Successful Energy Psychology Techniques For Treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Energy Psychology (EP) is defined as “the branch of psychology that studies the effects of energy systems on emotions and behavior” (Gallo, 2005, preface). Furthermore, Energy Psychology refers to “approaches to psychotherapy that specifically address bioenergy systems in the diagnosis and treatment of psychological problems” (Gallo, 2005, preface). Today, there exists a growing collection of modalities which fall under the category of Energy Psychology, including but not limited to: Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Thought Field Therapy (TFT), Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT), Neuro Emotional Technique (NET), Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Negative Affect Erasing Method (NAEM), Healing from the Bottom Level Up (HBLU) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). The modalities used for improving and remediating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will be limited to EFT and EMDR for the purpose of this research paper.
Certain Energy Psychology modalities have been shown to provide relief to individuals experiencing the effects of PTSD. Originally used to describe symptoms of returning war veterans, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a “psychological condition developed after a traumatic event” (Chattopadhyay & Bhuta, 2018), and is now recognized across many different demographic groups. A second classification, Complex PTSD, is described as developing from “prolonged and sustained exposure to a stressor event in childhood, typically of an extreme nature, and from which escape is difficult or impossible, such as torture, concentration camps, slavery, genocide, organized violence, domestic violence; and mental, sexual, or physical abuse” (Chattopadhyay & Bhuta, 2018).
The DSM-5 has revised the classification for PTSD over the DSM-4. Once found in the category of anxiety disorders, PTSD is now located in a classification called ‘Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders’ (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Other significant changes in the classification of PTSD in the DSM-5 include more clearly defining what kind of events are considered traumatic, adding an additional exposure type, increasing the number of symptom groups, increasing the number of symptoms, revised wording of some of the symptoms, eliminating acute and chronic specifiers, introducing a new specifier called dissociative features, and adding a new set of criteria specifically for children six and under (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Specific details on all criterion in the diagnosis of PTSD is beyond the scope of this paper.
This aim of this research paper is to present supporting evidence from relevant peer reviewed journal articles, as well as to reference information from Energy Psychology by Fred P. Gallo, which highlights the benefits of specific Energy Psychology (EP) modalities that have produced an improvement in the symptomology associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The new science of quantum physics tells us that our “thoughts become things” which means that our thoughts have the ability to make us healthy or sick, and this energy, when slowed down, becomes information (Dale, 2009). When we consider the bioenergetics of negative emotion in particular, the body will create peptides in response to negative emotions, which on a sub-atomic level, is the beginning of all physical disease (Dale, 2009).
Emotions are first held in the subtle energy body (aura, biofield, soul) which includes the etheric body, emotional body, lower mental body, higher mental body, causal body, soul body and the integrated spiritual body (Dale, 2009). A negative emotion is thought to exist outside of time and space in the quantum realm, and is brought into the body layer by layer through repetitive negative thinking and behaving (Dale, 2009). Once inside the body, neuropeptides are manufactured in response to the vibrations of these negative believes, and a physical manifestation is created, which we refer to as disease (Dale, 2009).
Many ancient cultures have an awareness of energy within the body, and that which connects us to each other and our environment; and all have their own way of describing and experiencing this energy. The Vedic system originating in India describes spinning vortexes of energy called chakras, which act as an interface between the physical body and the environment, extending through the auric field (Dale, 2009). According to the most popular Vedic texts, the human body contains some 72,000 nadis, that channel energy or “prana” from the chakras to every cell (Dale, 2009). Similarly, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) describes energy, or “qi”, as flowing along pathways in the body called meridians, and that when this energy becomes blocked or weak, it has negative physical effects in the body (Dale, 2009).
Energy Psychology works with the idea of energetic systems to remove perturbations caused by negative beliefs, undesirable emotions, phobias, traumas and even energy toxins. Rooted in modalities including Applied Kinesiology, Touch for Health, chiropractic, and Traditional Chinese Medicine to name a few, Energy Psychology now understands that “psychological problems can be understood as manifestations of energy disruptions or energy configurations, that can be precisely diagnosed and treated” (Gallo, 2005, preface) more efficiently and more effectively.
