Two recent surveys have highlighted the prevalence of stress in the legal workplace. Insurance firm, Protectivity, has surveyed 1,000 British workers and found that, after those in human resources, lawyers are the most stressed professionals in the country: 63% of respondents active in the legal industry reported stress on a daily basis (https://www.protectivity.com/stress-in-the-uk/). In addition, the latest findings of the Law Society Junior Lawyers Division’s annual resilience and wellbeing report reveal that one in 15 junior lawyers have experienced suicidal thoughts. Of more than 1,800 respondents, 48% said they had experienced mental ill-health in the last month, up from 38% last year. 93% of respondents said they experienced stress in their role and a quarter of those experienced severe or extreme levels of stress.
In this context, I spoke with experienced executive coach Katie Rowland, of Rowland & Associates Ltd, about Havening Techniques, a relatively new psycho-sensory approach, and how it can be used in the legal profession to alleviate stress, strengthen resilience and promote wellbeing.
How Havening can help legal professionals
In Katie’s experience, as well as the systemic stress factors specific to the legal profession, including high expectation levels, long working hours and the critical and often high-value nature of the work, many of the individuals working in the legal sphere are, by their often perfectionist, high-achieving nature, predisposed to experiencing stress and burnout. She feels that, because of this, Havening can be of huge benefit to legal professionals.
Katie explained that, since qualifying as a Havening Practitioner in 2018, she has been using Havening Techniques, either as part of a broader programme of coaching or through standalone sessions, and reports that her clients have experienced incredible changes as a result. The premise of the technique is the idea that specific touch produces an electric current that causes changes in the structure of the brain. When touch is combined with the client’s attention being focused on a distressing thought or on an accumulation of stresses, which can be interpreted by the brain as a trauma, the brain chemistry related to the trauma or stress can be altered and the negative effects of the trauma or stress reversed, leaving the client in an altered state of calm.
The type of touch used in Havening is a repeated, medium-pressure stroke, performed either by the practitioner on the client or by the client on themselves, on any one of the arms, face or hands, or on all three. Havening can also incorporate lateral eye movements to initiate changes. The way the client focusses on the stress or trauma to be addressed is by briefly thinking about the stressful event, then being distracted, or talking about the feeling the stress or trauma induces, while experiencing the Havening Touch.
Understanding how the brain deals with trauma
In understanding how Havening can help alter the brain‘s mindset relating to trauma and stress, it is useful to look at how the brain deals with trauma and stress in the first place. Katie explains that when we experience a traumatic situation, the amygdala, the primitive or ‘fight or flight’ part of the brain, is activated and prevents us from using the cortex, the more developed, logical part of the brain. In this stressed, adrenalized, cortisol-flooded state, the brain produces gamma waves, which travel very quickly down the neurons in the amygdala, and from the surface of receiving neurons, protrusions called ampr receptors appear. After an isolated incident of stress, these ampr receptors retract back into the neurons, but after a trauma or a series of stressful events that are deemed ‘inescapable’ then traumatisation may occur, permanently encoding the experience, meaning the ampr receptors do not retract. They remain permanently protruding from the receiving neurons, leaving those parts of the brain fixed on ‘high alert’, meaning that the client’s amygdala will always take over when a trauma or series of stressful events are experienced.
According to the Havening method, the Havening touch produces much slower waves in the brain, known as delta waves, and, when the client is also focussing on the trauma or series of stressful events to be addressed, these delta waves allow the ampr receptors protruding from the neurons to retract and return the neurons back to their neutral state, which in turn allows the client to experience a previously ‘triggering’ event without a ‘fight or flight’ reaction.
Promoting personal and professional resilience
Katie suggests that, as well as helping to reset the brain in relation to past traumas or accumulations of stresses, Havening can also foster and promote personal and professional resilience to cope with stress more effectively in the future. She sees great potential in this context for the use of Havening in legal teams, where individuals or indeed whole teams, may be feeling overwhelmed by the volume, pressure and relative inescapability of work. It is likely that team members may be encoding the accumulation of stressful events as a trauma because of past or indeed constant accumulations of stresses, which have left the landscapes of team members’ brains vulnerable and lacking in resilience. The use of Havening to address such ongoing accumulations of stresses is known as ‘transpirational Havening’ and, Katie suggests, could be transformative for legal professionals.
While she is keen to promote self-Havening, where an individual uses the power of touch and neural focus themselves, she suggests it is much more effective following a guided session with a practitioner who will be able to demonstrate the optimum intensity and speed of the touch, as well as the way to progress through the spoken, or thought, emotions or feelings. Experiencing the results of Havening performed by a practitioner also helps to inform the technique for self-Havening, Katie explains. Once a client is confident in self-Havening though, Katie feels it is a tool that can be used in almost any situation, and can be as brief or substantial as the context allows. She recommends using self-Havening, for example, whenever an emotional response is feeling unhelpful, to ‘down regulate’ the unhelpful feelings. For example, two minutes of Havening each morning in the shower or before an important call, or a session of hand-stroking Havening during a meeting, can alter an individual’s experience of their day, call or meeting and, if practised regularly, may help improve performance as a result of proactively managing one’s emotional and mental state.
For further information see https://www.rowlandandassociates.co.uk/index.php/what-we-do/havening, Blog post, Mental health, stress and wellbeing in the legal profession (http://in-houseblog.practicallaw.com/mental-health-stress-and-wellbeing-in-the-legal-profession/) and Blog post, How to create a mentally healthy legal workplace (http://in-houseblog.practicallaw.com/how-to-create-a-mentally-healthy-legal-workplace/).