POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
Laurance Johnston, Ph.D.
PTSD: A POSSIBLE
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is an
extraordinarily easy-to-use, energy-psychology technique for promoting
mind-body healing. After introducing the technique in
Part 1, we will now discuss its potential for treating
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition plaguing many
returning combat veterans.
As summarized before, EFT is a form of
acupressure-assisted exposure therapy. The EFT procedure consists of
tapping on key acupressure (i.e., acupuncture) points while focusing on
specific emotional issues. Interestingly, some of these points are
locations we instinctively rub when under stress. If you have limited
finger mobility, you can use your hands or visualize the tapping.
Although often just used to energetically deflate
life’s ongoing irritants that drag us down, EFT can be very effective in
treating major mental or physical trauma - such as child abuse, spinal
cord injury (SCI), or combat-related events. These traumatizing
incidents can be emotional minefields buried in our consciousness,
waiting for the right triggers to explode and sabotage life. Basically,
EFT is a behavioral desensitization technique that defuses the emotional
charge on memories so they are no longer experienced as being painful or
Although EFT has been criticized by skeptics as not
being an “evidenced-based therapy,” preliminary studies suggest that it
works much faster and with greater efficacy than conventional
The basic EFT-tapping procedures are simple and can
be easily learned by reading or watching various, readily available
resources. (Editorial note: if possible, include procedural sidebar
again.) For major issues like PTSD, it is helpful to be guided initially
by an experienced EFT practitioner because complex issues need to be
gently peeled away. However, even in the most serious PTSD cases, many
have benefitted from self-learned EFT practice. A good starting point is
the book “EFT for PTSD,” authored by EFT developer Gary Craig.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that arises after
living through a shocking event in which serious physical harm or threat
of such harm occurred in susceptible individuals. The incident causes a
fight-or-flight, hyperarousal state that can turn into full-blown PTSD.
PTSD is one of the ‘invisible wounds’ of combat, and afflicted
1) relive the traumatizing
event through nightmares and flashbacks, and have strong physical
reactions when reminded of it.
2) avoid reminding
activities, thoughts, feelings, and conversations.
3) are unable to remember
event details, feel emotionally numb and detached from the present
4) lose interest in
important activities, feel alone with nothing to look forward to, can’t
experience normal emotions.
5) can’t relax or
concentrate; have trouble sleeping; are irritable, on guard, or angry.
6) are more prone to
breakups, divorce, and relationship issues.
7) often use drugs and
alcohol to self-medicate the pain and anxiety.
PTSD has been traditionally treated using
psychotherapy and antidepressant medications with questionable
effectiveness. Although we tend to associate PTSD with more serious
traumatization, like combat, it represents an affliction spectrum
encompassing anyone whose thoughts and behaviors that have been affected
by a life-threatening, traumatizing situation.
Clearly, spinal cord injury, regardless of cause,
falls within this spectrum. Within the SCI community, we have all heard
the what-if stories concerning injuries. For example, a friend has
damned himself for years because he ordered decaf coffee before falling
asleep driving home. Another friend has knocked himself for 30 years for
scrambling up a wobbly ladder to fix defective roof flashing before a
fast-approaching storm. This is baggage no one needs to carry around
forever. In other words, EFT’s healing possibilities aren’t just limited
to, for example, the soldier surviving an IED roadside bomb explosion,
but also can be used to deal with the seemingly mundane actions or
decisions whose life-changing consequences haunt us.
Studies are demonstrating that combat exacts a huge
toll on our returning veterans:
|All veterans in war zones are at risk for PTSD
(Institute of Medicine).|
|300,000 troops may require treatment for PTSD.|
|27% of noncommissioned officers serving three
or more tours of duty may have PTSD.|
|After deployment, 49%, 38%, and 31% of
National Guard, Army, and Marine troops report psychological
|PTSD is associated with addictions,
depression, anxiety, or other mental-health issues. Overall, 83% of
individuals with PTSD have additional psychological disorders.|
|Antidepressant medications are prescribed for
12% of soldiers stationed in Iraq and 17% in Afghanistan.|
|PTSD and depression in returning veterans will
cost nation $6.2 billion in the two years after deployment.|
|Approximately 120 veterans commit suicide
Such statistics underscore the problem’s severity
and, in turn, the need for new solutions, one of which may be EFT.
Clearly, given the technique’s simplicity, there is nothing to lose –
except allegiance to failed treatment paradigms - and perhaps much to
Because some have suggested that PTSD symptoms are
merely the consequence of a veteran’s maladjusted personality,
scientists have examined the issue in identical twins by comparing
symptoms in a twin with Vietnam-combat exposure with the twin that did
not. If the skeptics were correct, the non-traumatized twin would have
similar symptoms due to having the same genetic makeup and upbringing.
This was not the situation. The investigators concluded “the majority of
symptoms reported by combat veterans with PTSD would not have been
present were it not for their exposure to traumatic events.”
EFT & PTSD
Dr. Dawson Church (Santa Rosa, CA) recently
published the results of a pilot study treating PTSD-afflicted veterans
with EFT. Subject age ranged from 26 to 61, and seven subjects were male
and four female. Although nine had served in Vietnam or the Iraqi wars,
two were family members with “transferred military PTSD.” Several had
PTSD was measured with assessment scales and
questionnaires adopted by the military. The scales evaluated a variety
of PTSD symptoms, including anxiety, depression, obsessive or psychotic
behaviors, phobias, hostility, paranoia, insomnia, etc. Evaluations were
carried out one month before the study, at the beginning and end of
treatment, and periodically thereafter.
