Memory Reconsolidation and EFT. Can You Really Change Your Mind? Bruce Ecker
This past month I had the privilege of attending and presenting along with Alina, at the 16th annual Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology Practitioners Conference, ACEP . This assembly of practitioners (using all varieties of tapping and EP techniques) and researchers offered a wealth of brilliant presentations but by far, my two favorites were given by Rolin McCraty, of the Heartmath Institute, on Energetic Connectivity, Coherence, Intuition and the Heart Field, which will be the subject of a future blogpost, and a mind-expanding keynote presentation on Memory Reconsolidation by Bruce Ecker, which, is the subject of this article.
One of the primary life questions that drives me, is the question of what it takes to truly change, permanently. Obviously, I am not the only person challenged by the quest to find this holy grail. Apparently, Bruce Ecker has also been on this same journey. He is the author of Unlocking the Emotional Brain: Eliminating Symptoms at Their Roots Using Memory Reconsolidation. Sounds intriguing right? But just what is memory reconsolidation? He describes it as the brain’s built-in process for profound change. I would call it the neuroplastic possibility for true change. It is the way our brain uses its ability to change by taking in new data in order to modify old information and memories. It is not that information is forgotten, it is more like an old music recording that has been digitally upgraded…the events remain but the way we hear it has been improved.
In his presentation, Bruce regaled us in an entertaining fashion with how simultaneous events in his professional therapeutic work as a counselor, as well as his discovery of recent functional MRI brain studies on memory (though this evidence was not presented in his keynote and I look forward to exploring his research that corroborates his hypothesis), helped to foster the discovery and development of a step-by-step method for creating permanent, and neurobiologically supported behavioral change. (Of course he fully admits to the need for clinical trials). The really exciting part of this process, is that many therapeutic approaches could offer the necessary ingredients to achieve these kind of results, with EFT and Matrix Reimprinting being natural matches. His website offers EFT, EMDR, AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), IPNB (Dan Siegel’s Interpersonal Neurobiology) and of course his Coherence Therapy as suggested modalities.
I think I can safely say that a pretty high percentage of people that I know are wanting to or are trying to change something about themselves; such as trying to break a habit like over-eating or smoking or trying to finally implement a regimen of regular exercise. On a more emotional level, perhaps there are patterns of easily triggered burst of anger, intense anxiousness while being in crowds, always feeling intense pressure when holding any level of responsibility, or a highly charged fear of failure.
So what does it look like to really change? Is it a willful decision to just “Stop It!” which continually requires ongoing effort, never seeming to get any easier over time and repetition? Nope, that is not it, as that type of behavioral change is continually challenged by triggering situations that often result in a failure of newly declared intentions.
What Ecker refers to as “Transformational Change,” has three essential elements:
1. Symptom Cessation: in other words, the problem is no longer present…the fear is gone, the anxiety resolved, the perpetual procrastination over.
2. Non-Reactivation: The old pattern is not easily triggered by the various situations that would normally trigger the…fear, embarrassment, nervousness, overwhelm, etc.
3. Effortless Permanent Extinction: When this process is successful, the original event memory remains intact, aka the Procedural Memory, but, its effects no longer “have a hold on you.” It’s as if all the decisions you made about who you are and the negative feelings and self-judgments simply dissipate with the realization that they are untrue and no longer determine your future.
When we are young, we learn “life lessons,” some of which enhance our life, some of which limit our possibilities (think of an experience that as a result of you decided “I can’t learn algebra, I’m just stupid”, or because your art teacher told you that you could not sketch a profile well, you decided that you were not a creative person). These kinds of experiences are commonly emotionally laden,and enter the brain’s memory warehouse under the category of emotional or implicit learning. This kind of memory could be, for example, the memory of how it felt when your father yelled at you for breaking a vase that you accidentally bumped into. This information is stored in a very different part of the brain than the details or sequence of what actually occurred, commonly with many actual details forgotten. Emotional learning and memory has a unique place in the brain. It is the birthplace for larger life-influencing beliefs about oneself and subsequent decisions that continue to be made over the decades and is the source for behavioral patterns, the very ones which most people seek to modify or change.
Ecker has constructed a therapeutic map that has the essential elements of an intervention, that when followed, has a high degree of effectiveness in materializing real change. So what is the therapeutic “map,” for transformational change? The steps, again, are adaptable to a variety of approaches that includes these steps. I will illustrate how EFT and Matrix Reimprinting (MR) EFT utilize these very steps.
