By Dr. Carol Look
"Joseph" contacted me because of a recent series of disturbing panic attacks with specific claustrophobic features. The series of attacks--one in the movie theater, one on the subway, and one on an international flight--left Joseph feeling spooked and full of dread. His fear of having another attack led him into an elaborate plan of approach to his daily commute to work. In one EFT session, his claustrophobia, with a variety of aspects, was relieved.
We began tapping for the trauma of his first identified attack which occurred in a movie theater. The triggering scene in the movie involved the villain locking up people in a small glassed-in enclosure. Joseph experienced the walls and ceiling of the theater closing in on him. He couldn’t catch his breath and had to run out of the theater.
Since the primary sensory image was that of his not getting enough air, we began there.
Even though I couldn’t breathe at the movies...
Even though the walls were closing in on me...
We also tapped for his feeling of “family pressure.” He had been engaged to a woman from a culture very different from his own. His parents highly disapproved of his “interracial relationship” and had threatened to disown him if he continued the relationship. He had been at the movies with his girlfriend when the feelings of claustrophobia occurred.
I asked Joseph to visualize the exact movie scene when the claustrophobia began.
We tapped until he felt calm when picturing himself sitting in the movie theater. He burst out laughing because of how relaxed his body felt after the first two rounds of tapping.
We then tapped for the 2nd attack which occurred on the subway on his way from his home in Brooklyn to his job in Manhattan. As a result of this attack, he had devised a plan for getting to work “safely,” which involved getting off every few stops to breathe, calm down, and drink some water. He usually panicked when the subway went underground (the beginning of his route was above ground) and when the crowds threatened his sense of getting enough air.
We tapped as follows:
Even though I’m afraid of the train getting stuck between stops...
Even though I can’t breathe on the subway...
Even though I hate going down into the tunnel...
Even though I can’t breathe when there are too many people...
While I forgot to ask for a SUDs rating on a scale from 0-10, Joseph was easily able to picture himself on the subway going to work in the morning after a few rounds of tapping. As he was writing the check for the session, he said, “Those feelings of not being able to breathe reminded me of how my father used to put a pillow on our faces to wake us up in the morning.” He said he was surprised by this memory but felt no need to tap for it. I suspected it had been folded into the other panic feelings about not being able to breathe and was taken care of with the first few rounds of tapping.
Joseph called me when he had arrived at work after our session to say that the tapping was successful for his trip on a new subway line (always cause for anxiety) that he rode to get from my office to his job.
Our next session was the following week. Joseph was elated and reported astounding progress.
His subway rides had been enormously relieving, even comfortable. He didn’t panic once, and found himself breathing with ease. During one commute, he said the after-work crowd was particularly daunting. However, he was able to convince himself that as long as he had a small space around him, that was enough for him to breathe. (This logic is unheard of for someone suffering from claustrophobia.)
He had never been able to soothe himself before his experience with the tapping.
He admitted that he had even “tried” to get himself upset during one ride to test both himself and the treatment, yet was unable to produce discomfort or fear.
Joseph also reported that elevator rides were no longer threatening or frightening, something he had mentioned (though we hadn’t had time to tap for it) during the first session. He was tested at work because of an off-site day with a client which involved riding new elevators, and negative associations connected to feelings of panic in small spaces.
This didn’t bother him at all, even though one elevator was broken and caused him to worry about how he would react.
He was also tested at work when he and 8 others were put in a small, windowless room, each with a computer, and asked to work there all day. Other than being hot from lack of air conditioning, Joseph said he felt totally calm. Normally, a room without windows would have sent him into fits of panic.
Joseph described feeling a little anxious Sunday night about his Monday a.m. commute, and tapped for 2 rounds. Monday morning was a breeze for him, despite the rush-hour crowds. He was able to ride all the way to work without switching in the middle to get a breath of air, walk around and re-board the next train. He said he used to ride at least 3 trains to give himself breathing time in between stops. He also took an express train for the first time in weeks.
Normally, he would have felt trapped by fewer opportunities for “rest stops.”
Another example of Joseph’s progress was that on Friday night, he had made a mistake by taking the wrong train home. Not only did he go very out of his way, he had to ride another unfamiliar train to get back to his apartment. This mishap did not cause him any feelings of panic or the fear of being trapped and unable to breathe.
The final indication that Joseph’s breathing fears were over involved his decision to wear a turtleneck sweater to our first session.
He was well aware that turtlenecks always exacerbated his panic about not getting enough breath. He said he was able to wear the turtleneck comfortably several times between our 2 sessions as a result of the tapping, a sure sign to him that he was over this problem.
A future event that scared Joseph was a planned flight to his home country, a 20- hour ordeal. We tapped for the panic attack he had had on the last international flight he took which ended up in his deplaning and backing out of his scheduled trip. He described it as very traumatic. He said the main reason he “flipped out” was because he hadn’t told anyone in his family that he was going away. He said that this had caused immeasurable pressure and had caused the claustrophobia and panic attack on the plane.
I had him narrate the story from the drive to the airport through to the attack that led him to get off the flight after boarding.
We tapped throughout the “story” on different aspects.
Even though I felt anxious driving ... and could get enough air in the taxi...
Even though I couldn't breathe because of the pressure...
Even though I panicked when I looked down the aisle...
Even though I couldn’t breathe and had to run off the plane...
We tapped until he could feel comfortable visualizing himself on the last flight, and on the future flight.
Joseph plans to contact me during the holidays before he embarks on his scheduled international flight. Nevertheless, he felt confident that he could take care of any other aspects of his panic condition that arose in the coming months.