Energy Psychology Research


© 2016 Fred P. Gallo PhD, DCEP

Thousands of therapeutic practitioners find that Energy Psychology approaches are highly effective in view of the large number of case reports and their clinical experiences. While case reports are interesting and essential in the early phases of development, empirical research is needed to discern if the therapeutic results are due to a significant extent to the method itself. What follows is a partial review of the research. However, it should be noted that while empirical studies aim to discern the effectiveness of the procedures themselves, the therapeutic relationship is also of utmost importance (Norcross 2011).

In addition to effectively treating a variety of conditions, including anxiety, phobias, depression, and physical pain (Wade 1990; Leonoff 1995; Carbonell 1997;  Darby 2001; Wells et al. 2003;  Lambrou, Pratt, and Chevalier 2003; Darby 2001; Schoninger 2001; Salas, Brooks, and Rowe 2011; Sakai et al. 2000; Pignotti 2005; Church and Brooks 2009), the efficiency of energy psychology in treating trauma and PTSD has becoming increasingly established over nearly two decades (Figley et al., 1999; Diepold and Goldstein, 2000, 2008; Johnson et al. 2001; Green 2002; Sakai 2007; Church et a. 2009; Church 2009; Church, Piña, Reategui, and Brooks 2009; Church, Geronilla, and Dinter 2009; Burk 2010; Church, Yount, and Brooks 2012; Church et al. 2013).  Studies using EP in treating PTSD are particularly interesting, since generally PTSD has been considered a treatment-resistant and refractory condition. Some have argued that it may be incurable, and should be regarded as a condition that can only be managed (Johnson et al. 2004; Phelps 2009). I hypothesize that EP approaches may actually eliminate the trauma by activating the implicit memory associated with amygdala neurons and permanently altering their connections or wiring (Hebb 1949). What follows is a summary of some of the most relevant studies on the effectiveness of EP.

The Figley et al. (1999) study was a systematic clinical demonstration project that evaluated the effectiveness of Thought Field Therapy and three other treatments for PTSD. Detailed evaluative measures at follow-along and follow-up were included. Follow-up evaluations within the 4- to 6-month range revealed that all of the approaches yielded sustained reduction in subjective units of distress. Although evaluation time frames and the number of subjects varied across treatment conditions, respective mean group treatment times and post treatment follow-up SUD ratings provided preliminary data on the effects of the treatments. While all of the approaches demonstrated effectiveness, TFT was the most efficient in terms of both speed and reduction in SUD.

Table 1: Florida State University Active Ingredients Project Data

Method      Subjects Time (min)  Pre-SUD Post-SUD
V/KD 8 113 4.75 3.25
EMDR 6 172 5.00 2.00
TIR 2 254 6.50 3.40
TFT 12 63 6.30 3.00

Diepold and Goldstein (2000, 2008) conducted a case study of TFT with evaluation by quantitative electroencephalogram (QEEG). Statistically abnormal brain-wave patterns were noted when the patient thought about a trauma compared to a neutral baseline event. QEEG with the traumatic memory immediately after TFT diagnosis and treatment revealed no statistical abnormalities. An 18-month follow-up indicated that the patient continued to be free of emotional upset regarding the treated trauma. This study supports the hypothesis that negative emotion has a measurable effect, and also objectively identified an immediate and lasting neuro-energetic change in the direction of normalcy and health after TFT.

Church, Yount, and Brooks (2012) examined cortisol levels in 83 subjects randomly assigned to a single session of EFT, talk therapy, or rest. Cortisol is the “master hormone” regulating many aspects of the body’s stress response mechanisms, especially those associated with the autonomic nervous system. Therefore the authors proposed that successful therapy would result in lower stress that would be reflected in reduced salivary cortisol. Their investigation found that cortisol levels in the rest and therapy groups declined at approximately the same rate, but that cortisol in the EFT group declined significantly more. The decline in this physiological marker of stress was also significantly correlated with a decline in anxiety, depression, and other psychological conditions.  Since cortisol levels of PTSD patients are elevated as well, effective treatment with EFT would likely lower cortisol levels with such patients.

Johnson et al. (2001) reported on uncontrolled treatment of trauma victims in Kosovo with TFT during five 2-week trips in the year 2000. Treatments were given to 105 Albanian patients with 249 separate violent traumatic incidents. The traumas included rape, torture, and witnessing the massacre of loved ones. Total relief of the traumas was reported by 103 of the patients and for 247 of the 249 separate traumas treated. Follow-up data averaging five months revealed no relapses. While this data is based on uncontrolled treatments, the absence of relapse ought to pique our attention, since a ninety-eight percent spontaneous remission from PTSD is unlikely.

Sakai et al. (2001) reported on an uncontrolled study of 1,594 applications of TFT in the treatment of 714 patients with PTSD and many other disorders. Paired t-tests of pre- and post-treatment subjective units of distress were statistically significant at the .01 level in 31 categories.

Several other EP approaches have been subjected to experimental tests. Efficacy in reducing or eliminating symptoms of PTSD, such as anxiety, depression, and phobias, has been demonstrated in several studies of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) (Rowe 2005; Wells et al. 2003; and Church and Brooks, in press).

