By removing emotional trauma, EFT helps heal physical symptoms too.
Norm Shealy, MD
Author of Soul Medicine.
Common EFT Challenges
If you are not a mental health professional, we have provided these tips with the assumption that you are working with highly functioning clients This is because you are likely to run into them in the course of your normal EFT practice.
If you are a mental health professional working with more compromised clients, these tips will point you in the right direction, but may not be complete enough for best results in all cases. In that case, we recommend professional training.
The non-feeling client
Client can't find a Specific Event
Client can't isolate one event out of many similar circumstances
Client presents vague issues
Client reports "feeling worse"
Meltdowns or Abreactions
It’s hard to interrupt my clients when they are telling their story
My client keeps jumping around to other issues and events
What if I can’t get the intensities all the way to zero?
For additional tips, visit:
The EFT Tell the Story Technique - The Workhorse Tapping Method
The non-feeling client
The non-feeling client:
Here are some useful tips for clients who have so protected themselves from their traumatic past that they have "no feelings" about any of their yesterdays. They can often remember the events, sometimes in great detail. But they just sit there in session with no intensity whatsoever and routinely spill out the words. They are on automatic. No feelings.
In cases like these there appears to be no bench mark against which to measure one's progress with EFT. If they start with a glassy eyed zero and end with a glassy eyed zero, how do you know if you've made any headway? Do you try to assess their "glass eyed-ness?"
Perhaps. But there are other ways.
EFT doesn't require the client to have a measurable intensity up front. It can still do its job even under such placid circumstances. Remember, the underlying idea is that the client be "tuned in" to the problem while addressing an imbalanced or disrupted energy system. "Tuning in" doesn't require emotional intensity. It only requires awareness. So try this....
Ask the client, "What memory would you rather not have?"
Although clients may not have intensity about their memories, they will almost invariably be able to pick out a disagreeable one. Then isolate that specific memory and stomp all over it with EFT. Dig up every aspect you can find and then use your creativity to find some more. Do many rounds. Throw in the 9 gamut procedure and the alternate points. This will take you all of 15 or 20 minutes to do it thoroughly.
Your clients may give you clues during this process that progress is being made. Principle among them may be their propensity to change the subject to some other memory. This is evidence that you have helped resolve the original memory and now there is a shift to another one.
The real proof, however, will be when they come back to see you. Ask them again, "What memory would you rather not have?" and listen to their response. I'll bet you a week in Paris that THEY WILL BRING UP A DIFFERENT MEMORY. This is evidence indeed that you have weakened, or decimated, the first one. Then use EFT thoroughly on the new memory and ask the same question the next time your client comes back. Use EFT on new memories as they come up and the odds are very high that you will be collapsing, one by one, the reasons for their self protection. Gradually, you will relieve their emotional burdens so they will begin to have some feelings and behave more normally.
This approach is relatively blind because we are addressing the events as they present themselves. If you are using The EFT Personal Peace Procedure approach and planning to clear out as many events as you can find, this is a useful tool. As you tap through events, the client’s memory will usually free up and measuring progress gets easier.
If you are working with more precision, and have a particular event to address that contributed largely to the presenting issue but can’t get any intensity readings, then we suggest finding different ways to measure intensity.
You can ask the client to describe their visual experience of the event as they see it in their mind. Is it in color or black and white? Is the picture close up or far away? Is the client in the action or watching from the outside? Is the picture sharp or blurry? Are the colors bright or dull? The first option in each of these questions is an indication of higher intensity, and the second an indication of lower intensity. As you tap through the details of the event, check back in to see if the visuals are changing. Keep in mind that if they have blocked the feelings for protection, they may get more intense once you start tapping and then come down later in the process. The same concept can apply to sounds or other kinds of experience if that seems more relevant.
At each part of the event that seems like it should carry some intensity, instead of asking for a rating from 0-10, use a continuum that ranges from “I wish it didn’t happen” to “so what”. The closer they get to “so what” the more intensity has been released.
You can also personalize the process by asking the client how they know this event has a negative effect on them. Maybe they feel it in their body somewhere, or maybe there is some other indication unique to this client that you can measure.
In general, the more tapping you do, the more in tune the client is with their memory and intensity. Plan to address five events and see if it gets any easier.
Client can't find a Specific Event:
Sometimes clients have blank spots in their memories OR those memories are so traumatic that their systems repress them as a means of emotional protection. In either case, your efforts at locating Specific Events will be handicapped.
The solution here is to have such clients "make up" a Specific Event. Ask them to create a fictitious event and populate it with whatever abusive people and traumatic circumstances their imaginations will allow. Then use EFT on this event as though it was real and keep at it until the intensity is brought down to zero or acceptable levels.
This may seem silly at first. After all, what good can come of using EFT on an event that never happened? When you think about it, however, this made up event is not as fictitious as it may originally appear. This is because the people and circumstances in this "memory" reflect the fears, anxieties, resentments, traumas, etc. that are held, consciously or subconsciously, by the client. In fact, it may be even more useful than a real Specific Event because it can include subconscious items.
