Transformative Therapy is a private therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, PA. We specialize in working with clients who have cancer and other serious illnesses. We offer a holistic approach to therapy including hypnosis and energy psychology. This article summarizes energy psychology research. This is a set of mind-body techniques that combine Western psychology with Eastern energy-based principles.
Energy psychology (EP) is a collection of methods that improve emotional and psychological functioning by combining cognitive techniques, such as imagery-based therapy and mindfulness, with physical methods derived from acupuncture and other Eastern systems (Feinstein, 2012; energypsych.org, 12/27/2012).
Research has shown that EP techniques are effective for treating psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, phobia, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also effective for some physical problems such as chronic pain.
Research on EP has been conducted around the world and supporting evidence has been published in more than 20 independent, peer-reviewed scholarly journals.
Types of energy psychology techniques
There are various forms of energy psychology. The most well known forms focus on tapping or otherwise stimulating acupuncture meridian points (acupoints) while focusing on emotion-evoking stimuli. These meridian-based EP techniques include Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), Thought Field Therapy (TFT), Energy Diagnostic and Treatment Methods (EDxTM) and Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT).
Energy psychology and the broader system of energy medicine have become increasingly popular with consumers and providers of mental health services (Lumadue, Munk and Woodten, 2005). This follows the broader trend of complementary therapies’ popularity among health care consumers (Eisenberg, 1998). The 2007 National Health Interview Survey found that 38% of American adults use some form of complementary/alternative medicine. Global rates are sometimes higher, with the World Health Organization reporting rates as high as 48% in Australia, 70% in Canada, and 75% in France.
Over a million people have downloaded The EFT Manual and The EFT Mini-Manual (Feinstein, 2009). In the U.S., many accredited continuing education programs for counselors include EP and other complementary and alternative practices (Lumadue, Munk and Wooten, 2005). In late 2012, the American Psychological Association approved the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) as a provider of continuing education credits for psychologists.
Consumers of mental health services should be aware that, because energy psychology is a relatively new field within psychology, we do not yet fully understand how it works. Critics claim that any treatment effects from EP modalities may result from placebo or other nonspecific therapeutic factors. However, current research suggests that well understood mechanisms of action are responsible for the observed effects (see below).
During the 1960s in the U.S., chiropractor George Goodheart developed applied kinesiology, an alternative field that involves the manual testing of muscles (Rosner and Cuthbert, 2012). He began teaching it to other chiropractors in the mid-1970s. John Diamond used applied kinesiology techniques for psychological purposes. Roger Callahan became interested in Goodheart’s techniques, which inspired the creation of Callahan Techniques ® Thought Field Therapy, the original meridian tapping therapy. Several of Callahan’s students went on to develop other forms of meridian-based EP techniques. Gary Craig created the Emotional Freedom Techniques after training with Callahan in the early 1990s, and various other clinicians added to the field with the creation of a dozen techniques that have in common the tapping on acupressure points (Gallo 2002). Meridian-based EP draws on traditional Chinese medicine, which identifies acupuncture meridians and acupoints. Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for thousands of years, and has become increasingly popular in the West within the last few decades. A growing body of research points to the efficacy of acupressure and acupuncture, and the World Health Organization lists it as an effective and often proven treatment for a variety of physical and mental health concerns (WHO, 2013).
Research on EP has followed American Psychological Association (APA) Division 12 Criteria (Feinstein, 2012). These criteria stipulate that for a treatment to be considered empirically effective it must be demonstrated to be superior to an established treatment in two randomized controlled trials. If a treatment is found to be superior to a control group, it is considered “probably efficacious”. The difference must reach the level of statistical significance, or p <.05. This means that there is less than a 5% chance that the results are due to chance. In his comprehensive review of the literature on energy psychology, Feinstein (2012) describes 18 randomized controlled studies. All of them reported statistically significant changes from pre- to post-treatment. All of these studies used self-report inventories, and half also included objective measures such as structured clinical interviews, physiological markers such as salivary cortisol levels, and observable measures such as body weight.
By treatment condition
Energy psychology techniques have been found to be effective in treating emotional distress. A study of workshop participants who received EFT showed very significant improvement on all scales of distress, and the changes held at six-week follow-up (Rowe, 2005). Church and Brooks (2010) tested healthcare workers attending EFT workshops, and found significant improvement on all scales; the gains held at three-month follow-up. Palmer and Hoffman (2011) also found significant improvement on a range of emotional symptoms after EFT workshops, and the results held on follow-up.
