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NOVEMBER 2nd & 3rd, 2019

Havening, Healing, and Humanity

Chapter 31 of Fifteen Minutes to Freedom

Interview with Ulf Sandström

Ulf Sandström is co-founder of the Peaceful Heart Network that works with scalable

First Aid for emotional and traumatic stress and a therapist in private practice

based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Harry:  Ulf, how did you first discover Havening?


Ulf: It was through a number of coincidences a couple of years ago. Like now I was working with Gunilla Hamne, my colleague in the Peaceful Heart Network. Since 2007, we have been using a somatic brief intervention technique called Trauma Tapping Technique or Tension Tapping Technique in a lot of different places like Rwanda with genocide survivors, and in Congo with liberated child soldiers, victims of gender based violence, orphans and other survivors of traumatic incidents.


Before Gunilla and I met, I was mainly using hypnosis. But I was also looking for a way of working without using words because hypnosis is so language dependent. So I was Googling “wordless anxiety treatment,” and I stumbled across Gunilla. I had no idea she was from Sweden like me. I didn’t know anything about the treatment she was using. 


I contacted her and I said, “Wow. You’re also Swedish. That’s cool; can you teach me this stuff?” She came to Sweden, I learned the technique, and we officially founded the Peaceful Heart Network. We’ve been working together ever since. We focus especially on wordless first aid for laymen, spreading First Aid techniques that can be scaled from one individual to another, turning survivors into empowered healers.


H: Yes. I love your book Resolving Yesterday.


U: Thanks.


H: It’s a beautiful book that describes the process and some of your journeys.


U: It really is a journey. During this journey, I have been and still am very involved in hypnosis. I’ve co-founded the International Hypnotists Guild, and the Hypnobirthing Association of Sweden. We bring people to Sweden from all over the world to do workshops and we brought Dr. Bhaskar Vyas from India to teach us about Indian hypnotherapy. We brought over Katherine Graves who’s a great hypnobirthing teacher. And we brought over Doug O’Brien.


H: Yes. Doug is a master hypnotist, NLP trainer and also a Havening practitioner and trainer.


U: Exactly. You know those movies, like ’24 Hours’ where parallel things are happening? Where all these interconnected things are happening at the same time? This is what it was like meeting Doug and learning about Havening.


One part of my life involves going with Gunilla to Rwanda, Congo and other places, building up different ways of teaching and explaining tapping. We want to take this to a national level; we want to be part of Rwandan national health care for example. To do this we need to present the technique with scientific basis.


We’re on this activist road. We’re looking for people who understand that healing is possible and that these treatments don’t have to be complicated, that seemingly simple somatic therapy with touch can actually make an enormous difference if done properly. So, we’re constantly doing research into the mechanisms and efficacy of the tapping technique.


Another part of my life involves moving forward with hypnosis. I run into Doug. We bring him to Sweden and he teaches sleight of mouth, advanced NLP techniques and other cool stuff.  On the road of hypnosis Doug and I get to know each other and he meets Gunilla.


At the same time, these two roads are running parallel. They have nothing to do with each other. So Gunilla and I start reading up on the literature about trauma, we start doing scientific training and we run across Peter Levine and Waking the Tiger, his book about how trauma can be stuck in the body.


You know, there are many different theories. So we we’re looking at different explanations and models to determine what makes tapping work. At that time many years ago, on one side you had most of the energy psychology people claiming that it was all based on energy meridians, and on the other extreme you had the skeptics saying even that is doubtful and the intervention can’t work because these meridians haven’t been proven scientifically beyond doubt to exist. 


And, Gunilla and I are activists, we really honestly don’t care if there are twenty explanations or five or two or if it’s a combination of all of them, because for us, at the end of the day it’s about making real change here and now. If what we use works, we will continue using it.


At the same time, we need the scientific explanations to open doors. Waking the Tiger was good but it was still focused on a meridian-based explanation. So then somebody tells us about Dr. Ruden’s book, When the Past is Always Present. Anytime somebody tells me a book seems good, I read it, I check it out, I see for myself, I try out what it describes.


