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Fears And Phobias


Marie's agoraphobia

Important Note: This article was written prior to 2010 and is now outdated. Please use my newest advancement, Optimal EFT. It is more efficient, more powerful and clearly explained in my free e-book, The Unseen Therapist™.  Best wishes, Gary

by Gary Craig

Hi Everyone,

I received a phone call last night from an agoraphobic lady ("Marie") whom I had never met. I drove 20 miles to her VERY rural home this morning to see if I could help. Nice lady. She answered the door with her toddler grandson ("Johnny") at her side.

Marie had agoraphobia for at least 25 years. She can go outside her home but rarely goes beyond 50 yards without feeling intense body heat, panic and other fear responses. She refers to it as "my illness."

The first order of business is always establishing rapport. We had done a fairly good job on the phone the night before and, since I knew she had great concerns for Johnny, I immediately turned my attention toward him. I got down on one knee (at his physical level) and, in a form of child talk (his style of language), asked him how old he was. He warmed up right away and informed me that he was practicing to be a bell. I said "ding-dong" as he moved his head back and forth. Rapport is easy if we are flexible and genuinely care. Marie loved it. That's important. It establishes trust and opens one up to these belief-violating procedures.

I told Marie that we often have rapid success but that agoraphobia was not likely to be one of our "one minute wonders." Again, this is rapport generating because it plugged in with her existing beliefs. Maybe some other phobia could get rapid relief--but not hers. She had it all figured out. It had been with her for too many years and it was too intense. Further, according to Marie, it was caused by her past abuses, hereditary factors and some chemical imbalances. Maybe she's right and maybe she's wrong. Who knows? But to debate this with her is to risk losing rapport. Rapport is critical. Always keep rapport. So I said, "Sure. No guarantees, of course. But if we just make a little progress, that's probably worth our time? (said with an uplifting tone at the end to turn a declarative sentence into a non-threatening question). She agreed as Johnny's cat jumped into my lap and parked himself.

I started with an explanation of EFT and referred to it as a "psychological version of acupuncture." While she had never experienced acupuncture per se, she did have some physical healing with the use of acupressure. Again, we plugged into her beliefs (rapport). It was still weird and "out there" to her but she was perfectly willing to try it.

During the first applications of EFT, I ignored her agoraphobia and tapped for other issues. This was because:

1. My own intuitive sense was that her agoraphobia was a symptom of deeper causes.

2. I wanted to get her comfortable (familiar) with the process.

3. I wanted to take a shot at getting relief for an emotional issue before we ventured outside into her worst fear. This would let me know how responsive she was to the process and would give her some sense of confidence in what we were doing.

We tapped for two issues in her living room. The first was for a verbally abusive experience with her father. It went from 9 to 0 in two shortcut rounds of EFT. We then tapped for a broader issue--"My mother doesn't love me." This went from a 10 to a 0 within two minutes. In both cases I asked her to vividly imagine the circumstances and try to get herself worked up about them. She couldn't. She said, "I can remember them but why bother?" This was fun. It was all done in a low key kind of way. The tapping was gentle. The affirmations were gentle. Johnny was quiet and watching intently. The cat was purring in my lap.

We then went outside to see how the process might work with her agoraphobia. I reminded her that she was not to be courageous and confront her fear. She was not to see how far she could go before panicking and running back home. Instead, we were to use her system as an indicator of when we needed to tap. This was to be as painless as possible. She was instructed to tell me whenever she felt any kind of fear response--even a 1 or 2. "That is a tapping opportunity," I told her, "Don't let it go by."

I pointed to a spot down the road about 50 yards away (her approximate limit) and had her tap for "going beyond there." No problem. We walked to that point and I asked her if she was still zero. Yes. We went another 50 yards. She had no fear response but she said her head was telling her that she should be having problems about now and that if she goes any further she will be sorry. This, in my experience, is typical and to be expected. Remember, she rarely gets this far away from home without a severe fear response. We tapped for "what my head is saying" and went on.

About 50 yards later she said her sinuses were "tightening up" to about a 2 or 3 level. I took this to be a physical symptom of the "unusualness" of being this far away from home. Two brief EFT rounds later, the sinus tightening was gone. We went another 50 yards or so and she said her jaw was tightening (she has TMJ). It was a 4. One round and it was gone. We went on. Now we were faaaaar beyond her previous "limit" and she had no fear response whatsoever. However, she wanted to go back for two reasons:

1. While she felt no fear at the moment, her head was still telling her to be careful. To me, this is either a valid sign that we really do need to do more tapping on underlying levels OR her head was just giving her some normal and logical signs of caution. "After all, this could be a fluke. Maybe you are just lucky today. Don't overdo it. You know how that panic feels. Be sensible. Be careful. 25 years of emotional pain doesn't go away in a few minutes."

2. Johnny was getting restless and bored with the whole thing and wanted to go back home.

Is there more to do? Most likely. Many past issues here. A blank spot in her childhood memories. A long history of verbal/mental abuse by parents & family. But, in an hour and a half, we accomplished a fair amount by anyone's standards.

