Best selling author Caroline Foran interviewed me for her Owning It: The Anxiety Podcast about the most effective methods I use for anxiety treatment.
We have transcribed the full interview into a two part blog.
This is part one!
Part two will be the next blog post, which will follow shortly.
In our interview we delve deeply into why Havening is such a highly effective
& breakthrough anxiety treatment..
And explore the neuroscience behind Havening and what actually happens in a session.
We have also included a link to the podcast at the end of this page.
So you can listen to the full interview there too!
Owning It: What is ‘Havening’ and how can it help your anxiety treatment?
Hello dear listener & welcome back to Owning It: The Anxiety Podcast with me Caroline Foran.
I am very excited about this episode; you’re going to learn a huge amount about the brain
and how seemingly innocuous events can trigger anxiety for us.
And more specifically you’ll gain an insight into a series
various types of alternative anxiety treatment, from hypnotherapy to a ground-breaking
approach known as Havening.
And how Havening as a new anxiety treatment might be helpful for you.
I’m joined by Stephen Travers who is an Advanced
Hypnotherapist, and he has so many other letters after his name I will
definitely get them wrong so I will just let him do the talking.
Stephen thank you so much for joining me on the podcast on Owning
It, I’ve been meaning to have you on for so long. Because obviously I
went to–many years ago now at this stage when my anxiety was really
really bad, and I was probably at my lowest of vulnerability and
desperately searching for any anxiety treatment that I thought would help me feel
Obviously since then I’ve found different ways to get on top of it and
manage my anxiety so that I can live my life the way I am now, but it’s
still something that I experience from time to time.
And I was emailing yesterday about where I stand on this, and I’m
always quite dubious and I’m just careful around different types of anxiety
treatment that are out there that say ‘do this’ because I was a victim of that,
where I was googling things from America and it said ‘do this one thing
and you’ll never feel anxiety again’.
And of course when you’re in that vulnerable position you will think I
will do anything to make this go away, and I had a very warped view of
anxiety, in that it was something like a virus that I had been taken over
and that I had to get rid of.
Whereas when I started to look at it as a stress response–and anxiety
is something that is in a lot of ways important and essential and it’s
something to work with rather than try and cure, for me that was a
Now I know that mightn’t line up with what you believe, but if somebody
is sitting at home now and they’re having really bad anxiety and panic
attacks and they google ‘how the hell can I get rid of this?’, ‘how can I
make this better?’, they’re going to come up with the results of the
kinds of anxiety treatment and stuff that you specialise in.
So I wanted to come on and have a chat with you about what those
anxiety treatment options are, what differentiates them, how they work, why
they might be useful for someone, and just give a bit of clarity on those
things, and also just reassure people that there are loads of different
options and anxiety treatments out there for people.
And I would be of the opinion that nutrition plays a role in anxiety treatment
and your sleep and then maybe something like Havening can come in
and help as well, but I don’t think there’s one thing that cures it, I don’t
know if you will agree with me on that?
ST: There are many different types of anxiety based disorders. We’ve
got panic attacks, there’s post-traumatic stress, there’s generalized feelings of
anxiety, there can be many phobias.
People can even suffer with things like chronic pain in their body because of
unresolved stress and anxiety, so there’s many many symptoms, but they’re
all essentially amygdala based disorders.
CF: Okay, and the amygdala is where the fear comes from in our brain, it’s
the more primitive part of our brain?
ST: Yes it’s part of the limbic system. And what we’ve discovered through
the work of specifically an American doctor called Ronald Ruden and
his brother Steven Ruden, is when people start having symptoms of
anxiety it’s generally because a more vulnerable neurochemical
landscape has been produced from past previous stressors, and they’ll
often be at least one very distressful event that has occurred.
CF: Okay, so a very identifiable trauma?
ST: Yes, in the majority of cases. So when I’m working with someone, if I
can pinpoint and identify that trauma or that very distressful memory or
event and then go in and use an anxiety treatment such as Havening, which
we’ll probably talk a bit more about, that can make a significant
difference to how a person’s feeling in the present.
CF: Okay. And is it possible that people can experience anxiety and just
maybe be predisposed or have an anxious nature without it always
relating back to one event?
