When memory is the enemy

Remembrance Day has got me thinking about memory. And about something that really struck me as key in the last year of studying trauma intensively.

Trauma, and how to treat its after-effects, have actually been passions of mine for a few decades.  But a looming presentation at a conference and other academic commitments stepped my research up a gear.

Memory is a construction. We do not have a video recorder to store memories as faithful and accurate representations of what actually happened.  Every time we take a memory out of storage we edit it in some way to make more sense in the light of where we are now.  What goes back into the filing cabinet is not what came out.

The key thing with traumatic memories is what metaphorical storage cabinet they go into.

Implicit memory is all we have to start with.  Things that happen to us as babies leave a sensory trace in unconscious memory but without a story attached.   Implicit memory does not cease to be open for business when a bit more brain is wired up and we have more sophisticated systems as well.

We keep adding to it along the way.  It is where we keep automatic routines like how to ride a bike. It links behaviours to memories – like how we survived some life threat.

That is a good thing when a replay of the survival response is because of an actual threat and saves us when it is triggered again.  But here is the tricky bit.

Implicit memory – like how to ride a bike or hit the ground if there is a loud bang that could be an explosion nearby – is always experienced in the present tense. 

So something happens that triggers a memory.  It might be external. It might be internal – a body feeling, perhaps.  And we are unable to know in the moment that this is a memory and not actually happening now.

It makes sense of much of the way trauma continues to haunt us.  And it makes sense of why, no matter how long ago a trauma was experienced, it can still be running in the background of consciousness. Or, when something triggers a memory, in the foreground.

I will bet if you administered a truth drug to the oldest of the veterans at Remembrance Day ceremonies around the country they could tell of vivid recollections of long ago things they do not talk about.  Scars they will take to their graves.

And some will still be experiencing responses triggered by something that reminds them of decades old trauma but which they experience not as then but as now.   These may be externally visible behaviours.  Or an internal horror show.

So I was delighted to see results of some of the recent studies using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In one, the effect size was almost three.  In therapy outcome studies one is considered good.  Three is considered awesome.

As EFT becomes more widely known and accepted, it offers hope for people still suffering from traumatic experiences in the past.

What a gift to humanity that is going to be.

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Time for all change now?

Are we on the verge of a paradigm shift?  It is a term people bandy about lightly.  But I mean a real one in which the way we see the world changes forever. A change from which there is no going back.

Something like realizing the world is not flat.

Why do I think we at a tipping point in our world view of consciousness, of mind/body?

There is a strange and otherwise perplexing battle going on between parts of the old psychology establishment and energy psychology. And, to me, it has the feel of the sort of desperate last ditch attempt to cling on to the old world view.

EFT or Emotional Freedom Techniques is the branch of energy psychology I know best.  And I know it has wide acceptance in some mainstream circles.  I have trained psychologists and psychiatrists who have embraced it wholeheartedly and find it useful in their work.

They find what I know – that one of the things EFT does best is work with post-traumatic stress.

Yet the American Psychological Association, in its current draft guidelines for working with PTSD, “strongly recommends” such cognitive therapies as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy  (CBT), “recommends” Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and does not even mention EFT or Thought Field Therapy (TFT) which is closely related to EFT.

This despite the fact that there are 11 references to EFT for PTSD in a literature search of the three main sources they used to draw up their guidelines.

Of course US guidelines are directly relevant only in the US.  But we all know when America sneezes …

The facts are: Energy psychology, including EFT, has more than 60 published studies in refereed journals, 20 controlled trials – the science experiment gold standard – with more than 98 percent of their findings supporting the efficacy of energy psychology.

Of the studies that looked at follow-up from three months to two years, 100% found that the gains held.

There are more than 400 therapies in the world. Most have no research. The findings on energy psychology put it into the top 10 per cent of all therapies in terms of research on effectiveness.

And this comes at a time when Socionomen, the official journal for Swedish social workers, reported the results of their government’s two billion Swedish crown investment in CBT which found that it had no effect at all for people disabled by depression and anxiety.

Further, the report found a significant number of people got worse.  And nearly a quarter of the patients who started CBT dropped out.

It cost millions more to pick up the pieces.

So much for giving CBT a “strong” recommendation.

