Energy psychology combines exposure therapy, a researched and established Western approach to treatment, with non-Western, holistic techniques of healing and spiritual development. Early developers of energy psychology include Fred Gallo, Roger Callahan, and David Feinstein.
The exposure therapy techniques used in energy therapy involve imagining and retelling traumatic memories and obtaining, in a safe environment, real-life experience with a feared object or situations. Interventions designed to heal disturbances in human electrical energy and the body’s electrical fields are integrated into the exposure process.
David Feinstein, a clinical psychologist and a major proponent of energy psychology, describes the approach as “acupuncture without needles." Although there are many variations of energy psychology, the most well-known and commonly practiced treatments utilize techniques from acupuncture and acupressure, such as body tapping. Body tapping involves stimulation of the points on the body also targeted in acupuncture, which are known as meridian points. The process is intended to send signals to the brain to help the brain regulate the emotions associated with mental health conditions.
Physical interventions in energy psychology, such as body tapping, are meant to work in combination with the person in therapy becoming mentally engaged in the feelings, thoughts, and/or behaviors that are targets for change in therapy. This mental engagement may occur through imagination or through actual participation in a feared situation. An individual in therapy for posttraumatic stress might be asked to imagine the traumatic event experienced while simultaneously performing body tapping, for example, and an individual with a phobia of spiders might perform body tapping while being gradually exposed to a spider.
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Energy psychology is based on the broad theory that mental health and physical health conditions are related to altered flow and function in the body’s electrical energies and energy fields. The idea that the body’s electricity and energy can be manipulated to produce healing and spiritual development is a root of many ancient, holistic approaches to medicine.
Energy psychologists believe physical interventions to regulate electrical signals or energy fields can be combined with evidence-based exposure therapy to retrain the brain and help individuals overcome any physical and emotional reactions affecting health and well-being. Traumatic events trapped in the mind-body system can have a negative impact on a person's outlook, experiences, emotional regulation, and ability to relate to others, and it is believed energy psychology techniques can help a person in therapy release these events more rapidly than they might with talking therapies alone.
A basic principle underlying energy psychology, as well as many other types of therapy, is the idea that traumatic memories and fears are problematic for some individuals because these memories and fears create a state called hyperarousal. Hyperarousal can be described by increased psychological and physiological activity involving muscular tension, decreased tolerance for pain, feelings of dread, jumpiness, difficulty sleeping, and increased emotional response. Many types of therapy, especially those that treat conditions such as anxiety and posttraumatic stress, help people reduce states of hyperarousal.
Specific to energy psychology is the theory that stimulation of meridian points can send signals to the brain to help reduce hyperarousal. Energy psychologists believe when this reduction in hyperarousal is paired with the memory of or exposure to things that produce anxiety and negative emotion, the body and mind become better able to create new, healthier responses. Proponents of energy psychology believe the repeated pairing of exposure and meridian point stimulation can lead individuals to experience less hyperarousal when they are exposed to previous triggers of hyperarousal outside of therapy.
The most well-known and commonly practiced types of energy psychology are thought field therapy, tapas acupressure technique, and the emotional freedom technique. Some proponents of energy psychology hold these methods of treatment to be successful in helping individuals recover completely and rapidly from a range of mental health concerns.
- Thought field therapy (TFT): This therapy was developed by Dr. Roger Callahan, who became the President and CEO of Callahan Techniques, a company that provides training and resources in TFT. TFT involves a specific sequence of tapping of various areas of the body. Dr. Roger Callahan developed what he called “algorithms” for determining the ordering of tapping sequences. In TFT, the individual in therapy is asked to remember a painful or traumatic memory. Tapping sequences can be administered by the treatment provider, but the individual in therapy can also be trained to self-administer the tapping sequence.
- Tapas acupressure technique (TAT): This form of energy psychology was developed by Tapas Fleming, a licensed acupuncturist. TAT uses pressure, which is self-administered with one’s fingers to spots near the eyes, above the nose, and behind the head, in what is called the TAT pose. While in the TAT pose, individuals in therapy are asked to focus on negative images associated with what has brought them to treatment, then on positive images, then on what they believe to be the cause of their current problems, and then on healing and forgiveness related to the mental health condition. This procedure may be taught once and then practiced by individuals outside of therapy, but it may also be practiced in repeated therapy sessions.
