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RAPID RELIEF FOR SURVIVORS, SOLDIERS, AND FIRST RESPONDERS

Chapter 12 of Fifteen Minutes to Freedom

Interview with Irene Hajisava

Irene Hajisava is a psychotherapist in private practice in Garden City, NY.

Harry: Irene, how did you find out about Havening?

 

Irene: Originally through Steve Ruden, who has been my friend and my dentist for the past 35 years.

 

A number of things were also happening in my life that ran parallel to the Ruden’s development of Havening. I’m a level two EMDR therapist. I happen to be a 9/11 responder and did EMDR for over a thousand first responders and survivors of 9/11.

 

I also worked for a grant under the justice department doing recovery workshops for responders to the Pentagon 9/11 crisis. These first responders include EMS, fire, police, and the military.

 

I was also doing EMDR for first responder families, as well as those who had lost a police officer in the line of duty. So I really was getting around, doing this kind of work while Ron and Steve Ruden were developing and refining Havening.

 

Dr. Steve Ruden says to me one day, “My brother and I are developing this technique for healing encoded trauma. Would you like to learn it?.” I said ,“sure”. So I drove to his office every Tuesday night at 7 o clock when we were both done with our practices and we explored Havening with volunteer subjects.

 

H: How long ago was that?

 

I: It was before they started to present Havening to the public; seven, eight years ago.

 

I already had lots of experience with EMDR, which is a beautiful technique for addressing encoded trauma — and, it can be a painful process you have to put people through. So here we are trying this new thing. I became an absolute convert and believer when we worked with this one woman to haven the trauma of a divorce and her fibromyalgia went away.

 

She could barely walk for thirteen years. Then we did the Havening, processed the trauma. Afterwards, I kept calling Dr. Ruden and saying, “could you call your patient and see if her fibromyalgia came back?” And she never got it back. I’ve dealt with body parts, encoded trauma, people jumping from buildings, but I never cured fibromyalgia. That was how I got introduced to Havening.

 

H: Did you immediately begin to integrate it into your own practice, with your own clients, or did it take awhile?

 

I: It took awhile because of the touching. I’m a licensed clinical social worker. There was another context, though, where I was starting to use it a lot. I do grief retreats for the families of police officers killed in the line of duty. At the retreat, different parts of the family are separated; the parents of the officer attend one retreat, the widows attend another. I worked at the children’s camp. So these are the children, ages 6-14, of police officers killed in the line of duty, who attend along with the surviving parent for a week.

 

We had lots of counseling, but I taught the mothers how to haven their children. Of course, all of the children immediately went to sleep. But these are children with lots of terrors because daddy was killed or shot or run over.

 

We had classes every day for the older children. I had two little boys, both on the autism spectrum, in my class. The reason they wanted to learn it is because they would go from a SUDS zero to a thousand and be absolutely out of control, their amygdala activity and reactivity being at such a high level.

 

So they would come everyday. We had a little class, and one morning, I get called over to the children’s bunk. One of the boys who’s about 11 years old is being restrained by two female police officers who are volunteers at the camp. Apparently he had gotten upset. So I went over to him. The thing that he and I used to do with the Havening is hum Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. So, I said, ‘you want to hum with me?’ and he nodded his head.  We hummed. I said, ‘can I touch you?’. He agreed, and I started to touch his face. He immediately just dropped to the ground. Completely calm.

 

So the women, the police officers, say, ‘What the heck is that? I want to do that’.  That’s how it got integrated in my work. I started to use it a lot as a technique that allowed people to manage trauma and anxiety and to self-administer the technique.

 

H: What place does Havening occupy in your full array of tools and interventions? You have so much experience working with people in these different, and profoundly stressful, contexts.  What place does it now occupy in the whole repertoire of what you do?

 

I: It wins the award as first place. Everybody in my practice is either havened or learns to self-haven. Of course, now they no longer look at me like I walk on water, although that was very nice in the beginning.

 

H: Always a nice thing.

 

I: Because I did it with every client. There’s no one I work with without some encoded trauma. There’s no one without events that are interfering with their life. I’m a talk therapist. But the reason I got trained in EMDR was because of 9/11, because I knew I could talk to these people forever and there would be no impact. So Havening now takes a top place in my practice.

 

H: Do you use EMDR anymore? Or has Havening basically replaced it?