This rejection of energy psychology is not new. It is just the latest round in an on-going campaign to keep a finger in the dyke.

A previous battle, not yet resolved, involves Wikipedia’s scathing denunciation of EFT which includes a review of research that dates back to 2009. A lot has happened in the field in the seven years since.

But every time anyone amends the entry, it is changed back again.  There is no appeal against this. There is no one to whom it is possible to present evidence to contradict the prejudice of the people who go in and alter anything that does not fit their world view, the minute it is posted.

A petition to Jimmy Wales, one of the two Wiki founders, asked for some kind of adjudication in such cases and was signed by 11,500 people. In his response he said: What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t.”

So much for rational, dispassionate discourse.

Judy Byrne



author of Introducing Emotional Freedom Techniques – a pratical guide (Icon books)

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Falling into that trap – again and again

I am sure I am not the first EFTer to fall into the trap of thinking that EFT is brilliant for helping others but being slow to remember how helpful it can be for ourselves. This is the story of how I learned that lesson all over again. And again.

It was back on December 1 2015 that was what was meant to be the first day of a month’s holiday.  A whole month. Not since I left school…

I was flying to Australia that evening. A few hours before I had to leave for the airport I went to the gym. I had a small amount of packing to finish. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Just as I was finishing my workout and rushing to get done and home, I caught the rubber sole of my trainer on a camouflaged bump in a rubber floor. Rubber stuck to rubber while the top half of my body kept going, with right arm outstretched in a counterproductive attempt to save myself. My full weight, at speed, crashed on to it.

The upshot was I was unable to drive my own car home.  One of the gym staff drove me in it. I could not dress or close my suitcase, without help. Even trying to pick something up off the floor with my undamaged hand was agony. There were some strange omissions from my packing because they were not worth the pain to add.

At the airport I asked a paramedic to check me over. The first aiders at the gym did not think I had broken anything. I was not convinced. It seemed to me that if you could not move your arm far enough from your side to get a cigarette paper into the gap, it might just be more than bruising. The paramedic also thought nothing was broken and passed me fit to fly. With a lot of help from the airline staff, I did.

It was agonizing. I could not tap for the pain. I could only imagine doing it and it seemed not to make a lot of difference – though with hindsight of course I have no way of knowing how much worse it might have been without. And of course my body was not going to completely turn off the pain signal until I took some notice of what it was trying to tell me.

I had planned to go to a doctor the day after I arrived but after a night I would prefer not to remember I got up at first light and walked to the nearest emergency room. By the end of the day I was recovering from surgery to insert a titanium plate to join my fractured bones up again.

Over the six weeks after that I tapped on various aspects – pain, being angry with myself for going to the gym so close to flight time, carelessness in tripping on a floor I already knew was dodgy. But I did not go back to original trauma.

Why? I have so often used the movie technique* on the memory an old accident with clients and with students on my training courses and been as amazed as they were how effective it has been with the legacy of lingering pain and/or movement restriction that they thought would be with them for life. So why did it take me so long to do the same for myself?

After a few days of diligently doing exercises from the physiotherapist, I could feel some improvement in range of movement. And I decided it was time for some serious EFT on the actual trauma. So I booked myself in for a session with myself.

Among the specific first traumatic memories on which I did the movie technique was lying on the floor with my arm stretched out in front of me feeling I would never be able to move. It started a 10 and went to 6 and then a fuzzily-remembered nothing in a few minutes.

Next was sitting in the gym with my arm stuck up in the air, unable to bring it down. Again, 10 to about five to nothing in just a few rounds of EFT.

The next was trying to pick something up off my bedroom floor with my uninjured left hand and not being able to bend far enough forward to do it without my right arm hurting so much I gave up. The pattern was much the same.

Then I remembered my shocked reaction to seeing the X-ray of my shoulder and arm on the emergency department doctors’ iPad and tapped on that as well. I still have it on my phone so I looked at the picture as I tapped.

About an hour after this session I went to do my second set of exercises of the day. There was a leap in how far I could move my arm in every exercise. Although I have seen it so often before in other people I was still amazed that it had happened to me.

The next day I had more movement still, not just doing exercises but in doing other things. My next goal – being able to drive again – looked a lot closer.

