How to respond when they say there is little evidence for energy psychology

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(by Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP)

During one of our coaching calls in the Science of Energy Healing course, a number of people raised this question. “What can we say to organizations that state there is no research supporting energy psychology (or energy healing)?” As fate would have it, I am currently in the middle of just such a situation. ACEP had arranged for me to teach a webinar on energy psychology for therapists treating trauma. The webinar was for an organization that markets itself as supporting clients in getting effective therapy and therapists in giving the same. A few days ago, I was notified that they were canceling the webinar for a CE reason. I was able to immediately resolve that problem. I then asked if the webinar would now be held and I got this response:

I have reviewed your presentation content with the executive team at xxx.org. We have decided to stand by our original decision to cancel the presentation on energy psychology. We continue to have concerns about the lack of published, empirical evidence for the efficacy of this approach.

As many of you are aware, there is a great deal of misinformation or lack of information in the world about energy psychology. It is like a bad rumor in high school. Once the rumor is out, even if proven incorrect it just does not go away. This is why it is so important to challenge these things on an organizational level. In this case, apparently fairly high-ranking people in this organization that ought to know what is going on in the field are years behind the times. So, how to respond? Let me be frank, the first drafts of my email had a somewhat “different tone” than what I eventually sent. It’s okay to write those emails – just don’t send them. I think the email below strikes a good balance of information and assuredness without being hostile. It does then call them out on their process. That might be a questionable move. But I think it was fair in this instance, since they cancelled a webinar that had been on the books for months.

Your decision is deeply concerning. It would appear that your team is simply unaware of the significant amount of research on energy psychology. Exactly how have you reached your conclusion; based on what kind of review? Energy psychology has over 60 published studies in refereed journals, 20 RCTs, with 98+% of findings supporting the efficacy of energy psychology. Of the studies looking at follow-up from 3 months to 2 years, 100% found that the gains held. There is even a meta-analysis showing medium effect sizes. In a world of over 400 therapies, most of which have no research, these findings place energy psychology in the top 10% of all therapies in terms of research on effectiveness.

Furthermore, the research on energy psychology approaches suggests that not only is energy psychology effective, it may be more effective than many other approaches, especially for trauma. Energy psychology fits in with the cutting edge of trauma treatment such as, body-based approaches, polyvagal theory and memory re-consolidation work. Energy psychology is deeply supportive of patients. It is a non-abreactive approach that is non-pathologizing and offers self help protocols. This is why luminaries in the field such as Bessel van der Kolk and Stephen Porges are supportive of energy psychology.

As a matter of process, I am also disturbed by your unwillingness to have a conversation with me. I am the executive director of an organization that represents over 1200 practitioners who use energy psychology approaches. There are many thousands of therapists who are not in ACEP who also use energy psychology in one form or another. Hundreds of thousands of consumers are aware of or use “tapping”. If your team had concerns, why not arrange for conversation?

Sincerely…..

They have not replied to me yet. I will follow up in a few days. Feel free to use my “elevator speech” above.

A related issue is that people want a dossier of information to give boards or committees to help persuade them when they raise the “no evidence” issue. The issue becomes how deep do you want to go. Here is a starting point.

  • A 2012 review of research in energy psychology in the Review of General Psychology. This is the reference that I drew most of my statistics from. This journal is considered one of the flagship journals of the American Psychological Association.  (Feinstein, D(2012). Acupoint stimulation in treating psychological disorders: Evidence of Efficacy. Review of General Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028602)

  • The first meta-analysis of energy psychology. A meta-analysis is an analysis of other studies. It looks at how they all come together. A meta-analysis can’t even be conducted until there are sufficient studies to analyze, and when a meta-analysis finds an effect, it is a big deal in terms of a technique being “evidence based”. It should be noted that this analysis was super strict. It threw out some of the best studies for statistical reasons. Even with that, it still found a moderate effect. Most psychotherapy meta-analyses end up with moderate effects.  (Gilomen, S. & Lee, C.W. (2015). The efficacy of acupoint stimulation in the treatment of psychological distress: A meta-analysis. Behav. Ther. & Exp. Psychiatry. 48 (2015) 140e148)

Finally, it is very important to note that the entire premise that evidence-based approaches are somehow superior to good clinical practice is not completely evidenced based. Irony – get it? This article by Wampold & Imel is an important read on this topic. I will discuss it in a later blog.

