Ever since Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis in the 1890’s, many styles of talking therapies have since developed, helping countless millions of people with their mental and emotional challenges over the years in ways that were previously unheard of.
But in all areas of life, every so often something new comes along which is a game changer – such as the invention of electricity, or antibiotics.
In this psychotherapeutic field, such a revolution is currently under way with the creation of a powerful tool that is set to change the talk therapy world to the point that no counsellor or talk therapist in the future could be taken seriously if not trained in this method.
In the early 1980’s a clinical psychologist called Dr Roger Callahan was treating a 50 year old lady called Mary for a severe water phobia which she had had for her entire life. She could not even put water on her face without feeling anxiety. During the night she had night sweats and nightmares about water. In the previous 6 years she had seen various talk therapists in an attempt to get over her phobia (18 months with Dr Callahan) and had made little to no progress.
Dr Callahan had been studying the Chinese acupuncture meridian system and was aware that different meridians were connected to respective organs. In a moment of inspiration he said to her: “when you think about water where is the anxiety in your body?”. She said “my stomach” as she clasped her hands over her stomach. Then Dr Callahan said “Let’s try something. Please tap under your eye whilst you think about water”. He suggested that acupuncture point because he knew it was the beginning of the stomach meridian and he wanted to stimulate that meridian to see if it would have any effect. Neither he nor Mary was prepared for what happened next. After a few minutes Mary said: “My water phobia has disappeared”! She ran through to the back of his house where he had a pool and started splashing water over her face to check. No anxiety! The problem hasn’t come back since that day – 35 years ago, and Mary has since appeared on different TV shows talking about her experience.
Out of this experience Dr Callahan developed Thought Field Therapy over the next 20 years and found he could help people with their mental and emotional challenges in dramatically reduced timescales. In fact people often experienced emotional shifts in the timescale of minutes!
The system was highly effective for many conditions but involved many different sequences of acupuncture points depending on the emotions being experienced. Stanford-trained engineer Gary Craig attended Dr Callahan’s trainings and found a way to simplify the process so that even children could use it for simple issues, and for eliminating stress rapidly – again often in minutes. He called this method EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and began promoting it all over the world using free manual downloads and inexpensive tuition videos. There are countless millions who have now learnt EFT either in its basic form for self-application or for therapeutic use in complex cases.
It is known that important structures in the brain’s limbic system called the amygdala and hippocampus are affiliated with emotional memory – and in particular the fight / flight response. Studies monitored brain activity in these structures whilst stimulating specific acupuncture points with electro-acupuncture. Using a functional MRI machine they found the heightened response decreased with repeated acupuncture use. The results suggest that stimulating acu-points modulate the activity of the limbic system, reducing amygdala arousal.
As a trainer and practitioner of EFT for 13 years I find the results are consistently extraordinary compared to what we are used to with talk-only modalities. When I work with someone to help them get relief from a specific traumatic experience, it typically takes 1 to 3 sessions for them to feel completely peaceful – and I have never known the original severity of reaction to come back if it is resolved thoroughly. A typical emotional response to focusing on an upsetting past event may be initially one of anger, shock or betrayal, for example, then moving through layers to relief and lightness, then on to understanding and forgiveness. This happens organically and is designed to release resistance and suppression as part of the process.
At last, talk therapists don’t need to be scared to address trauma directly. Trauma is the most significant foundation on which our mental and emotional symptoms sit. If you can’t deal with trauma effectively, you are not working with the roots of the issue and you can’t expect a permanent resolution. Proper EFT training contains protocols which allows you to work with the most severe trauma gently and without re-traumatising. This feature alone can transform the practice of anyone in the helping profession. As an aside EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can be effective for releasing trauma, however EFT takes things further, even providing for “can’t go there” traumas, as well as “should be upset but I’m not” scenarios.
In my experience, the average stressed person experiences around a 75-100% decrease in stress within just a few minutes of using this method - although you would expect it to come back with new mental and environmental triggers. The art of application of EFT involves trying to identify the release the traumatic roots of given specific stressors and good training is needed to help refine the skills necessary.
EFT can also be used to transform limiting beliefs. After we experience key early traumas – even if they are ‘small’ – we realise life isn’t as we thought it was. As a result we create – in an instant – beliefs about life, about ourselves, about those who are supposed to love us etc. For example a 5 year old child whose father leaves home may create the beliefs: ‘I am unlovable’, ‘I am unwanted’, ‘there is something wrong with me’, ‘those who love me can abandon me at any moment’ or ‘life is unpredictable’. They can also make decisions – such as ‘I must not love anyone too much in case I get hurt’. These mental structures completely change this persons life, being the filter through which life is experienced and decisions are made. As our brain then sees life through this filter, we notice everything that confirms this reality – and so it becomes more and more subjectively true, even though just a single experience brought it into being.
I had been working on relationship issues with a 32-year old lady who hadn’t been with a partner for 4 years. One day I asked her what her limiting belief was about men. She said “There is no man out there who can love me in the way I want to be loved”. When I asked her how true it felt she said 10 out of 10! We applied EFT directly to this belief for about 5 minutes and I asked her again how true it felt. Amazingly it now felt completely untrue (0 out of 10). In those few minutes her reality about men had changed completely! With immediate effect she was able to be open minded about the right man turning up, and be trusting that it was possible to be loved in the way she wanted. What happened next was amazing – within two weeks she met someone who matched all the criteria she wanted out of a man (which we had listed) and a month after that she confirmed to me it was going well!
EFT has been the subject of over 100 research studies, many of which were double-blind RCT (Randomised Controlled Trials), and all but one show efficacy. See http://www.energypsych.org/?Research_Landing for a good summary of research to date). A 2016 meta-study, as described in those research pages, was highly favourable.
As a practitioner and trainer, though, I see rapid emotional and mental shifts day in and day out with my own clients and those of the practitioners I have trained, and so have great faith in the EFT as a highly effective modality. Research is important, however, to convince individuals and organisations to take EFT seriously.
Despite being so effective, EFT can be learned in just a few days and integrated immediately into your existing practice. Talking therapy practitioners can expect to see huge improvements in their work with clients and this allows them to experience a more rapid turnaround, resulting in a more dynamic practice, and experience the fulfillment of being able to help so much more effectively.
In time, all talking therapists will need to have EFT as part of their repertoire as it becomes an invaluable skill that forms a fundamental part of the therapeutic process. EFT makes a great life possible for all of us.
If you wish to learn EFT properly, find a qualified trainer who has the experience and technical skills to show how to do effective and deep work with your clients using EFT. All trainers are different. With a combined 20 years of experience with EFT we are proud to teach this powerful skill for self-help and for use with clients.