CASE STUDIES; No-Talk Cure for Trauma: Thought Field Therapy Seems to Violate All the Rules

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The traditional treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has frequently been lengthy and emotionally demanding, for both therapist and client, often with disappointing results. Perhaps the most common treatment is the behavioral flooding procedure, which requires clients to relive painful memories and emotions, even though this approach often triggers panic episodes, depression and, in some cases, alcohol-abuse relapse. But for the past five years, I have been using a method that has been consistently successful in quickly and permanently freeing clients from the effects of trauma without having to resort to medication, cathartic abreaction or painful, protracted discussion of the details of the trauma. While the most severely and extensively traumatized clients may require additional therapeutic work in putting their lives back together, I have found that rapid, painless neutralization of the trauma is indeed possible.

The method for treating trauma that I now use, Thought Field Therapy (TFT), is also one of the strangest I have ever encountered. Developed by psychologist Roger J. Callahan, it involves a true paradigmatic shift in the way therapy is done. TFT is not a conversational therapy, although conversation certainly takes place within the session. It does not entail challenging beliefs, inducing trance, visualizing outcomes, anchoring desired states or anthropomorphizing disorders, like other popular trauma treatments. Instead, TFT directs patients to tap with their fingertips at key locations on their bodies, while thinking about the trauma or other psychological problems from which they desire relief. According to Callahan, the tapping alleviates psychological problems by addressing the body's bioenergy system, an approach that has also been the basis of acupuncture for thousands of years. By removing disruptions within the energy system caused by the trauma--what Callahan calls "perturbations"--the trauma's emotional and behavioral consequences can be rapidly resolved. Tapping at specific meridian points in sequence seems to activate the energy system and eliminate the perturbation--the initial domino that sets the whole process of emotional distress in motion. This approach is premised on the view that the trauma is fundamentally "contained" within the energy system, rather than within memory, cognition, chemistry or neurology. By tapping on specific acupuncture meridian energy points, TFT practitioners try to restore balance to the energy system and eliminate the symptoms of trauma within a few sessions at most, eliminating many months or years of therapy.

Kate, a 40-year-old woman married for the third time, entered therapy on the recommendation of her sister, whom I had treated months earlier for physical-abuse trauma and social phobia. Kate was experiencing generalized anxiety and frequent, severe panic attacks, often several times a day, involving tension, tachycardia, difficulty breathing and fear of losing her mind or even dying. She was also phobic of driving and was anxious as a passenger. She had a history of alcohol abuse and was increasingly relying on alcohol to handle her anxiety.

Describing her first panic episode, Kate nervously related an event that had occurred 10 years earlier. She and her second husband, whom she referred to as "the love of my life," were attending a work-related social event. As Kate was mingling with her colleagues, she noticed that one woman was sitting next to Kate's husband with her hand between his legs. The woman had been drinking heavily, and so had Kate's husband. "I was humiliated! I thought he'd get up and leave, but he didn't!" Kate told me.

Almost matter-of-factly, Kate continued, "We got into a huge argument that night at home. …