And that’s what happened. So for almost a year or two we were using When the Past is Always Present as one of the possible explanatory models for how and why our tapping is working. What impressed us was the way Ron had created a complete hypothesis about the actual neurochemistry involved. Havening appeared on our radar but we already had an efficient technique in action and didn’t bother to indulge in it at the time.


A year later Doug happened to be back in Sweden and the three of us were chatting; him, me and Gunilla. We were talking about When the Past is Always Present, and Doug says, “Havening! You guys should check out Havening.” “That rings a bell, what about it?” “Well, you know, that’s Ronald Ruden’s work.” Then Doug mentioned that he had just attended a training with Dr. Ruden.


So he showed us Havening in a demo. He introduced us to Ronald over email, we struck up a Skype conversation with Ronald and from there he generously invited us to take a look at Havening. That’s how we ended up in London attending one of the trainings.


H: That’s fascinating. I know your work involves not only this activist work, where you teach self-care tools to people in these areas.  You are also a professional musician, plus you have a private practice. Who are the clients you work mostly with in your private practice?


U: Everybody. When I started out with hypnosis long ago I thought I was going to be helping people lose weight or quit smoking for the rest of my life. That didn’t appeal to me because at the time I thought of these issues as self-inflicted habits or symptoms. Now I realize they can be symptoms of self-medication for stress and traumatic experiences, which bring them into a different light.


Today I like working with any type of symptoms. I think it works this way: you get more of the same type of clients that you actually help because word travels and people talk about it to other people in the same situations. So, I usually get a lot of people who have trauma in one way or the other involved. As we both know, with the DSM-5, traumatic experiences or attachment issues can contribute to many of the symptoms of most diagnoses in that manual.


H: So having already had hypnosis and the tapping therapies and a number of other tools in your toolkit…


U: I usually say the three legs of whatever I do to help a client are based on understanding how language affects us, how hypnosis can reinforce that and reach beyond the rational mind, and then sensory therapies like Havening or tapping.


H: What role does Havening play in your practice now?


U: A big role. I took the training and was very impressed by a couple of things. Attending a Havening workshop like the one in England was an experience. I’m also an NLP practitioner, and just the year before that, John Grinder had kindly invited me and Gunilla to London to check out new code NLP, which has a lot in common with sensory therapies because it’s about changing state. It felt like a second blessing to be invited to the Havening workshop.


It’s also amazing how different therapies attract different people. With Havening, I found a room full of people with a lot in common. Hypnosis often attracts musicians because musicians work in a state of flow and tend to understand it easily. At the Havening training, there were a lot of hypnotherapists as well as a lot of other open-minded people from different backgrounds. I guess that the science aspect attracted people that I felt had more things in common with me. I liked that.


Science is a pragmatic approach, but you still have to be open-minded when you’re doing something new and cutting edge that hasn’t yet passed through all the hoops. So these are people who like to be on that frontier. I like that.


We had great meetings, great discussions. It was excellent to hear the high level of attention to detail by both Steve and Ron. I was mesmerized by it. I was impressed.


Ron was generous in discussing the science of trauma and Havening separately with me and Gunilla, and a lot of pieces fell in place about how trauma’s encoded and why our work works. So I decided to go on and complete the Havening certification.


It’s a certification that requires effort. You need to do the work. You need to read up on the science. You need to understand it. You need to be able to explain it to somebody else, which means you actually need to really sink into the technical part of it. You also need to report a large number of sessions and present video recordings.


I really enjoyed that. I thought it was a process well put together. It made me a better hypnotist. It made me a better NLP practitioner. It made me a better tapper.


H: How so?


U: The structure. The way Ron structured Havening. I can’t help looking for patterns in anything I do, so when I got back I was trying Havening every day, on every client. Then I would compare it to tapping, then I would compare it to hypnosis. Then I would combine all of them. Then I would pick them apart, just because I was curious to see what happens. And I could use the actual structure of a Havening session for a hypnosis session, intending to do the same thing with hypnosis instead of Havening. The result wouldn’t be the same because they all have different uses, but it was very interesting.


So I think the structure of Havening is excellent. Understanding the structure and science has transformed everything I do. Plus, I added another powerful tool. It seeped into everything. I had science before, but not that specific science. I had structure but not that specific structure. Every new structure adds value.