Emotional Freedom Technique
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), developed by Gary Craig in the early 1990’s, is a method of muscle testing verbal statements to determine a theme for treatment. EFT then uses a comprehensive algorithm, which Craig refers to as the “basic recipe”, to tap on certain acupuncture meridian points in order to release the associated emotions (Gallo, 2005). EFT is based upon the work of Roger Callahan’s Thought Field Therapy (TFT) technique, and has been used to treat trauma worldwide, due to its simplicity and effectiveness in relieving or resolving symptoms associated with PTSD. EFT is a condensed, more user-friendly version of TFT, and is currently being used to successfully treat a variety of issues including PTSD, anxiety, trauma, phobias, limiting beliefs, and more.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Another innovative technique used very successfully to treat PTSD is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR was discovered by Dr. Francine Shapiro one day while walking in the park. Shapiro, experiencing her own distressing thoughts, was merely watching the branch of a tree rhythmically swaying in the wind, when it came into her awareness that her eye movements appeared to decrease the negative emotions she was feeling (Shapiro, 1989). It is this level of observation of the world that gives the universe an opportunity to share infinite wisdom with us, and Dr. Shapiro intuitively knew she was onto something. After significant investigation and research of her discovery, EMDR as a technique, was born.
EMDR therapy facilitates the ability to access and process traumatic memories, or difficult life experiences, in order to create resolution (Shapiro, 1991). Successful treatment with EMDR relieves affective distress, reformulates negative beliefs and reduces physiological arousal (Shapiro, 1991). The therapy protocol uses brief recall of emotionally disturbing memories while the therapist directs lateral eye movements from left to right in order to create new associations between the traumatic memory and the more adaptive memory. It is these new associations which result in a complete processing of information, provide cognitive insights, and ultimately eliminate the emotional distress (Shapiro, 1991).
The results of several studies will be offered as evidence in the movement towards physiological interventions beyond talk therapy such as EFT and EMDR, as well as highlighting the significance these new interventions present for the individual dealing with PTSD.
EFT Used to Treat PTSD
In a 2016 randomized controlled replication trial, researchers recruited 58 veterans (51 male, and 7 female), to be part of a PTSD study using EFT to treat symptoms; with each participant scoring 50 or higher on the PCL-M indicating a heightened PTSD risk (Geronilla et al., 2016). Results of the study showed after receiving three EFT treatment sessions, there was a noted reduction in PTSD symptom scores on the PCL-M, and insomnia severity scores as compared to pretreatment scores (Geronilla et al., 2016). After six sessions, a significant reduction in all scores as compared to pretreatment scores were achieved (Geronilla et al., 2016).
Further evidence of the case for EFT in the treatment of PTSD is found in a 2017 paper also working with the Veteran population. Authors Church et al., surveyed 448 trained practitioners to compile data on their experiences in treating PTSD with EFT (Church et al., 2017). EFT practitioner responses were used with the research evidence base to formulate a set of clinical based guidelines utilizing the “stepped care” treatment model as developed by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Church et al., 2017). Results showed 63% of practitioners reporting that “complex PTSD can be remediated in 10 or fewer EFT sessions” (Church et al., 2017, p. 16). Regarding full rehabilitation of PTSD clients, 65% of the practitioners noted that this occurred 60% of the time (Church et al., 2017). Lastly, 89% of the practitioners polled found that less than 10% of the clients made little to no progress (Church et al., 2017). Findings concluded with a recommendation of using “five EFT therapy sessions to treat sub-clinical PTSD, and 10 sessions for clinical PTSD, in addition to group therapy, online self-help re¬sources, and social support” (Church et al., 2017, p. 16).
Both studies highlight the successful use of Emotional Freedom Technique in reducing symptoms of PTSD, and also in achieving full rehabilitation of the disorder in a significant number of cases. The results of these studies show promise not only in working with veterans, but may be extended to those who have acquired PTSD through other traumatic events including but not limited to rape, gang violence, physical abuse, mental abuse, genocide, and traumatic childhood events. EFT is a simple technique, with notable results.
EMDR Used to Treat PTSD
Traumatic events, that are no longer exclusive to large-scale disasters, but also to common daily events such as motor vehicle accidents (MVA), are often the cause of psychological distress and psychiatric disorders for those involved (Boccia, Piccardi, Cordellieri, Guariglia, & Giannini, 2015). Researchers from various educational institutions in Italy presented a meta-analysis from several functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies on individuals who acquired PTSD after being in a motor vehicle accident. Findings showed that PTSD following MVA’s “is characterized by neural modifications in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a cerebral structure involved in fear-conditioning mechanisms” (Boccia et al., 2015). Previous findings demonstrated that desensitization techniques act on the limbic system in the brain. Therefore, the effectiveness of EMDR as a treatment for post MVA induced PTSD may be attributable to ACC stimulation through this desensitization process (Boccia et al., 2015).
