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Tested: new hypnosis

Heard of Havening? It's the latest hands-on technique that promises to cure anxiety for good...

In my life before Muddy I was a health writer/editor on national women’s glossies for the best part of 2 decades – and in that capacity have interviewed Paul McKenna and written numerous times about the real healing science behind hypnosis rather than it being just an entertaining parlor trick.

So I was really interested when I read about McKenna’s use of a brand new therapy, Havening, which takes hypnotherapies into a brave new world where simply rubbing your arms promises to reduce anxiety and depression by altering the way memories are stored or recalled. Particularly when I learnt that, although there are only a handful of Havening-trained therapists around the world, Tunbridge Well’s own, Chris Meaden, is one of them.

Havening Technique might sound a little strange. It involves closing your eyes and rubbing your arms in a series of motions. It’s not without controversy and the cynical health editor in me wanted to see it in action, in order to get a better understanding. Luckily I had a willing friend, Jess, who blames her inabilitiy to kick the ciggies on anxiety, difficulty sleeping, a highly stressful job in the City and the terrible trauma she suffered a year ago after the accidental death of a loved one. (I think she’s got a point).

Chris has two clinics – one in London on Harley Street and one in Tunbridge Wells on Little Mount Sion, above Serenity. We met him in the Tunny Wells clinic, pictured above, which he runs with wife Linzi. The waiting room is shared with Serenity, the beauty and holistic treatments centre – here it is, below.

Then we are showed to a side room and Jess sits in The Change Chair, opposite Chris, below. Then he takes time to explain how Havening works – by boosting levels of the mood-stabilising brain chemical serotonin, which disrupts the link between the memory and the distress.

In times of stress the brain encodes the physical state you are in during that tricky emotional time – the sweats, anxiety, heart racing, adrenalin – it’s all encoded in the part of the brain called the ‘amygdala’ that prepares our bodies for fight or flight. To the extent that in the future, if you find yourself in any similar situation, this physical and emotional response fires off. That’s why many of us are stuck in a hyper-vigilant state. I must admit, running at full throttle with work and the kids I often feel like that, don’t you?

As Chris points out, fear doesn’t have to be about big, dramatic events. Many of us are fearful we won’t be able to provide for our family or fearful of embarrassment, loss of reputation or losing face, fear of losing a job, of not making enough money or being passed over for a promotion. I’m not surprised to learn that Chris sees lots of traders/investment bankers in his Harley Street Clinic.

When the therapy starts there’s no: ‘Look into my eyes, listen to my voice, you are getting sleepy.’ Although what Chris says instead might seem totally bonkers. First Jess is asked to recall in her mind the memories that were distressing and causing anxiety, then she’s asked to imagine she’s on a beach, next she’s at Wimbledon. There’s even a bit when she has to hum Happy Birthday – which is all part of a distraction to keep her occupied while this is accompanied by rubbing across the arms, palms and face. But there is a method in the madness because I’ve seen it work first hand. It’s all to do with breathing, counting and touch – and most importantly disrupting the link between the memory of an event and the distress it causes.

One of the best things, Chris explains, is that his clients don’t even have to talk about the experience, just follow the instructions. He goes on to say the relief on his client’s faces when they are told to keep it in the privacy of their mind is priceless. Chris deals with everything from anxiety and panic attacks through to trauma from childhood sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence.

The technique can even be done over Skype apparently. Interestingly Chris says he sees an increasing number of school children who need help dealing with anxiety (stress, bullying, eating disorders) making this another avenue parents of sufferers may want to explore.

Chris speaks very confidently about how his technique will work – and there’s now even the first study to back it up. A research team, led by King’s College London recruited a group of 27 men and women who had reported having problems with work due to anxiety or depression. Overall, participants reported an improvement on all mental health measures, which were sustained at two months, after the Havening intervention.

It’s not cheap, one session in his Harley Street Clinic costs £595 or Tunbridge Wells pricing starts at £175. But Chris claims he can do a lot more in one or two sessions than people achieve in years of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which would end up costing the same, or more and being less effective. Why would you want to stay in pain and suffering for any longer than you have too? – Well, that’s his argument, and it sounds sensible enough to me.

So what was Jess’s verdict? Well she happily reported that although she’d never experienced anything like this therapy before, nothing was too uncomfortable (even if it did seem slightly wacky at first). She said she felt her anxiety levels reduce within the first 5 minutes – in fact she described the experience as entirely profound and will now talk your ear off about its effectiveness. ‘The thing is,’ she says, ‘you don’t have to understand it to benefit from it.’ And yes, so far she’s still off the ciggies.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.

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