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The Lived Experience of Chronic Pain and the Impact of Brief Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Group Therapy on Coping

Citation

Peta Stapleton, Hannah Chatwin, and Lily Sheppard, School of Psychology, Bond University, Queensland, Australia; Joyce McSwan, Gold Coast Primary Health Network, Queensland, Australia, Energy Psychology Journal, November 2016. Full paper.

Abstract

Chronic pain is associated with a range of physical, psychological, and social risk factors, and successful treatment aims to reduce pain and improve function and quality of life for patients. In order to explore the impact, challenges, and current experience of chronic pain sufferers, an anonymous online open-ended qualitative survey was developed and analyzed for manifest and latent content. This then informed a brief 4-hour therapy session using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a brief cognitive intervention with a somatic component. The qualitative study highlighted issues sufferers had with employment, interpersonal 0relationships, and emotions. An overwhelming 82% discussed the stigma they experienced from health professionals not believing the extent of their pain, and only 4% indicated they received any pain relief from psychological treatment. Paired samples t -tests revealed a significant decrease in the severity (–12.04%, p  = 0.044) and impact (–17.62%, p  = 0.008) of participants’ pain from pretest to posttest, and a significant improvement in their overall psychological distress from pretest to post-test  (–36.67%, p  < 0.001). There was also a significant improvement in participants’ depression (–29.86%, p  = 0.007), anxiety (–41.69%, p  < 0.001), and stress (–38.48%, p  = 0.001), from pretest to posttest. A significant association was found between pain and psychological distress. Finally, a significant overall main effect of time was found at 6-months’ follow-up, although pairwise comparisons did not indicate any significant results across all time points. Findings are consistent with other research indicating the effectiveness of brief and group-delivered EFT and are discussed in terms of psychological treatment for chronic pain. Future research is proposed.

Craig’s Notes

This study, conducted by professor of psychology and well-known EFT researcher Peta Stapleton, PhD and two senior research assistants in psychology, and the clinical director of a Pain Center in Queensland, Australia, took on the question of whether EFT can help reduce chronic pain and/or help individuals to cope with it.

Researchers note that psychological interventions do impact the multidimensional experience of chronic pain, and postulate that since studies have confirmed that EFT significantly decreases physical pain in war veterans and fibromyalgia sufferers, that it is might be a suitable long-lasting treatment for chronic pain sufferers. The study examines the delivery of EFT as brief intervention in the treatment of chronic pain. Therefore, another objective of this study was to develop a brief clinical protocol for EFT.

The study took a two-pronged approach. An anonymous online survey was created and administered, to explore challenges and experience of chronic pain sufferers. The surveys were examined for the psychological impact of chronic pain, including how much stigma, distress, and depression was experienced because of it.

A second study evaluated the brief EFT group treatment program that researchers developed. A group of chronic pain sufferers received a 4-hour group EFT intervention. A registered clinical psychologist/certified EFT trainer facilitated the intervention, assisted by a registered psychologist and a specialist pain nurse, both certified EFT practitioners. Participants completed a battery of measures of their pain before and after the intervention, and again after six months.

The EFT intervention used was based on standardized protocols and true to EFT manual. After learning and practicing EFT, the participants formed small groups of 6 to work on more specific statements to use while tapping.

So, what were the results?

The first part of the study, the survey, revealed the chronic pain sufferers find that their condition negatively impacts their finances (due to employment limitations), as well as their family life and relationships. A significant percentage reported feeling stigmatized by health professionals who are dismissive or say the pain is ‘all in their head.’ An even greater percentage reported they got more relief from the pain through complementary therapies such as yoga and massage than they did form conventional treatments. Only 4% reported relief from traditional psychological interventions.

The EFT intervention portion of the study was measured through six variables:  severity of pain, impact of pain, overall psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and stress.  After the 4-hour intervention participants rated their impact and severity of pain to be significantly reduced while their overall anxiety, stress and depression were significantly improved.

Participants were instructed to continue with the EFT during the 6-month period following the initial intervention, but only about half complied. Although the group was reduced at the 6-month follow-up resulting in a small sample size, the remaining group experienced continued improvements over time. These findings are similar to other studies involving EFT and chronic pain.

Further study is recommended due to the limitations in this one, including the small sample size. However, the indication is good that brief EFT intervention can make a big difference in the psychological and physical experience of people dealing with chronic pain.