Research in Energy Psychology is in its infancy. While EP as a field is relatively new, the use of energetic metaphors to illuminate psychological processes is not. Sigmund Freud explained his theories using energetic concepts such as libido, repression, cathexis and catharsis in terms of the physics (Maxwell's thermodynamics) of his time (Galatzer-Levy, 1976; Sulloway, 1992). Carl Jung related new discoveries in physics to explore his notions of synchronicity and acausality in terms of quantum mechanics (Jung, 1969; Enz 2009). Energetic concepts were central to the work of Wilhelm Reich and have been retained in contemporary somatic psychotherapies (Shapiro, 2002; Pierrakos, 1990; Kurtz, 2006). Notions of 'energy' play a central role in cross-cultural healing traditions worldwide, such as the Christian practice of "laying on of hands," shamanic healing practices (Krippner & Rock, 2011), Native American healing (Braswell & Wong 1994), and Traditional Chinese medicine (Hammer, 2005). Ninety-seven cultures have been identified whose healing traditions refer to a human energy field (White & Krippner, 1977).
Energy psychology is grounded in classical behavioral theories of exposure, conditioning, and reciprocal inhibition (Wolpe, 1958; Ruden, 2005; Lane, 2009). The stimulation of acupuncture points has been shown over the course of a ten-year research program at Harvard Medical School to rapidly reduce limbic system arousal (Fang, 2009). Energy psychology methods are behavioral desensitization techniques which combine imaginal exposure with the stimulation of acupressure points (Gallo, 2004; Feinstein, 2010; Church and Brooks, 2010). In a comprehensive assessment of the evidence on psychological and pharmaceutical treatment outcomes, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences found that the single type of intervention (psychological or pharmaceutical) whose efficacy was judged as having been established according to the rigorous standards used in the IOM's review was psychological exposure (Committee on Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, 2008). Energy psychology methods combine psychological exposure and cognitive restructuring with the stimulation of acupoints, which is based on the well-documented phenomenon of acupuncture and acupressure analgesia (e.g., Kober et al., 2002; Birch et al., 2004; Sun et al., 2008; Fang et al., 2009; Claunch et al., 2012).
Evidence of strong clinical outcomes following energy psychology interventions has been accumulating. In a review of 51 published outcome reports or systematic investigations, including studies conducted by independent researchers, each reported evidence for efficacy (Feinstein, 2012). Moreover, several of the studies used only a small number of sessions in treating symptoms of PTSD and produced strong outcomes whose results held up three, six, twelve, and/or twenty-four months later (Church, 2010; Church et al., 2012; Connolly & Sakai, 2011; Karatzias et al., 2011; Sakai, Connolly, & Oas, 2010), outcomes that appear to be robust and durable.
Energy Psychology methods are eclectic, drawing upon Gendlin's notion of the felt sense (Gendlin, 1996), the T.O.T.E model (Miller, Galanter, & Pribram, 1960), and the use of the Subjective Units of Distress (SUD) scale (Wolpe & Lazarus, 1966). Mechanisms of action for these techniques have been proposed (Ruden, 2005; Lane, 2011). One theoretical model hypothesizes that: 1) imaginal exposure activates an amygdala threat response; 2) stimulating selected acupoints reduces limbic arousal (Kober et al., 2002; Sun et al., 2008; Fang et al., 2009; Claunch et al., 2012); thereby 3) reciprocally inhibiting and counterconditioning the threat response; and 4) rewiring neural pathways where reduced arousal becomes re-associated with the triggers that were mentally activated (Feinstein, 2010; Lane, 2011).
Some skeptics of energy psychology methods have suggested that early positive findings may be attributed to poor research methodology, experimenter bias, or expectancy effects. Following this line of reasoning, one would expect that as these issues are overcome, the positive findings would diminish. However, even as research methodologies have become more rigorous (e.g., Church, Yount, & Brooks, 2012; Connolly & Sakai, 2011) and these techniques are being studied by teams of independent researchers (Karatzias et al., 2011), EP methods continue to demonstrate high levels of clinical and statistical significance, on both psychological and physiological measures. Energy psychology protocols have been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol (Church, Yount, & Brooks, 2012), activate stress-reducing genes (Feinstein & Church, 2010), normalize aberrant brain wave patterns (Diepold & Goldstein, 2009; Lambrou, Pratt, & Chevalier, 2003; Swingle, Pulos, & Swingle, 2004), and increase production of serotonin, opioids, and other neurotransmitters associated with pleasure (Church & Feinstein, 2012).
For further information, see the research pages at energypsych.org and energypsychresearch.com.
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