Church, Dawson; Feinstein, David. Excerpted from Psychology of Trauma, edited by Thijs Van Leeuwen and Marieke Brouwer, © 2013, Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
Energy Psychology (EP) protocols use elements of established therapies such as exposure and cognitive processing and combine them with the stimulation of acupuncture points. EP methods such as EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and TFT (Thought Field Therapy) have been extensively tested in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and outcome studies assessing PTSD and co-morbid conditions have demonstrated the efficacy of EP in populations ranging from war veterans to disaster survivors to institutionalized orphans. Studies investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of action of EP suggest that it quickly and permanently mediates the brain’s fear response to traumatic memories and environmental cues. This review examines the published trials of EP for PTSD and the physiological underpinnings of the method. It concludes by describing seven clinical implications for the professional community. These are: (1) the limited number of treatment sessions usually required to remediate PTSD; (2) the depth, breadth, and longevity of treatment effects; (3) the low risk of adverse events; (4) the limited commitment to training required for basic application of the method; (5) its efficacy when delivered in group format; (6) its simultaneous effect on a wide range of psychological and physiological symptoms, and (7) its suitability for non-traditional delivery methods such as online and telephone sessions.
This article reviews published studies of Energy Psychology treatments, including EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) and TFT (Thought Field Therapy) for PTSD and examines the physiological underpinnings of each method.
The authors state that the effectiveness of tapping on acupressure points while imagining the trauma has been validated in 36 studies, including 18 randomized controlled trials. Many of these studies measured efficacy of the method by assessing reductions in cortisol.
The body of research suggests that these energy psychology methods have the potential to mitigate many symptoms of PTSD including: exaggerated responses to innocuous stimuli, distortions in learning and memory, imbalances in sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity, elevated levels of stress hormones, and impaired immune functioning. The findings further suggest that the combination of tapping acupressure points with the mental activation of stress-producing cues can basically deactivate the cue. The method can reconsolidate the memory and thus eliminate the cue’s ability to trigger limbic hyperarousal.
The authors discuss several studies where either TFT or EFT have proven effective at relieving PTSD for survivors of the Rwandan genocide and for military veterans. They summarize several distinguishing features regarding the effects of energy psychology treatment for PTSD. They are briefly described below.
- EP requires few treatment sessions to reduce PTSD. Many studies are cited which show that energy medicine to be effective in treating severe PTSD in very short time frames.
- EP effects have depth, breadth and longevity. Studies reporting treatment effects for the use of EP in PTSD typically observe highly significant reductions in symptoms, impact on an array of symptoms, and improvements that last. This is backed by be research on children surviving ethnic cleansing and traumatized combat veterans.
- EP has a low incident of adverse effects. Therapists report preferring energy medicine to other methods when dealing with emotionally charged memories.
- EP requires only minimal training for basic application. In contrast to many other clinical therapies used for PTSD, EFT and other EP trainings can be completed in a matter of weeks. It does not require licensed mental health professionals to administer it, but rather it can be administered by life coaches and other trained health practitioners. While noting that a minimal level of training is not sufficient for treating mental health disorders, the authors assert that the use of paraprofessionals, allied life coaches and allied health care providers would increase the treatment capacity for over-stretched mental health agencies.
- EP is effective in group format. Several studies found EFT and other EP methods to be effective when delivered in large group formats. This makes in a very effective treatment for large traumatized populations.
- EP can impact both physiological and psychological symptoms. By rehabilitating patients with PTSD, EP has a positive impact on individual quality of life as well as societal medical costs.
- EP can be delivered effectively via electronic communication media. It is very adaptable to the burgeoning telemedicine field as studies have shown that six phone sessions effectively remediated PTSD symptoms in 67% of patients.