I have had great success with this tool and urge you to adopt it where appropriate.
Client can’t isolate one event out of many similar circumstances.
Our greatest hope is that your process with clients will take you into childhood events with their Mom and Dad and peers in school. Once you get there, you may find, for example, that Dad said the same thing in lots of different events, and the client can’t pick just one. In that case, you have a greater challenge on your hands but it can still be resolved.
Ask your client to make up an event that would last 1-3 minutes and represent that thing Dad used to say all the time. Have them pick a particular location in the house, a time of day, and a situation in which he might have said it. Then treat this made up story like it was a unique specific event. Work through it frame by frame, and address any intensity as it comes up.
Here’s the challenge: This “representative” event, by definition, will be drawing on all of the similar events that you know are there. The intensities may be stubborn as a result because each frame, each emotion, each aspect is likely to represent twenty events instead of just one. With that in mind, you may not get through this event and bring all intensities down to zero in one session. It may take several sessions to resolve it, but you will have resolved the impact of twenty events by the time you complete the one.
TIP: You are already working with a global target in this scenario, Be careful that you language does not send the client’s focus into even more global territory.
Client presents vague Issues:
Based on the examples given in the Specific Events article, it can be fairly easy to take a global issue and reduce it to Specific Events. However, some issues are not as straightforward, like:
- I’m a workaholic.
- I can’t lose weight.
- I keep attracting the wrong partner.
- I shop too much.
- I have insomnia.
These issues are waaaay too global, of course, and need to be broken down into their underlying specifics. The method for doing this is familiar by now and involves asking questions that allow you to dig deeper. You may need several layers of questions and there is no way I can give you a comprehensive list for the endless possibilities. However, here are a few questions to get you started:
- How do you feel when you don’t work?
- How do you feel when you can’t eat? (or can’t shop)
- If there were a consequence for losing weight what would it be?
- How do you know you have attracted the wrong partner?
- What are the similarities between all the “wrong partners”?
- When you can’t sleep is there a particular thought, feeling or physical pain in the way?
We will continue teaching skills for understanding and navigating through client issues in upcoming sections.
Client reports “feeling worse”:
In my experience, this is a sign that either (1) a new aspect is coming to the surface or (2) a foundational issue is showing up.
Client reports "feeling worse."
The aspect contributor should be clear by now. Just about any new symptom our clients experience, including feeling worse (emotionally or physically), is evidence that one or more of these hidden desperados is lurking behind the scenes. You can handle it like you would any other aspect.
Regarding the possibility of a foundational issue showing up, I'm reminded of a client who came to me a few years ago upset about an argument he had just had with his girl friend. It was a simple argument, the anger for which was typically resolvable with one or two rounds of EFT. However, the client's immediate anger didn't budge and he reported "feeling worse." Why? Because we eventually discovered that he was tuning in to times when his mother belittled him through yelling. The real issue was his mother, not his girl friend. The argument with the girl friend simply triggered the real issue and he "felt worse" until we resolved the mother issue (a several session effort, by the way, because there were many events involved).
If you find yourself addressing an issue like this, be sure your clients understand the concept of aspects and related issues as well as the possibility that it could get worse before it gets better. Teach your clients how to EFT their way through those moments on their own, have an appropriate referral handy, and suggest evaluation from a medical doctor if your clients are concerned about their health in any way.
Meltdowns or Abreactions:
Similar to the notion that your client could feel worse before they feel better, some clients have significant trauma in their past that can be triggered by “peeling away the layers” as we do in EFT. In many cases, when faced with such a traumatic memory, clients will simply tell you that they have just remembered something horrible, but in other cases, they can do anything from breaking into tears to having a seizure-type episode. While tears are somewhat typical in therapy sessions, seizure-type episodes or circumstances where the client "flips out" are called meltdowns or abreactions.
A Meltdown or Abreaction
In general, you can contain those reactions by repeatedly tapping on all of the points, going up and down the body until the client starts to relax. While you are doing this use a reminder phrase like "this issue" or "this feeling" or simply “stay with me” to bring him or her out of the memory and back to the present moment. At this level of intensity, detachment is the best policy, so use simple language that takes them away from the event rather than back into it. If you are not trained to handle this kind of emotional reaction, then refer the client to a professional who is. If you are unable to bring your client out of the reaction yourself, then you may need to call an ambulance or seek other kinds of emergency assistance.
The incidence of true abreaction with EFT is rare, and becomes rarer still if you use the tools we have for minimizing emotional pain. However, when we say “don’t go where you don’t belong,” this is the reason why. To be conservative, you might ask some simple questions of your clients before to identify the bigger risk factors.
- Have they been diagnosed with a mental health condition?
- Are they on medication for any mental health condition?
- Have they ever been admitted to a mental health facility for treatment?
- Do they have any memory of significant trauma like sexual abuse, physical abuse or combat?
- Are there any parts of their childhood or adult life that they have repressed or forgotten?
