Is Havening Therapy Effective Mental Health Treatment?

There are a lot of forms of mental health therapy out there. Some are considered by the psychological community as being legitimate and effective, while other techniques like the infamous "cure" for hysteria, which basically resulted in "hysterical" women being brought to orgasm by a fancy medical device we now know was just a vibrator is, as President Joe Biden would say, a bunch of malarkey.


"I would say at least half the folks who are being treated with antidepressants aren't benefiting from the active pharmacological effects of the drugs themselves but from a placebo effect," psychology professor at Vanderbilt University Steven Hollon, Ph.D., tells the American Psychological Association. "If people knew more, I think they would be a little less likely to go down the medication path than the psychosocial treatment path."

But placebo effect or not, if it's making people feel better and the mind-over-matter effect is doing its job, then that's what really matters — as long as it's not doing any mental or physical damage. Along the same vein as the placebo effect, Justin Bieber has brought attention to Havening therapy as a way that he deals with his stress and anxiety. But whether it works or not, or is just another controversial method to soothe a mental health issue is still up for debate.


If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

What is Havening?

According to the Havening website, when practicing this form of therapy, you clear your mind and envision a happy place, focus on your breathing, and tap or rub your forehead, while saying out loud "calm and relax." Rubbing of the hands and arms are also supposed to contribute to this way of reducing stress, as you picture a loving and kind environment.


"The Havening Techniques is a unique set of tools that utilize the electrical component of our system," co-creator of the Havening Technique Dr. Steve Ruden tells Choosing Therapy. "It is a psychosensory approach, which reflects both our mind and our senses. Two current interventions are the talk therapies and pharmacological approaches to manage our states. One may consider this a third pillar." Which for some might be a good option. Not everyone wants to be medicated with pills and some people just don't care for talk therapy.

How is it supposed to work?

How Havening works can sound a bit tricky because we're dealing with neurological systems that most of us aren't aware of or educated in, but we'll try to break it down to make it as understandable as possible. According to Dr. Steven Ruden, co-creator of the Havening Technique, the way this therapy works is because it "uses intrinsic systems to reset encoded Event Specific Biological Markers, ESBM, (Traumatic stress) and remove their effects from our body and psyche. These tools utilize electroceuticals, especially low frequency waves (delta and theta), to act as the change agent."


Science Direct explains electroceuticals as a "new category of therapeutic agents," hence the reason you may not have heard of them before. As therapeutic agents, neural impulses are delivered to the targeted spots, which with imagination (thinking of your happy place) and rubbing the hands, arms, and head, as if giving your anxiety a hug to boost serotonin, is how Havening is supposed to work.

Is it legit?

According to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Psychophysiology, type D people (short for "distressed" people), did experience a drop in stress levels, as well as decreased blood pressure, but the researchers found that because the participants were in such dire need of help for their ailments, it's likely the results were due to the placebo effect.


"'Havening' is pseudoscience unsupported by any meaningful research," doctorate in psychology and associate director of clinical training at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia Melissa Hunt tells Today. "There's one uncontrolled trial that relied entirely on self-report ... This is definitely not an empirically supported, or even evidence-based treatment for anything, and the claims about its mechanism have no evidence to support them." Since there is a placebo effect at play here, what's legit and what isn't, is more of a personal call than the input of the medical or mental health community.

What are the possible downsides?

There doesn't appear to be any evidence, as of yet, that Havening is harmful in any way. But because it is sometimes used as a means to deal with past trauma, which can conjure up lots of internal feelings you may not have even realized were there, it's not something you want to try on your own one afternoon, thinking it's going to solve all your mental health issues.  


However, according to Healthline, Havening does have temporary side effects like bodily discomfort, a spike in anger, emotional numbness, and feelings of lightheadedness. It's also suggested that because it can increase depression and anxiety in some people, you definitely shouldn't try it without a trained mental health professional at your side. It may not involve medication, but the brain is a powerful thing and when we practice a type of therapy that reaches deep into the recesses of it, there's no telling how we may react.

Is it effective at all?

According to Justin Bieber, as well as others who practice it and find relief in it, yes, it does work. Will it work for you just because it works for the Biebs? Not necessarily.

"Havening seems to be very similar to other treatment modalities such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which specifically focuses on treating trauma and PTSD by engaging in specific eye movements and tapping to help you work through a specific traumatic event," psychotherapist Liz Morrison, L.C.S.W., tells Shape. "There have been many studies looking at the effects of EMDR which have proven it to be an effective treatment."


But as is the case with all types of therapy, you get what you put into it. If you walk into a therapist's office, believing that talk therapy is useless and isn't going to work for you, then you're not very likely to reap the benefits — and talk therapy is a legitimate form of therapy recognized by the American Psychological Association. According to the CDC, over half of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder or illness during their lifetime. That's millions of people who either are now or will struggle with a mental health issues in the future. That being said, if you try Havening and experience a positive change, then controversial or not, you've found a treatment that works for you.