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Touch Could Change Your Life

A Simple Approach to Heal Phobias,

Post-traumatic Stress, Chronic Pain

All feelings begin with a thought, say identical twin doctors Ronald Ruden, MD, PhD and Steven Ruden, DDS. Based on this principal, they believe that they’ve discovered a new treatment for people who suffer from life-limiting phobias, anger, grief or pain, or who are unable to overcome post-traumatic stress issues.

For example, someone who looks out a window and is immediately thrown into a crippling panic has an irrational fear of heights. The Rudens believe that this is because their brain is “incorrectly encoded.” To treat such a problem, the Rudens believe there is a simple way to activate the part of the brain that controls bad feeling responses like the panic attack.

They use a rapid and painless procedure called “havening,” which means to put in a safe place. The brothers are working now to publicize and share their findings on what they see as an addition to the two currently accepted treatments of talk therapy (psychology) or drug therapy (psychiatry).

Dr. Steven Ruden shared some key points on the havening method. He said that with 3,000 cured patients and documented scientific background on their work, the mission is to get the word out and train other health care professionals. The brothers know it will take time, but they want their technique to gain acceptance in the medical world the way other once-unknown treatments like chiropractic and acupuncture have.

When you find that the process is as simple as doing some humming and counting while the doctor lightly touches your head and arms, it might seem too good to be true. But, a long list of patients offer testimony that the procedure works. The brothers claim that this is because they have found a way to alter your brain at the molecular level and remove forever the cause of your problem. Individuals who suffer with the kinds of issues mentioned have something in common, say the Rudens. They have “encoded” their suffering in that part of the brain called the amygdala. This is the “fight or flight” center in the brain. A response is produced involuntarily in this region of the brain when a major danger or crisis is at hand. Your adrenaline is triggered and you deal with the issue, either running or defending yourself.

The problem occurs when this response is connected with something that is not dangerous.

“There is no evolutionary reason to be afraid of most of the things that people have phobias about,” said Ruden, who has treated patients with the common fear of heights or spiders, as well as more interesting phobias, ranging from a fear of taxidermied animals, to someone being afraid of their own foot, and even a patient who was unable to watch the TV show House without suffering debilitating physical illness.

The Rudens believe the issues they heal are coming from “traumatically encoded emotional memories.” They cite research from the lab of Joseph LeDoux at NYU and Dr. Bessel Von Der Kolk from Harvard as some of the basis for their theories. They believe that these “fear memories,” when activated, can be disrupted. So, if all behavior begins with a thought, “de-linking the thought from the emotional response should cure the behavior,” according to the Rudens.

“What this means is that if we think about something and activate the corresponding physical and emotional response, we can extinguish the response,” Ruden shared.

 This process involves a brief session, in which the first patient discusses their fear or problem and unearths the memory connected with it. The doctor asks you to picture this memory. Then he takes you through a process, tapping your forehead lightly, rubbing your arms, while asking you to hum a tune like Happy Birthday or count backwards. Through steps like this, the idea is that you are changing the way the brain responds to the painful memory. The light touching triggers serotonin, a calming chemical. At the same time, the distracting thoughts, like humming or counting, break the path the problem has created in the brain.

Certainly, medical professionals and scientists can differ on how this might work. But, beyond the research that the brothers cite on their own website and in published works like Dr. Ronald Ruden’s recent book, When the Past Is Always Present, the testimony of patients is interesting.

One Long Islander, Naomi, told us that in one sitting, a life-long fear of heights was removed.

“Dr. Ruden is not exaggerating,” she shared. Naomi had a relationship with him as her dentist and for 20 years built up trust and respect. So, when it came up, she took the opportunity to try “havening.”

“I figured, ‘what the heck.’ It’s a half-hour,” she said. Her fear of heights was not getting in the way of leading a normal life, but there were moments when it was hard to deal with. When her phobia was triggered, it set off a major feeling of sickness and then total exhaustion.  

Visiting the elevated city of Masada in Israel, for instance, was very difficult. Even looking through a glass window in a hotel into a pool a floor below set it off.

“I didn’t make any sense, but I felt like I was going to fall down into the pool,” Naomi said. “I felt very sick.”

So during the procedure with Dr. Ruden, they went through the fear of heights until she remembered something interesting. He asked her about her earliest experience with the fear. “I lived in a building on the 10th floor growing up,” she said. “As a child, the elevator opened one day and for some reason, the elevator wasn’t operating right and when the doors opened, I could see down into the elevator shaft. It was very strange that I would remember and see it so vividly, but it was like a light bulb going off.”

At that same time, her family was going through a major emotional trauma. Her father had abandoned the family and her parents got divorced.

“When I realized that the feelings from the divorce were linked with the feeling of looking into the elevator shaft, I cried,” shared Naomi. “I think the two feelings became associated and I never noticed. But, when you are up high, you are alone, no one can help you – that is how I felt. It doesn’t make sense but that is how it felt.”

But, she says, after the session, the fear went away and the two feelings are no longer connected. She has since tested herself for over a year and no longer gets a panic from heights. She first went to a seawall in Manhasset where she used to be unable to look out. Not only could she look, but she sat on the wall and dangled her feet off. After that, she took a charter flight in a small plane and looked out the window the whole time.

“I wouldn’t have been able to look out before that,” said Naomi.

She appreciates the idea of breaking the tie between memory and fear.

“It was monumental and life altering. I felt as if I always had that fear and he made me realize I didn’t. I wasn’t born with that fear. I think he is on to something really phenomenal. One little session changed it all. It was such a relief, that feeling of getting rid of something that was holding you back. I feel lighter,” she said.

Port Washington resident Jeanne felt the same about shedding crippling emotional distress. After the loss of her aged mother, she just felt horribly sad all the time.

“I couldn’t believe how it just shut me down,” Jeanne shared. “I would get through normal day-to-day stuff, like grocery shopping, but I was almost paralyzed when I was alone. I gained 50 pounds. I just wanted to hibernate or get lost.”

Going back through her memories with the doctor, she discussed losing her father at a very early age. They made the connection that this trauma was connected to the feelings she was experiencing after losing her mother.

She pictured each loss and the feeling of sadness that came from it. Afterward, they went through a “havening” with the doctor tapping her forehead while she counted and hummed Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

This procedure is on video and an instant change in her appearance is notable. She remarked during the video that it was as if she was suddenly watching the memories on TV, instead of experiencing the horrible emotions.  

“You see it and remember, she said, “but you don’t feel that overwhelming weight. It is amazing. When we were done and he asked how I felt, I just couldn’t believe it. When I went home my kids said, ‘Wow, you look different.” About a year later, Jeanne said she still feels fine and strongly recommends the process.

For information on the Rudens’ research and scientific background, as well as their writings, visit www.healingthe mind.net.

Dr. Ruden will be hosting an all-day presentation on his technique for health care professionals on Jan. 30 in Glen Cove. For information, contact Leslie at 676-8148.