(by Robert Schwarz, PhD, DCEP)
In a recent blog titled “The Amygdala Is NOT the Brain’s Fear Center”, neuroscientist Joseph Ledoux laments that the amygdala has “gone from an obscure area of the brain to practically a household word, one that has come to be synonymous with ‘fear’.” He goes on to say, “It is not a scientific finding but instead a conclusion based on an interpretation of a finding. “
In my opinion, what Ledoux goes on to describe fits very well with the experience of treating people with energy psychology. More on this in a moment.
Ledoux says that the conscious feeling of fear is not the same thing as the non-conscious detection of threats and control of the body’s reactions to that threat. The amygdala is responsible for the latter, but it does not by itself produce the emotion of fear. Ledoux describes a much more complex process that underlies the construction of the feeling of fear. It includes attention, perception, memory, arousal, appraisal and so on.
What does this have to do with energy psychology? Whether TFT, TAT or EFT are employed, the usual experience for someone being treated for trauma is that, after a few rounds of treatment, the client who had a fear level of “9” thinks of the event and for “some strange reason” no longer feels in danger. The fear is gone. This has nothing to do with changing the client’s logic or cognitive appraisal. The detection of threat is removed and mobilization of the body to deal with the threat ceases.
Think about someone who is freaked out by a flashback or traumatic memory. They consciously know it is in the past. You can tell them there is no danger. Does this help? Not really. The sense of danger wells up from the body/unconscious. Ledoux is absolutely correct; the emotion of fear is a constructed event that includes components from the amygdala, namely the detection of threat and body’s mobilization response to that threat. But from where does the threat come?
In PTSD the threat comes from an internal memory! The person keeps reacting to the memories (conscious or unconscious) as if they are current, as if the threat is current. None of this is conscious. The person has negative reactions without really understanding why. The memories themselves (both conscious and unconscious) become conditioned as dangerous. It is as if the amygdala fails to know the difference between a real outside danger and the internal memory of past outside danger.
When we use energy psychology, one thing that appears to occur is that the amygdala is no longer detecting threat from the memory. No threat, no response, no fear. This also makes sense with what I have been saying about polyvagal theory. And it fits in with memory reconsolidation theory and energy psychology. (For more on this, see my video blog, “Energy Psychology: An Integrated Neuroscience Paradigm”.)
The clarification that Ledoux makes strengthens the argument that energy psychology shuts down limbic responses at a sub-cortical level. Energy psychology works to shut down the non-conscious perception of threat and the subsequent body reactions, eliminating the precursors to fear.
To learn more about the research and theory behind energy psychology, visit energy psych.org/research.
Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP
ACEP Executive Director
Want to learn more about the latest science that supports energy psychology and explore new body-mind healing methods? Join us at the 18th International Energy Psychology Conference, June 2-5, 2016. Learn more.
Image Credit: “Amygdala” by Images are generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). – from Anatomography, website maintained by Life Science Databases(LSDB)