a mandated reporter so I ask “do you want to make this call together?” Her reply blew me away, she told me “that’s why I’m bringing it in, I’ve never brought it up before because I was too scared to have CPS show up.” She knew the system because she’d been in the system. All of a sudden she says, “I’m taking my niece, I’m going to bring her to my house, I’m gonna get custody.” I’m thinking, “Who are you?”This is amazing.
H: Yes, she reclaimed her power fully.
K: Yes, and the nightmares were gone. The panic attacks were gone. The self injury was gone.
After my final session with this patient I called up Dr. Steven Ruden and asked him if I could become a trainer, because we need more. We need more. If Havening can do this, we need more.
H: How many sessions after the original ninety minute session?
K: Seven. Seven ninety minute sessions over the course of several months. I don’t do ninety minute sessions traditionally but with her I did them because we were working through really heated pieces. Granted, she’d done a lot of therapy so she was primed, she was prepped. She was ready for it. So she’d get these insights and all of a sudden after ten years of therapy, she’d say, “Oh I always knew that, but now I feel it.”That’s the gift of Havening, that experience of feeling that truth in the body rather than just knowing the truth.
H: The possibilities that are emerging as a result of the introduction of this technology and the neurobiological understanding are poised to transform how we not only deal with trauma, but how we help people heal in every way.
K: In every way. I think one of my pure aha moments, especially working with her and knowing the impact of complex trauma on brain development, was that I could actually start to tailor the Havening Techniques that I was using to address very specific discrepancies in her traumatized brain.
I can start to recognize this statement, when she says this: “When I bring up my mother’s face all I see is black.” That means that her anterior cingulate gyrus or her cingulate gyrus does not have certain receptors online. And her periaqueductal gray area is too over activated so that we can’t reach into the other aspects that the periaqueductal gray area is involved in that are tied into attunement and attachment. So we can start tailoring the interventions that way. I think this was one of the first techniques that I could do that with in such a hands on and active manner in my treatment planning and my intervention. That was cool.
H: Brain surgery in the palm of your hands.
K: That is just the coolest thing ever to me.
H: I was talking to Carol Robertson the other day, a Havening trainer in Scotland. She said “I teach people how to sculpt their own neurology.”And I love the sculpture metaphor. It seems that you’re talking about this as well as you identify that this part of the brain is not online for this reason. You’re using Havening and the other tools to help the patient re-sculpt in real time that particular aspect of their neurology. That is truly remarkable.
K: It is. Yes, remarkable. No better words.
H: How do you see Havening impacting mental health practice say ten to twenty years in the future?
K: I think it’s going to change the world, Harry! Not only because the rapidness of the results we get but because it can be self supplied and because we can teach the foundational principles of it to students. I teach it to all my parents and they use it with their children. So we have the capacity to actually start changing the future by implementing and incorporating this technique into everybody’s lives. It goes far beyond what we are going to be doing in our clinical offices now.
H: So you’ve answered that Havening can be used by people who are not counselors, psychologists, therapists and so forth. Where does a person begin with using Havening for self care? Is it teaching the touch? How far can an individual who is not trained in that way go with it?
K: Initially I teach them the applied touch, the Havening Touch. Then I move them through the basic distraction technique. So it’s for anybody who has anything activating. So the child can come home and say “I got bullied at school today mom and it was upsetting to me”, and mom can sit there and apply the havening touch to little Sally and they can hum twinkle twinkle little star and imagine playing fetch with a puppy, etc. That releases the stress of the bullying event while creating a resilient landscape which protects the brain from encoding that bullying experience.
I go to that level with all of my patients whether it is self applied or applying it to someone else. Even when I do lectures, whether it is with lay people or my clinical colleagues, the Event Havening is my go to because there’s really no way to screw that up. And that’s the beauty of it. You are giving your system GABA and serotonin and you are going to feel good.
I don’t teach people to actively do the exposure component. That’s because in my own experience as a trauma specialist we never know the layers that may be underneath something. I’ve had patients who I teach the technique to and they say I want to do this on my own and then I get a call from the ER because they put themselves into a panic attack. So I don’t teach that independently until I’ve been able to assess their ACES (adverse childhood experiences). How vulnerable and sensitized are they, as well as the current level of resilience in their brain.
So until we have done a lot work, if their ACE score is really high and their brain is vulnerable, I make sure that they are resilient first and then move into the Event Havening where they are actually processing traumatic experiences.
H: How far do you go in terms of teaching basic Event Havening to people who might present as okay but might have layers of trauma underneath that?
