EFT – A brilliant tool to remove trauma from the brain and body
Sue (not her real name) arrived in my office on someone else’s recommendation. She didn’t know EFT, or how it works. All she knew is that her friend said it can help for the enormous trauma she’s just experienced.
Sue is a pilot for a South African passenger airline company. She’s always loved flying. She was also a spectator when a World War II-era fighter plane crashed into the edge of the grandstands during a popular air race in Reno (USA) on 16 September 2011. She flew back to South Africa 2 days later, still stunned and in shock at what she’d witnessed. Three people were killed, more than fifty were injured.
Sue was only 10 metres from the impact – it’s a miracle that she escaped virtually unharmed. The only injury she sustained was a scratch on her knee, from when a Samaritan behind her pushed her to the ground when he realised that debris was going to start flying over them. He probably saved her life with that action, because milliseconds later she could recall feeling extreme heat waves and objects flying centimetres above her.
The accident happened on Friday. She arrived back in South Africa on Monday, and came to see me on Tuesday. Normally in an EFT session for trauma, I take extreme care NOT to re-traumatise the client. There are a variety of amazing ways to process the trauma through EFT without a person having to relive the experience. (In my experience, retelling and reliving the story can add numerous layers of trauma on top of something already traumatic.)
I started the session by explaining to Sue how we’re going to keep her safe and help her to process the trauma safely. She was having none of it, though! She said she already feels like it didn’t really happen to her. She’s been numbed out ever since she saw the plane go down and for a change she WANTED to feel something (anything!) by the time she left my office.
She also said that she wants to be able to remember all the details of the accident – that was part of her ideal outcome for the session. She couldn’t remember hearing the crash AT ALL and it must have been a tremendous, thunderous impact, only 10 metres away. She did not have any hearing loss or ringing in the ears. Sue felt that she would only be free of the shock if she could recall every single detail including sights, sounds and sensations.
Well – I thought – this is a different approach! I’m going to have to be really creative here and keep her safe in other ways, then…
She did a tremendous amount of shaking and trembling during the session. From other learning I have done, I could explain to her that this is a completely normal reaction of animals in the wild. Dr Robert Scaer, trauma specialist, writes the following:
“In the wild, the preyed-upon animal will flee or attempt to fight, but if trapped, will enter a freeze response where it assumes a state of immobility while physiologically still manifesting high levels of activity of both parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. If the animal survives the attack, it will go through a period of discharge of this high level automatic arousal through the motor system involving trembling, running movements, shaking, diaphoresis and deep breathing. Following this, the animal will return to its prior state of calm alertness. Interestingly, game keepers in Africa interviewed by Levine who capture animals for examination or tagging routinely note that if the animal does not go through the shaking/breathing response after release, they will inevitably die in the wild, possibly due to the inability to initiate appropriate self- protective behavior.” (http://www.traumasoma.com/excerpt2.html)
I was able to re-assure Sue that her trembling as she was sitting there in my chair was completely normal and really good for her at this point. Of course, I kept tapping on her on every point I could find, especially the lower-leg points, where many of the lower meridians cross (inside and outside of the ankles).
Recent research into the healing of trauma has led to the deliberate invoking of this freeze discharge response, and some people working in the fields of hypnotherapy and EFT have witnessed excessive tremors in their clients after releasing a traumatic capsule. (http://www.eft4joy.co.uk/articles/Forget%20Stress%20-%20It%27s%20Trauma%20that%20Kills.pdf)
There is a form of therapy now widely used for trauma, called TRE (Trauma Release Exercises). It is proven to be tremendously powerful to release the freeze response from the body – by gently inducing the “tremble effect” and allowing the patient to tremble for around 20 minutes.
Robert Scaer MD who has written “The Body Bears the Burden - Trauma, Dissociation and Disease” says “Dissociation very probably constitutes a major element in the freeze response, and people who report symptoms of shock and numbness after a traumatic event and exhibit symptoms of dissociation, are actually in the freeze response at the time.”
