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FIFTEEN MINUTES TO FREEDOM

Chapter 2 of Fifteen Minutes to Freedom

Interview with Dr. Kate Truitt, Ph.D., M.B.A., PART I

Dr. Kate Truitt is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and trauma specialist in 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 sister’s. 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 find 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.

 

As a clinician, I had already been doing trauma work for over a decade at that point. 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 and for years I tried to heal.

 

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 one time I drove to my parents’ house 2 hours away because they got home, fell asleep and forgot 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 view myself as 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 the last 10 years developed a large private practice working with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse that has since expanded to survivors of any abuse.

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 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 cannot 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.

Read Part II of Interview with Dr. Truitt HERE

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