I have learned my lesson. Again.

Update: I came across this unpublished account of my own trauma when I was looking for something else I had mislaid.  And it got me thinking.

I now take driving for granted again. I have reasonable range of movement in that arm, but nothing like it used to be.  It is no more than a nuisance.  It does not stop me doing anything I really want to do. But it is not good at reaching up into high cupboards. It finds it almost impossible to take parking tickets out a machine through the car window.  It means in my Pilates classes I can do some things on one side but not on the other.

So why have I not been tapping on my feelings about it and about the limited range itself?  How do I know how much more I could heal physically when I have not really tried?

As soon as I tapped on being angry and hacked off and frustrated and sad it brought up old stuff about being the most physically inept child in my class at school.  Today I might be diagnosed as dyspraxic. I comfort myself that Einstein was, too.  Then I was just the one other kids did not want on their team for ball games and teachers gave extra work to try to improve extremely poor handwriting.

I am even wondering if keeping some degree of disability excuses me from things I would not be able to do anyway. Or that part of me is afraid I would not.

And I am tapping on it all again.  And wondering why it took me so long…


Judy Byrne



Author of Understanding EFT – a Practical Guide

*If you do not know the movie technique, you can learn it from the eBook you can download if you sign up for my newsletter on my website or, in more detail and context, from my book which is available on Amazon.. Ditto if you do not know EFT.


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I marvel at how technology shrinks the world.

Having moved so far that if I went any further I would be on the way back, I am delighted to find that, thanks to technology, I can continue to be in the thick of things.

I am still on the executive of AAMET International, the biggest not-for-profit EFT organisation in the world. It is a challenge to arrange meeting times to accommodate Australia, the UK and the US. It changes with the seasons. For half the year, I have to be up, dressed, ready for the video and with a high enough caffeine level to think in time for a meeting at 6 am. The other half, the meeting starts at 10 pm my time and often goes past mid-night.

There have been similarly early morning meetings across the three continents to coordinate contributions for the upcoming AAMET Master of Applied EFT, which is an exciting new advanced training for experienced practitioners to be launched later this year.

Ann Adams, who was the administrator of the original EFT Masters programme until Gary Craig decided to close it down after granting the title to only 29 people worldwide, is organising this new programme. Unlike the original one which was all about assessment this is going to be about learning and developing skills.

There will, of course, be high standards of assessment both to determine eligibility to join the course and competency in what it has taught. I am producing some of the modules, as are other Founding Masters.  (Register interest at http://Applied EFTMaster.com)
The technology that makes me feel I have not been relegated to the side-lines when I moved to a quieter corner of the world includes the ability to get to other places fairly quickly and (relatively) painlessly.

I am not long back from the ACEP (Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology) conference in Santa Clara, California where, with fellow AAMET executive members Dr Shoshana Garfield and Kate Munden (UK) and with Ann Adams (US) we represented AAMET.

We met some of our US (and other) AAMET members as well as energy therapists with other affiliations who were interested to know more about AAMET and about the up-coming Masters programme. And we got to discuss past learning and future opportunities with some of the major movers and shakers in the energy therapy field worldwide.

It really was a really stimulating conference. There was so much choice that deciding which sessions to attend was a challenge.

I suppose the two things that most stay with me are what is happening in EFT research and the inspiring humanitarian work ACEP sponsors.

I was persuaded by John Freedom, who is ACEP’s head of research and to whose book Heal Yourself with Emotional Freedom Technique I contributed, to go to the research day.

At it I met the impressive Assistant Professor in Psychology at Bond University, Queensland, Dr. Peta Stapleton, a clinical and health psychologist who is doing really interesting EFT research on cravings and eating and on anxiety in schools. The eating research has now been turned into an online project. She got the award for Researcher of the Year at the gala dinner. (Google her. She has published a lot.)

Peta has a big event in Australia next year. You can see it on http://www.mindheartconnect.com/ Speakers include Brad Yates (with whom I also caught up at ACEP), Dr David Hamilton (who is one of my all-time favourite presenters and got raves at the last EFT Masterclass I co-organized in London), Dr Joe Dispenza, Dr Lori Leyden and Dr Helena Popovik .
All the technology I need now is a better broadband connection. I am badgering my providers to get one. But that is another story…

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Do you freecyle?

