Understanding The “Energy” in Energy Psychology
How Energy Psychology Instigates Powerful, Positive Outcomes Through Five Forms of Energy
Posted March 17, 2022
In more than 120 clinical trials, energy psychology, which is the umbrella term for the Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Field Therapy, “tapping", and related approaches, has been shown to deliver significant improvements across a wide range of psychological and physiological conditions with striking speed and durability.
But despite impressive results in clients with issues ranging from PTSD and depression to cardiovascular and immune disorders, many therapists and clinicians dismiss the approach because of the vague and often controversial use of the term energy in energy psychology.
A Brief History of Energy
Aristotle used the term energeia to refer to the actualizing of a potential (for instance pleasure is an energeia of the human body and mind). In 1805, Thomas Young quantified the concept of “energy” and was the first to use it in a manner that is akin to its current use in physics. . Meanwhile, the most famous formula in history, and possibly the most elegant, E = mc2, captures Einstein’s counter-intuitive realization that energy and matter are different forms of the same underlying phenomenon.
Energy derived from physics is primarily defined by magnitude while psychological energy is typically defined by its strength, direction, quality (positive or negative), and relationship to time. Energy psychology protocols impact both physical and psychological energies. When it comes to psychological energies, changes in the strength, direction and quality of affect, motivations, and corresponding behaviors have been observed in clinical studies.
These changes usually occur in relation to memories of past experiences, present challenges, or future anticipations. None of this, however, is unique to energy psychology. What makes energy psychology stand out is its influence on the body’s 5 physical energies:
- Electrochemical signals
- Brain waves
- Electromagnetic fields
- Subtle energies
- Quantum dynamics
The strength of energy psychology is rooted in its capacity to focus and target these 5 energies by stimulating acupuncture points. Let’s take a closer look at these energies and how energy psychology protocols can interact with each one to produce desired outcomes.
Physical Energy #1: Electrochemical Signals
The human brain is an unimaginably complex energy network operating through the body’s 100 billion neurons. Electrochemical signals, passing from neuron to neuron, are believed to control the entire spectrum of human activities, including breathing, walking, speaking, thinking, wound healing, fighting invading microbes, or reacting to other threats. However, studies of the stimulation of acupuncture points reveal another way that electrical signals may be transmitted through the body that is different from neuron to neuron.
A 10-year research program at Harvard Medical School using fMRI and other imaging devices found that acupuncture sends signals directly to the brain because the images showed activity in the limbic system associated with threat was reduced almost instantly when needles were inserted into certain acupoints. Other imaging studies have shown increases in activity in areas of the brain associated with reasoning and stress management in response to tapping on acupoints.
In other words, acupoint tapping protocols are able to activate or deactivate brain regions to facilitate desired clinical outcomes. By guiding where the client’s attention is focused while doing the tapping, the therapist can regulate signals produced by the tapping to targeted brain regions with unusual precision. In this way, energy psychology protocols can rapidly downregulate the fight-or-flight response associated with hyperarousal by sending deactivating signals to the limbic system.
Physical Energy #2: Brain Waves
Brain waves are oscillating electrical voltages produced by masses of interacting neurons that correspond with the brain’s activity. Each of the 5 categories of brain waves, as listed below, are associated with a different frequency and a different type of human activity:
Gamma wave (problem solving, concentration)
Beta wave (busy, active mind)
Alpha wave (reflective, restful)
Theta wave (drowsiness)
Delta wave (sleep, dreaming)
Brain wave ratios in certain brain regions can point to specific disorders. For instance, children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have higher delta and theta waves in the frontal and parietal brain regions. The good news is that early electroencephalogram (EEG) studies indicate that acupoint tapping protocols can normalize brain wave patterns.
The first large-scale investigation of energy psychology treatments was an informal pilot study that was conducted at 11 allied clinics involving more than 5,000 patients in Argentina and Uruguay. As part of this study, several patients with generalized anxiety disorder were given digitized EEG scans that tracked the mathematical ratios of 3 brain wave frequencies (alpha, beta, and theta). These scans were conducted prior to treatment, at various points during treatment, and again following treatment. They showed a normalization of the 3 brain wave frequencies that corresponded with improvements in the anxiety condition.
Other EEG studies have shown that repetitive sensory stimulation on the upper parts of the body, such as with acupoint tapping, caused significant increases in delta wave activity in regions of the brain involved in fear memories. After continued stimulation, the delta waves reorganized the memory network, allowing the patient to recall a fearful memory without reliving it, a condition required for the successful treatment of a variety of disorders ranging from phobias to PTSD.
Physical Energy #3: Electromagnetic Fields
In physics, a field is a region in which each point is affected by a force. In biology, electromagnetic fields surround each organ, with electrocardiograms (EKGs) and EEGs showing electrical activity in and around the tissue of the heart and brain, respectively. Electromagnetic fields can also be found at the cellular level, and they can be spontaneously generated. For instance, after a wound is sustained, an electromagnetic field develops and organizes cellular activity in the healing process so the body can repair itself.