Because I think we’re looking for the event aren’t we, we’re always
looking for something to blame it on and sometimes it’s not easy to
ST: Well I’m doing just now 15 years–and nearly every single person I work
with there’s at least one event, it’s finding it sometimes that can be the
challenge, and it can be something innocuous.
I remember listening to your recent interview with Charlene McKenna
the actress from Peaky Blinders, and she was talking about [a time
when] she choked on a sweet when she was about four or five, and
after that she started feeling more anxious and panicky.
And even from listening to your interview she was having problems
with breathing and maybe feeling a bit suffocated at times, and if I was
working with Charlene I would certainly be looking at that event as part of her anxiety treatment.
Because that would be an encoding moment that has affected the
amygdala and created a more vulnerable neurochemical landscape in
the brain, which means you’re more prone and less resilient, you’re
more prone to having anxiety, or when other things happen being
affected by them and you have less resiliency.
CF: Okay. So before we go into talking about how these memories are
getting coded and how you help to undo the damage, can you just tell
listeners a little bit about your role and what you do and your
Over 15 years experience helping people overcome anxiety
ST: First of all to give you a bit of my background I used to suffer with
anxiety and panic attacks in my twenties. I used to work as a sales and
marketing coach and just through the stress of the job I started having
I’d studied psychology at university for a while so I was kind of aware of
different anxiety treatment therapies. I didn’t necessarily want to go down the
counselling route of going in and talking about it, I wanted something
more solid that would actually remove or get me a significant shift.
So I was aware of hypnotherapy and I was quite fascinated by it, so I
ended up doing some training it with the Institute of Clinical
Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy here in Ireland.
And the idea behind that was to obviously clear my own anxiety and to
quench my own curiosity, and thankfully it made a significant difference
to my anxiety and I just loved it as well.
CF: You found it a relaxing experience even just to get it as an anxiety treatment?
ST: Yes. What I found was at the beginning when I was working with other
hypnotherapist’s doing practicing I was actually quite nervous, because
I was that bad that I was nervous what they would say to me when I
was under hypnosis, that they might put some negative suggestion in,
that’s how bad I was.
So what I found what worked quite well for me was hypnosis CD’s and
audios. Because I’d listen to them once and I liked them and I found
them calming, and when I put them on again I could just completely
relax and let go, as opposed to working with a live therapist or trainee
therapist and I didn’t necessarily know what was coming.
And then after using the CD’s for a while I could actually work with a
live therapist as part of my anxiety treatment at the time.
CF: So then you became a certified hypnotherapist yourself?
ST: Yes and opened the Advanced Hypnotherapy Dublin clinic.
CF: And then you added onto that?
ST: Well over the last ten years I’ve trained in–because I love personal
development, things like NLP [Neuro-Linguistic Programming], Thought Field
Therapy, Emotional Freedom Therapy, and the Demartini Technique.
I also studied hypnoanalysis, psychoanalysis, that’s all the Freudian
psychology, and the latest thing I discovered in the last seven years for effective anxiety
treatment is something called Havening.
CF: Okay, what is that?
ST: Well that’s a new ground-breaking psychosensory therapy or certain
techniques for anxiety based disorders, trauma, and building emotional
CF: Okay and how is it ground-breaking?
How is Havening groundbreaking?
ST: It’s ground-breaking in the sense that it can get really rapid and
remarkable results within minutes for anxiety based issues, things like
panic attacks, PTSD phobias, it’s very different in the sense that we
use sensory touch.
So when we’re working with someone we gently stroke their arms, their
hands, their face, and we use pleasant physiological distractions, so it’s
quite different than a lot of the talking therapies that we’re actually
introducing sensory touch in.
And there’s a lot of neuroscience behind it as well in regards to the
neurobiology of human touch and how that changes what’s happening
in the brain and the body.
Well first of all if we actually do look at when a trauma becomes
encoded, so say you have a bad event and generally there’s going to
be two main things. It’s going to be very distressful and there will be a
sense of inescapable stress or you’ll feel trapped even for a moment.
When that happens it’s something called AMPA receptors that get
locked onto the amygdala neurons there, and the AMPA receptors
download everything that you’re seeing hearing and emotionally and
physically feeling at that time during that distressful event. So if your
heart’s palpitating, you’re sweating and your stomach has a knot in it
that’s all getting encoded in the amygdala receptors.