Robert Schwarz, PsyD, DCEP

Executive Director, ACEP

Update: July 22, 2016.  Since this blog was published in Dec 2015  many changes have occurred. An additional 3 meta-analyses have been published and 2 more are in the process of publication. All have found large effect sizes. See ACEP’s research pages    There are now  a total of over 100 studies and publications in referred journals on EP.  There are now over 82 studies published on EP – 98% of them have positive findings. The government agency SAMSHA has approved Thought Field Therapy as evidenced based for trauma  in their National Registry of Evidenced Based Programs and Practices http://nrepp.samhsa.gov. Lastly, the National Institute of Health has an energy medicine data base of over 600 energy medicine publications.

Author, Tools for Transforming Trauma & We’re No Fun Anymore

energypsych.org

 

Comments

  1. This is perfect timing because there is someone on Quora that is promotion the statements of Wikipedia that energy healing is “fake – pseudo-science.” I sent him the links to all the studies and to the research page on ACEP’s website. He refused to look at the studies. At that point I realized he was simply on a witch hunt and not open to scientific inquiry.

    But I did take your statement and add a few paragraphs from EFTUniverse’s page about the State of EP Research and sent that to him. I doubt that I will persuade him, but at least the information is out there for whomever else reads his post.

  2. Philippe Isler says:

    That’s a really useful piece, Bob, especially the “elevator speech”. I have already used it in a letter to an author of a study on long-term effects of PTSD (your Media Response team in action, folks!) But you could add Robert Scaer as a proponent, as in his article from 2006 The Precarious Present in which he says:
    So, what therapeutic processes might convince the amygdale to “downregulate?”
    I am not touting any specific approach. But what we know about
    the neurophysiology of trauma suggests that some of the so-called somatic
    and energy therapies, such as Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, Emotionally
    Focused Therapy (EFT), and Thought Field Therapy (TFT), may be
    particularly well equipped to escort a traumatized person from the past back
    to the present.

    • Thanks Philipe. Yes it is a very good point that down regulation of not just the amygdala but also the vagal system should be what any therapy does. I would add that it should also meet the criteria for memory reconsolidating. And EP approaches appear to do this.

  3. That’s a really useful piece, Bob, especially the “elevator speech”. I have already used it in a letter to an author of a study on long-term effects of PTSD (your Media Response team in action, folks!) But you could add Robert Scaer as a proponent, as in his article from 2006 The Precarious Present in which he says:
    “So, what therapeutic processes might convince the amygdale to “downregulate?”
    I am not touting any specific approach. But what we know about
    the neurophysiology of trauma suggests that some of the so-called somatic
    and energy therapies, such as Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, Emotionally
    Focused Therapy (EFT), and Thought Field Therapy (TFT), may be
    particularly well equipped to escort a traumatized person from the past back
    to the present.”

  4. Dee Blinka says:

    Superb! And note that this skeptical reception of Energy Medicine and its stellar research record is exactly the same totally unfair reception which EMDR receives!, 25 years since its inception. Reading Iain McGilchrist’s
    “The Master and his Emissary” one finds the reason why such uninformed scepticism exists.
    The Master is betrayed by his Emissary, as in the fable. In the Western Hemisphere the Master is the Right Hemisphere, betrayed by the Left Hemisphere, which as Ramachandran has shown, if it does not understand something, it makes it up.

  5. Dee Blinka says:

    Superb! Thank you!
    This skepticism by the xxx.org reminds me of the skepticism with which EMDR is still met after 25 years. In “The Master and his Emissary”, Iain McGilchrist , (Yale University Press, 2009), explains how in Western culture, the Master (the right hemisphere), is betrayed by the Emissary (left hemisphere); when the left hemisphere does not understand something, as Ramachandran, V.S., (Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind, HarperCollins, London, 2005) tells us, “it makes it up!”

  6. Thank you for this wonderful summation. I was sitting in a meeting 2 days ago with a research team here in Canada doing an overview of their research on EFT for children and teens at high risk. I offered them some of what you have in the article but I’ll also forward so that they can connect and have everything in one place. Cheers!

  7. The implementation of any new psychotherapy originates from consistent efficacy in reducing psychological symptoms and disorders. It is then necessary that research prove it’s’ effectiveness. This is especially true when the concepts underlying the new approach are significantly different than conventional therapies.
    Unfortunately the original clinicians provided information that they thought proved the efficacy of the original energy psychology known as Thought Field Therapy. These studies had significant flaws, leading to a rejection of the claims of superior effectiveness of this therapy. The mental health field rejected that such a therapy was useful instead of concluding that these clinicians simply did not know how to conduct acceptable studies. Wikipedia made the same mistake, Unfortunately, there has been a complete dismissal of the subsequent research that has confirmed that energy psychology therapies should be integrated with conventional psychotherapies. This is compounded by the problem that researchers have not been given much access to conducting studies in universities where many students could be subjects of the study.
    Any therapist who is truly looking to improve their skills should read the energy psychology reviews of the articles published in the APA journal listed in the blog. It will not take long. I would predict that many will implement these techniques after just one energy psychology workshop.

