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NOVEMBER 2nd & 3rd, 2019

From Trauma to Triumph

Chapter 3 of Fifteen Minutes to Freedom

Interview with Holly Shaw

Dr. Holly Shaw is an associate professor of Nursing at Adelphi University who also has a private clinical practice as a trauma specialist in Sea Cliff, New York.

Harry Pickens: Holly, how did you first discover Havening?.          


Holly Shaw: It was very fortuitous. I had specialized in bereavement, crisis and trauma for about three decades. I was involved from the beginning (in the eighties) as the diagnosis of PTSD came about through the work of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. At the time we were a very small group of professionals focusing on trauma work around the country and then gradually we expanded internationally.


In my bereavement practice I focus on communities, children and young families who suffer from un-anticipated loss. I was working with a family of two little girls and the dad died while in hospice care. I saw the mom, I saw the girls, I saw them together, I saw them separately. The mom had a remarkable work situation as a dental hygienist with this fabulous boss who did and said everything right.


I always said, ‘I’ve got to meet this guy someday,’ because I work with many families and I had never heard about an employer who was so supportive. Also, the office practice sounded oriented towards mental health and built around generally healthy and integrity-laden practices. Of course the dentist was Steve Ruden, co-developer of the Havening Techniques®.


I lived in the community in which he practices and I needed a dentist, so I began to use him. At

the time, I had a dental phobia. I would go to the dentist, but it was excruciatingly upsetting for me, really awful. Havening was just emerging and at some point Steve said “I’ve got this new thing, let me try it on you,” and in seven minutes or so he cured a life long dental phobia. So I was hooked.


HP: Right there in the dentist chair.


HS: Yes. Steve started to tell me about this burgeoning Havening technique, and I would read manuscripts in very rough form. Steve and I would meet, often every week after hours, because we’re so close, geographically, that I could walk to his office. We would review the papers and collaborate. And Havening now begins to emerge from a totally different theoretical and neurobiological perspective. We used to laugh that I would leave the dentist office not having had a dental visit, but my head would still be exploding because this was such a revolutionary idea!


HP: Holly, would you give me a sense of the nature of your current work - what your teaching, mentoring and clinical practice look like?


HS: I’ve been practicing as a trauma specialist for a long time and have been involved in academics as well as clinical and consultation work, presenting nationally and internationally.

I’ve taught for many years part time and full time at Hunter College which is part of the City University of New York. Now I teach at Adelphi University which is a private university on Long Island.


I teach undergraduate and graduate nursing and public health students and also we have an emergency management program. In graduate school I teach mainly in theory development and some of the core graduate courses. In undergraduate, I teach public health, mental health, psychiatric mental health nursing and other courses, professional courses that go along with that. I teach theory in the classroom and also teach in the clinical area.


I also present on the topics of crisis intervention, bereavement and trauma in professional settings for staff development programs and professional conferences. I do a lot of crisis-intervention based work at hospitals, community-based centers, mental health centers, and universities.


HP: And your private practice?


HS: My private practice is in the little community that I live in. People come from that community or from other places around and outside of New York City. I see individuals, children, adolescents, and adults around various issues, but mainly trauma, chronic or acute illness. And then half of the practice is professionals who either in their personal lives or in the course of their work have encountered a traumatic situation.


HP: Thank you. How has the use of Havening Techniques transformed your practice?


HS: Before that I was using EMDR as well as a lot of complementary modalities. But in Havening I found I could more directly address certain symptoms.


At the end of the 90’s I trained in EMDR and it really did change my work a lot. It was the first time I could relieve symptoms in a very meaningful way, not just alleviating but actually eradicating some symptoms. It changed my practice enormously because I was regarded as an expert in trauma and I did great work, but we couldn’t change that encoding.


So somebody could be in treatment and develop a lot of insight and understanding, know that it wasn’t their fault that they were sexually molested at age five, and understand the impact on their self-image and their relationships. But you couldn’t take away that yucky feeling inside. EMDR could do that.