Subjects received several 60-minute EFT sessions
daily for five days. At the end of the intervention, they were given an
instructional DVD so they could continue the practice at home. Before
treatment, the average PTSD score was 62 on a scale ranging from 85
(most severe) to 17, meaning the subjects had a high baseline level of
PTSD. After the sessions, the average PTSD score decreased to 23, a huge
reduction. After 30 days, 90 days, and one year, the scores were still
only 32, 33, and 33, respectively. The data implied that EFT is an
effective tool for persistent, long-term PTSD alleviation.
Other studies indicate that EFT exerts specific
physiological effects. For example, it reduces cortisol, a hormonal
marker of stress. It also induces a shift in brain waves. Specifically,
before EFT, abnormal brain waves were observed when thinking about the
traumatizing event, whereby after treatment, a more neutral pattern
One subject’s experience is recounted in the
Because these are pilot studies with a limited
sample size, results cannot be over extrapolated. Fortunately, larger
studies are being initiated at several major research institutions,
including the Columbia Pacific Medical Center (San Francisco) and Walter
Reed Army Medical Center.
A Personal Reflection
(from Church D. Traumatology, 16(1), 2010)
“I’m a Vietnam veteran and I suffer from
PTSD. At the VA I was also diagnosed as bipolar or manic
depressive. I have nightmares, I spent since 1997 in hospitals
and institutions I take meds for bipolar, it’s hard to get any
alternative treatment at the VA. My world wasn’t that great,
everything in my life was a major challenge. When I came to the
EFT event I had no clue what I was walking into…”
“One of my bad Vietnam War memories
involved an enemy attack where I had to pull bodies out of the
rubble. I talked about it at the EFT event and the intensity was
so bad I had to leave the room because I felt I was going to
puke. Now that EFT has been done on it, I can think the same
incident with little or no intensity. It is no longer part of my
dreams. That’s a kind of freedom I never thought I would have.
Other war memories have faded as well…”
I’ve been doing EFT ever
since. The changes in my life are 110 percent totally different.
Once you start EFT it’s a totally different way you handle
things. Everything like sleep and nightmares and even suicide
thoughts all come into a place where a total turnaround happens.
I can’t explain it...”
Clearly, combat veterans have much to offer society
through the insights and greater awareness they have gained from their
challenging experiences. I, myself, have felt honored to have worked
with so many of them over the years. Perhaps EFT is one tool that will
help transform their traumatizing experiences into needed understandings
that, as Buddhist Scholar, Thich Nhat Hanh stated, can illuminate the
way for the whole nation.
“Veterans are the light at the tip of the
candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If veterans
can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace,
they can share with the rest of society the realities of war.
And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each
other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts
again.” – Buddhist Scholar, Thich Nhat Hanh
BASIC EFT PROCEDURES
1) Start by picking the issue, attempting
to be as specific as possible. For general, amorphous issues,
dissect them into component parts and work on each separately.
2) Assess issue intensity on a scale from
zero to 10 (most intense).
3) Create a reminder phase to repeat while
tapping. For example, if you have fear of giving talks, your
reminder phrase might be “public speaking.”
4) Locate the EFT “tender spot” by going to
the base of the neck where a tie is knotted, and then go down
three inches and over three inches. This area is sometimes
tender when rubbed because of lymphatic congestion.
5) While rubbing the tender spot, state the
following affirmation three times “Even though I have this fear
of public speaking [or war memory, fear of flying, alcohol
craving, etc], I deeply and completely accept myself.”
Using several fingertips, tap 7-10 times at
each of the indicated locations (see illustration) while
repeating your reminder phase. The tapping points proceed down
the body, making them easier to memorize.
Face and Body: 1) Beginning of
eyebrow on each side of nose, 2) Side of eyes, 3) Under each
eye, 4) Under the nose, 5) Middle of chin, 6) Beginning of
collarbone where the sternum and first rib meets, 7) Four inches
under each arm, and 8) One inch below each nipple.
Hands & Fingers: Tap the 1) outside
cuticle edge of your thumb at the base of the thumbnail, 2)
thumb-facing edge of each finger (except ring finger) at
fingernail base, and 3) the fleshy outside edge of the palm used
to deliver a karate chop (To save time, tapping can be
consolidated, e.g., the outside edge of your right thumb can be
used to tap on the outside edge of your left thumb, etc.)
A longer EFT version includes tapping on
the hand’s gamut point (see illustration) while carrying
out various eye movements, counting, and humming tunes. Although
sounding strange, different parts of the brain are stimulated
with each of these actions.
Finally, reassess the intensity of the
issue again and repeat the cycle.
Special thanks are extended to all my EFT teachers, especially
www.eftuniverse.com - a comprehensive EFT website listing
many resources (including free “get-started package”).
www.stressproject.org – Iraq Vets Stress Project helps
veterans access low-cost EFT.
EFT for PTSD, Gary Craig, Energy
Psychology Press, 2008.
Operation: Emotional Freedom – The Answer.
Skywriter Communications, 2010 (available at
elsewhere) - a moving documentary demonstrating EFT’s life-affirming
1) Gilbertson MW, et al. Is trauma a causal
agent of psychopathological symptoms in posttraumatic stress
disorder? Findings from identical twins discordant for combat
exposure. J Clin Psychiatry 2010; 71(10).
2) Church D. The treatment of combat veterans
using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques): a pilot protocol.
Traumatology 2010; 16(1).
3) Diepold JH, Goldstein DM. Thought field
therapy and QEEG changes in the treatment of trauma: a case study.
Traumatology 2009; 15(1).
4) Dinter I. Veterans: Finding their way home
with EFT. Int J Healing & Caring September 2008.
Adapted from article appearing in February 2011 Paraplegia News (For subscriptions,
call 602-224-0500) or go to