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Long Road Back, Part II

An Army psychologist found the "tapping therapy" successful in treating PTSD.

Connie Louie-Handelman, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, was impressed with the success of the “tapping therapy,” Emotional Freedom Techniques, during the year she worked as an Army Reserve psychologist at a forward operating base in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Prior to her deployment in July 2011, she had been using EFT as a performance-enhancing technique among athletes, and she continued using it with soldiers.

“I found it worked quickly in eliminating fears, limiting beliefs, pain, and releasing traumatic events,” she told me. “It was quick and easy to get relief. Most importantly, it was something I could teach soldiers to do on their own.”

Louie-Handelman remembers one sergeant with deep religious convictions who was tormented with nightmares because he feared he was desecrating the bodies of soldiers when he took DNA samples. The nightmares were so severe he was unable to function, she said.

“But after four tapping sessions, he told me he was surprised that his nightmares had gone away,” she said. “He was able to finish his tour, and I saw him until he went home.”

When soldiers asked her how EFT works, she explained that it’s an energy therapy. “Any negative emotion blocks our energy flow, and we know it’s there because we keep reliving that event,” she said. “Tapping helps us push that negative emotion out of the way.”

Louie-Handelman said her records showed she had about 575 therapy sessions with nearly 200 soldiers. “I used EFT on 90 percent of my patients,” she said, “and I estimate 60 to 70 percent of them got better.  I know that because they were able to go back to work.”

But it’s still a therapy that’s scientifically unproven. John Medina, author of the best-selling book “Brain Rules,” called it “promising,” but told me: “The data are mixed concerning PTSD and acupressure currently; nothing definitive that I am aware. The biggest reason is that there have been no randomized double-blinds with sufficient numbers.”

Medina pointed me to a study five years ago, the first scientific randomized controlled pilot trial that looked at the effects of acupuncture on PTSD. It found that “Acupuncture may be an efficacious and acceptable nonexposure treatment option for PTSD.”  Specifically, it found acupuncture to be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy, and both to be preferable to no treatment at all. “Larger trials with additional controls and methods are warranted to replicate and extend these findings,” it concluded.

Dr. Dawson Church and several colleagues recently concluded a study of 16 teenagers who had been abused. Half the group which received no treatment did not improve in measurements of two components of PTSD (intrusive thoughts and avoidance techniques), but the other half improved with a single session of EFT. “These results are consistent with those found in adults, and indicates the utility of single-session EFT as a fast and effective intervention for reducing psychological trauma in juveniles,” the study concluded.

As I reported earlier this year, the Veterans’ Stress Project has conducted the best study yet. It treated 59 vets with PTSD using EFT and found that after six one-hour coaching sessions, the mean PTSD score dropped from 66 to 35. A score of 50 is the threshhold for being diagnosed with PTSD.

The Veterans' Stress Project is looking for vets with PTSD who are willing to participate in a study replicating the original study.  You can get more information about the project from its research coach, Marilyn McWilliams, at