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Is Energy Psychology For Real?

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Updated November 27, 2005

Is Energy Psychology For Real?

Energy Psychology is a relatively new set of techniques that combine Eastern approaches to the mind and body with Western psychology and psychotherapy ideas.  Practitioners of several forms of energy psychotherapy claim that tapping acupuncture points while thinking about an anxiety-producing event can cure anxiety and phobias.  Is this possible?  What do acupuncture points have to do with anxiety?

Energy Psychology techniques were first popularized in the early 1980s by Roger Callahan, Ph.D. under the names of "The Callahan Technique" or "Thought Field Therapy."  Callahan charged hundreds of dollars for training, but training programs based on his technique are now more reasonably priced.  David Feinstein, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, has developed an interactive CD-ROM that claims to provide training in energy psychotherapy.  Feinstein has done a good job of presenting the basics of the technique in a balanced manner.  It may even be possible for a trained therapist to begin using energy psychotherapy techniques after working through the lessons on this CD-ROM. 

It's too early to know whether energy psychotherapy will really prove to be an effective technique.  Similar approaches such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) sound just as strange on the surface; yet some good research has backed-up the effectiveness of EMDR.  Some intriguing early research suggests that tapping certain points on the body while thinking about an anxiety-producing situation produces symptom improvement in a very small number of sessions.   These early studies were performed in South America by practitioners who were attempting to standardize these techniques. The studies were not double blind and did not have particularly good control groups, but the results, as reported by Joaquín Andrade, M.D. and David Feinstein, Ph.D., are intriguing. According to Andrade and Feinstein:

In preliminary clinical trials involving more than 29,000 patients from 11 allied treatment centers in South America during a 14-year period, a variety of randomized, double-blind pilot studies were conducted.  In one of these, approximately 5,000 patients diagnosed at intake with an anxiety disorder were randomly assigned to an experimental group (tapping) or a control group (cognitive behavior therapy /medication). Ratings were given by independent clinicians who interviewed each patient at the close of therapy, at 1 month, at 3 months, at 6 months, and at 12 months.  The raters made a determination of complete remission of symptoms, partial remission of symptoms, or no clinical response.  The raters did not know if the patient received CBT/medication or tapping.  They knew only the initial diagnosis, the symptoms, and the severity, as judged by the intake staff.  At the close of therapy:  63% of the control group were judged as having improved; 90% of the experimental group were judged as having improved.  51% of the control group were judged as being symptom free; 76% of the experimental group were judged as symptom free. (Andrade & Feinstein, 2003

Energy psychology advocates suggest that tapping acupuncture points stimulates "mechanoreceptors" - nerve endings that are sensitive to touch.  This stimulation is theorized to somehow normalize the body's energy channels and fields.  The theories behind these techniques are not particularly convincing to me.  It could be that the techniques work; but that they work for reasons that have nothing to do with the human energy field. Different kinds of "energy work" are becoming more popular among holistic health practitioners; and it is true that we do not yet understand much about the energy fields that surround the human body.   

The jury is still out on energy psychology.  These techniques could provide a way to quickly treat anxiety, trauma disorders,  and phobias.   Stay tuned as future studies add evidence for us to consider.

Last updated 11/27/05

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