EFT Borrowing Benefits Group with Incarcerated Veterans

Dear EFT Community,

Valerie Burke, Certified EFT Practitioner shares her experience working with a group of incarcerated Veterans as part of the Veterans Stress Project. 

-Stephanie M

By Valerie Burke, Certified EFT Practitioner

The following session details a Borrowing Benefits group at a prison in Washington State, located not too far from my home.

The idea for the group arose while I was attempting to find veterans willing to voluntarily participate in the Veterans Stress Project. This prison has a fairly large population of inmates who are vets.

The EFT group was offered to these vets during their regularly scheduled weekly group time. There were 18 participants. I enlisted the help of a second EFT practitioner to cofacilitate, in case any participants became triggered. A prison guard was also present throughout. Due to the inflexibility of the prison schedule, the EFT group was strictly limited to 45 minutes.

I had only this short time in which to establish rapport, introduce EFT to a group of men who’d never heard of it before, recruit a volunteer, lead the tapping, and get feedback from the group.

This was my first volunteer session at this prison, so the inmates and staff were totally unfamiliar with me, and vice versa. This unfamiliarity made such a short span of time even more of a challenge with this highly guarded and typically “suspicious” population, who are usually slow to warm up to “outsiders.”

One particular veteran named, Bill, volunteered to come up to the front of the room with me and be the focus of a brief EFT session.

Bill was five years into his prison sentence, with five more to go.

When asked what issue might be troubling him, he replied, “I miss my family.” Bill shared how he had not seen his elderly mother for several years, whose health was ailing.

His SUDS level was “8 to 9,” although his face revealed no signs of emotion. This may have been a product of the prison setting, reflecting discomfort about showing vulnerability in front of his peers.

Bill did not elaborate on the exact nature of his feelings, whether predominantly sadness or guilt or anger, etc. So I proceeded by using a general approach, with tapping statements that represented some of the emotions that could be expected for someone in his situation. After a couple of short rounds, we paused the tapping so that I could check in with Bill.

The statement having the most charge was related to the guilt he felt over placing himself in a situation where he was unable to help his mother, and the effect that might have on her. So we tapped on that guilt. I had him do some recounting of his mother and her health, as part of the tapping, and I had him describe some of the possible ways he might worry he has impacted her. (In reality, he doesn’t know what effects his absence has had, because he’s been completely out of contact with her since his incarceration. This “not knowing” could be another aspect of his distress.)

After another two or three rounds, Bill’s SUDS had dropped to a 2 or 3.

He never did show any outward emotion, but he did say that he “felt much calmer” after the tapping, which was less than 15 minutes total. It was difficult for me to tell if the lack of emotion I perceived on Bill’s face was his own concealment, in an effort to protect himself within this prison environment, or if he had been “telling me what he thought I wanted to hear,” in terms of his SUDS level. He was very difficult for me to read.

The group members in the audience were very compliant with the tapping. When I glanced up from time to time, it appeared that at least 75 percent of the audience members were tapping along.

There were no visible abreactions.

When I asked the group for feedback after Bill had returned to his seat, only one person volunteered his experience, which was a positive one. It seemed the prisoners, although compliant and interested in EFT, were quite guarded in sharing in front of their peers. This is quite common among prison populations, as any display of vulnerability is sometimes used as a weapon between inmates.

Therefore, prisoners become very adept at holding their cards close to the chest.

The ideal situation would be for motivated inmates to have private 1:1 EFT sessions, in which they know their privacy is protected, but of course this is rarely an option. Groups such as this one are the closest we can get, in many facilities.

EFT would provide an excellent tool to help manage the monumental stresses that characterize the prison environment—threats of violence by gang members and the like are, unfortunately, a part of daily prison life. Without adequate tools for managing stress, there is not much hope for rehabilitation or successful reintegration into society.

My hope is that this introductory group, in addition to the video and reading materials I left at the prison library, will spark the interest of a few inmates who will take it upon themselves to learn EFT. Sometimes, just a short introduction, as was done in this group, can be enough to start the ball rolling.