- Emotional freedom techniques (EFT): EFT involves pairing the memory of a traumatic or anxiety-producing event with the sequential tapping of 12 specific meridian points and the use of spoken self-affirmations. For example, an individual participating in EFT might be asked to think about a time when they were embarrassed, say something to themselves such as, “Even though I made a mistake, I accept myself with deep compassion,” and then complete the sequential tapping procedures. EFT procedures can be self-administered or performed by a trained professional. EFT, which was developed by Gary Craig, is a variant of TFT.
Many energy psychology techniques can be self-administered, and some individuals are successfully able to address difficult emotions and shift behavior patterns on their own. In cases of severe trauma, however, treatment from a qualified practitioner may be recommended.
Energy psychology is practiced by some professionals who treat PTSD, anxiety, phobia, addiction, and a variety of other mental health and physical health conditions. Many find the unique energy work techniques to be easy to learn, and they can typically be practiced by any type of helping professional. Medical doctors, counselors, psychologists, and holistic healers are just a few of the types of professionals who practice energy psychology.
Energy psychology practitioners may integrate contemporary psychological interventions, such as mindfulness techniques or cognitive reframing, with the stimulation of one or more human energy systems in order to release blocked traumatic events. A practitioner typically administers stimulation to specific energy points, or acupoints, on the person’s skin while the person focuses on a particular concern or a preferred positive mental state, The physical stimulation of acupoints is believed to create electrical and chemical signals in the brain that are thought to help normalize cortisol levels and balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, thus reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress, among other concerns.
Energy psychology has generated a significant amount of controversy. A key concern related to the approach is the current lack of knowledge about the mechanisms believed to make its procedures, such as body-tapping, work. Although many claim to have helped people in treatment through energy therapy, there is a great deal of debate among practitioners on why energy psychology works. Psychological science underlies the exposure therapy procedures that are a major part of energy psychology. However, it is not known if, why, or how procedures such as body-tapping make exposure therapy more effective.
Although energy psychology has gained recent attention in research on possible outcomes of therapy, many have found flaws in the existing research on energy psychology. A critique of energy therapy research written by Dr. Richard J. McNally, a psychologist at Harvard University, points out that in some cases, research has failed to follow established guidelines for avoiding major issues believed to interfere with the credibility of results, such as researcher bias and placebo effects.
Researchers and clinicians who criticize energy psychology also note the financial profit gained by proponents of energy psychology from the method's success. These profits may be generated through fees collected for providing the therapy or from the sale of items related to energy psychology, such as trainings, books, and seminars. Profit gained from the success of a therapy is not necessarily a concern. However, some researchers supporting energy psychology have failed to disclose their financial affiliations in research reports, a practice generally considered to be unethical.
A number of organizations list, certify, and/or provide training to energy psychology practitioners, who may take a variety of approaches to this type of therapy. One such organization is the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology, a nonprofit that offers membership, certification, and training information, along with other resources, on its website. Others include Energy Diagnostic and Treatment Methods, Advanced Integrative Therapy, and the Canadian Association for Integrative and Energy Therapies.
- Feinstein, D. (2008). Energy psychology: A review of the preliminary evidence. Psychotherapy: Research, Practice, Training, 45, 199–213.
- Feindstein, D. (2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of efficacy. Review of General Psychology, 16, 364-380.
- Guadiano, B., & Herbert, J. (2000, July 1). Can We Really Tap Our Problems Away? A Critical Analysis of Thought Field Therapy. Retrieved December 4, 2015, from http://www.csicop.org/si/show/can_we_really_tap_our_problems_away_a_critical_analysis_of_thought_field_th
- McNally, R. J. (2001). Tertullian’s motto and Callahan’s method. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 1171–1174.
- Pignotti, M. and Thyer, B. (2009). Some comments on “Energy psychology: A review of the evidence”: Premature conclusions based on incomplete evidence? Psychotherapy: Research, Practice, Training, 46, 257-261.
- About thought field therapy: Meridian energy tapping: Tapping therapy (2011). Retrieved from: http://www.rogercallahan.com/callahan.php
- About Tapas Fleming and TAT. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.tatlife.com/about
- What is EFT? – Theory, Science and Uses. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.emofree.com/eft-tutorial/tapping-basics/what-is-eft.html