Energy fields appear to direct physical changes in a way that is similar to an energy field around a cell that encourages the healing of a wound. Harold Burr, a neuroanatomist in the Yale School of Medicine in the 1930s discovered that the electrical field surrounding an unfertilized salamander egg was shaped like a mature salamander, as though the blueprint for the adult was already within the energy field of the egg. The unfertilized egg possessed the electrical axis that would later be aligned with the brain and spinal cord. Burr went on to discover energy fields around other organisms, including molds, plants, frogs, and humans, and he was able to describe electrical patterns that differentiated health from disease.
The brain’s electromagnetic field can be detected and measured by various devices, and electromagnetic fields have been shown to exist throughout the body. Standing voltage gradients (electrical fields in the spaces between the cells) influence cell division, migration, and differentiation as well as the flow of electrical impulses traveling from neuron to neuron. These micro electrical fields contribute to the greater electromagnetic field of the brain, which is believed to govern complex biological processes as well as influencing emotions, mental models (internal representations of self, world, and the relationship between the two), and behavior.
While we still don’t have instruments that are sensitive enough to track how therapeutic changes in a person’s mental models correspond with changes in the brain’s electromagnetic field, all effective therapies presumably bring about such changes. Where energy psychology protocols may be particularly useful is in their capacity to directly influence so-called “subtle energies.”
Physical Energy #4: Subtle Energies
Energies that cannot be detected by conventional scientific instruments, but believed to be the infrastructure of the body’s electromagnetic and physiological system, are referred to as “subtle energies.”
The primary subtle energy systems targeted by energy psychology interventions are the chakras from the Indian Vedas, dating back some 3,500 years; the meridians from ancient Chinese medicine; and the aura that is described in various religious traditions and scientifically studied as the “biofield.” The role of subtle energies in clinical outcomes remains an area of controversy but here are 6 characteristics, commonly attributed to these energies:
- Subtle energies can persist independently of the biological structures they support.
- Human thought and intention can impact physical structures and events.
- Subtle energies can carry memories and nuanced information.
- Subtle energies appear to behave in intelligent ways.
- Subtle energies act as invisible templates guiding physiological development.
- Health conditions can be diagnosed and treated over a distance.
Perhaps the most important quality of subtle energies is that they seem to activate a person's potential. The term entelechy, introduced by Aristotle, involves the call toward completion, toward possibility. Human capacities researcher Jean Houston speaks of Jung’s concept of archetypes as “symbolic projections of higher consciousness [that are] mediated by your entelechy.” The electrical field surrounding Harold Burr’s salamander eggs encoded the development of the mature salamander. The egg’s energy held the entelechy for the adult.
The reason this is important for psychotherapy is that the best therapists are able to evoke a client’s highest potential, and entelechy is the channel through which this potential manifests. The notion that a person’s highest possibilities are pre-programmed suggests that they can also be accessed and reinforced.
While their nature remains elusive, subtle energies have been proposed as the medium which carries human potential. Attuning to such energies may be a way of approaching what all effective psychotherapists try to accomplish: catalyzing a client’s inner sources of wisdom, resilience, and growth.
Physical Energy #5: Quantum Dynamics
A number of investigations based on data from EEG devices have demonstrated that healers can affect other people's brain waves from afar. This may be a vital element in “distance healing.” Individuals known as "medical intuitives" claim to be able to identify health problems without being physically close to the person.
Neurosurgeon Norman Shealy gave medical intuitive Caroline Myss the names and birthdates of patients he had diagnosed. Myss had no interaction with the patients and no other information about them. In 93% of the cases, Myss' detailed clairvoyant findings matched Shealy's medical diagnoses with remarkable specificity, such as left testicle malignant, spread to left kidney; venereal herpes; and schizophrenia.
Quantum physics is the only scientific discipline that has demonstrated tangible results or effects that were initiated from a distance. also known as “non-local effects.” While many physicists have been highly sceptical about non-locality, experiments beginning in 1997 have demonstrated such effects at a distance of over 10 kilometers.
Reports of at-a-distance effects of energy psychology are generally referred to as “surrogate tapping.” In surrogate tapping, tapping on oneself is done with the intention of benefitting another. Based on a literature search and a request to the energy psychology community via e-letters and e-lists for case descriptions of surrogate tapping, 193 unique cases were identified. All reported positive outcomes and exactly 100 of them met the following criteria:
1. A "sender" had applied an energy psychology protocol to him/herself with the intention of being helpful to a "receiver."
2. The sender did not physically tap on the receiver but may have been in the same room (as is often the case with infants or animals) or the two may have been isolated by distance.
3. The receiver did not apply the protocol to him/herself.
4. The positive outcome was attributed by the sender and the receiver to the surrogate tapping.
Whether an invisible medium or some form of resonance is involved in at-a-distance effects is unknown, but early evidence suggests that acupoint tapping can create a clinically beneficial influence from a distance.
The term “energy” in energy psychology is based on well-established principles such as electrical signals, brain waves, and electromagnetic fields as well as more speculative mechanisms, such as subtle energies and quantum influences. While the role of these energies remains an area of controversy, they offer the basis for an energy psychology framework that may be useful for addressing deeper realms of human experience and potential.
This is the final article in our 10-part Energy Psychology Series. This article is based on research and findings from a paper entitled “The Energy of Energy Psychology” by David Feinstein, Ph.D. You can access the full paper here. If you have thoughts, ideas, insights, or experiences you'd like to share on this article or the full paper, please comment below. David will regularly review the comments and reply to those that move the discussion forward.
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