Something I’m doing that’s actually working(!): EFT

Close up on top of SIngin' in the Rain poster, featuring paintings of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor in yellow raincoats, carrying umbrellas. At the top it says "What a glorious feeling"

I was always dysthymic growing up. Then, in 1999, when I was 20, I really fell into an abyss and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Since then, I’ve had all kinds of therapy.

I’ve seen psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, life coaches, and NLP practitioners and done everything from hypnosis to CBT to dredging up sad memories and crying a lot. (A lot.) I’ve also tried herbs, relaxation, dietary changes, nine different anti-depressants, and acupuncture, among other things.

Turns out, I have the intractable sort of depression: chronic, medication-resistant, baffling to all the medical professionals/healing types who thought a few sessions with them would have me back on the street singing and dancing like Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.

That’s not to say I didn’t improve at all. I went from being wrapped in a duvet on the sofa every day to rediscovering my love of writing and actually squeezing a little enjoyment out of my life. But I still felt hopeless. Talk therapy had given me insight into the causes of my feelings but it didn’t actually help me to FEEL BETTER. I was forced to accept that this is just how I am and that no one could help me, least of all myself.

Then I discovered EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques, also known as “tapping”) thanks to a psychologist I was seeing, who suggested it as kind of a last resort. I’m more into practice than theory but from what I can tell, it’s based on the same theory as acupuncture, that we’re all made up of energy which flows along meridians and can be manipulated to make us feel better. Only instead of needles, with EFT, all you need are your hands. (“Dirty.”)

The first time I tried it, I felt ridiculous. My psychologist guided me as I used two fingers to lightly tap on acupressure points on my face, chest, and under my arm while saying a phrase that summed up what was bothering me. (I don’t remember exactly what it was, but probably some variant on the dominant insecurity of my twenties, “WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE ME?”)

As I was tapping and speaking, I focused on the negativity I felt in my gut, like a weight pulling me down. It was overwhelming, and as I tapped it became more intense. I wanted to cry, to stuff my face with ice cream, to throw myself out of a window just to escape the self-hate and sadness, to… nothing.

Suddenly, as I was tapping just above my chin, the intense emotion vanished, like a bubble being burst. I was flooded with relief. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten what had made me feel so bad, but there was no longer any emotion attached to it. It was amazing.

Now, I know it sounds kooky. If the pre-EFT me were reading this about someone else I’d definitely be “Hmph!”-ing right about now. No one could be more surprised by what I’m saying than me, the woman who used to think vitamin C tablets were a con.

But it’s continued to work. In fact, I don’t know how I would have got through the last year of horrifying health issues without it. Most afternoons, I take a break to lie down, do some EFT, then listen to a relaxation app. Sometimes tapping stirs up painful emotions and I’m grumpy or tired afterwards, but I’m always less hopeless and often feel lighter, like I’ve released something. (Sometimes I literally have: it’s common to yawn and even burp when an issue “shifts”, so it’s fun for all the family.)

I’ve also been seeing a specialist for the last couple of years, and she’s helped me a lot. While EFT can bring quick changes on short-term issues (if I’m upset about something someone said to me, I can be over it within half an hour, instead of stewing about it for the rest of the day like I used to), its long-term changes are more gradual. But I’ve used it to help face issues I could never get into in traditional talk therapy, and after every appointment, I feel more open-hearted and hopeful, like I’m moving in the right direction.

With past therapists, we’d rehash stuff then I’d be left to deal with with all the feelings it brought up. It was miserable, but felt deep and meaningful, like I was a character in a Woody Allen film. At EFT appointments, I often go in crying and come out laughing, like someone watching a Woody Allen film. (Circa 1979.) To have found something that works to any extent feels miraculous after so many false starts. Plus I’m not dependent on someone else: I can use these tools whenever I need to, and almost always feel at least somewhat better. I only wish I’d known about this in my duvet days.

But although I’m glad to have found it, I’m not suggesting that everyone should shred their Prozac prescriptions or run screaming from traditional therapy (unless maybe there’s a fire). There’s no one answer for everyone, and I get it if you’re skeptical about EFT: if you think it sounds ridiculous or that it doesn’t really work for me. But it does.

Image: Impawards.

After words:: An (unpaid, unasked for, and who knows, possibly unwanted) recommendation of something tangentially related that I read and loved. This week? Maria Bamford and the Cathartic Comedy of Mental Illness by Marissa Carroll.

  • “Talk therapy had given me insight into the causes of my feelings but it didn’t actually help me to FEEL BETTER.”

    Oh my goodness, that’s exactly how I feel but actually phrased correctly. I feel like I understand my OCD as well as any psychologist; I know how it works, why it works, what happens and the process within it. But that doesn’t make me *any less terrified*. It doesn’t make the thoughts easier to deal with. I was even discharged from CBT because — as they put in the letter to my GP — they’d taught me all the could.

    I’m due to start something called Psychodynamic therapy soon, which is some torturously long self-analysis that might get to the root of my anxiety issues (general suggestion is that OCD is just a manifestation of deeper issues; my way of trying to “control” mental unrest). Like yourself, I’m pretty far down the treatment route: all the drugs, all the CBT, lots of different psychiatrists, and zip all improvement. Even the medication that is the “classic” severe OCD drug doesn’t help anymore.

    So yeah, I’m intrigued by the idea of EFT, for sure. I’m going to go research it now. While my obvious issues are anxiety-driven, I definitely have depressive issues (often about how much I’m struggling with my OCD!) and maybe it’d be good for OCD in and of itself. I don’t know, but I’m open to anything and this is a new one on me.

    I’ll still go ahead with Psychodynamics but I’m being monitored outside of that by a counsellor, and I have an appointment on Thursday, and now I know what I’ll be talking about 🙂

    On a less selfish note, I’m so pleased for you on both this and the yoga. I know how bogged down a litany of mental and physical health difficulties can make one feel, and what you’re doing is damn inspirational. I sometimes really suck at properly getting my ~feelings out (which you know, lol, meant to be a writer) but I love this blog and I think what you’re doing is amazing.

    • Thanks, Toni — you’re lovely, and that means a lot! It sucks when therapy reaches the end of the road and practitioners just kind of shrug and say ‘Well, we tried’ but I think part of that is trying to fit everyone into the same mould (CBT is so straightforward and easy to administer that it seems to be used for everything, even if it may not help/people with a more entrenched problem will need more sessions than the NHS can give). I’m glad they’re doing something for you, though, and wish you luck with the psychodynamic therapy. I also wish you luck with EFT, if you decide to try it. The good thing is, you don’t need to believe in it for it to work — and if you’re very in touch with what you’re worrying about/what your brain’s telling you, that will only help. I’d recommend seeing a practitioner at least once to make sure you’re doing it properly (plus they can dissolve trauma more quickly) but it’s also something you can do alongside other stuff. I’ve even heard of people using it *in* traditional therapy, so that might be an option for you, if it’s digging up a lot of strong emotion. ANYWAY, thank you for being a kind and encouraging reader, and fingers crossed for you. xo