What EFT Tapping Can Do for Couples During Therapy

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By David Lake, MD

While EFT is robust and forgiving as a technique, it's easy to forget that it's a body-energy technique, and not strictly a psychological one.

Thus, the emotion of the issue fills your system regardless of how the mind processes the problem, and this might be why focus and persistent tapping bring so many positive and varied results. I find it better to tap on body sensations and reactions than to get over-concerned about labelling every feeling. I am also interested in bringing the maximum leverage to the use of EFT by concentrating its effect on the most intense aspects of the dysfunction.

One of the best ways to do this is to emphasize and exaggerate the negative.

This is important if you believe that EFT works its wonders by harmonizing the disruptions in our "reactive" emotional system. I have also found that a light-hearted therapeutic focus on the dark side of personality and life can bring disproportionate relief, ironic acceptance, laughter, and compassion—and EFT will facilitate the unique alchemy of transformation. 

This is a composite example of how I would do this in treating a relationship issue.

The presenting problem is the frustration of a wife who "can't trust" her husband, as a result of repeated broken promises. The couple sits together in a counselling session, both have learned EFT, and it is her turn to talk about her grievance.

I ask her to tap on facial points whenever she feels intense about the situation, as it is important to take up every opportunity to "treat as you go," and to end such a session with as many sequences of tapping completed as comfortably possible. I also ask the husband, this time, to tap for relief, if he needs to, while she talks—but to be silent.

She says, "He's always saying one thing and doing another...I get my hopes up but he never follows through. He lies! I'm sick of it!"

Now I ask permission to go further with this, and request that she look into her husband's eyes while she follows my actions and repeats my words.

I say, for the three Setup Statements:

"Even though you lie to me...and let me down...and dash my hopes...part of me still loves you."

"Even though you say one thing and do another, I do my best to handle you."

"Even though you never follow through...and I'm really sick of it...and maybe there is no answer to this...I'm going to find an answer if I can."

Now she taps on the seven basic shortcut points while saying:

"You lie. You let me down. I can't stand it. I can't stand you. I have no hope. Maybe we can't make it. I don't know what to do."

While these statements are intuitive, they also pace the wife's experience, and she knows from my inquiries after the sequences that she can adjust their accuracy if she wants to (instant feedback). I find that all such statements have come up at one time in the mind of a distressed spouse ("speaking the unspeakable," according to Frank Farrelly, originator of Provocative Therapy). Typically, by using the paradox of worsening the situation, strong emotion surfaces and releases. She would typically cry, or get angry.

I now say:

"Keep on tapping around the points" (very important to keep tapping with strong feelings, as this is the antidote).

Now I switch to the body:

"If you had to name a place in your body where these feelings might collect, where would it be?" The answer might be over the heart.

I say:

"Put one hand over that place and focus all your attention underneath—as if those feelings have a shape and you could connect with that shape, and touch it." 

We keep tapping in silence so as not to interrupt the process with words, and to give some time and space to the obvious hurt.

When things settle down, I check the body sensations and their intensity, and repeat some sequences on "chest emotion" or "heart feeling," if necessary. It's not vital to get such intensities down to 0, as they represent a big picture that is unfolding, so aspects of the problem pop up in many guises, and you deal with them naturalistically (if not logically).

I like to emphasise the bizarre aspects of loving and hating someone simultaneously (the "good" partner and the "bad" partner), and making molehills into mountains so that eventually even the client finds it hard to agree that they have teamed up with the "worst person in the world" or that their "shocking bad judgement" in saying yes to him means that they are a "very slow learner"!

A healthy disputing commences, which I can humorously refute, as if I am on the side of her nightmare and as if I agree that it's really too hard or hopeless (or whatever she said when she was steamed up). I would tap on either side of the belief system, emphasizing the good or the bad, but I would exaggerate that polarity to an uncomfortable degree, using a cartooning or lampooning irony if possible.

This is a slippery situation for the client to respond to.

For maximum effect, she can follow a sequence of tapping where the good and the bad are presented alternately with each point. The "good" news will usually have an echo in the client's belief structure, which is a disbelieving or cynical opposite response, while the "bad" news is treated anyway in the usual manner. A lot of negativity is processed very quickly with such accelerated confusion. That confusion exists anyway in the love-hate dichotomy but, after EFT, it settles to tolerable levels.

While doing the Setup, I would have the wife say (looking at her partner):

"Although part of me hates what you do, I don't hate you—but I do sometimes, and I hate feeling like that; and even if all that is true, I accept myself deeply and completely...I accept myself, even though it's very hard to accept myself as a wife when I have these hateful feelings...I love and forgive myself even though it might be a very long time before I'll do that for you, considering your track record."

Now she taps on the seven points, moving to the next point with each phrase:

"I love you. I don't love you. I hate you. Part of me loves you. Part of me hates you. I only love the good you. I really hate the bad you."

We progress in the session by testing the original propositions and complaints for emotional intensity. If things have shifted to positive and life-affirming directions, a guaranteed way to further the work required is to get the husband to proffer some of his favorite excuses or rationalizations. With the wife's response you will find more work to be done!

Later in therapy, the husband has a turn, and the couple can do all of the above strategies together, simultaneously or sequentially, straight or paradoxically.

Are we having fun yet?

Of course, as the therapist, you need excellent rapport and loving kindness in your empathic resonance. I also think you need to be able to tolerate the ambiguity and ambivalence involved in "making the problem worse" in a creative and loving way. For some, this emphasis would go against the grain of positive thinking (or the pursuit of happiness, in some countries). It might even be unconstitutional.

Flash: This works! You can even do it yourself for your own private reactive problems.

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