I had a very successful practice in EMDR. I used it with most of my clients, because most of my clients had trauma issues and at that point EMDR was also evolving to include performance enhancement and lots of other applications. It was a blessing and a wonderful tool, but obviously it wasn’t perfect. The work could be somewhat arduous, but the results were really excellent.


HP: But you don’t use EMDR so often now? Do you use Havening in its place?


HS: Yes. Once I became adept at Havening I have no longer used EMDR.  I continued to rely on EMDR as I developed expertise and Steve Ruden and I collaborated. However, I soon realized that Havening was more effective, led to an easier process and was extremely productive.


HP: You’ve had at least three decades of clinical experience grounded in solid theoretical understanding. You’ve worked with many thousands of people, and you have access to an incredibly wide array of tools and techniques and procedures and theoretical approaches.


At this stage in your professional work, particularly your private clinical practice, what place does Havening occupy in the larger array of tools and techniques you have at your disposal? In other words, do you use Havening with a vast majority of clients? Do you use it as one of your primary tools?


HS: It varies. First of all, we’ve learned that the old strategy of talking about the bad thing that happened is not necessarily therapeutic or helpful and is sometimes even contraindicated. In a situation where the details are graphic and horrific and a person feels humiliated, for example in some cases of sexual abuse, where you don’t want to talk about it much, in that kind of case, Havening is a real go-to.


However, it’s sometimes different for me in an acute situation that occurs in adulthood or a situation that happened in childhood. The situation in childhood we can haven that and have those symptoms be remitted but the cost of living with that for 15, 20, 25 years, and going to therapy, for some people every week for 15 years and talking about this has caused secondary, either co-morbidities, or just other kinds of issues that Havening alone might not correct. So we might still want to work on that.


I do use Havening very often.. I see a lot of professionals, nursing, medical, and legal professionals who have very severe anxiety problems, sometimes which started during childhood, sometimes more recently. In these cases they might have had a certain neurochemical landscape in childhood but the landscape and physiology have molded and shaped around the prominence of anxiety. Teaching them strategies to mediate that is extremely important.


I always explain the theory of what we’re going towards and that’s enormously helpful and I also teach them to do self-havening. Self-havening is a wonderful tool that clients can use. It helps to sustain whatever progress we’ve done but also is adaptive. I also teach couples to haven each other which is really very valuable.


And there are other implications for the broader application of Havening Techniques, again not only in my clinical practice and as a teacher, but also as a global consultant interested in the Public Health impact of trauma and all of the associated adversities. Especially because I was consulted often on very large- scale high profile situations. I would be called in to casualties, especially school emergencies, because of my focus in adolescent health. At the time, we could do wonderful supportive work but still couldn’t erase the impact of the encoded traumatic memory.


When Steve and I began to talk about this, I thought of prevention models and early intervention, not just about individual case work. For example, I read an article in the Journal of Traumatic Stress Studies about PTSD. This was a European study with a very large sample of motor vehicle accident patients, looking at who would develop a post traumatic stress disorder. The single strongest variable was the level of anxiety in the emergency department.


HP: Wow.


HS: There was not an explanation for it at the time, although at the time, many years ago, it was thought that there might be a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders. So, the person with the higher anxiety is going to be manifesting that. Immediately I thought, does that mean that if we can get the anxiety level down in the Emergency Department we can prevent PTSD? Since nurses are first responders in the ER, what a powerful intervention that would be to use a simple Havening experience to actually prevent PTSD.


