Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

In Consultation, Teaching Couples to Tap

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

In Consultation, Teaching Couples to Tap

Article excerpt

In Consultation

Teaching Couples to Tap

How to Use Acupoints to Overcome Blocks to Intimacy

By David Feinstein

Q: I've heard about energy psychology and the use of tapping with PTSD, phobias, and depression. Can this approach be extended to issues that commonly come up in couples therapy?

A: As you know, but others may not, tapping refers to the stimulation of acupuncture points (acupoints), by tapping on them, as part of a self-help technique or as a component of psychotherapy. Phrases or images that mentally activate a difficult memory, a problematic emotional or behavioral response, or a desired outcome accompany the tapping, which involves the client firmly tapping for about 5 to 10 seconds each on about a dozen acupoints. Techniques designed to facilitate left-right hemispheric integration, such as humming and counting, are also often part of the protocol. Self-reported shifts in emotional and physiological states (rated on a 0 to 10 scale and taken many times in a single session) guide the therapist in forming the words and imagery that will accompany the next round of tapping.

So the short answer to your question is absolutely. Couples therapy provides a rich context for acupoint tapping, both in the office and as a tool to use at home. The primary psychotherapeutic effect of acupoint tapping is the rapid reduction of limbic system arousal, but its applications are varied. As a back-home tool, for instance, you can teach a couple to use tapping when either partner feels an interaction is becoming uncomfortably charged. At that point, they can both begin to tap to calm themselves before deciding how to continue the discussion. They learn how to do this during therapy sessions and make a firm agreement to invoke the method at home when arguments begin to heat up.

In the office, you can apply tapping to defuse the triggers that evoke anger, hurt, or resentment. Specifically, you can decrease the emotional charge one of the partners carries from earlier relationships or from an earlier time in the current relationship. You can trace a dysfunctional behavior or emotional response to formative experiences and--while the other partner witnesses--address the attachment wounds connected to those experiences. The empathy and understanding that emerges in the partner who's watching can be a game changer, building a path to healing through some of the couple's most emotionally hazardous territory.

Couples therapists who introduce tapping to achieve such outcomes can still use their basic therapeutic approach. They can stay attuned to the connection between the partners, to their own connection with each partner, to each partner's history and their history as a couple, and to other core issues. But with tapping, they have a tool for zeroing in on--and rapidly shifting--the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses in each partner that are causing the difficulties in the relationship. Here's an example of how this worked with a couple in my own practice.

Jim and Elizabeth, both in their early 30's, had been together for eight years when they entered counseling. Elizabeth was certain that Jim, despite what he said, no longer loved her. Jim felt he was continually trying to offer his wife emotional support, but that his efforts were misconstrued and harshly judged. Most of the time Jim and Elizabeth felt a positive spark in their connection, but hard times had become more frequent since Elizabeth had taken a new job as an event planner a year earlier. She'd often come home feeling demoralized, full of self-criticism, and seething with resentment that her supervisors were getting credit for her successes. Jim's efforts to provide comfort seemed only to irritate her. In turn, he'd respond with frustration and anger, leading her to withdraw and sink even deeper into despair. Not only were her problems at work unresolved, she'd lament, but her husband seemed incapable of providing what she needed emotionally

As they described their respective sides of this story, one thing that stood out for me was Elizabeth's inability to sooth herself when in pain. …

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