I am a new convert and already up on my soapbox. I want to woo the world to join. (If you are old enough read that to the tune of I want to teach the world to sing.)

If you have not met it, freecycle is a countrywide online organisation with local branches where you can post offers of things you no longer want to other people in your area. Or, you can accept things others are offering and you want. No money changes hands. Things that would otherwise go into landfill get to live another useful day. Win, win!

I am downsizing to go back to Australia to live. I have known people who move and even move twice or three times with boxes that stay unpacked until they get to realizing that if they have not yet missed their contents they never will.

However when moving means hiring a shipping container or part thereof at considerable cost, there is less temptation to just pack everything you know you want, plus everything that you conceivably might want one day.

I have thousands of books. I really mean thousands. When the second hand dealer who had first dibs took a couple of hundred it barely made a dent in my bookshelves.

And I hate taking to a tip or putting in a skip anything that I have valued and may still have some useful life left in it with someone else. Especially if it is a book.

So I ventured into this intriguing new world with a strimmer. I could have given it away several times over. The same with the white plastic unused lavatory seat and lid. And the golf clubs, bag and trolley.

What took me by surprise is the speed with which people reply, at least in my corner of London. Most not only asked the same day if offers were still available but had often collected them within a few hours of posting. Even on a Sunday evening. I got so rushed at one point that I nearly put the wrong thing out at the wrong time, and I did forget to put out another.

I am lucky that I have an enclosed porch and anything left there is not really visible from the road. So I give people my address, we agree an approximate time, and I put whatever it is in the porch just before. I ask them not to ring the bell. So it becomes an interruption-free exercise that can go on even while I am working with clients.
Doing it that way also meant that I did not have to let strangers into my house. But I begin to feel somewhat ashamed of that. They have been such nice people. One or two I have bumped into. Most have left “thank you” notes. Or sent me a “thank you” email afterwards.

I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to find that something you have valued but no longer want to keep is going to be useful to someone else. Or how warming is the human connection, however fleeting, that the transaction brings with it.

The slowest item to move so far was headed “reference books.” Not exactly the sexiest offer. I was beginning to think books were a non-starter, at least around here. But after a few days someone did ask for about eight from the list and I relisted the rest headed “dictionaries and encyclopaedias.” They did not go quite as fast as strimmer and golf clubs but did inside 12 hours from posting to collection.
I know some charity shops take books but only know one that collects and I have a date with it. I just do not have the time or the book boxes or a van to deliver the bulk of them. Some are really weighty tomes.

So I now have stacks of books I am listing sorted into categories. I am getting the hang of this. There nutrition book. And wine books. And gardening books. And cookery books. And medical books. And golf books. And art books. And… And… And… Themed this way they attract an almost instant response. The whole process is lightening my physical and mental load.

If you are not yet doing it and I have sold you on giving it a try go to http://www.freecycle.org. If you do not find you have a local group, you could always offer to start one.

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I was amazed to discover the latest stress-busting therapy tool – colouring in books for grownups.

I think it makes a lot of sense. And I suspect it also does to all those of you who, like me, find it really challenging to sit still and do our Mindfulness Mediation. Doing something in which you become completely absorbed in the present moment may be less challenging for some of us than doing nothing while attempting to become completely absorbed in the present moment.

Of course, it fits with more active Mindfulness traditions such as walking meditation, or eating a raison while giving it our total and sustained attention. Art therapy has a proven track record. So it could be interesting to combine elements of both.

And it is opposite, and perhaps antidote, to the instant digital everythingness of our lives. It takes time, concentration on what we are doing, and a return to the slower pace that some of us are old enough to have known earlier in our lives. You can download an app in seconds. It takes hours to colour an intricate picture. Or days.

I thought I had made a great discovery but when I started to investigate, I ended up feeling that I may have been the last to know.

Apparently in France colouring books for adults are outselling cookery books. When I read this, my first thought was: “It will not catch on here.” But it seems that I was quite wrong. I went straight on to Amazon to see if they were offering any and found they had 72 pages of them. Yes, 72!