 

I: No, Havening has replaced it. Every year I work the police memorial in Washington and the cops who know us, the other trauma specialists and I, they line up people for us to see, cops and family members to help them with the trauma of death and shootings and the other not pretty things they have witnessed. Well, a couple of years ago they were so excited they invited me to train US marshals on Havening and tapping. In Oklahoma. So, it’s getting integrated.

 

H: Wonderful. How did the marshals respond to the training?

 

I: I got a lot of ribbing from the marshals about both techniques, but they’re using them, because they work.

 

And, of course, some people are skeptical, especially because of the touch component. When I first started to do EMDR people were challenging it and saying it’s just a bunch of bells and whistles and psychobabble.  So when they say the same thing now about Havening, it’s not a big deal. Plus, we have the science to explain the process. And, of course, it works.

 

H: You bring to mind a really interesting point. Most people are skeptical when they first hear about Havening, because the possibilities seem too good to be true. Were you skeptical when Steve introduced it to you? If so, what changed your mind?

 

I: I was impressed by the fibromyalgia lady, but I was skeptical that this could possibly replace EMDR which was so specific and powerful to address encoded traumas. But, as it turns out, Havening is a gentle replacement and you get to add positive resources as well.

 

H: Yes. It’s interesting, every single practitioner who I’ve spoken to, who has at one point used EMDR, has essentially replaced it with Havening because of exactly what you’re talking about. Because of the gentleness, the freedom from having to discharge the trauma in such a traumatic way, and the capacity to actually build resilience and positive growth beyond simply letting go of the pain. That’s powerful.

 

What was most difficult for you if anything as you integrated Havening into your work?

 

I: I had to make peace with the touching. My clients were already used to me doing EMDR; they knew I was running around the country. I had a lot of experience doing it for government and police and first responders. So I had a lot of credibility.

 

Now in my practice, I haven almost all the women, and probably 50% of the men. The other 50% of the men I let haven themselves. But I know some of my mental health colleagues won’t ever touch the client.

 

H: Please share some of the most interesting and powerful experiences you’ve had as you’ve used this tool with your clients.

I: One woman had been sexually molested by her father. He worked as a clown, frequently wearing a clown outfit. He wore it to parties, not while he was molesting her. So whenever she would see a photo of a clown, a real clown, she would pass out, she would abreact, she would lose control of her bladder.

 

Her partner brings her to me and he sat in the room the whole time.  She  had never been able to actually get any help for it because the abreaction was so severe. So I told her that we were going to do this slowly.

 

I began havening her. All I said was the one word, ‘clown’. As I was havening her, she’s screaming, crying, kicking. I had the waste paper basket out, just in case. She’s running out of the room, and then running back into the room. After about an hour of this, she could think of the word without a response. Then, sometime later, the two of them actually ran into a clown and nothing happened!

 

H: Wow.

 

I: I did Havening with one guy who had been in a shootout, a cop, and his colleague was killed. This was at a weekend retreat for police officers. He could not get the smell of the gunpowder out of his nose. So part of our distraction was I had him walk through a park and pick flowers. Then all he could do is smell roses because we were working on the olfactory area of the brain. So he lost the smell of the gunpowder and it got replaced by the roses in the park.

 

H: Remarkable. How do you see Havening impacting mental health practice and the treatment of trauma ten, twenty years into the future?

 

I: I think it’s going to be the standard way of practicing. Talking will be an adjunct. But Havening will not replace all other forms of therapy. Let’s say we helped somebody eliminate a lot of encoded traumas that were impairing their relationships. But suppose they’ve lived the last thirty years with impaired relationships? They still need support, through other forms of therapy to start to make corrections for life experiences they have not had.

 

H: Yes.

 

I: So, it’s a duet.

 

H: I like you describing it as a duet as well because the different therapeutic approaches can work well with Havening in an integrated fashion. What excites you most about Havening?

 

I: It is so much easier to just resolve the thing the client is struggling with right then, in my office, and to know that I can also give them a tool that will impact their quality of life.

 

Eugenia Karahalias and I were in Greece over the summer, teaching self-havening to unescorted Syrian refugee children. That was a peak moment in my life. These were terrified children. I got to haven one little boy from Afghanistan. You could tell he was terrified by the look on his face. He was twelve, and in charge of his ten-year old brother. The parents only had enough money to send the two boys. They wanted them to go to Germany, get jobs, and send money home. These were boys who still needed mommy to tell them wash your hair! We taught Self-havening to all the children, but I got to haven this boy.