  8. Dear Robert
    My name is Dr Art O’Malley MD MRCGP FRCPsych Dip Clin Supervision EMDR Consultant Level 1 training in sensorimotor psychotherapy. I have also read Fred’s book on Energy Psychology as well as work by Dona Eden Stephen Porges Bessel van der Kolk Pat Ogden among others. Siince 2008 I have developed my own brand of energy medicine based on our common neurobiology. I have evidence from hundreds of my patients who have recovered from in utero, birth, preverbal and other traumatic memories. The key is to make the unconscious conscious. The gut microbiome, heartbrain and cerebellum are activated via auditory and tactile mechanical stimulation. This enables the formation of new neural networks at the level of the prefrontal cortex, pineal gland or 3rd eye chakra. The The Art of BART workshop was presented at ISSTD in Montreal in Nov 2011. My book The Art of BART:Bilateral Affective Reprocessing of Thoughts as a dynamic model for psychotherapy is available from amazon or karnacbooks.com.(2015). I will be presenting a series of complex cases at the Adolescent Medicine and Child Psychology conference in London 6-7 Oct 2016. Perhaps some of the Naysayers might choose to attend this scientific conference. I am reminded of the famous quote from Arthur Schopenhauer whenever a new paradigm shifts the previous version of ‘Truth’ to the next improved version, “At first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, third it is accepted as self evident. We as truth seekers are ahead of the curve and many allopaths have yet to catch up. The centre for clinical excellence set up by Scott Miller has introduced the concept of Feedback Informed Treatment (FIT). Since 2008 I have collected patient testimonials both verbal and written of their experience of BART psychotherapy. This has enabled me to fine tune future treatments and approach each new case with an open mind heart and gut to help the patient achieve the best resonant frequency in keeping with their physical mental and spiritual health. I would be delighted to submit an abstract to an ACEP conference to share my ideas with other practitioners open to this new paradigm.

    • Hi Art,
      Very interesting. Our call for submissions will be going out in a few weeks. You should make sure that either 1) you are a member of ACEP because that way you are guaranteed to get emails announcing the RFP, and ACEP members do have some priority over non members in the selection process or 2)at east get on the mail list by going to the main site and signing up. I look forward to seeing your proposal. Oh I guess I can do this as well. the proposal website is acep-Proposals.com check there as well for when the call for papers opens. It is usually around Aug 10 or so

  9. Thank you Dr. Shwartz,
    “Elevator Speech” will be a life saver. Thank you for your support….very encourraging. Excellent.

  10. In the plus column for receptivity to these techniques among the therapeutic community, I just gave a 90-minute Introduction to EFT presentation to 50 therapists, for CEs, sponsored by a major behavioral health hospital here. For a mid-summer CEU lunch, it was packed. The response was over the top positive. Not only did I run out of all my brochures and cards that I brought (never happened before), but I had several people coming up to express interest in getting certified. I’ve been giving EFT intro presentations to therapists for 6 years. While the groups have always seen the value of the technique, until recently, it stopped there, with very few questions about how to apply this within a traditional therapeutic model and hardly anyone asking about getting training or certification. The level of enthusiastic interest in my area has definitely risen lately. And it’s great to be able to cite the studies you continue to provide us; thank you.

    • That’s great to hear Ange. The pace of change appears to be increasing. I just updated the blog, because the original data from dec 2015 is now out of date. It is incredible how much has changed in the last 6 months.

      • Yes, it’s a great trend. And let’s not forget it’s due to those of you who’ve been in the field, doing and disseminating the research for years.

  11. Laurel Barile says:

    As with any argument of substance, it is best to acknowledge the strongest case on each side being debated. In that spirit, I think it would behoove all of us who support energy work to admit (1) that the field has drawn many who are more enthusiastic than skilled or knowledgeable, (2) that patients must be protected by law and by professional practice standards from “snake oil salesmen” who prey on people at vulnerable times, (3) that a central tenet of holistic healing is its focus on unique treatments for a unique human body [thereby rendering the “repeatable” element of scientific inquiry difficult], and (4) that many components of dramatic healing are not yet measurable and may never be. For over 30 years I have studied and used some methods of energy work and I have rejected the use of other methods –and the choices to trust any particular method were not necessarily based on scientific proof. And, because I was open to questions, respectful of skepticism, careful not to overstate and careful to provide close clinical oversight, holistic programs and practices (many of which were energy work) for oncology patients and families in a major hospital in San Diego were, at first, simply allowed and then became well-respected and requested elsewhere in the hospital.

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