The one that claims to be the No. 1 best seller in the field, The Creative Colouring Book for Grownups (Crafts), has had 92 reader reviews. Another, Secret Garden: an Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book has had 231. Both get mostly five stars.

Some describe themselves as art therapy. There are books of stained glass patterns and flowers and fairies and elves and birds and mandalas and cats and dogs and Christmas themes. There are volumes of Empire fashion, human anatomy, tattoos, and butterflies. You can do your own art nouveau, Book of Kells or Monets. One claims it is anti-boredom. Some say they are “advanced”. Diabolically Detailed comes in a double pack. And I am intrigued (though not personally tempted) to discover there is a Fetish colouring book.

The title that really took my therapist eye was Colour Yourself Calm: A Mindfulness Colouring Book. Apparently it has breathing exercises and other calming suggestions in the front. And I was touched by the reader review that said: “I suffer from anxiety attacks and bi-polar. Since this book has come I’ve spent a lot of time colouring in the pictures and feel so relaxed. Plus time goes so much quicker. Just an amazing book.”

The biggest problem I see is that if it is going to be really mindful, rather than just colouring in for stress reduction, it is going to mean switching off television, the radio, my iPod, my email, my mental “to do” list, my computer screen … all the things that start calling to me when I try to do more conventional Mindfulness meditation.

But I still think I might be on to something.

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] The other day I came across a notice written by a well-intentioned occupational therapist for an elderly and forgetful patient.  It said: “HAVE YOU GOT YOUR WALKING STICK?  YOU NEED IT TO WALK SAFELY!”  It was not only in capitals but they were an inch high. Black. And filled an A4 page.  The notice shouted. It was meant to go inside the front door to make sure she did not go out with this safety aid.

The intention, I felt, was better than the execution.  Too many words to read. Too many for anyone, let alone someone whose focus and retention is not what it once was.  Too much type.  Too black.  And what’s with the exclamation mark?  To make this little lecture seem light and jokey?

At the other extreme, my favourite road sign in the world is the one you would see if you attempted to join the wrong side of a dual carriageway in Australia. It says: “WRONG WAY. GO BACK.”

I find these two messages symbolize for me good and bad empathy.  The writer of the first showed she had no idea of the inside world of an elderly person forgetful enough to need the reminder (and also now probably constantly being told what to do.)   Empathy would have boiled it down to something much easier to absorb.  Like maybe “Got your stick?” Not only easier to get but being reminded would be so much more likely to land than being told, yet again, what to do.

“Wrong way, go back” on the other hand displays excellent empathy because it gets it that a driver has only a few seconds to absorb and act on what could be a life-or-death message.

One of the hardest things to teach new therapists is empathy.  Often there is a natural abundance of compassion which is what has drawn them to wanting to do therapy in the first place.  But empathy is not compassion.  Compassion is caring about others.  Empathy is the (intention and) ability to get into another’s world.

When I am training therapists-to-be and they say something like: “I want to specialize in anxiety because I have had a lot of it and know what it is like” my heart sinks.  Having had anxiety oneself might be good for compassion but it is not for empathy.  We are not and should not be a reference source for our clients’ experience, only for our own. To find out about theirs we ask them.  And then listen.

Empathy comes when we forget what happened to us and focus on discovering what happened to someone else. And how they experienced it.

We know that empathy, as perceived by the client, is the best predictor of therapy outcome.  Which is to be expected.   Therapy, I  believe, involves doing our best to get into the shoes of the person we are working with and working with them in their world, not bullying them or dragging them or seducing them or cajoling them or shaming them or I-am-the expert-and-I know-besting them into ours.

It is for us to help them find their own answers.   As soon as we find ourselves tempted to impose ours it is time for us to remind ourselves: “Wrong way. Go back.”


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I have always loved the way when someone clears a bunch of negative emotions they do not just feel different on the inside. They also find people responding differently to them.  It is one of the truly encouraging things about therapy with clients or on me.   You cannot change other people.  But it is surprising and delighting how much changing yourself seems to have changed others because they are reacting so differently to you.

It reminds me of the experiments I read about way back when I was a psychology student in which children started with new teachers with deliberately incorrect assessments from their old ones. Those whose new teachers thought they were doing better academically than they actually suddenly did better.  And the ones who had arrived with a “bad” report mysteriously saw their usually good grades fall.