Energy psychology has shown efficacy in several studies of anxiety. In the largest study of EP, Andrade (Andrade & Feinstein, 2004) studied approximately 5,000 patients with anxiety disorder and found that EFT yielded significant decreases in anxiety; 90% of EFT patients had a reduction in symptoms and 76% were symptom-free, and the results held at follow-up. A randomized control trial by Irgens et al (2012) found significant relief of anxiety symptoms following TFT treatment. Other studies found significant results with public- speaking anxiety (Schoninger & Hartung, 2010; Jones et al, 2010). Rubino (2012) and Benor et al (2009) found significant improvement using EP techniques to treat test-taking anxiety.
Randomized control trials that measure depression before and after treatment find that EP methods yield significant drops in depressive symptoms. Church, DeAsis & Brooks (2012) studied moderately to severely depressed college students and found mood in the normal range after four EFT sessions. Other studies have found significant improvements in depression among healthcare workers (Church & Brooks, 2010), veterans (Church, 2013), and fibromyalgia sufferers (Brattberg, 2008).
EP has found statistical significance in treating phobias. Three randomized control trials using EFT (Salas et al, 2011; Baker & Segal, 2010; Wells et al, 2003) and one using TFT (Darby & Hartung, 2012) found that a single session can resolve a phobia, and that the results last.
Several studies, including three randomized control trials, have found that energy psychology methods produce significant relief for people with PTSD. Church et al (2013) studied 59 veterans with PTSD. After treatment, 90% of the EFT group no longer met diagnostic criteria for PTSD, compared to just 4% in the wait list group. Several studies have found EP (TFT) leads to highly significant reduction in trauma among survivors of the Rwandan genocide (Sakai et al, 2010; Stpme et a;. 2009; Stone et al, 2010). A study conducted in Britain compared EFT to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and found both treatments to produce significant therapeutic gains at post-treatment and follow-up (Karatzias et al, 2011).
All energy psychology methods include three core components: exposure to the psychological or emotional issue, generally achieved by calling it to mind; cognitive interventions, such as affirmations; and some type of energy intervention, whether meridian-based, energy-center-based, or biofield-based.
The exact mechanisms for the effectiveness of EP are not well understood. One underpinning of the meridian-based EP techniques is the theory of the energy meridian system of traditional Chinese medicine. According to this theory, energy known as qi or chi flows through the body in pathways called meridians. A block in the flow causes distress or disease, and a release of the blockage brings relief (Baker, 2009). This theory, however, is yet unproven.
There have been studies supporting the existence of acupoints and meridians through electrical conductance in the skin (Prokhorov et al, 2006); however, there are no known studies demonstrating the correlation between alterations in the acupoints or meridians and changes in disease conditions (Baker, 2009). While the concept of acupoints and meridians is somewhat foreign to many Westerners, and has not been proven by Western scientific method, it is a cornerstone of traditional Chinese medicine, and has been widely practiced for thousands of years and researched over the past several decades.
The World Health Organization recognized acupuncture as “proved – through clinical trials – to be effective” in treating more than two dozen medical and mental health issues including depression, and shown to be effective but needing further proof for more than five dozen medical and mental health issues.
Much research has focused on acupuncture, and acupressure, its non-needle counterpart, is said to work in much the same way. A comparison of acupuncture to non-needle stimulation of acupoints found non-needle stimulation to be as effective as standard acupuncture (Cherkin et al, 2009). Acupressure has been shown to reduce stress hormone levels (Cabyoglu, Ergene, and Tan, 2006; Eshkevari, 2003).
Another key to understanding the efficacy of energy psychology may lie in memory reconsolidation, the process in which the retrieval of a memory returns the memory to a labile state, which is then subject to restabilization (Forcato et al, 2009). When recalled, memories become temporarily unstable and changeable (Besnard, Caboche, Laroche, 2012). Memory retrieval therefore provides an opportunity for memory plasticity, or changeability; reconsolidation after recall provides an opportunity to update memories.
Ecker et al (2012) identify three steps for memory reconsolidation: vividly access emotional memory, juxtapose that memory with a contradictory experience, and verify that change has occurred. Most EP interventions incorporate activating a psychologically arousing thought or memory while juxtaposing the arousal with the calming effect that comes from stimulating acupressure points.
According to Lane (2009), the stimulation of acupressure points activates the parasympathetic nervous system by regulating stress hormones and activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The mechanism for meridian-based EP techniques may be conceptualized as counterconditioning of a traumatizing thought or emotional trigger with a feeling of calm, activated by acupressure point stimulation.
If you are interested in learning more about energy psychology research, visit the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology research section.
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