EFT and Memory Reconsolidation: An example from the treatment room

(by Sarah Murphy, LPC) I had a powerful session recently with a client I’ll call Kate. We have been using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to clear the emotional intensity of troubling or traumatic incidents from her past. Our experience shows how EFT can heal traumatic memories.

The theory behind this ― and there is plenty of evidence that it works ― is that troubling or “traumatic” experiences undergird issues that bring people to therapy. Things like anxiety and low self-esteem have their roots in earlier experience, often from childhood. Nothing much new there. 

What’s different in EFT is that we treat the memory, tapping on acupressure points until the emotion is cleared and only a neutral memory remains. Best of all, the theory goes, as we clear the emotional valence of memories we also clear the overarching issues. 

A powerful case of EFT

This session with Kate was particularly powerful. Therapists have stories like this, of those magical sessions when the stars seem to align and things just go so well. Energy psychology practitioners are often working on memory reconsolidation, taking the emotional charge out of traumatic events from our clients’ pasts. 

I think that there’s a reason for the powerful result in Kate’s case, that it was a spectacular example of memory reconsolidation because of an accidental joke that gave us the giggles.

When Kate started to remember the troubling incident from her childhood, she started to tear up. She said her intensity of feeling was a 10 on a 10-scale. In order to help Kate feel safe, I used a tried-and-true EFT technique called “tearless trauma.” We create space between our clients and their troubling memory by asking them to put the memory in an imaginary box on an imaginary shelf. We ask them to name the memory, as if it were a movie. Then we tap on the name, which is in the box on the shelf, until they are calmer and more detached. Once that mission is accomplished, we proceed with our therapy.

An accidental laugh, and how powerful it was!

During our therapy session, Kate happened to be sitting in her kitchen, and I saw the microwave oven behind her. Instead of the “box on the shelf,” I asked her to “put the memory in ― well, put it in the microwave.” Then I asked her for the title of the memory, and she said “Leftovers.” Her memory literally involved trouble over eating leftovers.

We had Leftovers in the microwave! And it made both of us giggle. The absurdity of the coincidence, or the synchronicity, that she had “Leftovers” and I had suggested “in the microwave” struck both of us as just so funny.

We tapped a few rounds and she was clear. Her intensity had gone from 10 to 0 after just the preliminary step. I asked her to tell me the story of what happened, and rate her intensity at each segment. Every time, she answered “0”. “Go slowly, really get into the story, close your eyes and picture it,” I asked. “How is your intensity?”

“It’s a 0,” she smiled. 

How EFT can heal traumatic memories

This got me to thinking again about memory reconsolidation. Every time we remember something, the thing we remember changes a bit. I also thought about the fact that it’s impossible to hold two emotional states at the same time. Putting these two ideas together gives us insight into how memory reconsolidation can be a therapeutic tool. Using EFT, for example, we hold a calm physiological state while remembering something that was troubling. In very short order, the troubling memory is no longer troubling. (You can read more about memory reconsolidation here.)

I thought about the great results of energy psychology modalities like EFT and Thought Field Therapy, as well as EMDR, and some NLP and hypnotherapy techniques. I thought of the times when cognitive therapy is helpful, and how simply sitting and sharing with someone who is calm is inherently calming. 

It seems to me that the “secret sauce” in all of these therapy techniques is to remain calm while activating a troubling memory. In every case, we deliberately activate a troubling memory and apply a therapy that keeps us physiologically calm. In pretty short order, the emotion associated with a memory changes. 

EFT and other energy psychology techniques are unique in that they accelerate the rate of change (you can see some research here). They also have built-in “safety valves” that help clients stay calm (putting “Leftovers” in the microwave, for example) while working through their issues. After as little as one session, the traumatic memory can be healed. 

That is powerful indeed. 

If you’d like to learn more about energy psychology and earn CE’s, check out ACEP’s courses here. And register for our upcoming conference, The Art and Science of Transformational Change, featuring an amazing lineup of speakers and plenty of opportunity to learn about energy psychology while earning CE’s here.

Author

Sarah Murphy, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor and coach with more than 12 years of clinical experience. She specializes in energy psychology, including EFT, as well as mindfulness and hypnotherapy. In her therapy practice, she works with individuals seeking to find peace within themselves, people who have serious medical diagnoses, and couples who want to resolve conflict and live in harmony. Sarah’s personal motto is that we are here to create a more peaceful world, one more-peaceful person at a time. She is an ACEP member and chair of the Communications Committee. Learn more at www.transformative-therapy.com

Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Very informative, thank you.

  2. That’s one of those miraculous moments in a session! I love that you suggested the microwave. Apparently that was an incredible link. I have to laugh because I also tapped away issues around leftovers and how that tied into money and abundance.

    • Dan, I’m glad that resonated with you. Yes, the synchronicity of “leftovers in the microwave” shows quite a link. I think we really tapped into the thought field. Funny that you’ve also had experience tapping on “leftovers” too! Thanks for you comment. 🙂

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