H: Yes. What would you say has been your most significant discovery? As you learned Havening, if there was one discovery that allowed you to impact your clients more fully regardless of the modality, what was that? Was it the understanding of the mechanism of depotentiation? Was it some other aspect of the structure?


U: I would say it’s the combination of several elements. The depotentiation process, the actual window of opportunity, once you activate that neurological circuit, and the short amount of time necessary for depotentiation. Knowing that there is a chemical process happening ‘under the hood’. I don’t even think it is necessary to understand all of it exactly. Having this model in the back of my mind makes it easier for me to focus on what is important in a session.


H: Absolutely.


U: I was listening to a great Ted Talk about this guy who analyzed 85,000 brain scans.


H: Daniel Amen.


U: He was saying that the one domain in all the medical sciences that never knows what’s actually going on and never really looks at the organ they’re treating (the brain) is psychology. With Dr. Ruden there is an electrochemical and mechanical model.


Also in Ruden’s model (and in other models as well), we’re dividing the stimuli that can trigger traumatic memory into different areas. There’s the direct threat and then you also have secondary content and context. By understanding just the way that content can be linked to traumatic memory and trigger it, you realize it doesn’t necessarily have to be the gun or the fist or the bridge or whatever. It could be the time of day, or a smell that has nothing to do with it. It could be anything like that.


There is an example that Ron usually cites on trainings which is a woman with a wrist that was hurt in an accident in a London cab, and the pain was re-triggered by moving back to London at a later point in life and alleviated with Havening. It illustrates how stuff can be seemingly illogically linked so that you don’t go down the road of linear cause and effect. Instead, you’re just trying to activate the circuit and depotentiate it. That really changed how I work.


H: Thank you. In terms of your private practice, what percentage of the time do you end up using Havening with your clients?


U: I would say that goes in periods. For a while I was doing only Havening because I was having so much fun with it. If you know other modalities and you have a lot of clients, one way to stay on your toes is to mix it, to do it or not to do it and see what you missed. If I were starting over, Havening would absolutely be one of the tools I would learn. I would not be able to work as efficiently without it. I would say I use all or parts of it more than 60% at this time. The cases I do are very, very different. For some clients, Havening is not appropriate, and touch is not appropriate. For other clients it’s perfectly adequate. 


H: Yes, and in your sessions do you allow clients to do self-havening or do you            facilitate that yourself or both?


U: I facilitate, usually. It is more powerful in my experience, and Gunilla and I have had a lot of discussions about the importance of touch with American therapists because we’ve been presenting TTT in California and in prisons and in a lot of different places where this is debated.


So, does it work just as well as if somebody does it on themselves? Our bottom line is that these interventions work better when somebody facilitates. This is what we hear from all our clients when we compare.


We think there is an element of actually being helped by somebody, as well as other elements of actual healing involved such as the healing of touch. On only two occasions in the thousands of sessions I’ve conducted, has there been an issue of somebody not wanting to be touched.


H: How about your work with refugees and survivors and so forth and when you’re teaching people self-care, do you integrate Havening into that now?


U: Absolutely. When we teach self-stabilization or self-regulation­­­ as we call it, we present a number of grounding techniques. We try to give people a toolbox that works in whatever culture they’re in. Some cultures allow touch, some don’t.


For some people, it’s easier to remember a more complex sequence of treatments. For some people it’s easier to remember a simpler one. What’s good with Havening is you can do it so simply for yourself just with the hands or just with the face or just with the shoulders.  It also ties into a lot of other modalities that people have heard about like the butterfly hug of EMDR Self Help (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and other tapping techniques.


I use Havening very often when I do Skype sessions. The place where it beats everything else so far is when I do a phone session where I can’t see the other person.  Even though tapping is extremely simple, talking them through thirteen points of tapping is more complex than just asking them to rub their hands or rub their shoulders and just keep the rhythm and keep going as you speak to them.


H: What are some of the most interesting cases that you have seen Havening prove its effectiveness with?


