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State of the Art
In Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Field Therapy, and numerous other variations of EP, the core procedure is simple and straightforward: mentally activate a problem or a desired positive mental state while stimulating a set of acupoints. Targeted problems can range from simple phobias to severe trauma-based reactions to highly nuanced emotional responses, such as distrust of any man whose height is reminiscent of one's tall father. Desired positive states that can be cultivated might include increased confidence when speaking to an audience, better eye-hand coordination on the tennis court, or an enhanced ability to express difficult feelings to one's spouse. EP can be self-administered or integrated into virtually any existing clinical framework. With its quick learning curve and ease of application, it's become somewhat of a pop psych phenomenon, with more than 1.2 million people already having downloaded The EFT Manual, a guide for home application, and 30,000 to 40,000 more downloading it each month by the end of 2009.
Because EP is easy to apply and often works quickly with well-contained stimulus-response conditions, such as a simple phobia with no complicating history or secondary gains, the practitioner doesn't necessarily need a great deal of clinical sophistication. But how many well-contained conditions are actually encountered in a clinical practice? And therein lies not only the need for highly skilled clinicians to use the relatively simple techniques offered by EP, but an explanation for the many variations in how it's used.
For instance, if your client has a gambling problem (or any other complex condition), you have numerous areas where acupoint stimulation might be usefully applied. Some therapists put more emphasis than others on the psychodynamic roots of a problem. You could identify formative experiences regarding money and other forms of gratification that still hold a psychological charge and have the person tap on acupoints while recalling them, one at a time, until problematic emotional responses to the memories no longer occur. Or you could begin by focusing on the gambling behavior. You could use tapping to reduce the grip of environmental cues that trigger the urge to gamble. If you discover that stress is a trigger for the impulse to gamble, as it often is, the target for the tapping might be the emotions caused by stress that are habitually subdued through gambling. By bringing to mind frequent stressors and reducing the charge on the emotions caused by each, an emotional inoculation occurs through which the stressors lose their power to induce compulsive gambling. You could also teach the client to use acupoint tapping at home to reduce cravings when they occur.
All this can be done within whatever clinical framework you already use. You might still use cognitive-behavioral therapy to challenge your client's unhealthy beliefs and rationalizations regarding gambling, recommend a support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, encourage the cultivation of enjoyable activities to replace gambling, and make therapeutic contracts that require your client to restrict direct personal access to funds and to tempting situations. EP doesn't replace a comprehensive clinical approach to complex conditions, but it provides a tool for quickly shifting the way critical dimensions of the problem seem to be coded in the brain.
EP is being used in the British and French military services to treat soldiers with PTSD, and Britain's National Health Service, which has been using EFT as a treatment modality for years, is now offering it to the public as part of its Mental Health Improvement Training. In the United States, however, partially as a consequence of the APA's unbending position on EP, many therapists still have to introduce the therapy surreptitiously, or risk censure. Still, EP methods are slowly finding their way into mainstream psychotherapy practice as well as institutions such as hospitals, VA centers, and HMOs, with major studies underway at Kaiser Permanente, the Sutter Health network, and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
EP's strongest enthusiasts speak of it as if it were the psychotherapeutic equivalent of penicillin, a clinical breakthrough that will revolutionize therapy, while its critics view it as a pseudoscience whose new ingredients are no more potent than sugar water. Because the basic technique is so easy to learn—the hard part being using it well with challenging cases—I'll sometimes ask a spirited skeptic, "Why not try it and evaluate it yourself? What's to lose?" In fact, that's part of the strategy employed by those bringing EP to disaster areas to gain the cooperation of local health leaders.
While empirical studies to fully demonstrate the speed and power of EP are still needed, it's hard not to be deeply moved seeing emotionally devastated people come back into happier, more effective lives after a few EP sessions. For instance, the video described earlier shows an Army combat veteran who'd suffered from panic attacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, anger, and depression for more than 30 years. His symptoms were getting worse, to the point that he was regularly and convincingly threatening to shoot his family. In his intake session at a five-day EP program where two to three hour-long sessions per day would be offered, he said, "The dichotomy is so great between what I was when I went in and what I became when I got out that it's a very messy situation inside my head!" In his exit session on day five, he triumphantly announced, "I can't emphasize enough how important it is to actually feel like you're a real person again, and not be afraid, and not have to cover up all of your junk every single day of your life." His wife also participated in the five-day program. On day three she said, "He's had all the symptoms! We've been in psych wards for years. And in three days, we're talking! We haven't talked in five years; really talked!" Post-treatment testing confirmed his observable improvements, which persisted on follow-up assessments.
As we deepen our explorations of the complex mysteries of the human nervous system, rapid, noninvasive ways of repairing damage and dysfunction seem not so far away. Energy Psychology holds promise for blazing a trail toward that goal. As bizarre as it may have once sounded, the evidence has moved far beyond the early anecdotes, suggesting that tapping on the skin can reliably facilitate decisive emotional change with a range of conditions. However uncomfortable such findings may make old-time clinicians like me, they may force all of us to rethink our models of psychotherapy.
David Feinstein, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, is the author or coauthor of seven books and more than 80 professional articles. His books have won eight national awards, including the U.S. Book News Best Psychology/Mental Health Book of 2007. A paper published last month that contains references to the EP studies cited in this article can be downloaded from his website at http://mechanisms.EnergyPsychEd.com. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.