Some limits of trauma-focused energy psychology work

(by Phil Mollon, PhD)

As the various modalities of energy psychology (EP) have developed, there has been a shift from an original phobia-based paradigm – as in the classic TFT case of ‘Mary’s fear of water’, and the early EFT example of ‘Dave’s fear of water’ – to one that is trauma-based, focused particularly upon the early adverse experiences that have given rise to troubling patterns of self-defeating behavior. This emphasis is very much present in ACEP’s own teaching of EFT, and it is indeed a helpful guide to effective clinical work. The skilful practitioner will ask simple but crucial questions to arrive at the key experiences that have shaped the client’s internal model of the interpersonal world. In this way, we target the foundational fabric of the partially unconscious core beliefs and schemas that result in continually replicating patterns of misery. 

However, there are often instances in which this model of work can be a little too simple. One point is that although the ‘internal working models’ (John Bowlby’s term)[i] are derived from actual experiences in childhood, these templates of the mind have a tendency to become somewhat autonomous and detached from their origins. In EP work, it can be helpful at times to make the link explicit. This is a key feature of Asha Clinton’s AIT, which can usefully be included in other modalities. For example, if we are using EFT, after targeting a number of relevant specific events in the normal and thorough way, we might at times use an additional setup statement such as “Even though I learned from repeated experiences with my father that all men might be violent and unpredictable, I realise now that this belief might have been an overgeneralisation.” Tapping the side of the hand, small intestine meridian point, whilst holding such a statement in mind, can greatly facilitate a deep reappraisal of core beliefs. Another example might be “Even though I learned from many experiences of trauma, and danger, and abandonment in my childhood, that it is not safe to feel safe, and not safe to trust anyone, I can review these beliefs and assumptions now as an adult”. 

Another problem with a simple trauma-focused model is that a person’s psychodynamics can be quite complex, based around unconscious attempts to avoid pain. Consider the example of a man – let’s call him Ben – undergoing a ‘mid-life crisis’ (Jaques, 1965). Unconsciously, Ben begins to panic about ageing, with a subliminal awareness that he may only have as much or less time ahead than he has already lived, and he fears he has not achieved his earlier ambitions, sees his life descending into a decline of mediocrity, and is painfully haunted by his father’s high expectations of his material and social success. His wife seems less attentive to him, as she is inevitably preoccupied with the needs of their two children, now approaching adolescence. In response, Ben buys a powerful motorbike, takes a training in NLP, and embarks on an affair with a woman he met at work. These responses constitute his ‘manic defences’[ii] against depressive pain of loss, disappointment and ageing. To complicate his emotional situation even further, his lover suffers a climbing accident and dies – so that his manic pursuit of life has left him clutching at death. He is full of anguish, remorse and guilt, hopelessness, despair, and shame. At this point he seeks help. 

In this example, there are several potential targets for an EP intervention: his experiences of his father’s high expectations; the shock of realising he is in midlife; his disappointment at what he has not achieved in terms of his earlier ambitions; his distress at his wife’s lessened attention to him; his feelings about his bodily ageing and fears of diminishing potency – and then the catastrophe of his lover’s death and the complexity of his emotions and thoughts about this. The problem is that in order to address these, it is necessary carefully to disentangle this emotional web and facilitate his access to states of pain that his manic defences were functioning to avoid. This may require much careful listening of a more conventional psychotherapeutic kind. If the therapist were to rush prematurely into applying EFT or other EP modalities, this would be adding a further shared manic defence into the mix. 

There are times when we have to sit back, listen and feel, and reflect – and be alongside our client in their suffering. In this way we can combine EP and psychotherapy with optimum synergy to facilitate healing. 

Learn more about ACEP’s professional training in Emotional Freedom Techniques.


Jaques, E. (1965). Death and the Mid-Life Crisis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 46:502-514.


Phil Mollon is a psychoanalyst, clinical psychologist, and energy psychotherapist in the UK. He is the developer of Psychoanalytic Energy Psychotherapy [PEP]. For 37 years, he worked full time in the British National Health Service. He teaches on the ACEP EFT program, is Chair of the Ethics Committee, and is a past president of ACEP. The author of 13 books, his latest is Blue Diamond Healing

[i] There are many similar concepts that have arisen in different psychotherapeutic traditions, including the psychoanalytic concept of internal object relations, Dan Stern’s concept of ‘repeated interactions that have become generalised’ (RIGS), and internal family systems. 

[ii] The concept of manic defences was developed originally by Melanie Klein, to describe a constellation of mental attitudes of denial and triumph that are unconsciously used to avoid emotional pain. 


  1. Thank you for this great article!

  2. Candice P says:

    That was a wise and helpful blog. I will be using those ideas with two clients who can benefit

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