By Dawson Church, PhD
Usually after an EFT session, clients report great improvement. This is not always the case, however, and sometimes a client might report feeling worse. Does this mean EFT isn't working?
It's important that EFT practitioners validate client experiences. If a client reports feeling worse, treat it as an opportunity to go deeper. Just as you might be delighted when a client's problem gets better, be curious when a client reports getting worse. Encourage them to report their progress honestly, without overt or subtle insistence that they report only positive experiences.
An alert practitioner will use the situation as a way of facilitating deeper healing, rather than treating a report of "feeling worse" as a problem.
5 Common Reasons Why a Client Feels Worse After EFT Tapping:
1. They're dissociating, and EFT has put them in touch with their feelings.
Throughout our lives, we are taught to "Think positively," that "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade," and similar admonitions. We have a habit of pushing away uncomfortable and difficult experiences. These then wind up in what Carl Jung called the "Shadow," the part of ourself that has been suppressed or disowned.
These elements of our shadow are often festering just below the surface, begging for attention and healing.
When we start to use EFT, these shadow elements may come to the surface. After the first few positive experiences with EFT, our psyche might realize that it has a safe way of processing old emotional trauma. Aspects of the shadow start to emerge, begging for healing. Parts of ourselves that were too dangerous or overwhelming might crowd into our awareness, so that they can be safely reprocessed, and integrated into our larger personality.
This might show up in an EFT session as "feeling worse."
2. You're tapping on the table top, not the legs.
Clients often state problems in broad terms like "anxiety" or "self-esteem." EFT is rarely effective when used this way. Instead, you have to find the specific events that gave rise to the general problem. The general problem is like a table top, supported by many legs. The legs are the specific events. A table top like perfectionism, for instance, might have been created out of hundreds of individual events in which, as a child, the client was invalidated. You do EFT on each of those events. Usually you don't have to work on every single one, because when you collapse enough legs, the whole table crashes down.
Sometimes it takes tapping on only one or two legs to collapse many others. Some practitioners work on "the worst" or "the first" leg; the worst of the many experiences, or the first time that type of experience ever occurred.
When you tap on a table top, you might sensitize the client to the problem, without resolving the emotional intensity held in the legs. In such a case, the client might report feeling worse. Read the tutorial on Specific Events to make sure you're not working globally on a table top.
3. You're tapping on an adult issue, when the real problem lies in their childhood.
On the first day of one EFT workshop, a practitioner worked with a woman who was very triggered by a male colleague who treated her dismissively. The woman's intensity went way down. However, the next day, she reported it was right back up again. An expert practitioner then worked with her, and ignored the situation with the woman's colleague. The practitioner delved deeper, and found a similar event that had occurred during kindergarten, when a male teacher had disparaged her work.
After EFT, the childhood issue was resolved. When the woman was then asked to think about her adult colleague, she said his behavior was "just silly," and she had no emotional intensity around it.
If a client feels worse, you might be overlooking a childhood issue which is where the roots of the trauma lie.
4. Chasing the pain.
Often a practitioner will have an experience with a client that goes something like this:
Practitioner: Where is your pain, and how intense is it?
Client: It's in my shoulder, and it's a 7 out of 10.
They do EFT.
Practitioner: Are you feeling better now?
Client: No. I feel worse. My pain has gone up to a 9. EFT clearly isn't working.
Practitioner: Really? The pain in your shoulder is now a 9?
Client: The pain in my shoulder? Oh, that's gone. The pain in my hip is a 9.
This might sound funny, but it often happens. The client perceives that the problem has become worse, and reports a higher number, because they've shifted their attention to another problem, after the first problem has been quickly resolved with EFT. Make sure, if the client reports feeling worse, that they're focusing on the same area in their body or the same experience in their psyche that they were reporting on initially.
Take a look at the description of Chasing the Pain in The EFT Manual.
5. The client has shifted aspects.
In EFT, the term "aspects" is used to refer to the parts of the event. In the above example, the client's attention shifts from one area of pain to another, leading to the illusion that EFT isn't working, and they "feel worse" after EFT.
The same phenomenon can occur psychologically. Take a look at the tutorial on Aspects and ask if your client has a hidden or new aspect on which they're focusing.