The study featured six papers reporting nine individual experiments, representing 440 patients with PTSD from MVA. Meta-analysis was done on selected studies using the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) analysis with results showing activation in the right ACC, with patterns of connectivity via at the frontal, parietal, and limbic lobes (Boccia et al., 2015). As EMDR directly acts on the region of the brain showing the physiological alterations in the study group, it can be considered a preferred treatment for PTSD after MVA (Boccia et al., 2015).
Another 2015 study, evaluating 29 adult Syrian Refugees (22 female, and 7 men) with PTSD symptoms, showed favorable results using EMDR with traumatic memories. The study was conducted on site in Kilis Refugee Camp located at the border between Turkey and Syria, with many individuals exposed to repeated and prolonged traumatization. Compounding their circumstance was having to live in exile, worrying about the future, and the threat of ongoing military conflict (Boccia et al., 2015). Many factors contributed to their risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression and PTSD (Boccia et al., 2015). Analysis of the results of this study, revealed a significantly lower trauma sore for the EMDR group, versus the wait-list group, as well as lower depression scores in the treatment group (Boccia et al., 2015).
The study protocol consisted of a maximum number of seven sessions, 90 minutes each of EMDR (Boccia et al., 2015). These treatments were performed by five Turkish psychologists trained to level I in EMDR, with clinicians providing face to face treatments, and follow-up supervision and support via Skype (Boccia et al., 2015). There were four phases of treatment: Phase one included taking a history and planning a treatment protocol (Boccia et al., 2015). In Phase 2, participants received an explanation of EMDR therapy, and were prepared for treatment (Boccia et al., 2015). Phase 3 was designed for selecting a traumatic memory to target, defining the negative cognition, creating a new reframing positive cognition, identifying the feelings experienced about the memory, and identifying where the disturbance was felt in the body (Boccia et al., 2015). Finally, phase 4 became the desensitization phase, whereby the patient was instructed to follow the finger of the therapist, moving from left to right across the patient’s visual field. Sets were repeated until the client felt minimal distress associated with the memory (Boccia et al., 2015).
Based on the positive results of these two very different studies, the practical applications for use of EMDR in both clinical non-clinical settings are virtually unlimited. As an example, corporations could increase employee productivity by training human resources staff in EMDR, in order to assist workers in processing the negative emotions or events responsible for stress and anxiety in the workplace.
EFT and EMDR are both viable Energy Psychology techniques that have been shown to be effective in the four studies cited; for remedying both emotional disturbances related to PTSD, as well as by resolving the emotional and physical feelings associated with traumatic memories. Based on the variety of traumas presented in these four studies which included war veterans, refugees and those acquiring PTSD through MVA, a case could be made for using EFT and EMDR for remediating the negative emotions in a multitude of different applications, both as a part of the healthcare system, as well as in many other sectors.
A suggested real-world application for EFT and EMDR outside of the health care industry, would be to offer and to teach these two modalities in schools. EMDR would be beneficial in schools, as a tool for both guidance counselors and teachers, allowing them to more effectively aid students in resolving everyday childhood emotional disturbances; from feelings of distress over social rejection, to the anxiety of getting injured on the playground, and everything in between. The ability to work with a child’s emotions in the moment, using the EMDR technique, may well prevent a negative memory from ever becoming a trauma, which would otherwise have altered the path of that child’s life. The more tools we all have as individuals, to improve our ability in processing distressing emotions, the healthier we will become together as a society.
Alongside EMDR, the simple technique of EFT tapping could be taught by teachers directly to children as part of the curriculum, offering empowerment in their own ability to process negative emotions. Imagine how different humanity would be in 15 to 20 years, if our youth were taught this new way of processing emotional disturbances, and were able to grow up free from the impact of trauma; both minor and major trauma. Not only would they be kinder to themselves, but it would give children a greater awareness of humanity’s similarities over our differences, fostering a new level of compassion and discernment. Limited thinking would in many ways become a problem of the older generations, freeing the new generation to focus on peace, harmony and the health of our planet.
Our thoughts do contribute significantly to our mental health, and ultimately our physical wellbeing. Therefore, it would behoove humankind to embrace new techniques such as EFT and EMDR in order to provide accessibility to individuals at a much earlier stage, which would facilitate the healing transformation of negative emotions, and traumatic memories leading to PTSD.