K: I teach it to them as a self care tool. Something happens and you feel activated and feel reactive and angry or agitated or frustrated. Then I say to start applying the touch, start going into distraction and just do that immediately. It’s an immediate intervention for day to day stresses. That in itself will have a retroactive effect to gently calm their nervous system.
The more you haven across the field the more balanced your system is. But I don’t have them actively go back and do trauma reprocessing independently. They don’t go back and look for it and then actively immerse themselves in it. The difference is the exposure component. I don’t want them doing exposure therapy on themselves because we don’t know where that could take them. Everyone leaves their intake session with me knowing how to modulate their nervous system.
H: Continuing with this theme, are there other specific situations where it would not be advisable as a clinician or someone in self care to use Havening?
K: Not really. The main thing that I tell my patients is that the core of all of this is safety. So if you’re using the technique on yourself you want to feel safe and comfortable using the touch. Now I have had some patients who were uncomfortable applying specific touches, so they would just do their hands and not their cheeks. But it’s the patient’s choice as to whatever resonates and what’s comfortable within. If the person who is going to be havened, the receiver of the touch, has expressed they are safe and comfortable receiving the touch then you are okay to proceed.
I tell the couples that I work with that if you are in an argument don’t walk up and start Havening your partner, because they may not want to be touched by you. The touch actually won’t work unless they have a sense of safety. The system will reject it. Those are the main things.
The other thing is with the touch, the cadence has to be fairly specific. If it is too fast, too harsh, if it’s hard then it won’t have the same effect and can actually agitate the system. So having an understanding of how to effectively apply the touch is very crucial. Other than that there really is not a time that it’s not okay. Even if you are just sitting in LA traffic and you’re stopped and don't’know why and you just start doing havening then you will feel better because of the GABA and serotonin. Then hands back on the wheel and start driving.
H: I do it in my daily life all the time.
K: I’m sitting here doing it now as we’ve been talking.
H: Me too.
K: As we know, it just becomes integrated. It’s incredible that my patients will come in and sit down in my room and it becomes a Havening space. They will be talking and then the next thing you know they’re Havening and not even realize it because the brain wants that place of safety.
H: Speaking to your peers, other psychologists, clinicians, counselors and people who are mental health professionals, what would you say to them? What advice would you give to anyone who is in that group and looking into the possibility of adding Havening Techniques to their toolkit?
K: I would say there are three main reasons why you should add Havening to your toolkit.
Number one is that it is an effective, adaptive tool. And because of the electrochemical environment that Havening creates in the mind and the body, traditional psychotherapy will be more effective because it removes that amygdala filter from the psychotherapeutic process.
So they resonate more fully within the individual and you just get to deeper levels more quickly in a safer way. It breaks through resistance in a soft and gentle manner. It helps the person move through resistance. It helps them feel safe going into scary places. It is the most effective tool I have ever seen for gently and effectively healing complex PTSD.
Number two, the patients get to take it home. They have something that they can use in between sessions effectively and feel powerful doing so. All of a sudden they have an incredible tool to use when they are going into a rage or panic attack or they can’t sleep. I treat a lot of insomnia. Now they have an immediate intervention that is fast and effective.
Most of my patients haven two to five minutes three to five times a day. That’s just ten to thirty minutes a day to massive shifts in the way the body is processing data. They want to do it and seek doing it.
So, all of a sudden they are Havening and say,“I didn’t even know I was Havening,”and they feel so much better. They have an immediate tool and as the clinician to give them that tool you are empowering them so that in between your sessions they know that they have something that they can use and feel secure and safe using that they know will work.
And finally, third, Havening provides a space of safety not only for our patients but it also creates a safe haven within the clinician, the provider, because we are also receiving delta waves, which is the fundamental tool that Havening is based on. So we are being Havened and even though we are empathetic and present and engaged with our patient, we are not encoding anything.
This is really key as a trauma specialist. I know for all of my colleagues, we each share with our patients very difficult life experiences and very painful things. That’s why people come into our offices, because life is hard and it hurts. Most of my colleagues and I’m sure most of yours are very empathetic people; we carry that pain and we are experiencing it with our patients.
Trauma can happen first person, it can happen to us, second person we see it, or third person, we hear about it. Havening protects against second person trauma and vicarious traumatization.
Even better, you walk out of the door at the end of the day and you are not carrying the weight of everything. You walk out and think ‘I’ve had a fantastic brain massage all day while doing incredible work with my patient, now I get to go home with my family without taking any of this home with me.’ That is incredible, especially as a trauma specialist. I get to go home and live my life and know that I did incredible work and don't have to carry the weight of their trauma with me.
H. Thank you, Kate.
Fifteen Minutes to Freedom.
Kate Truitt, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.A.