By Steven Gottlieb, EFT Practitioner
In this article, I describe an incident when a participant in a group tapping session experienced a very intense somatic reaction (sometimes referred to as an abreaction) that came about unexpectedly. Tapping in the usual way was not possible, but eye circle movements and Gamut point tapping brought the situation back to “normal.” The participant seemed to have a distinct shift in perception afterward. Though these events are rare, it’s good to know we have alternate techniques to use—something to keep in mind should anything like this happen in your EFT work. This also demonstrates the effectiveness of using eye circle movements in EFT practice.
The participant, who I’ll refer to as Allison, described to the group how she never felt comfortable learning how to drive (Allison is close to 70) and now she wanted to challenge herself to do so. Remarkably, without any other prompting, the next thing she said was that she thought her issue stemmed from a time when she was little and her father had accidently hit a child with his car. I thought I heard her say that her father had accidently killed the child in this accident. Recognizing the opportunity to share with the group the power of EFT when working on a traumatic incident like this, I demonstrated how we might fashion a Setup that included language about this.
In hindsight, perhaps I should have confirmed with Allison that she was emotionally okay to proceed along these lines, although at the time she showed no sign of any disturbance telling us this. As soon as she heard me say the words “her father killed a child,” Allison seemed to go into a spontaneous panic reaction that some psychologists might refer to as an abreaction: a spontaneous physiological disruption that reflects a reexperiencing of the root trauma. Freud was the first to describe this phenomenon as a normal reaction to trauma. Such occurrences are not typical of EFT sessions, however, although we are very familiar with intense emotions arising.
Allison had no idea what was going on with her and her panic may indeed have been related to how she was still cognitively functional, but her body was showing signs of extreme trauma. Allison was saying, “Oh, my god, what’s happening, what’s happening?” and she was clutching her body and face. This was not anything like our usual reports of SUD level being a 10; this was something else altogether.
My first obvious concern was for the possible reactions from others in the group at witnessing such an unusual disturbing event, so I made sure that everyone was tapping. Remaining calm and composed, as if to suggest that everything was okay, I asked Allison if it was possible for her to tap. It wasn’t. I offered to tap on her directly, but this was not possible either; she was still fully abreacting and her hands were clutching her body and face. I then asked her to follow my finger with her eyes. This she was able to do.
At first, I had Allison follow my finger as I made a horizontal figure-8 pattern (infinity symbol) and her abreaction intensified significantly. Then I switched to making slow circular movements and this immediately began taking her out of the abreaction. As soon as I was able, I added tapping on the Gamut point (back of her hand). We continued tapping the Gamut point and making eye circles until her reaction fully subsided. This was maybe 5 minutes. After our emotional emergency was apparently quelled, we were able to continue our tapping group in usual form, using a few different people’s stories as opportunities to explore how EFT resolves stress and emotional memories, and having everyone “borrow benefits” from the group tapping.
A bit later, Allison, appearing fully recovered, remarked how something significant in her had shifted and how she now saw everything and everyone as more vibrant and full of color. Someone else in the group commented that Allison looked much different now compared to the way she’d looked at the beginning of the group session.
When I checked in later with Allison, she proclaimed that she didn’t remember saying anything about her father killing a child with his car and her reaction happened as a result of me intuiting that information for her. Though there was no way now to be sure of what really happened, I was glad to confirm that Allison was okay and was open to considering learning to drive after all. And, having known Allison from before our group session, the way she was expressing herself now seemed to me to be significantly different too, for the better in my estimation.