Can you be cured of phobia in a few minutes? Can the sting of major trauma be relieved in just a few short sessions? Is it really necessary to tell the whole story of abuse and trauma in order to get well?
While most therapists believe that the treatment of phobia or trauma is a long and difficult process and that it is important to unburden yourself of the stories of trauma and abuse in a safe setting with a trusted and experienced professional therapist, there seems to be the possibility of an alternative route. There seems to be a possibility of a new direction in psychotherapy coming from the field of energy psychology. There are two major therapies that fall under the rubric of energy psychology:
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- Thought Field Therapy (TFT)
This is the story of my experience with TFT.
My Experience with TFT
It must have been about 1999. I had recently moved from Brooklyn, New York to northern New Jersey. Of course I had to move my psychotherapy practice also. I rented an office and hung up my shingle and I would love to say that I had a thriving practice, but that didn't happen so quickly. Although I had a pretty good reputation back in Brooklyn, my refusal to become a registered provider for an insurance company was hindering my progress. I've always been interested in any method or technique that shows promise to help my clients. It so happened that I was sharing an office with a psychologist by the name of Sheila Bender. She told me of a new and innovative technique that was, according to her, pretty darn amazing. It was called, "Thought Field Therapy." So I was curious.
Dr. Bender described this new technique to me. It consisted of thinking about a trauma or phobia, rolling your eyes and tapping on different parts of the body. This was supposed to automatically relieve fears and anxieties. "Yeah, sure," I said. The whole thing sounded like a bunch of hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo. I have seen and heard of a lot of new fads in the psychotherapy world, so I was very skeptical.
But Dr. Bender told me of various successes that she was having and I became more curious. Finally I gave in and attended a training in South Jersey. This truly was an amazing technique and seemed to be very, very helpful. Over the next few years they used it as a supplement for therapy dealing with depression, anxiety and trauma.
But then I heard that the American Psychological Association had distanced itself from Thought Field Therapy. This actually made sense to me because the practitioners who promoted Thought Field Therapy talked about moving subtle energies with properties that were so ethereal they could not possibly have been defined. Although I was seeing some success with this technique I was not convinced that that success was not also caused by all the rest of the therapy that I used with these particular patients. Within about a year I stopped using Thought Field Therapy altogether.
TFT Gains Acceptance
About three months ago, however, I heard from a friend of mine that TFT was extremely popular in Europe and was beginning to be researched more extensively here in America. Then in December, 2012 a psychologist by the name of David Feinstein published an article in the very important journal, "Review of General Psychology," where he reviews dozens of research articles that show that therapies like TFT can be truly effective.1
What's important here is that the Review of General Psychology is published by the American Psychological Association. Which means that the American Psychological Association is no longer actually distancing itself from these therapies. In addition, with some major insurance companies researching energy psychotherapies, like Kaiser Permanente, there is a real possibility that TFT and EFT will become mainstream.
How Well Does It Work?
The real question is: can this deceptively simple and amazingly rapid treatment modality provide relief for millions of people suffering from phobias, anxiety, trauma and other problems?
The answer is: mostly likely, yes.
Of course, it is not a silver bullet. It carries no guarantees. Even in the hands of the most experienced practitioner it is purported to have an 80% success rate. While that is astronomically good, it is also a 20% failure rate. Since other therapies are considered really good with a 60% success rate, this is truly phenomenal.2
What Happens When You Go for a TFT Treatment?
The first step is that the clinician will conduct a diagnostic interview. In essence he or she will try to help you determine the structure of your problem. It might be that you have a simple phobia, in which case treatment should be very quick and simple. On the other hand most people have developed much more complex feelings and behaviors around the issues that bother them. The clinician will try to determine which particular aspect might be good for you to start to work on. That he or she will tell you to think about that specific aspect of your problem and ask you to rate, on a scale of 0 to 10, how much discomfort you have while thinking of that. After recording your rating he or she will ask you to do a series of tapping on particular parts of your body and ask you again to rate your discomfort while thinking of the problem. There are particular patterns of tapping on specific places in the body in order to reduce the discomfort. Once you feel completely rid of the discomfort you she will tell you to do another sequence of behaviors which includes tapping, rolling your eyes in a particular pattern, and humming.
For anybody who's ever been in psychotherapy this certainly seems like a really strange way of dealing with anxiety, fears or trauma. How does this work? What is it based on? How does the change happen so quickly?
How Does EFT Work?
Proponents of energy psychology talk of energy fields and subtle energies. While that might sound a bit flakey, it is hard to say that it is not real. The tapping points are places determined by acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine. So it has a tradition, even if it is not the “normal” western tradition. There are other aspects of this method which are based on modern neuroscience and relatively new understanding of how the brain works. This actually gives rise to some of the “stranger” aspects of the treatment including the eye rolling and humming (which activates specific brain regions and functions.)
Self Administration vs. Working with an Experienced Clinician
Thought Field Therapy is so easy that it could be self-administered. But I do not suggest it unless it is used for very simple fears or phobias. People are almost always very complex. And it takes an experienced clinician to break down a person’s issues and problems into manageable “chunks” that can be easily treated with TFT. This is a very difficult process, and often it is here that the treatment become difficult even for the experienced clinician.
In summary, Energy Psychology is a new and emerging treatment option. It might actually give many people a quick cure. It is a good option to consider for treatment. It is especially good for fears, anxiety, and PTSD. The more complex an issue is the more work and time might be involved, but it is still faster and seemingly more efficient than many other options. It is not usually covered by insurance, but insurance companies are looking into it. However, it is important that you find a qualified and experienced clinician.
- 1. Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of efficacy. Review of General Psychology, 16(4), 364-380. doi:10.1037/
- 2. Choi, Y., Vuncelli, F., Riva, G., Wiederhold, B. K., Lee, J., & Park, K. (2005). Effects of Group Experiential Cognitive Therapy for the Treatment of Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 8(4), 387-393. doi:10.1089/cpb.2005.8.387
- About the author Ari Hahn:
- I am a professional helper since 1976 and an LCSW since 1991. I have specialized in survivors of trauma. Presently I also have an on-line therapy and coaching practice where I also specialize in helping families and loved ones of ex-abused people. I also am a full professor at TCI College in NYC.
Page last updated Jan 23, 2013