PTSD begins with a traumatic interruption of our experience of reality. Our usual sense of safety and well-being are violated and replaced by intense feelings of fear, horror and helplessness, overwhelming whatever coping strategies we’ve developed for everyday stress.
Whether this is the result of a single, discreet incident or a long series of terrible events, we have to keep on living and the simple demands of day-to-day life don’t stop just because we are in shock.
Unable to discharge the intense negative emotions, our psyche instead attempts to repress the traumatic memories, to quarantine them away from conscious awareness. Unfortunately, this walling off of the trauma requires enormous amounts of psychic energy to maintain and is not usually very successful. The feelings don’t just go away, rather they simmer and fester below the surface.
Those with PTSD often find themselves triggered by small, seemingly random things. It might be getting caught up in a crowd, or perhaps the smell of a particular spice in a Vietnamese restaurant. A car backfiring, or the expression on a stranger’s face. These apparently innocent stimuli are tied to the original memory and cause a breach in the protective wall. This may set off flashbacks, or surges of anger, fear, panic or depression.
Trying to prevent this kind of triggering, some PTSD sufferers become reclusive or even phobic, obsessively avoiding certain situations or people. They may turn to alcohol or other numbing agents, in an effort to shut down their “fight or flight” reactions. This often leads to a downward spiral of dysfunctional and deteriorating relationships. Close family members are often traumatized as a result.
For some, the effort to maintain the repression begins to cause memory problems, lethargy, trouble concentrating, insomnia or emotional numbing. So much effort is going into isolating the trauma that little energy is left for normal life.
Unfortunately, most conventional “talk” therapies require the client to remember, verbalize and discuss their memories and feelings. This process and runs directly counter to the client’s powerful subconscious need to stay safe through repression, and offers only a very gradual discharge of traumatic emotions.
Well meaning therapists may do more harm than good by strongly re-triggering traumatic memories and strengthening the related neural pathways. Instead of discharging the negative emotions, they become more deeply entrenched.
One treatment method that has demonstrated very promising results for PTSD relief is EFT (emotional freedom techniques). EFT or “tapping” operates on the premise that all negative emotions are a disruption in the body’s energy system—the same network of energy meridians that acupuncturists use.
Instead of using needles, the EFT practitioner has the client tap on specific acupuncture points with their fingers, while focusing on negative emotions, physical sensations and recollections. When applied properly, the technique often provides immediate relief. Repeated rounds of tapping may bring about a complete discharge of the negative emotional intensity associated with a particular memory.
This doesn’t mean the memories disappear. To the contrary, they may become more clear and detailed. They simply lose any emotional content. Feelings like fear, or anger, shame or grief seem to fade away. This process often seems to make room for insight and compassion. Follow-up, even months later typically shows no return of these negative feelings.
One great advantage of the EFT process is that it can work without re-traumatizing the client. All certified practitioners are trained in the “tell a story” and “tearless trauma” techniques that specifically avoid “flooding” the client with emotion.
EFT is also remarkably effective. To fully discharge one specific memory may take, on average, anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. These seemingly miraculous results are possible because EFT addressed the root of the problem: the disturbance in the client’s energy system, rather than hashing over the memory itself.
As specific memories are discharged one after another, a “generalization effect” begins to take place, and similar memories begin to lose their intensity automatically. In other words, if a combat veteran has 100 traumatic war memories, it may only be necessary to tap on ten to twenty of them for complete relief.
EFT has been used effectively for combat vets, police, fire and paramedics, victims of rape and violent assault, survivors of natural disasters, accidents, terrorist attacks and childhood abuse. As traumatic memories are “collapsed” the energy that was going toward repressing them is restored, and many related problems, including physical complaints, tend to spontaneously resolve.
EFT is a relatively new technique and is still considered “alternative” and so may not be covered by most health insurance plans. However, given the lack of effective conventional treatments for PTSD, EFT’s track record of immediate relief may make it the best and most cost effective approach for many PTSD sufferers. And because many EFT practitioners can work over the phone, sessions are accessible to almost anyone.
Rob Nelson is a Certified EFT Practitioner in Santa Rosa, California and by phone worldwide. His practice focuses on emotional trauma, and recovery from divorce. http://www.taprootsenergypsychology.com/