So this was one of the ground-breaking discoveries through the work
with Doctor Ruden. So when we’re working with someone we get them
to go back to that event, and when we do get them to re-imagine it,
these receptors fire off again for about ten minutes, and there’s
something called a phosphate molecule that’s exposed during that
seven to ten minutes.
When we apply the Havening touch it produces something called delta
waves in the brain, but delta waves is very calming, they happen when
you’re sleeping, they’re about 0.5 to 2 hertz per cycle per second, so
they’re very calming, they’re very relaxing,
And these delta waves go into the neurons where the AMPA receptors
are to create a chemical called calcineurin, just to get a bit technical
about it, and the calcineurin dephosphorylates which is a fancy name
for it removes the AMPA receptors off the neurons.
So it removes them and clears them, and that’s like turning off a switch
in the brain and the body. So when someone thinks of that memory
again that was distressing them, the emotional distress is completely
gone from it. This is why Havening is such an effective anxiety treatment.
And any stimuli and ques in their environment that might have been
triggering off the panic or the fear that was associated to that original
trauma it won’t be able to trigger off the anxiety anymore, because the
AMPA receptors are now gone, so that switch is now delinked.
CF: And what if someone comes to you and they don’t have an identifiable
point that they can go back to, how do you find it?
ST: I train therapists in Havening Techniques so I teach therapists to pinpoint
and identify those traumatic memories.
So there’s something we call EMLI which is an acronym for Event,
Meaning, Landscape, and Inescapability, so there’s those four things
we look for, a stressful event, a time when they felt trapped, a sense of
inescapable stress, or they felt emotionally threatened or vulnerable in
And also looking at their landscape, what was their neurochemical
landscape of their brain at the time of the event or around that period,
because if you’ve got other stress going on in your life, unrelated
stress, the chances for getting traumatized by an event is going to be
And that’s why two people can witness the same event, a stressful
event, and one person would get traumatized and one won’t, they’ll be
absolutely fine, that really comes down to their neurochemical
landscape of their brain at the time of the event.
CF: Okay so it’s not necessarily what’s happening, it’s how you’re reacting
to it given your context?
ST: Yes. So if you have a lot of stress going on in your life and you witness
say a car accident as opposed to another person, person B, and
they’re feeling quite calm relaxed and happy in their life, the chances of
person B getting traumatized would be much lower. Person A will have
a higher chance of becoming traumatized with that event because
they’re already stressed.
CF: Okay. You used a lot of very big words there about what’s happening in
the brain, but is that based on clinical trials for anxiety treatment or how has this all come to
ST: Yes it’s based on research into the brain over the last 10-20 years,
about the amygdala, the limbic system, sensory touch, so there’s a lot
A lot of neuroscience is theoretical anyway so we knew a lot about how
the brain works, and we also know from thousands of case studies that
have been done by practitioners around the world in Havening that the
results completely align with the theory.
There was also an anxiety treatment study done in Kings College London on Havening by
Professor Neil Greenberg, and they took people with severe anxiety
and depression and they looked at the impact of just one Havening
session and they found that over 70% of the people had a significant
positive change from just one session.
CF: But you wouldn’t claim to say that you could go and have Havening
as an anxiety treatment and never feel anxious again in your life?
CF: Okay that’s really reassuring to me, because I suppose I tried so many
different types of anxiety treatment that I maybe wanted to believe that that was the case.
And I think that would be the last thing that I would want, is someone to
book in and think ‘I’m going to walk out of here and never feel this way
again’. But you could help to soften the memories and things and make
them be less aggressive in that persons mind?
ST: Yes. When someone comes in with a specific anxiety based disorder
like the panic attacks, the phobias, PTSD and traumatic memory, we
can in most cases completely clear that, but that’s not to say you’ll
never feel anxiety again.
Like I’ve had people come in over the years, and yes some people
think they shouldn’t feel anxiety again, where they might be doing
public speaking and start getting that little bit of tension or anxiety
But we need a certain amount of anxiety, our emotions are there to first
of all keep us safe, so we need a certain amount of fear and anxiety to
keep us safe and to survive.
Plus sometimes a bit of cortisol and adrenalin gives us the boost to
perform at our best, to give us a peak performance or to be aware of
what we’re doing.