I have recently had my own experience of what happens when you give a dog a bad name.

My central heating system broke down and I had to do the whole call centre queueing, clicking and switching various things under instruction on the phone twice, and finally waiting for an engineer to call.

I could not quite believe how polite the call centre people were.  I had this weird feeling that they were being almost too polite – though it seemed churlish to even think of thinking it. The first offered to wait while I went knocking on neighbours’ doors in search of an impossibly short screwdriver.  A second walked me through an even more extensive series of checks and kept thanking me for my patience and cooperation. I wondered why.  I had more to gain from being patient and cooperative than she did.

When the engineer was leaving next day, he showed me the job description on his handheld. It had a footnote that said:  “Client is rude and abusive.”  He had arrived in trepidation and found me so much not so he thought I should know what was on the system about me.  “It must be a mistake, “he said. “You must get them to correct it.”

Suddenly the penny dropped.  After the system was installed about 18 months earlier, I had to make an appointment for an inspection.  For weeks I got letters saying if I did not arrange it soon the warranty would be invalidated while I was spending hours on the phone trying to get through to arrange the inspection.   As I held on hoping to be answered eventually, I listened to the promise that emails were always answered within 48 hours so I sent a lot of them, too.

When I finally got an appointment and had to stay in for a 12 hour time slot for the engineer to come, he didn’t.

It was when I rang to ask why not and what would happen now, I struck someone so indifferent and unhelpful that I think the client did become “rude and abusive. “

So I complained about the label on my file and got an apology, and assurances that it had been removed and that call centre staff had been “reminded” what they could and could not record about clients.  “Needs extra time to answer the door” yes. “Client is rude and abusive” no.

But it really was an eye-opener to experience the treading-on-eggshells response I had got from two different people in the call centre not to my being rude and abusive but to label that led them to think I just might be.

And it reminded me how therapy enables that to happen on the inside. When we use EFT to change the writing we have about ourselves on our own walls it does somehow communicate itself to others.   Change it and we change the way others see us and respond to us and that makes us feel even better…  A blessedly virtuous circle.

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I don’t often read a book that catapults me into as profound a rethink as The Truth About Grief has.   It is not a particularly riveting book.  It will never make it on to my top 20 greatest reads.   But it is making me question how I ever came to accept Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief as if handed down from above on tablets of stone.

One reason, I suspect,  is that before I encountered them as a therapy student I had already absorbed them through the pores of my skin. They have become part of our culture.   And then later, when EFT became the core tool of my therapy, I made decisions about whether/when tapping was appropriate for grief on the basis that that description of grief was a prescription – that it was normal and inevitable and to be messed with or missed out at our peril.  I thought it was fact, not merely belief.

And I also taught that.

So when I was in the gym and stumbled across an old BBC podcast on my iPod in which author Ruth Davis Kongsberg was interviewed about the lack of evidence for Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief and about more recent evidence that actually discredits them, I was online to Amazon to order her book quicker than you could say “workout over.”

Kubler-Ross’s original book was about how the dying face death, not how those left behind deal with it.  It grew out of unstructured interviews with terminally ill patients – not necessarily a sound methodology because not everyone is asked the same questions and questions reflect the questioner’s bias rather than the interviewee’s experience.  Kubler-Ross was initially more interested to understand better how the medical establishment dealt with death than how the dying, let alone the bereaved, did. That all came later.

It became a book when an editorial assistant at a publishing company, which had recognized a gap on its list for a book on death, read an article she had written and offered her a deal. She had three months to deliver.  And, in her autobiography, Kubler-Ross said it took her three weeks of late nights struggling to formulate a concept.  Then it hit her she said  – everyone who faces a loss including her dying patients went through the same stages.

The trouble, as I am now seeing it, is:  a) the stages getting to be seen as gospel  b) not just for the dying but also for those left behind c) and then for all losses including jobs and contact lenses d) giving rise to a culture, especially among professionals, that people need to go through these stages or they will be sorry later.   And it follows that e) if we professionals intervene, other than to listen and tell them what they are experiencing is normal, we do so at their peril.

