This is the third in a three-part series on EP and cancer

Cancer causes tremendous emotional pain. Some cancer patients who have been diagnosed say that cancer is more of an emotional problem than a physical one. Energy Psychology tools seem uniquely positioned to help alleviate the distress that a diagnosis causes. Tools like EFT and TFT, as well as the many techniques listed on ACEP’s Resources for Resilience site, can provide great relief. In this blog, we share stories from the treatment room, describing how energy psychology can help alleviate the emotional effects of cancer.

Mis-hearing leads to PTSD-like symptoms, relieved with EFT

A woman in her early 50’s had a breast cancer diagnosis. As often happens to people diagnosed with cancer, she was in the throes of shock and distress when she met with her oncologist. Clients often report that they can’t “take in” what their doctors are telling them, that they leave appointments wondering what was just said, and realizing that they have many questions they forgot to ask. In this case, the client mis-heard “grade 4 tumor” as “stage 4 cancer.”

Though she quickly realized her error and understood that she did not have metastatic breast cancer, she was extremely distressed about the idea and still felt terrified. In our individual counseling session, we tapped together using emotional freedom techniques (EFT) Tearless Trauma and Tell the Story protocols. The tearless trauma is a misnomer in this case because she cried easily at the thought of the story. However, we were able to reduce her distress and worked to clear her trauma. Within one session, she experienced a reduction in subjective units of distress (SUDs) from a ten to a zero. The clearing held in subsequent counseling sessions four to six weeks later.

Fear of recurrence

For women with breast cancer who have some understanding of the mind-body connection, fear of recurrence can create what seems like a trap. These women often express a fear that their fear is going to create a negative outcome. Effortfully trying not to think about it, or to think positive thoughts instead, often proves futile. One woman in such a paradoxical trap came for therapy and we began using EFT to manage her fear of recurrence. Her distress reduced during the session. Additionally, having EFT as a self-help tool provided her with a coping tool that she used regularly to help manage her fear as it arose.

EFT tapping in groups

In regular facilitated support groups, women with various cancer types use EFT at the beginning of the sessions to come together and relax. Often, we use the “constricted breathing” technique to demonstrate and reinforce the physiological effect of tapping. (In this technique, tapping on constricted breathing allows the breath to become fuller and more satisfying/less constricted). Most women achieve a feeling of un-constricted breath after one round of tapping. They also report feeling more relaxed, more present, and, in one case, feeling “warm and tingly.”

A vision for the future: alleviating the emotional effects of cancer

Because of the deep emotional distress that cancer patients often feel, it is important to provide them with tools and support to reduce these feelings. Energy psychology techniques have a demonstrated ability to reduce subjective distress. Moreover, these are tools that we can use therapeutically and as ongoing self-initiated self-help practices. Incorporating mind-body techniques such as these for the management of mood and stress in people with cancer can provide a tremendous benefit to patients’ subjective wellbeing. Because of the role of stress in disease progression, these tools may even improve outcomes.


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.