CF: Something that I really struggled with since I would’ve come to you as
a patient years ago is the memory of how bad I was when my anxiety
was really bad, and if I have that anxious week maybe I’m vulnerable
because I’ve been overworking or maybe I’m under the weather or any
of those different vulnerability factors at play.
But really sometimes all I have to do is think ‘oh what if I go back to
where I was?’, because I was not sleeping, I was having violent panic
attacks all day. I was so petrified that this was the way I was going to
always be, that even though I’ve come through it I still look over my
shoulder and think is it going to come and get me again.
So my anxiety may have come from a couple of different triggers from
my childhood perhaps, that maybe I couldn’t have easily identified, but
now the trigger about my anxiety is because of my anxiety, so how
would you approach that?
ST: Well part of it can be about our own self-care. We know short term stress tends
to be good but prolonged stress is bad for us, and I find that people who are
high achievers tend to suffer quite a bit with stress, and they might not
necessarily want to admit it because they’re pushing themselves so
So it’s about having that awareness and knowing to take breaks, even
throughout the day to look after yourself, to have practices, maybe
you’re doing some meditation, you’re doing yoga, you’re having a
holistic approach of eating healthy, you’re taking time out but you’re not
working 24/7 for weeks on end because that’s when we do start to feel
CF: Yeah. But I had a very traumatic experience with anxiety for a couple of
months; do you think that is now a trauma in my head that I need to get
over? Do you think my experience of anxiety because it was so acute
for a while sort of encoded in my brain?
ST: It depends. If it’s a memory that’s not affecting you good,
if it’s something that was still affecting you or there was something else there–if I was working
with you as a client I would explore that and see if there’s any emotion there, because
sometimes there can be the fear of the fear.
CF: Well that’s my biggest thing. And I think that’s common for a lot of
people who’ve had really bad anxiety is that okay you find out you’re
not dying of a heart attack, you find out you’re perfectly healthy, but
you don’t feel better because you’re like ‘why the hell am I feeling this
anyway?’. So the fear of the fear for me was worse than any tangible
fear that I could pin the blame on.
And also I suppose I could think about, I talked about this before with
fear conditioning, where my parents moved down to Dingle and my
anxiety was really bad, and my boyfriend at the time he’d have to go
away or something, so I’d go down to my parents and they’d basically
have to mind me because I was not well enough to be left by myself.
And because I was only there for a couple of days when I was really
feeling bad and I was dying with panic attacks, the next time I went
back down even though I was in a good place all I had to do was be in
that environment again, and I felt it again and all the anxiety feelings,
the symptoms came rushing back.
It was like I was right back there, and even though I knew in my rational
mind it’s not the house’s fault I had to actually leave and go home, and
I was really upset because this is where my family home essentially is
now. So do you think that that was a trauma then?
ST: Yes in the sense that–remember we talked about those AMPA
receptors? Say you’re in this place and you start getting traumatized
again, it could be your home or anywhere, if those receptors are firing
off again they can start downloading the environment of where you are.
So if you’re in your house your house can become part of the trauma,
that association is getting encoded in the amygdala.
CF: Okay. So would I be right in saying that the different types of therapy
that you would work with it’s almost like cleaning up your server?
ST: Yes it is a bit like that. There is the analogy in NLP, neuro-linguistic
programming and hypnotherapy that your brain is a bit like a computer,
and we’re using very psychological techniques to reprogram the
computer if there’s viruses there or bad memories of the past and we’re
going in and cleaning it up.
CF: And you’ll always hear the phrase ‘you can rewire your brain’.
ST: Yes, and if you want to get more neuroscientific about it you’re talking
about changing the neuro chemical state of your brain, or
neuroplasticity became quite popular working with the neuro pathways.
But in many ways when I’m working with someone I’m aiming to free
them from the past, identify the traumas of the past, the memories,
what’s causing the symptoms in the present, to free them from those
symptoms and to feel more calm relaxed and resilient, so they can
move forward in their life in a more calm and confident way.
CF: And is there a candidate that would suit what you do?