In fact, Kubler-Ross never put her theory to any test.  She did not do research and have it published in a peer-reviewed journal.  She never pointed out that her theory was about how people faced death, not how those left behind coped with it.

In an interview with Playboy magazine in 1981 she said: “Even though I called it the stages of dying, it is really a natural adjustment to loss. Some people go through it if they only lose their contact lens.”

So where am I now?  I retain some old certainties.   When a death is traumatic, using EFT to process the trauma can be an extremely helpful way to move someone from the shock of the trauma to whatever comes next for them.  That has not changed.  And if grieving is unusually prolonged and disabling and the grief-stricken person wanted help I have never had reservations about tapping with them.

But the territory in between, the time I believed people needed to go through this “natural” process with support but without interference, is now a big question mark for me.   If there is no evidence for the validity or universality of the stages and there is no evidence that there will be detrimental effects of people do not go through them, why not just tap on what people are experiencing and want not to, just as we would with any other client?

My rethink is freeing me up to think it is okay to follow the philosophy I have always had with all clients – with the single exception of this group  –  that my job as a therapist is to get into the world of the client sitting with me as much as I can and work out together what would be helpful for them.

It doesn’t mean people will not grieve, that they will not continue to miss the person who died for the rest of their lives. It does not mean that sadness will not keep coming back from time to time for a long time, and possibly for as long as they live.

It just means that I no longer feel that bereaved clients should be deprived of the benefits of EFT just because they are bereaved, or therapists constrained by a belief about grief that an author dreamed up to meet a publishing deadline all those years ago.


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I have had some amazing experiences of working with someone on the memory of an accident and discovering that pain they had had for years thereafter has suddenly and seemingly inexplicably gone away.  Some have been demonstrations at workshops. Some have been private sessions. One recorded on one of my DVDs, is a woman who had had mega back pain after falling off a horse decades earlier.

I am intrigued about how this happens. So I was really interested to read that Professor Vania Apakarian at the Northwestern University in Chicago had investigated the link between chronic pain and the emotional response to the injury that caused it.  What Professor Apakarian found was that in the year after injury causing back pain, emotional response to the injury seemed to influence who did and did not tip over from acute to chronic pain which persisted after the injury had healed.   What particularly interested me was that this was not emotion as reported by the subjects on a 1- 10 scale as we use in EFT but neurological activity picked up in a succession of brain scans over that time.

It reminded me of some studies that challenged the conventional physical explanations for chronic back pain.  Doctors often tell patients that damage to discs or other spine structure problems  are causing their back pain. Yet in one study, it turned out that two-thirds of people who have never had serious back pain have the same sorts of abnormalities or damage.  And whether people continue to have back pain after surgical repair does not seem to correlate at all with the success of the surgery.

I also remember years ago hearing Bob Tinkner talking about his work with people who had long lasting whiplash following road accidents. He found that if he used EMDR* on the memory of the accident the whiplash just went away. Did people tense and freeze at or a millisecond before impact and unconsciously decide it is safer to stay braced that way?  Bob is just one of a number of people who have been trying to unpick the psychological from the physiological elements of whiplash.  (The thriving industry in suing for whiplash after traffic accidents is another story.)

So how does doing EFT on a trauma memory get rid of pain that has been around for years?  I cannot pretend to completely understand how this happens. But I have some clues.

Professor Apakarian did not get involved in what emotion people had about their accidents but he did show that the continued existence of negative emotion was relevant.  From my own work with people who have had accidents and still have pain from them the emotions have typically included fear, anger with the person they felt was responsible, anger (with or without an urge to self-punishment) with themselves, anger or sadness about the consequences for themselves and other people.  Sometimes the emotions were not about the actual accident but about something that was said or done, or not said or done, afterwards. When these emotions are cleared people are often also free of on-going pain or have it greatly reduced.

The thing is people often do not realize they still have the emotion until EFT puts them in touch with it.  Doing EFT might start with working on something like seeing the headlights of a vehicle closing in, or the metallic sound of the impact or some aspect of the incident itself and only after tapping on that does the unconsciously stored emotion emerge and make itself available to tapping.

That is what I so love about EFT. It always seems to know where to go….Image

Posted on by Judy Byrne EFT Founding Master | Leave a comment