So, this is where my thinking has gone. For example, working in refugee camps, can we teach people to do this not only for themselves, because that is very exciting, but also with each other, for each other? I began to experiment in my own practice teaching parents, teaching couples. Steve and I would have many conversations in those early years about applications far beyond just an individual kind of practice setting.  My goal is to bring Havening to nurses worldwide in every setting. Nurses can incorporate Havening into all clinical work. Almost every hospitalization and many outpatient encounters involve traumatic or upsetting aspects. Havening can prevent and treat dysfunctional responses to that experience as well as improve pain management, optimize stress reduction and comfort measures, core aspects of nursing. We seek to reduce unpleasant symptoms and to enhance comfort and well-being; Havening can be an outstanding integrative and complementary modality and falls well within every nurses scope of practice.


HP: Could you share a few specific cases?


HS: Sure.




Here’s a story that reflects one of our earliest Havening experiences. A young boy who was about 19 or 20 had been in a terrible, tragic car accident. Others were killed and, of course, he had lots of issues around that. He had been a passenger in the car, not a driver, and felt the kid who was driving was impaired.


As a result of the accident, he had to drop out of college. His catastrophic injuries were treated in the rehab center, which was in many ways similar to a nursing home. He had fractures in both legs and in an arm, he had scars, and he had a lot of constant pain and disability.

He was in this setting with old men. His body ached and slept and felt like an old man’s body. His body image transformed from a student athlete in his freshman year of college to that of an old man. He couldn’t perform sexually; when his girlfriend would come visit, he had no libido at all. So in addition to the other issues: having to take time off from school, being hospitalized, dealing with his injuries, being isolated from his friends who were at college and feeling really alone, he suddenly felt (and in some ways, looked) like an old man. It was very unsettling.


He was one of the first kids Steve Ruden and I havened together. He was in a lot of pain, so that was one of the first targets we focused on, but he also had intrusive recollections and flashbacks of the accidents plus the very severe body image and self image changes that caused him to experience himself as an elderly man who was disabled. We used Havening successfully to deal with all of those issues and symptoms. I saw him several times: in the hospital, in rehab, and then at home.


He also had what I would describe as dysfunctional marijuana use. He was having very confusing and unsettling responses to smoking grass or drinking, but that’s what his friends did. He had also been using harder drugs but was no longer using once he was in the hospital.


After he was released from the hospital, when his friends would come home on vacation, they would expect that he would hang out with them and party (doing drugs and smoking marijuana as they did together in school), so that was an underlying issue to begin with. And, drug use intensified his neurological symptoms. So since he really couldn’t do that anymore, this was another way that he felt like an old man.


He still had cravings, so he would smoke or drink but then get sick from it — a terrible, terrible situation. I used Havening for the cravings, and it completely eliminated them and at the same time, left him feeling well and relaxed.


Once after he left my office, he actually called me on a Saturday night and he said, “I can’t believe it! I have no craving. My friends are all getting high, and I don’t mind hanging out with them, but I have no desire to do it.” He used to say he felt high from the Havening. It was almost a similar high without any of the side effects. That was one of our earlier Havening experiences.




I recently saw a former student of mine for the first time since 2010. Now a successful midwife, she recently had a horrible work-related situation occur. She’s very astute and does mainly home deliveries.


In anticipation of an obstetrical emergency, she arranged for the mom to be seen and admitted to a hospital where she was well known and highly respected. She accompanied the mom and dad in the ambulance. However, the EMTs took them to another, closer hospital, and the baby died.

She felt traumatized by the experience. Though she did nothing questionable, there was an implication by the hospital that she was at fault. She was just horrified, traumatized and grief stricken when she called me and said “I know you can help me, please will you see me?”

She’s an immigrant to the US, foreign born, and the hospital administration, in order to resolve themselves of the responsibility, were blaming her. The main accusers on the hospital side were very powerful strong men.


As we Havened it became clear that this was a familiar experience, from a cultural point of view, being intimidated by strong, powerful, condescending and punitive men.


At the time that she called me she had been suffering for about six weeks. She was unable to work, was not able to sleep and was really in very bad shape.