It’s hard to interrupt my clients when they are telling their story:
- If the client knows what to expect in advance, they are less likely to resist the parts of EFT that are unfamiliar to them.
- Your EFT will be better if you do. Stopping the story because of intensity can be a healing opportunity.
The way you set up a session will make all the difference here. The first thing to recognize is that EFT is different from any kind of therapy that people have encountered before. Talk therapy is much more free-flowing, and physical therapies are applied without much discussion about issues. With EFT, communication is the key. The better we can communicate about the process in the beginning, the better the client can follow along.
The first goal is to understand what expectations the client is bringing to the session. Are they expecting to do all the talking? Are they expecting to talk about global issues instead of isolated moments in time? Are they expecting to re-live their tragic memories in your office? All of the above are good possibilities, so one good strategy is to ask them “How much do you know about EFT already?” They will usually try to explain it in their own words and may realize that their EFT education, if any, needs help. At that point, you have a big opportunity to reassure them and provide new information. For example you might say, “That’s fine if you don’t understand it completely. EFT is probably different from anything you have experienced before, so let me tell you what you can expect in our sessions.”
Follow that up with detailed Tell the Story instructions. Tell them why we stop for intensity – it is an opportunity to clear out a disruption that we don’t want to miss, and it will make the rest of the story less painful. Let them know in advance that you will be checking in if you see signs of intensity that they may have missed. There is no need to use the word “interrupt” unless you want to. Also let them know in advance that other memories or issues may come to mind during the process. If that does happen we will write them down to address later, and get back to the event we started.
My client keeps jumping around to other issues and events.
There are two common reasons for this.
1. The event is too current: When using Tell the Story Technique or any of its variations to address a more current event, like a relationship or current work situation, the emotional responses your client has to those events may be sitting on decades of similar experiences. The current situation is most likely part of a pattern that started some time ago, so rather than work at the top of the pile and bounce around in the middle, go deeper and see where it started. Ask your client what this current feeling (or person) reminds them of? When have they felt it before? Look for an answer from childhood.
2. Collection of Events: The other possibility is that the events in your client’s history are so closely related that they are hard to separate. Common examples are a collection of Mom issues, a collection of Dad issues, or even a collection of social challenges in school. First, reassure the client that you will be getting to all of those events in due time, and until a good selection of them have been resolved, it may be hard to keep them straight, but it will get easier with time - and more EFT.
If the client has a more compromised emotional state based on a long term traumatic background, like a child of alcoholic or otherwise abusive parents, for example, then the challenge is much greater and it will take professional training to approach those cases safely and appropriately.
Some notes on containment: In general, containing your client’s focus so that it stays on one event starts with your process of choosing and qualifying the event. Review the criteria in the Specific Events article and go through those criteria with your client for each event before addressing it. Once you are both clear about the boundaries of the event, it will be easier to identify when the client has shifted into a different territory.
Managing the client’s focus also has a lot to do with the Setup and Reminder language you use. Using global language that refers to more than one aspect at a time, or a long term pattern of response, may cause the client’s focus to expand into whatever you have asked it to. Be sure your language is targeting the specific moment you are trying to resolve, and not drifting into a larger collection of related material.
What if I can’t get the intensities all the way to zero?
Again, there are several situations that could lead to this challenge, but they all suggest that your target is too global in some way.
If you are tapping on a presenting issue (Tabletop) rather than a Specific Event (Table Leg), then the intensity could be stubborn because there are so many events and aspects on the table at once. You simply cannot resolve an entire long term issue with a few rounds of EFT. You may be able to take the edge off for the time being, or get to a zero that doesn’t last very long, but getting measurable lasting results on a long term issue means finding the related events and tapping through them specifically.
Once you have narrowed your target down to a 1-3 minute event, be sure you’re going through it one frame at a time and using the The Basic Recipe on each Aspect individually. If you are trying to resolve a whole event with a few rounds of tapping, the problem is the same. You have too many aspects on the table at once. Go through the event as instructed one frame at a time, and tap on smaller parts of the event until they all come down to zero, and the event as a whole will tend toward zero as well.
If you are tapping on one frame within a Specific Events and the intensity won’t come down, consider the possibility that this aspect of the event is connected to a bigger issue or bigger collection of events, and they all got triggered when you started tapping. Again, you ended up with a lot of aspects on the table, so the intensity can be stubborn. Adjusting your language so that it references that unique moment rather than the bigger issue will help. Consider these examples:
- “His tone changed and it scared me” vs “I’m afraid when people yell at me”
- “I left a dirty spot on the floor” vs “ I didn’t do it right”
- “I was afraid to say anything to her” vs “I’m afraid to express myself”
The latter, more global versions will encourage the client’s system to tune into more than one event. Experiment with language to see how being more specific to that moment can keep you client’s system from drifting off to other events or issues. Otherwise their intensity reports could be based on more than you think.
When you uncover a new event or issue by accident, make a note for future sessions. The issues can be broken down into their own events for continued progress with your client.
© Gary and Tina Craig
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