 

The adults followed me around, appropriately so, when I was with him. I’m sitting in an isolated area with this child, and the Greek social worker from the house where the children live is right there. She reminds me not to bring up any of the horrible events. I agreed I wouldn’t bring them up under any circumstances. 

 

So I just told the little boy to pick a feeling.  He picked ‘worried’ and we did Transpirational Havening with that. He repeated the word to himself. You could see how transformed he became. Then the Greek social worker looks at me. She says, “What is that? It’s pretty nifty.” I said, “I’ll teach it to you later!” That’s the power of Havening. It’s a mighty powerful little tool.

 

H: That’s beautiful. Are there specific situations or contexts where it’s not advisable to use Havening? Any guidelines?

 

I: I have not had the experience with Havening that I had with EMDR where it can create a split off for people who had dissociative issues. I think if you have somebody that does have dissociative issues you should have a clinical background to work with them. Other than that, I don’t see any restrictions.

 

H: Tony Burgess helped me understand this. He told me, ‘Havening is a tool, not a therapy’. What that means is that it can be adapted and integrated to any particular therapeutic or non-therapeutic modality but how you use it depends on your scope of practice, your level of skill and your ethical guidelines. You don’t go where you don’t belong, but you also recognize that within your scope and within your skill set it can be an incredibly powerful tool.

 

From your perspective, can Havening be learned and used effectively by lay people, people who are not counselors, therapists, psychologists, coaches, etc.? And what are the guidelines for that?

 

I: Absolutely it can. I have a couple hundred mothers and survivors that we’ve taught it to who are using Havening with their family to mitigate abreaction and distress.

 

I’m not teaching them how to identify an encoded trauma from your early childhood, or telling them that they should go out and use Havening with their girlfriend who was sexually abused.

 

Rather, they are learning it just like these children and the refugees, to decrease agitation and abreaction. Now, by default what happens is that sometimes agitation and abreaction are connected to a traumatically encoded memory.

 

A woman came to me one day. She was absolutely beside herself abreacting, because the guy who had molested her as a child was trying to make contact with her. She could not even say his name. I told her, “You don’t have to do anything, you just have to hum a song while I haven you.  That’s it, that’s all we’re doing here today.” And that’s what we did until she stopped abreacting. Whatever the unconscious material was got processed in that session. I never mentioned the guy’s name. I never said the word sex. I never said anything beyond guiding her through the distractions. The following week she comes in. She says, ‘You’re not going to believe it! I can visualize his face and say his name without throwing up.”

 

We didn’t do any therapy; we just worked directly with the abreaction. People can use the skill just for that. I would not want a lay person running around asking somebody if they were molested and offering to haven them. But once the abreaction is there, work with it.

 

H: Thank you. When I do intros and demos I talk about five applications of Havening. Number one: reduce baseline stress, allostatic load, the stress stored in your body. Number two: build resilience and positivity. Increase your access to positive emotions. Number three: energize an outcome (as we do with Outcome or Affirmational Havening). The fourth: relieve present moment emotional distress, just like you did with the woman you described. And fifth, depotentiate encoded trauma. And number five is the application that is best handled by a professional.

 

I: When I teach it at all of these retreats to these survivors, one-on-one, I’m going to address the encoded trauma. But I’m teaching them to do this so that they have a skill to manage the abreaction and disorganization that could get triggered completely without anything that they can identify!

 

H: Exactly. Havening is such a great tool for navigating and relieving that distress in the moment, whatever the cause.

 

Irene, what are you discovering as you’re spreading the word about Havening within your professional community with these first responders, police, mothers, and others? How do people respond as you’re sharing these tools with them?

 

I: Very positively. Eugenia and I did a class for adolescent boys with Doctors Without Borders. We spoke to a woman who spoke English and Greek, who then translated our comments to two men — one translated into Farsi and one translated into Arabic (that was the mix in the audience). And we’re in a tent!

 

We are also presenting at the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Baltimore, to be held in May of 2017. We’ll talk about our recent trip to Greece to help address the vicarious trauma of the Greek citizens who had a half a million refugees land there. We’re introducing Havening as the technique that we used on the trip. The audience will be first responders and military from around the world.

 

H: Thank you. What advice would you give to somebody who’s looking into adding Havening to their toolkit?

 

I: You’re going to be very grateful you did this because it is a solid, on it’s way to being fully researched, tool that is going to revolutionize the way that you work with people.

 

H: Thank you!

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