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Research On
Energy Psychology

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.

Selected References

Birch S., Hesselink, J. K., Jonkman, F.A., Hekker, T. A., & Bos, A. (2004). Clinical research on acupuncture. What have reviews of the efficacy and safety of acupuncture told us so far? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 10(3), 468-80.

Braswell, M. E., & Wong, H. D. (1994). Perceptions of rehabilitation counselors regarding Native American healing practices. The Journal of Rehabilitation, 60(2), 33-37.

Church, D. (2010). The treatment of combat trauma in veterans using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques): A pilot protocol. Traumatology, 15(1), 45-55.

Church, D., & Brooks, A. J. (2010). The effect of a brief EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) self-intervention on anxiety, depression, pain and cravings in healthcare workers. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal, 9(5), 40-44.

Church, D., Brooks, A. (2010b). A Review of the EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Method, Research, and Application. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal, 9(4), 22-26.

Church, D., De Asis, M., Brooks, A. (2012). Brief group intervention using EFT (emotional freedom techniques) for depression in college students: A randomized controlled trial. Accepted for publication in the Journal of Depression Research and Treatment.

Church, D., Feinstein, D. (2012). The psychobiology and clinical principles of energy psychology treatments for PTSD: A review. In T. Van Leeuwen and M. Brouwer Editors, Psychology of Trauma, (in press). Hauppage, NY: Nova Publishers.

Church, D., Hawk, C, Brooks, A., Toukolehto, O., Wren, M., Dinter, I., Stein, P. (2012). Psychological trauma symptom improvement in veterans using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques): A randomized controlled trial. Accepted for publication by the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

Church, D., Yount, G. & Brooks, A. (2012). The effect of emotional freedom technique (EFT) on stress biochemistry: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 200(10), 891-896.

Claunch J., Chan S., Nixon E., Qiu W., Sporko T., Dunn, J., Kwong, K.,& Hui,K. (2012). Commonality and specificity of acupuncture action at three acupoints as evidenced by FMRI. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 40(4):695-712.

Committee on Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. (2008). Treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: An assessment of the evidence. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Connolly, S.M., & Sakai, C.E. (2011). Brief trauma symptom intervention with Rwandan genocide survivors using Thought Field Therapy. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 13(3), 161-172.

Enz, C. P. (2009). Of matter and spirit: Selected essays. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific Publishing.

Fang, J., Jin, Z., Wang, Y., Li, K., Kong , J., Nixon , E. E., . . . Hui, K. K.-S. (2009). The salient characteristics of the central effects of acupuncture needling: Limbic-paralimbic-neocortical network modulation. Human Brain Mapping, 30, 1196 - 1206.

Feinstein, D. (2010). Rapid treatment of PTSD: Why psychological exposure with acupoint tapping may be effective. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. 47(3), 385-402.

Feinstein, D. (2012). Acupoint Stimulation in Treating Psychological Disorders: Evidence of Efficacy. Review of General Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028602

Friedman, N. (2004). Eugene Gendlin's approach to psychotherapy. Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 7.

Galatzer-Levy, R. (1976). Psychic energy: A historical perspective. Annual of Psychoanalysis, 4, 41-61.

Gendlin, E. (1996). Focusing-oriented psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.

Hammer, Leon. (2005). Dragon rises, red bird flies: Psychology and Chinese medicine. New York: Eastland Press.

Jung, C. G. (1969). Synchronicity: An acausal connecting principle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Karatzias, T., Power, K., Brown, K., McGoldrick, T., Begum, M., Young, J. . . . & Adams, S. (2011). A controlled comparison of the effectiveness and efficiency of two psychological therapies for posttraumatic stress disorder: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing vs. Emotional Freedom Techniques. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 199, 372-378.

Kober A., Scheck, T., Greher, M., Lieba, F., Fleischhackl, R., Fleischhackl, S., . . . Hoerauf, K. (2002). Pre-hospital analgesia with acupressure in victims of minor trauma: A prospective, randomized, double-blinded trial. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 95 (3), 723-727.

Krippner, S., & Rock, A. J. (2011). Demystifying shamans and their world: A multidisciplinary study. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic.

Kurtz, R. (1997). Body-centered psychotherapy: The Hakomi method. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm.

Lane, J. (2009). The neurochemistry of counterconditioning: Acupressure desensitization in psychotherapy. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, & Treatment, 1(1), 31-44.

Llewellyn-Edwards, T., & Llewellyn-Edwards, M. (2012, Spring). The effect of EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) on soccer performance. Fidelity: Journal for the National Council of Psychotherapy, 47, 14 - 19.

Miller, G., Galanter, E., & Pribram, K. (1960). Plans and the structure of behavior. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, & Winston.

Pierrakos, J. C. (1990). Core energetics: Developing the capacity to love and heal. Mendocino, CA: Liferhythms.

Rotheram, M., Maynard, I., Thomas, O. Bawden, M. & Francis, L. (2012). Preliminary evidence for the treatment of Type 1 'Yips': The efficacy of the Emotional Freedom Techniques. The Sports Psychologist, 26, 551-570.

Ruden, R. A. (2005). A neurological basis for the observed peripheral sensory modulation of emotional responses. Traumatology, 11, 145-158. doi: 10.1177/153476560501100301

Sakai, C. S., Connolly, S. M., & Oas, P. (2010). Treatment of PTSD in Rwandan genocide survivors using Thought Field Therapy. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 12(1), 41-50.

Shapiro, D. (2002). Theoretical reflections on Wilhelm Reich's character analysis. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 56, 338-346.

Sulloway, F. (1992). Freud, biologist of the mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sun, Y., Gan, T. J., Dubose, J. W., & Habib A. S. (2008). Acupuncture and related techniques for postoperative pain: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. British Journal of Anaesthesia,101(2), 151-60.

White, J., & Krippner, S. (1977). Future science: Life energies and the physics of paranormal phenomena. New York: Anchor.

Wolpe, J. 1969. The practice of behavior therapy. New York: Pergamon Press.

Wolpe, J. & Lazarus, A. (1966). Behavior therapy techniques: A guide to the treatment of neuroses. Oxford: Pergamon.

Zhang Y, Feng B, Xie JP, Xu FZ, Chen J. (2011). Clinical study on treatment of the earthquake-caused post-traumatic stress disorder by cognitive-behavior therapy and acupoint stimulation. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 31, 60-63. doi: 10.1016/S0254-6272(11)60014-9.