Most people who suffer from PTSD have experienced a traumatic interruption of their sense of reality. This violation of one’s normal sense of safety and well-being brings along intense feelings of fear, horror and helplessness, overwhelming the coping strategies for everyday stress.
Unable to discharge the awful intensity of the experience, the psyche responds by trying to repress and isolate the memories. A kind of emotional quarantine is established, producing something like an emotional cyst. The walling off of the trauma may be necessary just to get on with day-to-day tasks and survival. Unfortunately this process requires enormous amounts of psychic energy to maintain, and is not usually very successful.
Often PTSD sufferers find themselves triggered by small, seemingly inconsequential stimuli-anything from the sound of an engine backfiring, to a particular scent or the expression on a stranger’s face. These seemingly innocent stimuli are tied to the original memory and cause a breach in the protective wall. This may set off flashbacks, or episodes of anger, depression, insomnia or self-destructive behaviors.
In an effort to prevent this triggering, PTSD sufferers may become reclusive, obsessively avoiding certain situations or people. This list may grow over time, severely restricting normal activities. 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.
For some, the effort to maintain the repression will begin to cause memory problems, lethargy, trouble concentrating or emotional numbing. So much effort is going into isolating the trauma that little energy is left for normal life.
Unfortunately, most forms of traditional therapy offer little or no relief from these symptoms. Because they rely heavily on the client remembering, verbalizing and discussing their memories and feelings, most conventional therapy runs directly counter to the client’s desperate need to stay safe through repression. Sometimes well meaning therapists may do more harm than good by strongly re-triggering memories and strengthening the related neural pathways.
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 undertaking a systematic process of focusing on emotions, physical sensations and recollections. When applied properly, the technique most often provides immediate relief. Repeated rounds of tapping often bring about a complete discharge of the negative emotional intensity associated with a particular memory.
The memory itself is not removed, and in fact may become more clear and detailed, however the accompanying feelings (fear, guilt, anger, or horror for example) simply seem to disappear. Attempts to re-stimulate these feelings by recalling the memory in ever-greater detail are generally unsuccessful. Follow-up, even months later typically shows no return of these negative feelings.
One great advantage of the EFT process is that there are several well-established procedures that enable trained practitioners to carefully discharge memories without re-traumatizing the client. All certified practitioners are trained in the “tell a story” and “tearless trauma” techniques.
EFT is also a remarkably effective method. To fully discharge one specific memory of a traumatic incident 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 in 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 soldier 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 EMTs, victims of sexual assault and other forms of violence, 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 rapid results 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.