Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

BOOKMARKS; Assessing the New 'Energy' Therapies: We Still Don't Know Why They Work, or If They Really Do

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

BOOKMARKS; Assessing the New 'Energy' Therapies: We Still Don't Know Why They Work, or If They Really Do

Article excerpt

Finding the Energy to Heal

By Maggie Phillips

W. W. Norton. 233 pp. ISBN: 0-393-70326-6

Reading about the techniques being promoted on the psychotherapy workshop circuit these days is a little like cleaning up a spilt bowl of alphabet soup. All kinds of new therapies are being touted, most of them identified by acronym. There's EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), TFT (Thought Field Therapy) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). These approaches, and many others, are part of a loosely defined movement congregating under the banners of "energy therapies" or "mindbody techniques." In Finding the Energy to Heal , psychologist Maggie Phillips promises us a road map through this new territory. Phillips claims to integrate traditional psychological understandings of clients' difficulties--attachment wounds or childhood trauma, for instance--with "special tools to activate energy shifts that can rebalance the mindbody system," and thereby resolve the past trauma.

According to Phillips, EMDR, TFT, therapeutic massage and hypnotic imagery techniques can help to dissolve energy blockages in the body that have resulted from past trauma. When energy is freed, the trauma is resolved and a profound transformation of symptoms is made possible. While this is an intriguing proposal, and one that is increasingly popular with clinicians, Phillips fails to take it to the level that makes a credible case.

The book is not without strengths. Phillips provides concise and lucid descriptions of a range of new therapeutic techniques. In describing EMDR, for example, she tells us how she helps clients settle on a conflict-free target image (a sunny day at the beach, perhaps); and then "installs" that image using the lateral eye movements. The conflict-free target serves as both the image of success, and as a "safe zone" to which a client can retreat when examining the symptom (anxiety about episodes of dizziness, for instance, in one of Phillips's examples) becomes too stressful. As clients imagine themselves in the stressful situation and continue the lateral eye movements, the underlying cognitions and repressed experiences that contribute to the stress come spontaneously into awareness. The client re-experiences these thoughts and feelings while in the "safe zone," and they lose their symptomatic power.

In addition to describing the techniques, Phillips provides compelling clinical stories that suggest that some of the therapies can be used more widely than previously supposed. EMDR and TFT, for instance, have been used primarily to treat trauma patients. However, Phillips has used these techniques in treating clients with migraine headaches, pain, radiation-induced nausea and other physical ailments. By focusing on the importance of ameliorating physical symptoms, she reminds us how intricately mind and body are intertwined.

Despite its strengths, however, there are troubling holes in Finding the Energy to Heal . While EMDR has been studied more extensively than have the other therapies, there is currently intense debate about whether it works and, if it does, whether eye movement has anything to do with its success. Meanwhile, TFT and the other approaches discussed in the book have barely been studied at all. Yet by ignoring the controversy swirling around these techniques, Phillips undermines her credibility. Even if research evidence is lacking, or controversial, evaluating what is there and acknowledging the need for more would make the book more evenhanded.

At a more fundamental level, Finding the Energy to Heal doesn't establish a relationship among the techniques Phillips uses. She initially claims that these approaches all share a focus on the body's "energy systems." (It should be noted that even the existence of such systems is in doubt.) Later, however, she admits that neither imagery nor hypnosis directly affect the body's energy. Such fuzziness makes her schemas for combining these techniques seem arbitrary, and dependent primarily on the experience of the therapist. …

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