Energy Psychology for Treating Mental Illness

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Energy psychology is a relatively new method of therapy that combines Eastern approaches to the mind and body with Western psychology and psychotherapy ideas. Practitioners of energy psychotherapy claim that tapping acupuncture points while thinking about an anxiety-producing event can improve conditions such as anxiety disorders, phobias, and PTSD. Though this therapy is still controversial, continuing research is showing it to be a potentially promising treatment.


Energy psychology techniques were first popularized in the early 1980s by Roger Callahan, PhD under the name of "thought field therapy." David Feinstein, PhD, a clinical psychologist, has developed an energy psychology program that provides training, even for people to use at home. Feinstein has done a good job of presenting the basics of the technique in a balanced manner. There are several branches of energy psychology, including the aforementioned thought field therapy, emotional freedom techniques, and comprehensive energy psychology.

How Energy Psychology Works

Treatment begins similarly to any other form of psychotherapy with the therapist and patient developing trust and rapport and zeroing in on problems. The therapist starts by identifying a particular trigger, which is a thought, image or memory that sparks upsetting or anxiety-producing feelings, and then asks the patient to rate how distressing that trigger is on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest distress. The next step is to have the patient tap on certain acupuncture points, called acupoints while repeating a statement about the trigger that has been agreed upon by both the patient and therapist.

The way it is thought to work is that the brain is expecting a highly unpleasant emotional reaction to occur in response to the trigger, but it doesn't because the tapping of the acupoints has "temporarily deactivated the limbic response," theorizes Feinstein in one of his many articles on the topic. In this way, with many repetitions, patients learn to in effect neutralize the emotions that painful or upsetting thoughts or memories evoke. 

After the tapping is complete, the therapist has the patient rate the trigger again, perhaps describing physical symptoms as well. The tapping is repeated until the rate goes down to a zero, or very close to it. Purportedly, this takes very little time, though follow-up sessions may be needed.

The Verdict

It's too early to know for certain whether or not energy psychotherapy will really prove to be an effective technique. However, 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. As of 2014, over 60 studies had been published on the efficacy of energy psychology, with only one showing it to be ineffective. It is being used to treat a variety of issues such as depression, anxiety, trauma, pain, and stress.

The research certainly looks extremely promising, and energy psychology may turn out to be an effective option for certain patients.

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. 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.  

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  • "What is Energy Psychology?" Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (2016).
  • Feinstein, David. "How Energy Psychology Changes Deep Emotional Learnings." The Neuropsychotherapist (January 2015).