After two Havening sessions she immediately went to work, began to tell all of her moms about Havening. That was a remarkable (but not unusual) situation in that the Havening completely ameliorated her symptoms.  She has since participated in a Havening Training for professionals and we are collaborating about bringing this remarkable modality to antepartum, L & D, post-partum families.




Two years ago I participated in a Nurses of the Middle East Conference held in Jordan. An Israeli nurse and her patient were presenting a very complicated case. The patient was crushed between two buses with catastrophic injuries. 


The recovered patient, an American graduate student and professional presented along with the nurse who had cared for her through a very long hospitalization, many surgeries and many complications. Certainly, this was a heroic tale of great recovery. But as she was talking I could see she was still suffering from trauma.


Afterwards, although I didn’t know her or the nurse personally, I said, “That was a wonderful presentation, and, I can see you’re still suffering. I know a modality that might be helpful in alleviating some of these symptoms. Would you like to try it?”


She responded, “I kind of figured that this was what I’ve gotta live with. It hasn’t gone away in five years, although it is better than it was before. Sure, if you have something that might help, I’ll try it.”


She and the nurse came to my hotel room and we did Havening. The result was dramatic! Before, she had experienced the taste of blood from the accident that she could never get rid of. Right away she said, “I don’t taste it anymore! I don’t smell it!” She was completely relieved of troubling symptoms and powerful, intrusive sensory flashbacks.


Her nurse started to cry (from joy) because she knew the burden that she was carrying that they both just expected would never go away. And, as most people do when they experience this kind of sudden change, she said, “Well this is great for now, but what do I do when it wears off?” Of course we know it’s not going to wear off. She was a little skeptical, of course.


Later, I checked in with her and she said, “I can’t believe it, you’re right. it’s not coming back”. That was two years ago.


Last year, I did a presentation on Havening at the same conference and she also had me come to Israel to speak to nurses. Now, we’re arranging a major training.


HP: Remarkable stories, Holly. Thank you. As a registered nurse, and a teacher, mentor, and trainer of nurses and nurse practitioners, would you speak to the value of nurses learning and applying Havening Techniques®?


HS: For nursing, it’s just such an easy, comfortable, natural modality for us to use, unlike with our social worker and psychology colleagues in New York who are not allowed to touch their clients (they are limited to facilitating self-havening).


Touch is a fundamental aspect of nursing and our rich history of “the laying on of hands”.. Nurses touch people all the time and use touch as a healing modaliy.


Although we don’t teach it so much now, the use of tactile connection has historically been very strong in nursing. So, from every viewpoint and every area of nursing I think that this is a modality that is enormously helpful and completely applicable. I’ve been able to use it not only in my clinical practice but with nurses in many places in the world and in different kinds of settings. I just think it’s essential to get this practice into nursing hands because it’s so powerful and impactful and such a nice complimentary modality for nurses and nursing.


For nurses the theory and the elucidation of the theory has to be impeccable, and I think we’re reached that point now, so I’ve been able to use it in some very exciting and transformative ways. Primarily with nurses who are suffering from trauma or compassion fatigue, various aspects, and then are able to use it informally with patients.


HP: Thank you. One final question: For someone who is a healthcare or mental health professional, it may be a nurse or counselor or therapist or social worker or psychologist who’s looking into Havening but have not yet made the commitment to get the training. What advice would you give them?


HS: Well, I would suggest that they try it. It’s hard to believe without trying it, reading anecdotes, or knowing someone who’s had direct experience, because the results just sound too good to be true. I think that the theoretical explanation is powerful but it doesn’t really have as much of an impact until someone has seen the results. It sounds compelling enough to try, but until you’ve really seen what can happen, I think it’s very hard to believe that this is real, and as effective and truly miraculous as it is. So I suggest that they try it. Read  a liitle, learn a little,  but come to a Training, where you can learn from experts, practice with colleagues and master this relative simple but powerful approach. Then they will know for themselves how remarkable a tool this is.


HP: Thank you!

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