U: I did a session over the phone a while back with Havening. It was a person who was very anxious, had some suicidal sentiment. They focused on the feeling, the Havening calmed them down completely and they felt really good after.


Just today I received mail from a person that I have treated over Skype, who was greatly helped. She said she was going to chemotherapy and another person was getting radiation therapy. This person had to put on some kind of mask and was freaked out by it. So my client taught the other patient self-havening and gave her a video I had recorded with self-havening. And she managed beautifully.  


H: Was there anything that was difficult for you as you integrated Havening into your other work or was it a pretty seamless integration because of your understanding of the neuroscience and your therapeutic experience?


U: Completely seamless. Absolutely. I can’t even say there was an effort. I also think that it is different from many other techniques that you can learn, because Havening is very hands-on. It’s easy to measure the effect, it’s easy to see what’s happening. It’s easy to know now that after ten minutes have passed I will see a difference in the SUD of this person because if there isn’t, we probably need to focus on a different aspect of the issue.


H: Many people are skeptical when they first hear about Havening because the possibilities seem too good to be true. I’m guessing you probably weren’t skeptical at first, especially because you learned about Dr. Ruden’s book before talking to Doug. Did you have any skepticism at all about the tool?


U: No. Also I had been using brief therapy techniques like tapping for some time, and had already experienced “incredible” results. So for me it was more like, “Wow, this is a new way, with a slightly different explanation, a different structure. This is really cool. I have to check this out.” Also, for me, if somebody I didn’t know had said, ‘you should check out Havening, it seems to have something in common with what you do’, I might have put it on a wait list. When I heard from somebody that I knew and respected like Doug, it was a no brainer. If he said it, I knew I should give it a chance.


H: How do you see Havening impacting the treatment of trauma and mental health practice in general, say five to ten years in the future?


U: Ah! I’m in two worlds on this question. I’m an activist. I’m trying to spread emotional first aid techniques for laymen despite what people think about that. There are people who ask if teaching laymen to treat people is the right thing to do or not, but in the areas where we work people have no choice. So Havening, tapping, all of these are beautiful ways of creating peace in these situations.


At the same time, I would love for normal healthcare, primary care, to use these techniques because they are so efficient. Ruden is preparing the way. Both doctors are doing scientifically-based work, moving forward slowly, being careful about the results, having a certification process that makes sure people actually know the technique and are doing it in the right way. This is activism inside the system for me. This means that they are creating a chance for therapies like this (and this is a very efficient one) to eventually be used by the system, in primary care, which it should be. I think it’s simply a matter of time now.


The third author of trauma books, beside Peter and Ron, that we really like reading and listening to is Bessel Van der Kolk. His book, The Body Keeps The Score, and his research supports what is going on with Havening as well. And now people here are using similar techniques for the crisis and trauma centers that treat refugees who have experienced torture. We hear that techniques we’re sharing like Havening are being spread to people who deal with refugees. So I think Havening’s going to have a big impact because it comes from the medical arena and it’s presented in an effective and clear way.


H: Yes, I just did an introduction a couple of weeks ago for a group of therapists, social workers, counselors, who work specifically with survivors of torture. They were very interested and receptive to the idea of Havening and many are going to participate in a demonstration a little bit later. So you’re absolutely right.


U: I love Havening. I use it all the time. I wouldn’t be able to work as well as I do without it. At the same time, I hear myself saying, “But I’m also using these other techniques.” That’s not because you need them in combination with Havening, I just want to make that clear. The reason I use them is because I knew them before and I’m a curious guy. If something comes up I’m gonna check it out, no matter how good the stuff I have is.


H: Yes, and the thing that’s nice about Havening is by itself it’s a tool not a therapy. So you can use it and integrate it with whatever you do and whatever models work for you and whatever already works.


U: I’ve listened to Bessel’s lectures. He did a presentation at Heidelberg at a convention where I also did a presentation, where I showed the use of tapping and Havening together with hypnosis for taming the amygdala. What he says is, “If you come to me and say that you have this one solution for everything, I’m not going to listen, not because it doesn’t work, but because my experience is that only once you know at least five (I say three) different modalities or interventions, whatever they are, then you’re able to say that something actually helps because you actually know of and can compare to others.”


