Over the years people have asked me how I first learned about EFT and why did I move my focus to using it in my practice. The story I’m going to share with you is about my EFT first client. It was published in Counselor Magazine, December 2009
Sally was sitting in front of me reluctantly rolling up her sleeve to show me the razor cuts she had made on her arm the night before. She cut herself to alleviate the unbearable emotional tension she felt growing inside of her. “I went to a (AA) meeting. I shared. I even went out to ‘fellowship’ with everyone after the meeting, but nothing helped until I cut myself.”
Sally had been placed on my caseload 2 years earlier. She had a graduate college degree, a well-paid, senior level job in a local industry. She had been married for 25 years, had two children, none living at home. She came to the Addiction Medicine Department at the large HMO where I worked seeking assistance stopping her drinking which had been a problem, by her account for over 20 years. In the two years I had been working with Sally, she maintained her abstinence, got a sponsor, did her step work and tried to commit suicide 3 times.
Her self-injury increased as did her bouts with depression. She was admitted on two occasions to our Mental Health Hospital for stabilization. The psychiatric medications that had been prescribed didn’t stop the internal nightmare that Sally struggled with every day of her life. She was determined not to drink, but it was getting harder. Alcohol would at least numb her.
As a licensed psychotherapist with many years of experience in the addiction field, I had been trained in a number of modalities to address trauma. But Sally was too raw to even talk about the betrayal and horror of the sexual abuse she sustained almost daily as a child. Even the groups focused on sexual abuse at our clinic could not provide a safe therapeutic container for the kind of experiences she had endured. So I reached out to my professional community and from there learned of a therapeutic technique, a tool, that I hoped would allow for the treatment of her pain and trauma. That was in 1995.
My introduction to Energy Psychology and my subsequent training in Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) was what I had been looking for, a way of treating Sally’s traumatic memories without retraumatizing her. I introduced EFT to Sally as a type of emotional acupressure. Though skeptical at first, she was willing to try this unusual approach. The result of our initial session was stunning. For the first time in the two years that we had been working together, Sally’s emotional pain was visibly eased during our session. Even though EFT is extremely gentle, some of Sally’s memories were so overwhelming that we had to find ways of addressing them indirectly. Her fear of talking about them was almost as strong as the pain of the memories themselves. With EFT and some creativity, we were able to find ways to address years of trauma and start the deep healing that was necessary for Sally to have a life. A life she deserved, free of the horrors of the past and free of alcoholism.
Today much of the therapeutic creativity Sally and I thought up has long faded into user-friendly protocols that are commonly used in the EFT treatment. The Tearless Trauma, The Movie Technique, The Tell-a-Story Technique and others all allow you to work with clients in a manner that will yield positive results without creating any more pain.
While the EFT case history I shared with you was about an individual with over two years of recovery, I have found EFT extremely powerful at all stages of recovery. In the early stage of treatment, EFT is dynamic and powerful in its ability to stop cravings and urges. It is also extremely useful in addressing psychological barriers to recovery and recovery activities. EFT can eliminate particular stressors that trigger relapse and when used several times a day can reduce an individual’s stress overall. EFT is also helpful to family members who have suffered the collateral damage of addiction. Their resentment, guilt, anger and codependency issues can keep the family in turmoil and undermine the alcoholic/addict’s recovery.
After abstinence has been stabilized mid-stage in recovery, treatment for trauma can be addressed with EFT. Remember, trauma work is for the client who is stable in recovery. In the final stage of treatment, EFT can be used for any necessary remaining trauma resolution issues. Stress is always a concern in recovery. Stress management and stress resolution are integral parts of EFT treatment at all stages of recovery.
Okay, just what are Emotional Freedom Techniques and how do they work? EFT is a kind of psychological acupressure. Like acupressure, EFT addresses the body’s energy system. Foundational to EFT is the understanding that all negative emotions are disruptions in the body’s energy system. These disruptions are at the root of all addictions, anxieties, traumas, and phobias, all negative emotions.
Most of us who treat addiction have little exposure to treating the energy system. We have been trained to focus on the behavioral and cognitive aspects of our client’s functioning. EFT brings with it the challenge of expanding our view of our clients, a view beyond their thinking or behavior, a view that addresses their energetic system.
How does it work? EFT uses energy meridian treatment points on the face, torso and hand. The client, while focusing on their disturbing thought, rates the distress it causes them on a scale of 0 to 10 (10 being worse). Then, while concentrating on the troubling thought, the client using his/her fingertips to tap on the energy meridian treatment points. When the distress of the disturbing thought has been reduced to 0 then, truly, the client has reached emotional freedom.
After using EFT for a dozen years, I continue to be grateful to be able to share these wonderful techniques with my clients. They are easy to learn, easy to use and a blessing in a recovering person’s sobriety tool box.