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Working with Trauma: The connection Between EFT and the Amygdala


By By Nikki Ball

Having worked in mental health for the past 12 years I have always been fascinated by how the brain works, in particular, the amygdala. The amygdala is a small part of the brain shaped a bit like an almond, and is situated in the center of the brain.  It is the primitive part of the brain that controls emotions, the fight-or-flight response (fear), and impulsive behavior.

Recently in the UK, there was a program discussing the effects of acupuncture on pain and using CAT scans to see patterns of activity in the brain. I had also read that there was some research done at Harvard University using scans to reveal how EFT had a direct effect on the amygdala.

The research suggested that the process of EFT asked the client to focus on a specific thought that elicited the fear response by the amygdala. The scans showed that tapping on acupressure points appeared to send vibrations along the meridians directly to the amygdala, which actually turned down the fear response, rather like a dimmer switch.

The amygdala is also responsible for processing stressful events in our lives and turning them into memories. It will also process any sensory information that is present at the time of the event and associates it with that memory. For example, if a sick person goes to a hospital (where disinfectant smells abound) and then later smells disinfectant, it could bring back any associated emotions that were going on during the hospital stay.

I have found that, when using EFT with trauma issues, it is important to tap on any particular sensory memories such as smells, sounds, tastes, physical sensations, and, of course, images and visual memories.

I discovered this for myself when working with a client who had been in a horrific car accident some years ago. She was driving along a motorway when a truck hit her car, causing her car to flip over. The car was so badly damaged that she had to be cut out of it by the fire crew. Amazingly, she only suffered a broken neck, but the fire crew were surprised she didn’t die. She came to see me for some EFT, as she suffered with panic attacks and anxiety whenever she drove on the motorway, ever since the accident.

I asked her to describe the accident in as much detail as possible and we treated each aspect in turn. Her level of intensity came down gradually on each aspect. However, what I observed to have the most impact was when we tapped for “the sound of the lorry hitting the car.” 

This piece of sensory information had clearly been processed so strongly at the time of the accident that, when we treated it, it collapsed the trauma memory instantly. After tapping on this, I asked her to think about the sound of the lorry again to determine the level of intensity, and she had real trouble recalling it at all.

I have since worked with other clients with trauma memories and I always make sure to uncover the sensory memories and treat them first.