An early EFT study focused on subjects who had been involved in motor vehicle accidents and who experienced PTSD associated with the accident (Swingle and Pulos 2000). All subjects received two treatment sessions; all reported improvement immediately following treatment. Brainwave assessments before and after treatment indicated that subjects who sustained the benefit of the treatments had increased 13-15 Hz amplitude over the sensory motor cortex, decreased right frontal cortex arousal, and an increased 3-7 Hz / 16-25 Hz ratio in the occipital region.

The most extensive longitudinal clinical study on the effectiveness of EP was conducted in South America over fourteen years with 31,400 patients (Andrade and Feinstein 2004). A sub-study of this group took place over 5½ years with 5000 patients diagnosed with PTSD and many other psychological disorders.  Only those conditions in which EP and a standard of care control group (cognitive-behavior therapy plus medication when indicated) could be used were included in the sub-study. At the end of treatment and at follow-up periods of one month, three months, six months, and twelve months, the patients were interviewed by telephone by interviewers that had not been involved in the patients’ treatment. These follow-up interviews revealed a 90% positive clinical response and 76% complete elimination of symptoms with EP alone, and a 63% positive response and 51% complete elimination of symptoms with CBT/medication (p <.01). These results are highly significant, suggesting that EP was superior to CBT/medication for a wide range of psychological disorders. Furthermore, while the average number of sessions in the CBT/medication group was fifteen (15), the average number in the EP group was only three (3).

Studies using EP to treat PTSD are particularly interesting, as PTSD is often considered to be treatment-resistant condition. Some reviews have even argued that it may be incurable, and should be regarded as a condition that can only be managed at best (Johnson, Fontana, Lubin, Corn, & Rosenheck, 2004). Yet in several studies, EP has successfully brought PTSD scores from clinical to subclinical levels. In a within-subjects study, Sakai (2007) used TFT with a population of genocide orphans in Rwanda, and found statistically significant reductions in symptoms in a single session. In a second uncontrolled trial, Stone, Leyden, and Fellows (2009) found reductions in PTSD symptoms in genocide survivors in a different Rwandan orphanage, using two group sessions plus a single individual session with the most traumatized individuals.

Church, Piña, Reategui, and Brooks (2009) performed a randomized controlled trial with 16 abused male children aged 12 to 17 in a group home. The experimental group of 8 received EFT, while the control group of 8 received no treatment. A one month follow-up was performed, which found that the PTSD levels of all 8 of the EFT group had normalized, while no member of the control group had improved (p <.001).

EFT has been used to successfully reduce PTSD symptoms in two pilot studies with war veterans (Church, 2009; Church, Geronilla & Dinter, 2009). In the first study, 11 veterans and their family members received a week-long EFT intensive consisting of 10 to 15 sessions. Their average scores dropped from clinical to subclinical levels, as did their other psychological symptoms such as hostility, psychosis, phobic anxiety, and depression. Three follow-ups, including at one year, found them stable, having maintained the gains they experienced in the week-long intensive. In the second study, veterans received 6 sessions of EFT, with similar results.

These studies led to a full RCT with a much larger group of subjects (Church, Hawk, Brooks, Toukolehto, Wren, Dinter, & Stein, 2013). The results from this study again showed that symptoms in a wait-list control group did not diminish over time, while six sessions of EFT produced drops to subclinical levels of PTSD, with the average subject remaining subclinical at 3- and 6-month follow-up. The vets were randomized to EFT (n = 30) or standard of care wait list (n = 29). Intervention consisted of 6-hour-long EFT coaching sessions concurrent with standard care. The EFT subjects evidenced significantly reduced psychological distress (p < 0.0012) and PTSD symptom levels (p < 0.0001) after the intervention. Additionally, 90% of the EFT group no longer met criteria for PTSD, compared with 4% in the control group. After the wait period, the controls received EFT. In a within-subjects longitudinal analysis, 60% no longer met PTSD criteria after three sessions, which increased to 86% after six sessions for the 49 subjects who received EFT.  Benefits remained at 86% at 3 months and at 80% at 6 months. By comparison, a similar PTSD study of cognitive behavioral therapy showed that only 40% of veterans improved after treatment (Monson et al. 2006).

Recently a meta-analysis of 18 EP randomized controlled trials involving acupoint stimulation with a total of 921 subjects published in peer reviewed journals revealed a moderate effect size compared to minimal interventions (Gilomen and Lee 2015).  A moderate effect size (Hedge’s g = −0.66: 95% CI: −0.99 to −0.33) and significantly high heterogeneity (I2 = 80.78) across studies was found using a random effects model indicating that acupoint stimulation, even after removing outliers (decreases in I2 = 72.32 and Hedge’s g = −0.51:95% CI:−0.78 to −0.23), appears to produce an effect. The analysis involved 12 studies comparing EP with waitlist controls, 5 with adjuncts and only 1 comparison with an alternate treatment. Meta-regression and subgroup analyses were conducted to examine the effect of moderators on effect size of symptom change following EP treatments.


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