This is the first in a three-part series on using energy psychology tools when working with people who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Energy psychology tools may be helpful for people with cancer. And there are many people living with cancer: In 2018, the United States saw 1.7 million new cases of cancer. In 2020, 19.3 million new cancer cases were diagnosed worldwide. Moreover, cancer is not just a physical disease: it takes a tremendous toll on patients’ mental health.

That’s because cancer creates an existential crisis for many. People with cancer also experience an elevation in distress: depression rates in the US jump four-fold among cancer patients, with nearly a quarter of cancer patients experiencing depression. Anxiety rates among cancer patients in the US climb as well, affecting nearly a fifth of people with cancer. Many people with cancer report experiencing PTSD-like symptoms, and almost all say they experience feelings of overwhelm.

Sadly, the system in the US does not universally encompass mental and emotional care in cancer treatment. This has costs, not only in terms of emotional wellbeing, but perhaps in resilience and ability to heal. Energy psychology techniques, including the emotional freedom techniques (EFT), may be uniquely positioned to fill the emotional need of cancer patients. These modalities often focus on addressing and clearing underlying emotional traumas while providing effective self-soothing routines that may help cancer patients navigate the emotions that often accompany diagnosis.

Energy Psychology and Cancer: Addressing the Body-Mind

A key to remission?

Kelly Turner studied cases of unexpected and medically unexplained remission, conducting interviews with people who had experienced these seemingly miraculous cures. She distilled the data and found seven key factors that were almost universal. You can find them in her book Radical Remission.

Among the factors identified are eliminating negative emotions and increasing positive emotions. While the sentence is easy to write, achieving the essence is not! However, EP methods are famous for their ability to heal underlying traumas and the ensuing energy disruptions, which lead to distress and may contribute to disease.

The stress-inflammation-disease cycle

Researchers in the field of cardiovascular disease were perhaps the first to identify the role of stress in disease. Today, people widely recognize the role of stress in disease. Psychoneuroimmunologists have discovered some of the mechanisms by which stress leads to diseases including cancer.

Episodic stress is an important part of life, mediating injury and pathogenic assault. When cells are under attack or have been injured, a cascade of activity on the molecular level causes cells to become inflamed, holding fluid. In other cases, it is the threat of assault that causes inflammation: the hypothalamus (a region in the limbic brain) signals to the pituitary body (often called the master gland) to tell the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. We call this cycle the HPA axis.

From stress to distress

Under normal stress conditions, this action reduces inflammation. However, this cycle changes in people experiencing chronic stress. Researchers have found that this is at least partly because an immune system cell or cytokine called interleukin 6 (IL6) triggers inflammation in times of stress. And IL6 plays a role in cancer, as well as a host of other diseases including diabetes, autoimmune disease, obesity, depression, and anxiety. It might not be unreasonable, then, to wonder if decreasing stress levels might assist in the healing response of those with cancer diagnoses, and to prevent cancer occurrence in the first place.


Are you a therapist interested in learning to use these techniques with your clients? Check out ACEP’s training catalogue. Are you a client looking for a clinician trained in these methods? Check out ACEP’s practitioner directory.

Author: Sarah Murphy, LPC, NCC, is a licensed and nationally certified professional counselor. She specializes in energy psychology, including EFT, as well as mindfulness and meditation. Sarah 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 is an ACEP Board member and chair of its communications committee; she has a private practice and serves as staff therapist with Unite for HER.