ST: Well I specialize primarily with anxiety based issues, so anyone
suffering with almost any type of anxiety is the clients I like to work with
most, because I get the most joy and I get the results with them as
CF: Okay. But is it most effective as an anxiety treatment with things like tangible
phobias such as going on an aeroplane or something like that and having a fear of
ST: Well sometimes it can be easier than others that’s for sure. I do a four
session anxiety treatment program with most people, and some people come in and we
have a massive result within one session, and other people come in
and we need those two to three to four sessions to work through the
Like some people come in and there’s only a few things, some people
come in and there’s a massive amount of things. There could be many
adverse childhood effects, growing up in a violent household, they may
have had many traumas, there could have been various abuse, they
could have grown up in poverty, it could be a whole range of issues
that has affected the arc of their life.
So it’s like we’re rebuilding that person up and cleaning up their past,
helping them feel better and then also helping them to rebuild their
future. And some people they hide themselves away and haven’t
moved forward in their life or reached even half their potential, so we
have to start looking at where they’re going and help them to get there
CF: Okay so somebody comes in to you and they’re having panic attacks,
are you going to decide which anxiety treatment to use or is it a combination
of them such as hypnosis for anxiety too.
Lets go through the different treatments maybe and you can tell me
what they are and how they differentiate?
ST: Nearly everyone that comes in with any anxiety issue, panic attacks for
example I will use Havening, that’ll be the first thing I’ll use with them.
CF: Okay and what can we expect for anxiety treatment in a Havening session?
ST: Well if I’m sitting with someone with panic attacks I will ask them when
did the panic attacks first begin and I’ll often look for–remember the
EMLI? Event, Meaning, Landscape and Inescapability, I will look
maybe for an example for the first panic attack they had, the very first
one and the most distressful one.
In the session then I’ll ask them to close their eyes and go back to it
and remember it, because I want to trigger off those AMPR receptors in
the amygdala so I can get at them, but I only do that for about 30
seconds, so then I’ll ask them to open up their eyes, clear their mind
and I’ll start using the Havening.
So we start doing the light sensory touch, and I’ll use some pleasant
distraction with them as well, so we give them that escape and we take
them away from the memory.
And as I’m Havening them, and this normally takes about 10 minutes in
total, I’ll ask them on the scale of ten to zero, ten being very distressed
zero being calm, how far down the scale they’re dropping with each
round of Havening I do.
And the aim will be to get them to zero where they’re feeling completely
calm relaxed and at ease.
CF: And in and of itself it’s quite a relaxing experience. So do you think do
you have to be buying into the whole theory and the neuroscience for it
to be effective for you? Or can you come in and have a relaxing
experience and because you’ve produced all those lovely delta waves
that can only be beneficial.
ST: Good question. There’s no belief required, there’s no placebo, it’s a
neuroscientific procedure for anxiety treatment.
When I tell most people when they come in that I’m going to do some
Havening and maybe get them to imagine walking on a beach or
singing Jingle Bells as a distraction and stroke their arms a lot of
people are sceptical, they’re kind of going what’s this about, so there’s
no placebo, so you don’t need to believe in it.
The big evidence for people is the result within the session when after
ten minutes sometimes even less they go back to that memory that
was really distressing and the emotional charge they were feeling in
their body, the stress, the anxiety is completely gone from that memory
in that moment.
CF: Okay I can understand that, that if you go back to that specific memory
you can not feel upset by it, but what about the anxiety that we feel day
to day? It isn’t always necessary; oh it’s this memory that’s at me
again, so how does Havening help with that?
ST: Yes there can be very many triggers that someone has experienced
over a period of years or months. So there’s different types of
Havening techniques for anxiety treatment.. So we may ask someone to go into emotions of
fear or anger or guilt, stress, feeling trapped, where there’s all these
situations that made them feel that way that you’re avoiding.
And we ask them to think of that emotional feeling and this brings a lot
of memories and feelings up from the subconscious, into your
subconscious awareness. But as we’re doing it the delta waves are
changing, what’s happening in the amygdala it’s re-encoding those
mini events or memories and it’s helping to release and dissolve those
You can llsten to the full interview on the link below https://podcasts.apple.com/ie/podcast/owning-it-what-is-havening-and-how-can-it-help-your-anxiety/id1449728710?i=1000457087836
Part Two of the interview transcript will be the next blog post. Coming soon…