H: Yes.


U: So I think everything else I do helps me understand the power of Havening. I can tell, it works! It’s working, it’s doing wonders.


H: That’s a wonderful argument for having people who already have solid tools in their toolbox incorporate Havening as an additional tool that they can use to become more effective. You’re also a Havening trainer, training professionals as well as lay people. What have you discovered as you’ve been spreading the word about Havening within the professional community and among those who you train?


U: It seems to me that there are three main categories of people when it comes to finding and evaluating help for mental and emotional challenges.


There’s the ‘research’ people. They’re interested in research and research results and they don’t always have practical experience, which means they focus on science without necessarily having much of a foothold in the real world. So the discussion about what may or may not work is constantly at risk of becoming completely hypothetical. It doesn’t help those people when I say, “Well, I have over a thousand client cases. I have good empirical experience,” because that doesn’t count in their world.


And then you have the people who have trained in some other intervention technique that is extremely science-based or claims to be scientifically validated, and in Sweden a lot of that is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). There is a lot of research about it and the therapy can therefore be said to be evidence-based, but there’s a big misunderstanding of what this actually means because the evidence does not always say it is the most efficient method, only that it is one of the most thoroughly researched methods. There is growing evidence that CBT is less efficient than somatic approaches and sometimes even counterproductive when treating traumatic stress.


There’s also a catch twenty-two. How do you bring new therapies to people if you only allow interventions that people researched twenty years ago?  


So for both of these groups — the researchers and the evidence-based-skepticism-loyalists — it can be a challenge to get them to even look at something like Havening and similar interventions.


Then you have the practical pragmatists — people who have lots of practical work experience and a curious mind. They get the principles of these body-based interventions in less than ten minutes. They try it in the next five and they go, “Cool. I’ve gotta check this out.” I’ve run into this with psychologists, doctors, psychotherapists and psychiatrists. They give an honest shot and check it out. Some of them have trained in Havening, and now they’re using it.


H: What advice would you give somebody who might be reading this interview who’s looking into the possibility of adding Havening Techniques® to their toolkit?


U: My advice is for them first to think about why they would like to explore a new technique. Is it to prove it or disprove it? Is it to be able to help people help themselves? Is it to be able to deal with whatever they’re doing better?


The why matters. If you come from a position of actually wanting to help people, then it would be unwise and unfair to these people to not look at Havening. If you swore the Hippocratic Oath and you’re supposed to help people to the best of your capacity, it would be unethical not to check this out when there are so many people who can vouch for the results.


I also think it’s a tool that allows you both to help people and help people help themselves, which is where the activism comes in. If you come to a place where there are a lot of people in need and you can get twenty of them to start doing self-havening, and then you can tend to the ones that need other kinds of attention, you’re actually helping more people than if you’re waiting to get them all one by one in a room to sit down and talk to them.          


H: Absolutely.


U: I think the whole area of psychosensory treatments, working as Bessel says from the bottom up, from the body to the mind instead of from the mind to the body, is fascinating and also extremely efficient.


As a reference, I work as a product designer as well. I’ve been designing lighting control systems as a consultant for many years. So it’s a high tech industry, it involves a lot of people and we are always embracing new technology and techniques if they add something. Whenever somebody says, “Hey - there’s this new technology!” everybody goes “What, what is it?” “Well, it supposedly can help you do x in y time.” And everybody in the team will go “Yeah, let’s check it out!”


Then we would say it sucks or it works, now let’s look at the next one! I can’t grasp why everybody isn’t like that in every other industry, like mental health for example. I mean, that’s the most productive, pragmatic and result-oriented way to approach something, isn’t it?


H: Yeah, let’s try it, find out if it works, great. If it doesn’t let it go. If it does, let’s go for it. I look forward to a world in which everyone has that kind of compassionate pragmatism as their approach!


U: And I must say, if you are a lay person reading this, if you’re a seasoned mental health practitioner, if you’re a doubter, if you’re a skeptic, no matter what you are, giving this at least an hour of your time and checking out how well founded it is and how well it works is something you will never regret. I can totally vouch for that.


H: Thank you.

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