The Antidote: Overcoming the Damaging Effects of PTSD
Energy Psychology Is Proving to be a Powerful Antidote to PTSD
Posted November 18, 2021
Every year, more than 8 million people in the United States struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) along with another 350 million people worldwide. PTSD can occur in people who have experienced or even witnessed a severe trauma, and it affects areas of the brain connected to managing difficult emotions, especially fear and anxiety. PTSD can create intense physical, emotional, and mental distress, and if left untreated, it can lead to long-term psychological and physiological damage. Thankfully, energy psychology – in this article acupoint tapping -- can help!
More Potent Than Other Therapies
Tapping on acupuncture points while bringing the memory of a traumatic event to mind sends signals to emotional centers of the brain, specifically the amygdala and other areas of the limbic system. This can counter the body's threat response. Acupoint tapping has been shown to reduce:
- Exaggerated responses to triggers
- Hyperarousal in the limbic system
- Elevated levels of cortisol and other stress hormones
- Impaired immune functioning
- Distortions in learning and memory, and
- Imbalances between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity
When it comes to treating PTSD, acupoint tapping is proving to be more successful than other therapies. An early pilot study included 16 abused teenage boys who scored high in the PTSD range on a standardized symptom inventory. The boys were randomly assigned to receive either an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) acupoint tapping session or no treatment at all. All 8 boys receiving the tapping no longer met the inventory's PTSD criteria following the single treatment session. On follow-up a month later, the gains held. Those in the "no treatment" group showed no significant change.
In a more extensive study, 145 traumatized adults who survived the Rwanda genocide, more than a decade earlier, were randomly assigned to 2 groups. One was a waitlist group that received no treatment. The other group received a single Thought Field Therapy or TFT session (TFT is one of two best-known acupoint tapping formats; the other being EFT).
Pre- and post-treatment scores on 2 standardized PTSD self-inventories showed significant improvements on multiple scales, including anxious arousal, depression, irritability, intrusive experiences, defensive avoidance, and dissociation in the group who received the single TFT treatment. Significantly, the improvements held on follow-up 2 years later!
The 7 Advantages of Acupoint Tapping in the Treatment of PTSD
David Feinstein, Ph.D., and Dawson Church, Ph.D., have written a series of papers on the benefits of energy psychology in treating trauma and PTSD. Throughout the rest of this article, you will discover 7 critical advantages of acupoint tapping that they outlined in a chapter for a professional book entitled The Psychology of Trauma and published by Nova Press. Here is the link to the entire chapter.
Advantage #1: Fewer Treatment Sessions
Cognitive-behavioral therapies are the treatment of choice in most conventional mental health settings. They average between 12 and 16 sessions for treating PTSD. Nonetheless, up to two-thirds of those completing the treatment still carry the PTSD diagnosis after treatment. Meanwhile, a study of the use of EFT for treating PTSD in a public health facility in Scotland authorized patients to receive up to 8 treatment sessions. Voluntary termination of treatment occurred, however, after an average of 3.8 sessions, with strong positive outcomes on post-treatment measures.
A landmark study by Dawson Church and colleagues found that 86% of 49 war veterans no longer scored in the PTSD range after 6 hour-long EFT sessions. The study has been replicated with similar outcomes.
When acupoint tapping and energy psychology are used to treat refugees and adults in disaster zones, necessity often requires a single-session protocol. David Feinstein's review of the use of energy psychology for survivors of natural and human-caused disasters indicated that even a single session was able to significantly reduce anxiety and keep the acute stress experience from progressing into PTSD.
Advantage #2: Lasting Results
Studies reporting treatment effects for the use of acupoint tapping and energy psychology in PTSD typically show significant overall reductions in symptoms and their impact, and these improvements tended to stand the test of time.
Another study focusing on the survivors of the Rwandan genocide involved orphaned children and adolescents. Fifty juveniles suffering with protracted PTSD were selected for a TFT intervention with symptoms that included nightmares, difficulty concentrating, aggressiveness, and bed-wetting. After just one TFT session and brief relaxation training, a dramatic decrease in symptoms was observed in 47 of the 50 participants. The improvements were maintained at 1-year follow-up.
Of the 124 existing clinical trials of tapping therapies, 79 did follow-up. Of these, 77 showed statistically significant improvements in at least one targeted symptom an average of 7 months after the end of the treatment.
Advantage #3: Low Risk of Negative Side-Effects
None of the 124 existing clinical trials of tapping therapies reported adverse effects. This seems to hold even when the approach is used to treat highly traumatized individuals. The one very important caveat is that when the method is used by practitioners who are not trained in trauma treatment, they have sometimes proven to be unequipped for navigating the intense emotions that may be uncovered. Overall, however, existing evidence strongly suggests that energy psychology and acupoint tapping can be safely used to treat PTSD.
Advantage #4: Minimal Training Needed
A seasoned clinician can learn and begin applying a basic tapping protocol very quickly. Even people who don’t have extensive mental health backgrounds can be effective with the method as long as they understand the boundaries of their scope of service. For instance, several studies used life coaches rather than licensed mental health professionals to use tapping sessions in the treatment of PTSD and found they were nearly as effective.
This is not to say that a minimal level of training is sufficient for treating mental health disorders, as mentioned earlier. In the studies involving life coaches, energy psychology was usually provided as a supplement to the patient's work with a primary care provider. This suggests that energy psychology can be used successfully, for instance, as a frontline mental health intervention by medics and physician's assistants.
Advantage #5: Effective for Groups
Unlike many psychotherapy methods that require one-on-one sessions, acupoint tapping can be highly effective when delivered to groups. This makes it suitable for combat battalions returning from deployment, refugees living in camps, caregivers returning from humanitarian missions, and children in classrooms.
Advantage #6: Improves Quality of Life and Reduces Medical Costs
When PTSD is not successfully treated, it produces adverse changes in the brain, and the impact extends beyond the patient and their family. If symptoms persist, the data shows increased lifetime hospitalization, disease burden, and medical costs. By helping people overcome PTSD, acupoint tapping positively impacts their quality of life and society's medical costs.
Advantage #7: In-Person Sessions Not Required
A study focused on the effects of EFT delivered by phone versus in-office sessions showed that just 6 phone treatment sessions could effectively alleviate clinical PTSD symptoms in 67% of patients. In another study, 26 women diagnosed with fibromyalgia showed significant improvement in symptoms such as pain, anxiety, depression, vitality, social function, activity level, and performance problems following their participation in an online EFT treatment program. This makes it possible to utilize electronic media to offer acupoint tapping treatments to underserved populations or others who cannot access conventional in-person therapy, such as military personnel in combat zones and those living in rural areas.
For millions of people with PTSD, energy psychology -- specifically acupoint tapping -- offers much-needed hope and relief. As discussed in this article, acupoint tapping can help large numbers of people relatively quickly. It is a powerful intervention that is proving to be an effective antidote to living with the pain of PTSD.
This post is based on a chapter written by Dawson Church, Ph.D., and David Feinstein, Ph.D., and published in the book, The Psychology of Trauma. Authors are usually not allowed to freely share an individual chapter as the publisher wants people to buy the book. But in this case, Nova Press has generously agreed to let us share the entire chapter as part of this special series on energy psychology. The chapter contains references for most of the claims made in this article. Click here to read the chapter>>>
If you have thoughts, questions, insights, or experiences you'd like to share based on this article or the book chapter, please comment below. David will regularly review the comments and reply to those that move the discussion forward. Next month's feature will focus on the applications and benefits of using energy psychology to improve relationships.
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