Love to all, Gary

Comments by Dr. Fred Gallo


Excellent in vivo session. Loved the approach to rapport, pacing (rapport), and leading. I thought it was also interesting and crucial that you initially addressed some "lesser" issues before moving on to the big enchilada. Besides establishing a "yes set" (i.e., if it works for these it will work for the "bigger" issue), the "lesser" issues also related to her relationship with her parents, and especially her mother: about her mother not loving her. John Diamond (and psychoanalyst Melanie Klein) says that this is the crux of a lot of psychopathology: Coming to realize that my mother does love me and that I love my mother. Taking the stress out of the thought about her mother not loving her may have opened up other awareness about her mother. Thus you may have not only had her tap for the presenting symptom but also some deeper intrapsychic material. Of course the client came up with these preparatory issues, but that's what happens when you're open to what the client has to offer. Beautiful.



Hi Everyone,

I recently reported on "Marie" and her agoraphobia. You may recall that she has been severely limited by it for 25 years.

On our first session she went on a walk with me and went far beyond her usual 50 yard limit without any fear response. Her only concern was that her "head kept talking to her" telling her to be careful because she knows what the panic is like and so she dare not push this envelope too far. This is normal, I suggest, because going beyond her previous "limits" is, for her, the unknown.

Two days later she called me and said she went for an even longer walk with her husband. She had memorized the EFT Basic Recipe (at least the shortcut version I was using) and used it a time or two during the walk. At no time did she have a fear response but she tapped anyway--"just in case." She also drove with her husband for about two and a half miles to the local rural post office. She had been able to do this before but never without substantial discomfort. This time there was no discomfort whatsoever. No white knuckles, no panic response, no tight chest, nothing.

This was a little surprising to me because you would think agoraphobia would be a many aspected issue and thus require many sessions. But we basically had one tapping session and she hasn't had a single fear response since. Sure, she has done some tapping in the meantime but there didn't seem to be any need for it. She is tenuous, however, about pushing the envelope because that is venturing into what, for her, is the unknown. That is a healthy, cautious response which, to me, is quite normal.

The next thing to do here, I thought, was to push that envelope--go farther and farther away to test if the agoraphobia is truly gone. This is important for two reasons. First, it allows Marie to go further into the "unknown" so that it becomes part of her ever expanding "known." This should allow her growing comfort. Second, if there were any remaining agoraphobic issues they would likely arise during the actual situation. Better to have a seasoned tapper with her during this event than not.

So I asked Marie to mentally imagine taking a trip with me in my car to the town of Gualala which is 30 miles away. I asked her to stop whenever she felt any tension so we could discuss it and/or tap on it. She closed her eyes and went on this imaginary ride. After awhile she opened her eyes, raised her hand and said she was feeling a 5 as she got to the stables (a landmark about 3/4 of the way to Gualala). Upon discussion, she reported that she had tried to do this 12 years ago and felt very uncomfortable all along the way. When she got to the stables, however, full fledged panic set in. This is what she was remembering. This is what was causing that 5. It wasn't actual fear about this imaginary ride. It was remembered fear from 12 years ago. She hasn't tried it since. I found it encouraging, by the way, that it was only a 5. She is quite capable of going to 10 on other issues.

We tapped for the fear regarding the stables and it went to zero in short order. I then asked the big question, "Do you want to drive to Gualala with me?"

"No!" she said, emphatically.

Ah-ha, I thought. Now we are getting somewhere. I knew there had to be some more fear responses in there because, after all, we're dealing with agoraphobia here. It's just not likely to be one of those "one session wonders" that we see so often. As it turned out, however, her real issue wasn't fear. It was trust. Her head was talking to her again and it was saying, "What if you get out there and have that panic again? Will he bring you back? He says he will, but how well do you know him? Don't risk it! There's too much at stake. If you really do panic, no telling what might happen."

Going to Gualala was, for her, waaaay out there in the unknown. We needed to take smaller steps.

So I acknowledged her trust issue and discovered that trust is a major problem of hers. In her perception, people have continually let her down throughout her life. Her self talk was going, "Gary's a nice guy. He seems well intentioned but, when it really counts, can I really trust him?" So we tapped on some past trust events with success.

Then I suggested she try a baby step first. I suggested that she drive with me to the post office, which she had previously done without any fear response. The only difference is that she would be with me instead of her husband. She wanted to know if her husband could come along. I said sure. She went outside and asked him but he was busy and unavailable for this trip to the post office. Nonetheless, she consented to take this ride with me. I think her trust increased because I was perfectly happy to have her husband come along.

She got in the car and I asked her if she had any emotional tension. She said, "Maybe a 1." So we tapped for that and then she said she was at zero although, interestingly, the way she put it was, "I think I'm a zero but I don't know what a zero is because I've never been there before. But I feel quite comfortable."

We drove to the post office. No fear response whatsoever. When we got there I asked if she wanted to venture another half mile to see if she could go beyond this point without fear. She was willing so we went another half mile. Then we went another half mile (with her consent) and kept going for about two miles. Then I turned around because I wanted to make sure I wasn't overstepping any trust issue she might have with me. At no time did she have any fear. She smiled, carried on a conversation, was relaxed.

I took her home and left with the thought that I would come back another day to see if we could drive still further.

This morning she called me with excitement in her voice. As it turns out, her husband was going into Gualala later that day and she asked to go with him. No fear at all. Not even a twitch near the stables. There may be more to this story but, so far, Marie is experiencing a freedom she hasn't had for 25 years. And, just in case you're wondering, 'ol Gary here is walking on clouds. But I'm still a little bewildered about why it was so easy. Oh well.

Hugs to all, Gary


Explore our newest advancement, Optimal EFT™, by reading my free e-book, The Unseen Therapist™. More efficient. More powerful.