Ecker’s Formula and Map for Therapeutically Creating Change: A B C 1 2 3 V
The Preparation Steps:
A. Symptom Identification: First you need to find what is the problem that you or the client wants to change. Let’s take Liam as an example. Liam has led a lifetime plagued with the problem of procrastination. In his personal and professional life he continues to put things off or not get things done that he promises, to the great displeasure of his wife and criticism by his boss. The identification is the specific naming of the problem wanting to be resolved. (Just as is done in EFT or MR)
B. Schema Retrieval: This describes having the client retrieve or recall what may be the earliest remembered memory of an experience of when this pattern may have first begun. This helps to bring the emotional (and often unconscious aspects of the experience) to light, or to conscious witnessing. (Also akin to EFT/MR, although of course this would not be recommended until proper rapport has been established with a client and is not recommended as a process to begin immediately with a brand new client). So in this example, Liam had a 4th grade art project to finish for homework that he proudly completed all by himself. He volunteered to present his creation first in front of the class and raced up to show his teacher, handing her his “wheel” made out of glued toothpicks. Standing at the front of the room, looking at his teacher’s quizzical face, he then heard the giggling of all the other kids in the class. Apparently he heard “wheel” but the assignment was a “seal,” as they had been learning about marine life in class. His teacher instructed him to sit down and to listen more closely and to re-do the assignment. He flushed a bright shade of pink and sat back in his chair, experiencing what was up until that point, the most embarrassing moment in the nine years of his life. At that point he decided that never again would he ever “go first” that it was smart to wait until everyone else turned in their homework first and he would always go last so that he could never be the first one and look stupid ever again.
C. Find Contradictory Experience: This is a key element. What needs to happen next is the finding or recalling of an experience that vividly contradicts or is an opposite experience of the negative or painful one that was recalled in step B. So perhaps Liam was assisted in finding an experience in his life where being first or early was quite useful, like the time when he was 19 years old and was the first one on line at college to get tickets for the Lou Reed concert and he was able to give them to his girlfriend as a best ever surprise birthday present.
Then…Begin the Actual Process of Memory Reconsolidation
1. Reactivate the Target Schema: Once these three things have been identified, the transformational change work begins. The client then brings back into the forefront of their consciousness the original activating event and experiences the feelings associated with the event. (This is where the EFT/MR tapping process would be occurring, i.e. tapping with Liam on the embarrassment while standing in front of his classmates).
2. Evoke the Contradictory Experience in Juxtaposition: This is especially appropriate in the Matrix Reimprinting work, where Liam would be asked, e.g. what does younger Liam need in this situation to resolve this embarrassing situation during which he learned to never go first and put things off till last or later. In MR this “inner child” is referred to as the ECHO (Energy Consciousness Hologram). By doing this, it is simple to evoke or create the thought of an opposing situation that in a sense “cancels out” the painful memory and associated negative feelings, without actually erasing the memory, just in effect neutralizing the negative affect that has been forever associated with it. This juxtaposition is a key element in permanently neutralizing the schema or original life decisions (the “decision” made, often occurring on a less than conscious level) at the time of the original incident. It is this simultaneous presence of the original event and “decision” that was made, (that often in retrospect is clearly understandable in hindsight) along with another incident/memory, that when presented clearly demonstrates that the original belief is not a useful or accurate decision that needs to still be adhered to. So for Liam, he clearly could see that always being last is not a pattern that really is necessary and clearly does not always work for his life.
3. Continued Repetitions of Step 2: This can be any number of creative ways of re-seeing or repeating the new realization to further re-consolidate the new understanding and belief and subsequent choice-making. It is hypothesized that the new perception of the original becomes the predominant way of perceiving the original event (along with interpretation and subsequently generated beliefs). In Matrix Reimprinting, this is performed by when the coach has the client reinforce and repeat the re-Imprinting exercise at home after their session.
V. Verification of Erasure: This can simply be referred to as Testing! A mandatory element of EFT/MR to check and make sure that recalling the original incident no longer has any significant intensity. Thorough testing, as we say in all our tapping trainings, is a key measure of a well processed incident or trauma. Testing is performed in a variety of ways to explore whether recalling the original incident triggers any intensity as well as a variety of methods including animated re-creation of the event and ultimately the only test is by finding typically triggering circumstances in life that would normally re-create the symptomatic condition and finding only a neutral non-reactive response.
In summary, what I am most excited about, is how tapping is being integrated clinically and respected by a growing breadth of complementary therapeutic practitioners and only confirms for me, why I observe the profound changes I have the honor of witnessing in the application of EFT.
I was asked to blog about the conference while I was there. Sorry that was not possible, and it was not a memory dysunction just a lack of time! But better a week late than never eh?
Craig Weiner has been awarded the designation of EFT master trainer of trainers, and together with his wife Alina Frank they are the directors of EFT Tapping Training. He is the co-creator of the continuing education online program Tapping out of Trauma and is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and online summits regarding trauma, neuroscience, resilience training.