Because lower brain stem activity takes over, there may also be a disconnection with rational, higher brain thinking, which is connected with the loss of memory often associated with shock events. One common experience of shock victims is the sense of “did it really happen or did I make it up”. This is partly because of the discontinuous states of consciousness which results in confusion and dislocation of different aspects of the shock event. (http://www.tag-uk.net/trauma-article2.html)
One and a half hours later, Sue left my office, finally feeling at peace. She could recall more details of the plane crash with a delightfully normal response. She did not feel numb or dissociated anymore, and could now talk about it like it happened to her, not to someone else. (To me, this was clear evidence that the freeze response had been “defrosted”).
On top of that, she was now incredibly grateful to her body for having “brought her home” by going on autopilot (good choice of words for a pilot…) when her mind was numbed out and not able to think clearly.
She still couldn’t remember the sound of the impact but now it suddenly didn’t matter to her. She was grateful, instead, that her body somehow was able to protect her ears from the massive sound and not even have a single bit of hearing loss. If she’d lost her hearing even in a minute way, it would have put her job in jeopardy.
How does EFT do this so effectively, in such a short space of time?
Here is a basic outline of the biological process that is followed in a threat-situation:
- A sight, sound, smell, feeling or thought (the trigger) is recognized by the amygdala, a part of the brain that identifies threat, as being similar to a previous experience that involved physical danger or emotional threat (An important note here – in Sue’s case, she was literally in a situation of physical danger. However, sitting in my office, she only had to think of the actual experience for the amygdala response to be triggered).
- The amygdala sends impulses to the autonomic nervous system that elicit the “fight, flight or freeze” alarm response. Chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released into the bloodstream, causing the heart rate, blood pressure and other bodily processes to undergo a series of dramatic changes. At the same time, primitive areas of the brain, designed to respond to threat, shape perception and thought. The rational mind has little involvement in this sequence.
- The physical sensations of the alarm response are experienced as angerlike feelings (fight), fearlike feelings (flight) or an inability to take action (freeze).
And here is the way we believe therapies like EFT interrupt the process, enabling us to process trauma really fast:
- The triggering image (or sights, sounds, smells, feelings) are brought to mind while physically stimulating a series of stress-relief points that sends impulses directly to the amygdala, which inhibit the alarm response.
- These impulses also cause a reduction, within the amygdala, of the number of neural connections between the image and the alarm response.
- After a number of repetitions of number 1, the image can then be brought to mind, or the situation can be experienced directly, without eliciting the alarm response.
(The above 2 paragraphs from: The Healing Power of EFT and Energy Psychology. David Feinstein, Donna Eden & Gary Craig. 2005)
Stress and trauma specialist Peter Levine has been working in this field for more than 35 years. He acted as stress consultant in the development of the first NASA space shuttle. He puts it this way:
“Body sensations, rather than intense emotion, is the key to healing trauma.” (Healing Trauma. Peter Levine. 2006)
I have heard from so many clients in recent weeks that have been to countless psychologists and counsellors. All of them required the client to talk, retell, recount and relive every tiny detail of the trauma they’ve been through. For these clients it has been ineffective, to say the least, and for some, more traumatising.
EFT has come as a gift to the world, through Gary Craig and the giants before him. EFT can release trauma gently, effectively and in record time. In the hands of a capable EFT practitioner, it is certainly not necessary to experience intense emotion to heal the trauma.
It’s also important to note here that Gary has always used the caveat “Don’t go where you don’t belong”. If you’re a beginner in EFT, please be sensible. Don’t tackle issues where “big T” traumas are involved. Abuse, war, PTSD, crime, cruelty all have to be handled with caution, knowledge, great skill and gentleness. Please make sure you have adequate training and knowledge, or refer to a skilled practitioner if you are uncertain in any way.